Funnybook Babylon

December 13, 2008

Lasting Legacies

Filed under: Blurbs — Tags: , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 3:45 am

If you think you can leave any sort of lasting legacy, you’re deluded. And I was deluded for a long time. But we live and we learn.

Mark Waid

I really, really love Superman: Birthright.

More than any other story, to me, it defines what Clark, Kal, the Kents and the House of El represent and the beacon they’re meant to be to humanity; far more than the dyslexic Lois Lane and meek Clark of the 1970s, the overconfident football jock of the 1980s or the po-faced stoic of the 1990s, Birthright illuminated and really crystallized, to me, who and what Superman is. I owe Mark Waid that forever.

So I was pretty damn surprised to see that he feels he hasn’t left a legacy. I don’t know if this is some kind of momentary lapse of reason or what, but dude, snap out of it – who gives a shit if your story got thrown out of continuity a few years later? It’s not like a whole generation of comic nerds didn’t read it, many of whom will re-enter the industry. Remember Len Wein’s Untold Legend of the Batman, perennial favorite of cereal box tie-ins, and how it got tossed out of continuity (just like Birthright!) a few years later by Crisis? And how basically the past two years of Batman stories have centered around reincorporating its “let’s compress the entirety of Bat-history into X number of years” method to dazzling effect?

Nobody’s deluded for thinking people are going to be inspired by a really damn good Superman story, personally or creatively, and that’s what Birthright was. It may not be THE OFFICIAL BACK STORY of the ONE TRUE SUPERMAN OF NEW EARTH right now, but these things embed themselves in the soil of continuity to take root and grow; they’re percolating in the back of the minds of the readership, and a few years from now some guy’s applauded take on Superman is going to be based on this story that’s getting “bulldozed over.”

The short-term decisions can always be short-term with the wave of a magic wand. Nothing is permanent, and the whims of editors will always be overriden by popular consensus in the long run, even if it takes a little bit too long. Perhaps I’m channelling Adam Smith a little bit too much in my vision of the the equilibrum of comics continuity, but I really think that in the end the shit falls to the bottom and the cream rises to the top no matter how long it takes, and if the work is solid – and especially if it’s a highly marketed story that’s likely to remain in print and available, like most of Waid’s material – there’s no telling what effect it could eventually have, or what kind of legacy it could inspire.

8 Comments »

  1. Until All-Star Superman, Birthright was the only Superman story I’d ever read which felt like it had genuine emotional content: that last chapter was beautiful. For that reason it stays in continuity in my heart, whatever else may befall Superman’s origin.

    Comment by Gil Jaysmith — December 13, 2008 @ 4:29 am

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if Waid is just speaking from bitterness. It has been obvious for a while that he would be overjoyed to write Superman monthly and yet he continues to be passed over.

    Likewise, Kingdom Come was maybe not THE title he is known for, but is certainly a big book in the industry, and for Johns and Ross to trample it without even a nod to him is sort of shitty.

    But it is possible both of these thoughts are just me talking out of my ass from reading interviews and things.

    Comment by burt — December 13, 2008 @ 6:15 am

  3. Okay, a few things:

    ‘The overconfident football jock of the ’80’s’? Sometimes I wonder if one’s reaction to Superman rests entirely on when one started reading comics.

    As far as your main point, I agree with the sentiment, but I would probably go a little further. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s in continuity or not. In the age of the trade/hardcover, we are (thankfully) starting to value the books as individual works of art, rather than as segments of a larger work. Birthright is special because it was well done, not because it counts. It reminds me of the conversation that Pedro and I had in the Final Crisis thread. There are a lot of fun stories about the Australian Luthor with the Matrix Supergirl that just can’t be in continuity anymore, for a number of reasons. But does that mean that the stories vanish, or become less significant?

    I would also disagree with the notion that continuity or canon is the result of a popular consensus, but I’m far more cynical than most people when it comes to the editorial decision making process….

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — December 13, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  4. It was Birthright that convinced me to read comics again after I’d jumped ship in the 90’s. Waid’s work signaled to me that I could read superhero comics as an adult and expect an intelligent and compelling story.

    Among my lasting impressions of that book: Waid’s subtlety in handling the complexity of African politics. Studying African literature, I know that this stuff is usually distorted in Western representations.

    In that issue, Waid showed a pretty nuanced sense of what the application of raw power can actually accomplish–he makes it clear that Superman is an outsider and that Africans can handle their own society, thanks very much. Social progress requires more than brute force, and it made Birthright more interesting than the standard “Superman could fix the whole world but he won’t because it would fascist” routine.

    I wish *that* would take in the soil of continuity, but expect that continuity accommodates only broad strokes.

    Comment by nick — December 13, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

  5. Wow, I really didn’t like Birthright (art and story,) and will be glad to see it brushed aside as the unofficial, official Superman origin story. I was a fan of the Byrne Man of Steel series, but mostly I’m a fan of things that make sense (the S shield came from Krypton? no thanks.) While a lot of the elements I don’t like will remain in Johns’ version, I welcome a new telling of the origin over Birthright.

    Comment by Brad Bice — December 13, 2008 @ 5:14 pm

  6. My favorite wrinkle added to the Superman origin, in light of Bice’s comment, was in The Kents. In that series, it was shown that the S is actually tied into the Kent family history and their mingling with Native Americans back in the pioneer days.

    Comment by Grodd — December 14, 2008 @ 12:06 pm

  7. Allow me to translate: “I’m Mark Waid and I’m all WAAAAAAAAAH!”

    Continuity is not fixed. It’s fluid, ever-changing. Basically, every comic-book story is an “Elseworlds” or a “What If…” There’s nothing that can’t be changed or undone or retconned or it was a dream or he was really a Skrull, mindwipe, Satan, locusts, whatever! As the other guys said, tell us a good story and we’ll remember it.

    Maybe the problem here is the default assumption that canon is available and known to everybody. Maybe writers need to stop assuming that every reader has read everything that anyone ever wrote about Superman. It might be that in a way, writers have gotten lazy; they’ve gotten used to being able to just throw, say, Moon Dragon into a story, and we all know who that character is because we’re familiar with Marvel Universe canon.

    Comment by DensityDuck — December 16, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  8. “Likewise, Kingdom Come was maybe not THE title he is known for,”

    Same could be said for Alex Ross

    ” for Johns and Ross to trample it without even a nod to him is sort of shitty.”

    well Waid did The Kingdom without Ross, so Ross reasoned turnabout was fair play, also Waid himself didn’t like the Kingdom in retrospect.

    Comment by nathan — February 14, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

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