Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pondering a bit on the poster for "Man of Steel"

If you hadn't seen the latest poster for the upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel - here you go:

Superman in shackles, surrounded by men in military outfits I'd say look like they might belong to The National Guard.  It's not exactly "you will believe a man can fly", but I'm actually quite okay with that.

I know from online pals and some of the Superman community that they would much prefer to first see a majestic Superman or a powerful Superman or a smiling Superman or what we've seen before, and while I'm not trying to support a movie I don't know anything about, from a marketing perspective, I think I get what they're going for.

Donner's Superman: The Movie never really addressed how the world might react to a man in a cape flying around and shrugging off bursting shells like a light, rainy mist with much more than a big "welcome, alien buddy".  Donner's version took the common feeling of good-will that 40 years of comics and the George Reeves program had brought to theaters.  Christopher Reeve's Superman lived in a world where cops stood slack jawed and dopey as Superman handed over cat-burglars and dropped off boats full of crooks on Metropolis's main thoroughfares.

Whatever Zack Snyder is doing isn't ignoring today's world of cops in armor reacting with SWAT precision to crises the world of 1938 or 1978 didn't take into account in the movies.  The poster seems to acknowledge - if a Superman did live today, we know the military and government would have something to say on it, and it wouldn't be "ah, you seem okay.  Go ahead about your business, you lovable scamp."  Whether it's an adult like myself, or someone in the prime young male movie-going bracket of which I am no longer a key demographic - it's almost impossible to imagine that the appearance of an alien picking up tanks or just flying around not causing some panic at the highest levels.  It's the issue of translation when moving the character from a children's fictional character to a character intended for an audience skewing over 13.

The comics have reflected the distrust that would materialize with an appearance of Superman in books like Waid's terrific Birthright and more recently in both Geoff Johns' Secret Identity and the rogue Superman of the New-52 facing down with Lex Luthor and Sam Lane leading the military industrial complex to face down a living weapon not under governmental control.

If there's an image that maybe can turn the perception of Superman on its ear, its the image of Superman in shackles surrounded by the minions of authority figures.  It plays on a lot of ideas - not the least of which is that we automatically root for the misunderstood good guy (see Batman, Spider-Man, etc...), and we love to distrust and look down on the nitwits in positions of power - in the 80's it might have been corporate tycoons, but these days it seems "the guvernmint".

If a rockstar, rapper or actor gets street cred from trouble with the law, why not a Man of Steel?  In a lot of ways, it makes far more sense, and it does go to Superman's roots.  He can't have started as a duly deputized agent of the cops and friend to law everywhere.  Is this the image that brings relevancy back to The Man of Steel for the pop culture pundits?  Dark in tone as well as content, no smile, no circus-performer suit and the outsider status clearly front and center...  it's like pop culture pundit catnip.

And, of course, the image raises so many questions.  Why is he in this position?  Why doesn't he merely walk away?  What could have led to this?

I don't know.  I do know that it's not what people expect when they think about Superman, and so if it drives a bit of interest in how this situation could ever even happen...  then it followed the Mort Weisinger formula of "cover first, story second".  And it's a good formula.  If making you want to see what's going on inside the cover enough to pay the price of admission, that's all right.

 I mean, you sort of want to know what's happening here, right?

I'm good with the formula.

The purpose of Man of Steel is to bring Superman to a new generation, and for the second time in less than ten years, WB is taking a chance on Superman at the box office.  We'll see what happens.  This is the same character that's been considered too old timey and old fashioned to find relevance in the modern zeitgeist.

It's just one image from the movie, and I can probably figure out the scenario that gets Superman there without thinking on it too much, but for a lot of people, this is that Mort Weisinger cover, and we'll have to see what will get folks into the theater and embracing the character all over again.

Provided the movie isn't awful, that's a good thing.
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