Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Calling it now: Everyone will now suddenly like Superman

Firstly, I am totally OK with this.

One does not spend ten years extolling the virtues of Superman and then get pouty when public opinion changes (thanks to the movie.  I'm not taking credit).  I'm not going to decide I don't like Superman because comics fans and the public alike shake off the past couple of decades of proudly proclaiming Batman's a hero and Superman's a zero.  And if people find something to like about Superman: GREAT!

Believe me, having a movie that sells people on Superman is going to make whatever I've been up to the past several years a lot easier to understand, and when it comes to family, friends and co-workers, I can use whatever help I can get.  Hopefully someone will do a follow up with a great Barks/ Rosa Ducks movie and I won't have to explain anything about myself ever again.

This all hinges on Man of Steel being a watchable film, and the trailers are pretty promising.  I have a strong feeling that even if the movie is not my cup of tea, the groundwork is already there to get people thinking about Superman a lot differently.

what are they looking at?  Where are they?

So, I just ran across an opinion piece at Comic Book Resources in which the writer points to various comics released over the past decade and, in my opinion, has found "his Superman".  No doubt a discriminating reader of comics, what with having a column and at least one podcast about comics, this writer finally found a way to "get" Superman.  He's got his in.

And, in many, ways, that's sort of what it takes.  If you can't find a point of accessibility, why would you like the character?

Not only is Superman one of the longest running characters in fiction, he's appeared in so many media over the years, the character has become this wall of iconography that's criss-crossed generations, nations, etc...  The very constancy of the character's omnipresence in culture, his association with comics, his occasional guest appearances, etc... all can lead to a belief that you gave the character a shot but you were too smart for what Superman was selling.  I know!  I've been there.  See yesterday's post on my era as an X-reader.  Couldn't get me to touch a Superman comic back then.

I can't tell anyone what their point of access is going to be.  I can make reading recommendations.  I can point to the movies and TV shows.  And not every Superman comic is great, just as not every Batman comic, X-Comic, Avengers comic, etc... is very good.  You have to start with something that you're going to like, and not every issue of Superman will wow you, just as not every Batman appearance is The Dark Knight.

This writer found Birthright.  He found Busiek's Superman: Secret Identity.  He made it through All Star, and has an interesting reaction to the book.  And, I think, in reading his comments, I'm quite thrilled that Brett White found his in.

I just wish DC were doing more at the moment to give him Superman comics worth reading.  White will soon learn that it's a marathon, not a sprint, I guess, but at least there's now a great digital and trades program.

The funny thing about the the New York Times article I'm linking to here is that the title changed mid-way through the day.  You can see in the URL that the name of the article was "'Man of Steel' Seeks to Make Superman Relevant Again", and by the afternoon it was "Alien, Yet Familiar".

As I've bemoaned nigh constantly at this site and the prior blog, for two decades pop culture writers have stated how Superman wasn't relevant in a modern sense, kind of pointing to that idea of Superman they may have formed from that sort of a zeitgeisty vision of Superman.  It always seemed to me the writers were kind of drawing from a hazy interpretation reflecting off characters who had movies at the cinema, and in that, a line had to be drawn - if the X-Men/ Iron Man/ Batman is a superhero and I like him, how is he different from Superman?  And if I like this thing, doesn't it mean I can't like the other thing?

The NYT article drops the usual saw about Superman not being relatable, and fails to mention a ten-year run on Smallville.  Or, essentially five movies in the Superman series starting in 1978 and ending in 2006.  No mention of the popular Lois and Clark TV show.  They also clearly aren't familiar with Superman as a character or media franchise, wowing at the "sci-fi" concepts of the Planet Krypton origin story.*

Man of Steel offers up a Superman in clear focus.  Where Superman Returns refused to tell an origin story (even as the character took to the big screen for the first time in two decades), it then lumped in some odd family business that required intimacy with the prior Superman films to get the nuance, and flatly refused to be an action film despite the summer release date.

I quite like the idea of coming back to Superman's first appearance and asking "actually, how would we deal with this?", and the trailers look just about right.  Tanks.  Black helicopters.  Lots of guns pointed his way.  Not just crowds giving a thumbs-up and a smooth gentleman declaring Superman has "A BAD OUT-FIT!"

What Man of Steel doesn't appear to do is add new dimension to the character that we, as fans, haven't known was already there, and has been all along.   Some of us have mourned the doom of Krypton all along, have poured over dozens of interpretations of Superman as the adopted son of a farmer trying to find his place, and thrilled to innumerable first appearances of the cape as Superman took to the air by flight or merely leaping.  And, we always understood Superman's themes of self-sacrifice, of both the joy of what it means to be the one who can save the day and the responsibility that goes along with being the one who steps forward to be that person - even a super person.

That those ideas were ever considered irrelevant always told me more about the writers than it did about Superman stories when they were at their best.

And there's never been any question that our Man of Tomorrow was willing to mix it up when circumstances called for it.  I'm glad to see we're getting the Ace of Action on the big screen in a way we could only have dreamed of when Terence Stamp put on his black boots.

So, it's going to be an interesting summer.  Keep your eyes peeled.  I strongly suspect we'll start to get a lot of pieces in the range of these two, depending on the quality of the movie.  Pop culture pundits will write about how NOW Superman somehow speaks to our jaded society (forgetting how Donner's Superman dropped on a post-Nixon America promising truth, justice and The American Way).  Comic fans will enjoy the action and super-antics and start thinking of the character differently, even if just in the context of the movies.**

In the end, I'll really be happiest to see how the kids like this movie.  I know it's PG-13 and looks kind of scary, but I have high hopes some kids will get to see it.

*I mean, honestly...
**no shame in that.  I didn't care at all about Iron Man til the movies.

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