I’ve been a fan of Superman since I was a wee lass – ever since watching that first Christopher Reeve Superman movie on TV. While the X-Men are relatable and Batman is cool and Deadpool is dark yet hilarious, Superman remains the ideal – the symbol of hope and the hero we should all strive to be.
I haven’t watched or read every shred of Superman that’s ever been produced, but I have consumed quite a lot of it; and even when I consider a particular portrayal to be an utter failure to embody Superman (hello, Man of Steel!!), I’m always willing to give the next iteration a chance. I mean, hey – how can you call yourself a Superman fan if you don’t have hope?
But with all the Superman that’s out there, there’s one part of the lore we hear about but still don’t generally see much of – a place that’s almost as much of a mystery to Clark Kent as it is to us. It’s the place of his birth – Krypton. Since a foundation point of the Superman mythos is that it was destroyed as he flew away from Krypton as the last survivor, it makes sense that we don’t often get to experience it in depth. Sure, we’ve seen flashbacks, and alternate universe versions, and the bottle city of Kandor; but we haven’t really lived and breathed Krypton.
The planet and culture have always fascinated me – when creators do approach or reference it, its laws and customs are often portrayed as stern and unyielding, despite its supposed advances in being civilized (and in the sciences particularly). As a lawyer and political theorist, I’m always interested in how societies are structured – and the success or failure of said structures. Not to mention it’s just plain cool to see a fully envisioned alien culture. I do sometimes feel that no one has quite done it justice yet; which isn’t surprising, since Clark Kent and Superman, not Krypton, are by default the focus of Superman stories.
For all the faults I found with Man of Steel (and I mean alllllll the faults. So many faults. Let me count the faults.) one thing I did like in that movie was the glimpse we got of that movie’s vision of Krypton. So I’m definitely interested in another modern take on the planet.
The upcoming Krypton show, which is coming to SyFy in 2018, aims to give us just that. It does have a serious challenge to overcome – giving us a version of Krypton and its inhabitants that both fits with why fans like Superman and also invests us in the fate of the pre-Superman alien culture and family. Given all the times Clark Kent’s human upbringing have been contrasted with the Kryptonian way of doing things, that may be a difficult bridge to cross – but I am more than willing to start that journey with the cast and crew and see where it goes.
Although SDCC saw the very first reveals about the show and thus there were some things we couldn’t yet discuss, I had a great chat with series star Cameron Cuffe (Seyg-El) and Executive Producers Damian Kindler and Cameron Welsh.
They shared what their vision for this (old) new world is like, what characters we’ll be seeing, and how they approach the House of El.
And happily, I can share that with you too.
Check out the interviews below for more Krypton details. And as always, until next time, Servo Lectio!
Hurricane Irma is pretty much done wreaking havoc, but the worst of it is very bad. And it’s not over. Much of the hurricane season is yet to come and the weather might still have some nasty surprises for us.
And, of course, there’s always next year.
So let’s have a show of hands (lots and lots of hands): all who agree that Superman be confirmed as our official patron superhero? The more recollective among you may remember that I have mentioned this patron superhero stuff earlier: I can’t say exactly when, but sometime. If you are a practicing pagan, please pause on your way to hell while I define “patron saint.” According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, a patron saint is a person, having already transcended to the metaphysical, (is) able to intercede for the needs of their special charges.
Now, I don’t have a formal definition for “patron superhero,” but there’s no reason not to make one up if we have a mind to. After all, we can always change it later. Okay, a patron superhero is one whose life, persona and/or deeds can be identified with certain sort of problems and dangers to the common good. So maybe Captain Marvel – the one who changes from an overachieving youngster to a big dude in a red suit when he says “Shazam!” is the patron superhero of storms because a lightning bolt and a thunderclap accompanies the transformation. (The details of that transformation raise more questions than they answer. But back in his heyday, the post-war 40s, apparently nobody asked questions like that. At least nobody I knew.)
My suggestion that Superman be pronounced our patron superhero is not prompted by what Supes does – bend steel in his bare hands, change the course of mighty rivers, those riffs – but his identity. His true identity.
Surely you know the story. Kal-El is a scientist who insists that his home planet, Krypton, is about to blow up. Nobody believes him, and that nobody includes the savants and solons – the local authorities. Kal-El just manages to get his infant son into a spacecraft and into the sky when ka-BLOOEY! No more Krypton! But the kid makes it to Earth where he crash lands in the American Midwest, where the virtuous folk live. Stuff happens and eventually, the kid goes to a big city where he falls in with the executive of a printing company ad becomes a brand.
Here and now: we have had two category five hurricanes in the last month. Every weather-related catastrophe that has happened recently was predicted by scientists who warned us about Global Warming. And still, we hear from those who refuse to believe the evidence.
It was, for its time, the coolest comic book on the racks. Lucky for me, having just turned eight years old I was at the perfect age to best enjoy it.
In fact, I already was lusting for the comic by the time it hit my local drug store. The house ad promoting the issue had been running in several of the DC comics for a few weeks, and it intrigued the hell out of me. Back in those days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, new comic book heroes were very few and very far between, even though 1958 was something of a boom year. DC had a title called Showcase that offered new concepts a try out – usually three issues. Yes, it was joined by The Brave and the Bold, but not until the summer of 1959. Showcase begat the Challengers of the Unknown, Lois Lane, the Metal Men, and the silver age Flash, Green Lantern and The Atom… among others.
Whereas it isn’t hard to get an eight-year old all excited, this comic book had a pedigree that few others approached. It was created by, if you’ll forgive the word, legends. Julius Schwartz was the editor and the ringleader, and he reached for his A team. Gardner Fox, arguably the most accomplished comics writer in American history, did the scripting and he co-plotted it with fellow comics writer and science fiction icon Edmond Hamilton, along with the aforementioned Julie Schwartz. The cover artist was Gil Kane, and the story artist was Mike Sekowsky.
The series was called Adam Strange. It featured a run-of-the-mill Earthling who found himself transported by Zeta Beam to the planet Rann where he fell in love with the chief scientist’s daughter while flying around, usually with her, vanquishing alien invasions and monsters and such. When the Zeta Beam wore off Adam faded back to Earth, usually right after he saved the day but right before he could kiss his lover. That drove him bugfuck, and back on Earth he figured out where and when that Zeta Beam would strike next… usually just in time to save Rann once again.
What made Adam Strange work – in 1958 – was the costume. It was classic science fiction spaceman. Jet-pack, helmet, ray gun, and all red with white accents. It was designed by still another legend, Murphy Anderson. Murphy had been drawing science fiction heroes since 1944. In fact, he drew the newspaper adventures of one of the very first such heroes, Buck Rogers, and Buck’s influence on Adam’s costume was quite evident – and very welcome.
The whole thing started as a contest. DC executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld thought what the world needed was a new s-f hero and he challenged editors Julius Schwartz and Jack Schiff. Jack’s Space Ranger was published in Showcase #15 and #16; Adam Strange lived in the next three issues.
As it turned out, neither character won – yet neither character lost, either. Adam Strange became the lead feature in Mystery In Space, drawn by the near-mythic Carmine Infantino and always occupying the cover, while Space Ranger lived in Tales of the Unexpected. For the record: Space Ranger also was created by Gardner Fox and Edmond Hamilton, but the two were as different as night and day. The main difference: Space Ranger was rather typical, and Adam Strange was exciting.
Both series lasted until the mid-60s. By that time, the United States and Russia had sent a passel of humans (and a few dogs) into outer space, and the reality of what you could see on the home screen was vastly more compelling than 1950s science fiction heroes.
Of course, in comic books nothing ever goes away, and here Adam got the best of the Ranger. Adam Strange remains a vital force in the DC Universe to this day, and now Adam Strange is going to enjoy something of a starring role in the latest DC teevee show, Krypton. Mindy Newell reported on this Monday, although she revealed only a fraction of our deeply existentialist conversation.
I’m glad to see Adam is still around, but I’m reminded of DC publisher Jenette Kahn’s reaction to the character back in 1977 when Jack C. Harris and I discussed a run in the revived Showcase. She took home a couple bound volumes from the library, read them over the weekend, came back and pronounced it “dated.”
Yup. It was. And that was the point. But DC needed to develop its astrophysical borders, so Jack pretty much kept the story, which also featured Hawkman and Hawkwoman. We renamed the series Hawkman, and it did okay.
Amusingly, Hawkwoman (or Hawkgirl) will be joining Adam Strange in the new Krypton series. This will not be the same woman from the current DC/CW teevee shows as these shows (except Supergirl) inhabit a parallel universe in which Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman do not exist.
When the father of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrodinger – he of Schrödinger’s Cat fame – told a Dublin audience in 1952 that “…his Nobel equations seemed to describeseveral different histories, these were ‘not alternatives, but all really happen simultaneously,’ it was the first time that the multiverse was addressed as a scientific theory and not just science fiction.
So Editor Mike texted me on Saturday to let me know that Adam Strange – I don’t mean an actor, I mean the DC character–is going to be a regular on the new Krypton series on SyFy sometime in 2018, if everything stays on track – and how often does that happen?
For those not in the know, and that’s all of you, because I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here, Adam Strange was my first “comics crush” back in the day, and I continue to love him. And I don’t mean any modern interpretation of him, but the original science fiction personage created by Julius Schwartz, with a costume design by Murphy Anderson, and who first appeared in Showcase #17, cover-dated November 1958. (I was five years old.)
I texted him back:
“Adam Strange has nothing to do with Krypton.”
Mike: “Well, he does now. This series, which lives in a universe separate from the comics, the movies, and maybe even the other teevee [sic] serieses [sic], is set in both the deep past (on the planet Krypton, no longer extant) and in the present day. But let us remember that Superman does not exist on the teevee [sic] Earth where Flash, Green Arrow, and the Legends live.”
Me: “Part of the multiverse.”
Mike: “Sure. Aren’t we all?”
And then, I wrote this back to him:
“Maybe that’s what death is. I mean the ‘near death’ experiences that people talk about…that white light…some kind of “wormhole” event horizon connecting us to the next life in the next universe, the one that is ‘second star to the right and straight on to morning’…And that’s why people have reincarnation experiences and/or déjà vu…They are glimpses of the multiverse.”
• • • • •
Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. So don’t be afraid… Matthew 10:29, 31
Driving down to Cherry Hill with Alixandra to see my mom last Sunday – somewhere in my heart I knew this would be the last time – we hit traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. Not enough to slow down completely, but the speedometer was reading 45 or 50 mph. All of a sudden, a sparrow landed on the passenger side-view mirror. It just sat there for a few seconds, maybe five, looking at us through the window. And then it flew away.
As in an M. Knight Shaymalan movie, there are signs everywhere.
My favorite line in Ben-Hur:
“The world is more than we know.”
• • • • •
Today, as I write this, is Sunday, July 23, 2017.
It has been six days.
Four since the funeral.
Yet somehow it feels like forever.
And at the same time like it didn’t happen at all.
I guess that is as good as any definition of grief.
Traditionally, the last two weeks of August are the time when everyone goes on vacation. The chi-chi restaurants, the ones that don’t rely on tourists, are closed, which is fine because most tourists seem to prefer chains like Red Lobster, which I don’t understand at all. The kids are home from camp and taking two weeks to go to the beach, or the lake, or the mountains (whichever is closest to grandparents), and that seems like a fine idea.
When I was a kid, that was just fine. No schedules, plenty of new places to explore, or just plop down with a book.
As I got older and more pretentious, I wanted to explore the world on my vacations. I wanted to see the great nations of Europe and more. I wanted to see sites I’d never seen, eat food I couldn’t pronounce, and, maybe, fall for with someone who spoke a language I didn’t understand.
I still want to do that. But I also want flop. Is there anyplace to go on vacation that lets me explore and relax at the same time?
Of course there is! Comic books!
As a DC girl, I tend to think of escapes in the DC Universe. And, for the purposes of this column, I’m assuming I do not have a Time Bubble, so I can’t vacation with dinosaurs or Legionnaires. Even so, I’ve found three places that seem, to me, to be ideal.
3. Atlantis! No, not the resort. Not even the sunken continent of myth. The undersea home of Aquaman, king of the seas. It would have all the grandeur of a royal court on dry land, such as castles to explore, and probably cathedrals (or whatever Atlanteans call their communal spiritual structures) and museums as well. I imagine the food is like nothing I’ve had before, maybe sushi, maybe seaweed, but much, much more salty, since it is grown and prepared in saltwater.
Best of all, I bet that tourists would be able to play with the fish. I’ve fed stingrays, and I’ve swum with dolphins, and both have been so much fun. Sure, it’s for rubes, but it’s fun. I would entirely enjoy being exploited by tourist wranglers in Atlantis, and I’d tip as well as I could afford for the privilege.
2. Themyscira! Again, not the place of myth, but the home of Wonder Woman. Coincidentally, it’s also known as Paradise Island, which is also another name for the Atlantis resort. And I imagine it as a paradise, at least for women. Like the Canyon Ranch, but with optional hunting and sword-fighting, it would be all organic food and rejuvenating spa treatments. I have done neither archery nor horseback riding since I went away to camp forty years ago, but I bet the Amazons would tolerate my ineptness as long as I wasn’t an asshole and I tipped well. I can’t think of a better place to go for a Bachelorette party or a class reunion.
1. Kandor! I’ve saved the best for last. I would like to tell you that I want to go to Kandor, the Kryptonian city that Brainiac shrank and put in a bottle, because it would be educational to learn about a culture that is, literally, out of this world in origin. I’m sure that learning how Kandorians interact, their customs and habits and beliefs, would be fascinating.
But that’s not why I want to go.
Kandor retains Krypton’s environment, which includes red sunlight and massive gravity. Unless I took extra precautions, I wouldn’t be able to get up off the ground.
Slide a mattress under me first, and let my lie there in a lump for my two weeks. Now that’s a vacation.
Don’t you love when a spoiler leaks to we, the misbegotten nerds, and suddenly the Internet is on fire? I sure do. And nothing has gotten our ragespew a flowin’ in recent memory like the potential spoiler (ahem…alert.) that Wonder Woman would be a descendant of the Kryptonian colonists of yesteryear in the Man of Steel movieverse. Funny enough, it didn’t phase me in the least. Whereas some of my close personal friends let loose a brilliantly recorded tirade railing against the very notion of it, I simply concluded that it made sense to me. Rao be damned!
So, Internet, why all the anger? Well, the knee-jerk reaction is to simply say the pitch is not in line with the true origins of the character in the source material. It’d be rude of me to then say completely straight-faced “Oh my gawd, you’re absolutely right! In fact, I concur that the only way to enjoy a character’s portrayal in a different medium is to ensure that his or her origin matches perfectly detail-for-detail their previously published debut!” Then you’d roll your eyes, and call me an ass.
Well, go on, call me an ass. Because you know what? I give a flying invisible jet’s patootie if Wonder Woman descends from ancient Kryptonians. Or that Superman killed Zod. Or that Batman will not be Bruce Wayne, but Dick Grayson.
Ha! Got you there for a sec, didn’t I? The simple fact is as a fan of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, what I care most about isn’t their backstory but how they are portrayed in the present of the film.
I understand the fear and outrage. We proud geeks – covetous keepers of our continuity – despise the idea that movies or TV shows depicting our wares must be muted, diluted, or otherwise repackaged to appease the lowest common denominator. But when it’s done with conviction, quality, and common sense, we tend not to get our underwear so wedged up our own asses.
Remember how much we all loved Tim Burton’s Batman? OK, remember how many of us loved it? Well, I don’t recall the masses going insane-in-the-bat-brain over the revelation that the Joker was one Jack Napier. And while I recall plenty of nit-picky problems over Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, nary a word of anger seemed to spewed over the organic webshooter after the film came out. Same could be said of the blackcasting of Michael Clark Duncan as the Kingpin, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, or Idris Elba as Heimdall. Funny how that is, isn’t it?
And where is the utter outrage at the animated DCU? Or Marvel’s Hulk Agents of S.M.A.S.H? And what are we going to do with all the yutzes who like Arrow?! I mean, last time I checked, Oliver Queen had a god-damned goatee. Interesting enough, all I hear is good things about the show. Even the notion that a Flash spin-off might occur has seemingly traveled the Interwebs without igniting civil war. And this week when someone dropped that Donal Logue might play Harvey Bullock in a pilot revolving around a police procedural Gotham show? Somehow, we all woke up the next morning perhaps uttering that scariest of phrases… “I’ll see it when it comes out, and make up my mind then.”
And therein lies my point. It’s not a factor of fear that Warner Brothers chooses to reimagine Batman in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, or change gears with Superman twice within a 10 year period. It’s all a matter of business. The same could be said with Disney/Marvel. Consider cold and calculated business that allows characters like Gravitron and Blizzard to be reimagined on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to better suit the long-terms plans of their movies and television series. As I’ve come to find here in my waning youth, the all-mighty dollar drives all that we love in the world of content creation. While true passion for characters and story may drive we the few and proud creators… without the financial backing of crazy-mad corporations, what we build may exist only on our hard drives, our sketchbooks, and our minds.
If Wonder Woman in the polarizing Man of Steel DC movieverse ends up with a strain of Krypton flowing in her meaty non-clay veins… so be it. I’ll care far more that she is portrayed as regal, strong, and self-assured. If Themyscira’s statues tribute Rao over Zeus, big whoop-dee-doo. So long as it’s filled with overly tall, buxom, man-hating women (you know, who are all like… empowered and crap) then my prayers shall be answered. Or better yet? If the character, her background, and her portrayal all lend to the forward momentum of actually realizing a cross-picture universe for DC… then we’ll soon be living in a golden age. With powerful franchises from both the big two comic book publishers in place, those evil unwashed masses who dilute our precious universes may end up loving the same characters we love.
And when they do? They might just take that bold leap to a comic shop to see what they’ve been missing all along.
I’ve gone on record many times about how I enjoy much of DC Comics’ digital line. I’ve even been snotty enough to note that, unlike much of The New 52, these titles are quite readable and are DC’s saving grace. So I’ll take it one step further.
One of these weekly digital titles is called Adventures of Superman. Yes, I realize it’s not the first comic book (let alone teevee or radio show) to employ this name. This doesn’t matter. Like DC’s digital Legends of the Dark Knight weekly, each story is by a separate creative team and said stories usually run across several “issues.”
If you’re thinking about sampling, let me strongly recommend the three-part story that was just completed (Adventures of Superman numbers 31, 32 and 33). The story is called “The Dark Lantern” (yes, I will not be surprised when DC does “The Dark Sugar and Spike”) and it was written by Jim Krueger and drawn by Neil Edwards and Scott Hanna; a fine pedigree. I single this story arc out for three reasons: its concept, its execution, and its timing.
The concept is first-rate. It figures that Krypton must have fallen within some Green Lantern’s sector. Clearly, that GL didn’t save the planet and presumably it went blooie on that guy’s watch. How does he feel about that? Does he think he should atone for his failure to prevent the incident? And what happens when he learns there was a survivor?
The execution is first-rate. The story is well told and complete within its 60 half-page bandwidth. DC reprints some of this stuff in trades or pamphlets and stacks the half-pages, so let’s call this a 30-page story. Simply put, we rarely see so much story within 30 pages.
I mean, we used to. Hell, Ditko and Lee took 11 pages to introduce Spider-Man and tell his origin. 38 years later, it took Bendis and Bagley about 136 pages to tell that same story. Times change, and not always for the better. Mind you, I enjoyed their retelling and we no longer rely on nine panel pages to get through a tale, but my point remains. It is quite unusual to see so much story from DC or Marvel in so few pages, and if “The Dark Lantern” is a throwback, then let’s throwback some more.
However, nobody can take credit for the timing. Take a good look at the two panels above. “I failed to save his people and threatened to kill those he now loves. I fought him and brought poison to him. And still he forgives me. Still he thinks of me.”
It is simply amazing that this issue was released within hours of Nelson Mandela’s death.
At 75, Superman remains the archetypal superhero and still relevant to comic books and the American people. When created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, he was an amalgam of the myths and pulps both boys devoured, a bit of wish fulfillment given how crappy their lives in Cleveland were. Little did they suspect their hero would become an icon for generations and become one of the most recognized figures around the world.
Zack Snyder attempted to bring that sense of gravitas to the is interpretation of Superman in this summer’s Man of Steel. The problem is, he made such a somber film that he totally drained it of the gosh wow feeling he was always intended to convey. He and screenwriter David Goyer made an interesting decision to make this a first contact story but both men should have remembered the sense of exhalation we got from the four-color comics, the George Reeves television series and seeing Christopher Reeve first appear in the red and blue.
The movie divided critics, fans, and casual viewers most faulting it for its lack of humor and overdone fight sequences. Still, at $662 million worldwide, one can’t ignore its commercial fortunes. We have a chance to revisit the production with the release this week of the film on Blu-ray, courtesy of Warner Home Video.
Superman has always been reflective of the times we live in. These days, we’re more fearful and suspicious of strangers thanks to 9/11 and a constant global threat to our way of life. This film somewhat addresses those fears with a galactic component but then doesn’t really explore it in depth. In fact, the film is entertaining but avoids delving deep when it would be a better film. Instead, things get to blow up with excessiveness bordering on pornographic which someone decided audiences crave. Really, we don’t. We have Michael Bay films and Pacific Rim for that.
The origin story, to me thoroughly unnecessary this time around but no one asked, has been endlessly told and retold, modified through the interests of the creators at work. This time around, we have a fresh looking Krypton and Science Council, dealing with the death throes of the planet and a coup from General Zod. I can buy that. I can even appreciate the efforts to link Zod and Jor-El more closely because modern drama seems to demand that. On the other hand, this is the first of two occasions where the man bred for war gets his ass kicked by a member of the House of El and that makes no sense.
I disliked Jor-El dying before Krypton because the notion of father and mother holding one another as their son rockets to freedom is indelible.
When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character and began telling stories, they were bringing over a decade’s worth of pulp reading experience with them and wrote from the perspective of poor Jews living in Cleveland. As a result, some of the characterizations and dynamics from the 1930s no longer work in 2013 so I am largely fine with the major alterations.
Kent’s fears for his growing son work because in today’s world, someone with those powers would be whisked away in a heartbeat. The trailer makes him out to be a bastard when it seems he is willing to let others die to protect his son’s secret but the full scene plays far better than I feared. He’s thoroughly devoted to the boy and his sacrifice is an act of love (from a writing standpoint, it’s silly since Clark could have gotten the dog and been back before anyone noticed, but it sure beats poor Glenn Ford’s one and done scene).
When the film lets the characters talk to one another, there is a heart and warmth that I wish was allowed to infuse the remainder of the film. The Clark and Martha scenes are the film’s best and credit to Henry Cavil and Diane Lane for making those work so well.
Similarly, critics have taken the filmmakers to task for letting Lois learn Clark’s secret at the outset of their relationship. Frankly, I think this worked just fine. She is the only one to connect the dots, to find the mystery hero and establishes a bedrock of trust between them before the romance kicks in. I miss the steel Phyllis Coates and Margot Kidder brought to the character and at 38, Amy Adams is a little old for the role, but I bought it.
On the other hand, Clark wandering until he is 33 seems farfetched. Let’s say he began wandering after high school, that’s at 18. It takes him 15 years to get his shit together and do something with his powers? This sequence, lifted from Waid’s wonderful Birthright graphic novel is nicely handled but this symbol of hope is saddled with too much Christian symbolism for my taste. (speaking of Waid, I totally agree with much of his assessment over at Thrillbent.)
Similarly, when he finally inserts the key into the ancient spacecraft, Jor-El arrives to tutor him. For a film trying to distance itself from Richard Donner’s faithful adaptation of the source material, lifting this bit doesn’t work. We get way too much Russell Crowe from here on out, making him the literal deus ex machina.
The filmmakers talk about this being handled as a first contact story which is a fresh angle and I wish they did more with it. Instead, they give us a few lines here and there and little else when this could have been a far richer segment of the story. Instead, the army and Emil Hamilton are there to serve expository purposes and not dramatic ones.
Zod arrives and informs us that out of thousands of colonizing ships not a single one has endured. That stretches the law of averages and can be easily proven wrong in a sequel, robbing Kal-El of his Last Son of Krypton designation. He then announces that whereas Jor-El saw his son as the bridge between races, Zod would rather be the sole sentient race on Earth. To accomplish that goal, he is ready to annihilate human life. He grows one-dimensional and monomaniacal with each passing scene, reducing him to a standard film villain instead of a complex man.
Which leads me to the action sequences which are really too overly long scenes designed to trash everything Superman holds dear, starting with Smallville Why Metropolis is targeted since he’s not yet connected with the city is a mystery, except it gives us a chance to see Perry White, given little to do other than doubt Lois. Steve Trevor is named way too late and Jenny is never properly introduced for us to care about her predicament during the overblown and thoroughly unneeded trashing of the city.
Before I get to the climax, I do want to note that for two devices battering the planet with some gravimetric hoohah, there is remarkably little mentioned about how this was affecting the rest of the world. I would imagine the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean would be devastating while the seismic waves radiating throughout North America would cripple the power gird among other issues. These are more interesting dilemmas than watching two Kryptonians batter one another with rebar.
Superman is a symbol of hope. We were all raised to believe that and the film mentions it repeatedly. And yet, when he has Zod in a chokehold and hears the general’s threats that he will never stop, Superman feels he has one choice. Actually, as staged, I sat there considering several other options. If I could do it, so could the Man of Steel. He did not need to kill. But he did and then got over it way too fast, way too easily. We were cheated of a big emotional payoff.
This is a world that now knows there is life beyond the stars and how that colors their perception of these forthcoming heroes will be fascinating, if done right. But first, we need Superman to be what has always been, a symbol of truth and justice, a righter of wrongs and a beacon we want to aspire to be. Henry Cavil makes me want to believe in him and I hope he gets a chance to really shine in what is beginning to look like an overstuffed sequel.
The movie looks and sounds as spectacular as one would expect from the mammoth production. To celebrate its importance, the package comes with two Blu-ray discs, a DVD, and Ultraviolet digital copy. On the first disc comes the film plus several features: Strong Characters, Legendary Roles (25:59) which has the cast eloquently discuss the mythic proportions of Superman but really needed more historic context, tracing his development through the years; All Out Action (26:02), which showcases how hard the performers had to train; Krypton Decoded (6:42), hosted by Dylan Sprayberry (teen Clark) and looks at how they blew Krypton up; Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short (2:03), brilliantly executed by Bruce Timm and making me longer for that sense of wonder to be in the film itself; New Zealand: Home to Middle Earth (6:35), which seems arbitrarily included to promote The Hobbit series.
Disc Two includes the lengthy Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel (2:54:05), essentially replaying the entire film but with actors, producers, and others popping up on screen to discuss elements of the production. At times you get four screens – the film, the speaker, the effects or design, and something else. Highlights include Snyder talking about the importance of Hans Zimmer’s score, and lets a climactic scene play with just the music to demonstrate his point; Antje Traue (Faora) talking about how challenging it was to act in her heavy costume, while Michael Shannon noted his motion capture suit posed entirely different challenges. Richard Schiff’s commentary was lighthearted but mostly superfluous but Russell Crowe’s stories are far more interesting including recounting his first meeting with Cavill. The disc also includes a mocukmentary, Planet Krypton (17:18), which seems to be someone’s vanity project and is easily skipped.
Late to the Man of Steel party, but I am compelled to weigh in. Here are my thoughts, which I don’t think are spoilers, but be warned if you’re squeamish about such things.
When I worked at DC in the 1990s, I was known as the person who liked Superman. Which is odd, really, because without Superman, there would be no DC. In any case, the consensus was that Superman wasn’t cool because he wasn’t dark or broody. Over the next decade, Superman became cool, not only in the comics, but also on a top-rated television program. People stood on line at Macy’s anchor store for the chance to meet editor Mike Carlin.
And then Superman Returns bombed, and the conventional wisdom was that Superman, as a character, needed to be dark and brooding after all. He had to be made “modern.”
Anyone who was reading Superman before John Byrne’s 1986 reboot will remember a dark and brooding character. The late, pre-Crisis Superman was always thinking mournfully of his lost planet, his lost birth family, his lost adopted family, and his sense that he could never have a family of his own. Alan Moore captured this brilliantly in his 1985 story, “For the Man Who Has Everything.”
This film is certainly dark. In a recent interview, Bill Nye said, “Space brings out the best in us.” But not, apparently in our production design.
On all of Krypton, it seems, the only colors are blacks, grays and metallic. There do not seem to be any blondes. We don’t see any vegetation above ground, and the Kryptonians we see wear either armor with capes or robes that appear to be ceremonial. It’s beautiful, but it really took my out of the movie, as I wondered how any civilization could be so determinately dreary. I suppose it’s possible that an entire planet could have its own art director to show how Seriously Dark and Mature they are, but to me it just seemed like the everybody went Goth at the same time. When we have the big reveal of Kal-El’s Superman suit, I wondered when Jor-El had discovered blue and red.
Amy Adams is a delightful Lois Lane, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. Her performance is completely believable as a hard-charging, ambitious reporter. She never plays girly or helpless. I only wish she would give lessons to Maureen Dowd.
Which brings me to my biggest regret. The body count in this movie is ridiculously high. The final battle over Metropolis must kill hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people. And it’s not just Zod and his minions who destroy. Superman topples his share of skyscrapers. My Superman would have moved the battle to an ocean. The ending, to my mind, is completely out of character. I know it’s been done in the comics, but there was immediate fall-out and regret, which we don’t see here.
It’s especially disturbing, given that Warner Bros. apparently went out of their way to market this movie as something traditionally religious families would enjoy. The script makes a big deal about Clark being 33 years old (which seems to me to be too old for Clark to be so naive, but I’m not in film marketing), Even if one can ignore the Jewish roots (which, before that, were Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian) of most of the Superman mythos, one would still notice the tug-of-war between Jonathan and Martha Kent over whether Clark should stay in or out of the closet about his differences.
Maybe this is the problem. Maybe trying to make a film that will appeal to those too self-conscious to be hopeful at the same time trying to appeal to evangelicals produces a mush.
Or maybe the creative team needs another film to find their legs. That’s what happened with Batman.
I’m writing this while listening to John Williams’ magnificent score for Superman – the one and only Superman, starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.
Well, this morning (Sunday, June 2, 2013) I was doing my usual routine, sipping tea at the breakfast table, working on the New York Times Sunday crossword and listening to NPR. (Yeah, I’m a media multi-tasker.) NPR’s Studio 360 series “American Icons” was about to start. It turned to be a rebroadcast of a program that originally aired on July 6, 2007.
And today’s icon was…
I didn’t remember hearing the original broadcast, and I’m guessing the station chose to rerun it because Man Of Steel is about to be released. At any rate, being a comic geek, I was delighted. Commentators included Margot Kidder, Jack Lawson, Bryan Singer, Michael Chabon, Jules Feifer, and Art Spiegelman. It touched on many areas – of course Siegel and Schuster and the shitty way they were treated by DC (NPR never reins in its guests, which is why I love it!), the relation of Superman to Jewish mythology and the immigrant experience, the history of Superman in the media, from the comics to radio to the dynamic Fleisher Studios animated movie shorts to television to the big screen – although there was no conversation about Man Of Steel, since it was a rebroadcast from just before SupermanReturns was released.
Even though it is an old program, the content was still relevant – proving their point that Superman is an American icon. And the producers did their homework. A section that I especially liked was the discussion of Superman: Red Sun (by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, and Killian Plunkett. The prestige format mini-series, which hit the bookshelves in 2003 and was later collected and released as a graphic novel, was published under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, and explored this particular “what if?” scenario: What if Kal-El’s rocket from Krypton had landed in the Ukrainian farmlands during the Cold War? What if Superman wasn’t raised to fight for truth, justice, and the American way, but – as Millar wrote – “the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact?”
This led to a really cool conversation on totalitarianism, fascism, World War II and the Nazis, and the use of Superman during that time as a propaganda tool by the American government to promote American ideals and values. As fellow columnist Robert Greenberger wrote here at ComicMix on December 7, 2009 , “a special edition of Superman…was produced for the U.S. Army.The Army had a problem at the time – they were drafting thousands of men a year, but many of them had no education to speak of, with large swaths of them functionally illiterate, and they were expected to operate complex machinery pretty quickly. They had to learn how to read, and fast. The troops also needed cheap and portable entertainment, something that could be carried through the battlefields of Europe and Asia.So with the cooperation of National Periodical Publications, the forerunner to DC Comics, this edition was produced by the War Department with simplified dialogue and word balloons. Hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed to GIs, and it helped them learn to read and to pass the time. And of course, copies of the comics were handed out to kids in faraway lands, as gestures of goodwill.”
The guests also discussed Superman and his role as the ultimate superhero, someone who has the power to do either enormous good or enormous evil. Either way, isn’t his decision to act at all, to interfere in the lives of the mortals beneath him, that of Nietzsche’s “übermench,” who will decide the fate of society?
IM-always-Not-So-Ho, Studio 360 did a great job dissecting what it is about the Kryptonian that makes him an American icon, and I totally recommend going to the NPR website and either streaming it or downloading it for podcast for your listening pleasure.
Williams’ score is still playing.
What really strikes me as I sit here, scenes from the movie replaying in my head – the oh-so-cool opening with the kid reading a comic and the camera zooming in on the Daily Planet as it transitions from comic page to “reality,” Superman rescuing the cat from the tree, of course Superman’s first rescue of Lois (“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?!”), the finale with Superman flying in orbit around the Earth and Christopher Reeve looking at us and smiling as he zooms off camera – is the impressive way that Williams leads the music from a grand, baroque science-fiction scenario (Krypton) to the down-to-earth gentleness of the Kent’s farm to the majestic sweep of the Kansas prairies as Clark follows his destiny to the romantic, impossible reality of Superman in Metropolis.