Earth Station One Episode 172 – The Golden Age of Professional Wrestling
On this episode, the ESO crew enters the square circle to grapple with the early origins of the unique world of sports entertainment. Mike Faber, Mike Gordon, and the award-winning author Bobby Nash face off against Joe Crowe, Nick Ahlehelm, and John Morgan Neal in the ultimate battle for the ESO title belt. We also chat with Larry Johnson from Cineprov and test his quick wit in The Geek Seat! Plus, some Rants and Raves about the San Diego Comic-Con, the Khan Report, and Shout Outs!
Join us for yet another episode of The Earth Station One Podcast we like to call: The Golden Age of Professional Wrestling at www.esopodcast.com
OK, honest confession time. The geek blogger extraordinaire for Chicago’s newspaper Red Eye, Elliot Serrano, posted on his Facebook page that there were three things he knew to be facts:
Schroedinger’s cat was dead. There’s no air-holes in the box.
Superman never kills. For any reason. The End.
Batman would lose in a fight to Captain America.
Now, upon seeing this – perhaps because I was in a crabby mood – I was immediately consumed with anger. I swore vengeance on Elliot. Luckily he’s of the sporting kind, and told me I was allowed to disagree with just one of those aforementioned facts. Well Mr. FancyHam? Let’s tackle this issue of one Mr. Rogers and Mr. Wayne. Submitted here for you, Elliot and my intrepid Fishmongers…. the top five reasons Batman mops the floor with Mickey’s super soldier.
Gadgets. Unlike Cap, who chooses to limit his preparedness to a shield and a few MRE’s stashed in an errant thigh-pouch, Batman’s utility belt is 36” of versatility built for battle. Beyond a plethora of Batarangs and smoke pellets, Cap will also have to deal with freeze grenades, plasma torches, electrical tazers, and lord knows what else is tucked away. Sure, most of these will end up being a distraction at best when it comes to a full-on fight for nerd-supremacy, but that’s exactly what they are there for in this case. Batman unloads his belt busters to throw Cappy off his game. And then? Bat-boot to the face.
Combat Training. Captain America is easily considered on the top fighters in the Marvel Universe. Obviously he went through boot camp basics after becoming a super soldier. After he thawed out, he continued to train on the battlefield. He is the ultimate soldier. His combat is built to stop an opponent quickly, so that he can move on. Batman, in contrast, is a student of the world. He took years – years – to hone his craft. He learned martial arts from several masters. He learned the art of escape from top escape artists. He learned to use fear and his environment to his advantage. And then? Then he learned on the field. Cap fans will be quick to point out that Rogers has been fighting since WWII. What they tend to forget that in cannon he was frozen for a solid 40 or so years. In my mind, he’s technically the same age as Batman in this mock fight. With that in mind, Batman has had more training, from better trainers. Beyond that? Batman has fought super soldiers before. And they didn’t win either.
Friends. Captain America has the Avengers at his disposal. That’s quite a lofty roster. He also could claim a few X-Men, and his former sidekick The Falcon. Batman has the Justice League. He also has large parts of the Justice Society (I’m so not counting the New 52, suck it.). And when it comes to sidekicks? Bats has a small army there too. If they stood across from one another on the field of battle? Sorry Mousecateers. You’re outgunned, outnumbered, and out-Batmaned.
Stategic Thinking. Sorry kiddos, this is gonna be a mean point to make. Face facts: When Captain America wants to win the day? He punches things and makes speeches until Reed Richards or Tony Stark figure out what to do. And when Tony disagreed with Cap? Well, we all know how great things turned out after Civil War, right? In contrast Batman’s so good, his backup plans were good enough to detain the Justice League. His A.I. almost broke reality down because it could. And when he needs to save the day? He can do it from his wrist-top computer while he’s crotch-punching the Riddler.
Vehicles. Look, no good fight can be with just bare knuckles alone. Captain America has had a few cool rides every now and again. Batman has the Batmobile. Now, if I were to be so kind and give Cap the Triskellion to borrow for this little fracas, he just might have an edge. But if I were to be that nice? Well I’d have Batman borrow his Justice League space-station. And the heli-carrier can’t go into space. What about SWORD you ask? Sorry… it’s dealing with some problem with asteroid-M. At the end of the day, we know the Batmobile has way more tricks than any S.H.E.I.L.D. Hum-Vee. Plus chicks dig it. That alone tips the hat towards Batman.
I see it like this: Captain America is very skilled. In a bare-knuckle brawl against Bruce Wayne, in a ring, with no prep time, and nothing to fall back on? He’ll get in more than a few good licks. But a comic-book fight is not so cut and dry. If it were, it’d be boring. In this dream-fight, Cap and Bats would hurl everything they had at each other. After Superman and Wonder Woman drag Thor and the Hulk to the other side of the world… After Nightwing and Bucky are sucking down pity beers in a local pub over how short their run with the big-boy pants on was… After the Batmobile and Cap-Cycle are in ruin… after every last gimmick and gadget has torn Cap’s uniform into rags… After Batman resets a dislocated shoulder from one to many hits from a shield…. It comes down to two men ready to end the fight. Batman is better trained, and smarter. Captain America, even with enhanced speed and strength, is no different in Batman’s eye than any of the cadre of folks he’s bested in combat.
With a final firing of a Bat-Flare to the face (he was hiding it in his glove), dazed and confused… Batman sidesteps Cap’s haymaker, dodges the feinting jab Cap tried to sneak in, and jumps over Cap’s now clumsily executed leg sweep. After that? It’s just five quick thrusts to pressure points Stevie didn’t even know existed, and then a long nap. Broken, but not beaten… the Bat limps away in victory. And Elliot, if you’ll look under your chair, you’ll see this fight was decided before if even began. When the dust settles down, Batman is Batman. Captain America is just a patriotic drug-user.
Mainstream Comics (read: The Big Two) have begun to remind me of that much-mocked TV commercial with the old woman screaming “Help! I’ve fallen but I can’t get up!”
That business seems to me to be in freefall, and only gaming the numbers so as not to scare the horses maintains the status quo, with ongoing monthlies somehow being considered successes with four-digit sell-through estimates that, as few as 10 years ago, would’ve gotten a title canceled long before things got that desperate. And the “top-selling” titles, you’ll note, are all brand extensions – all variations on, or team-ups with, batmen, wolverines, and other tried-and-trues.
Which presents a thorny dilemma.
Neither of the “Big” Two’s corporate parents wants to be in the business of putting ink on dead trees, which – though ComiXology might claim otherwise – is still the major comics delivery-system. And publishing’s a low-margin biz, and low margins are as crucifixes to Count Disnela and Baron Von Warner. But they’ve been persuaded not to drive a stake through the comics divisions’ hearts by being sold on the dubious proposition that comics are low-cost R&D for blockbuster movie and TV development.
Yet not one of the tentpole franchises from the Big Two’s studio daddies has been based on anything created more recently than 50 years ago (the 40-year old Bladebeing neither tentpole nor generated by Marvel Entertainment). If you’re going to be a stickler and say, for example, that X-Men’s success owes more to the ‘80s reboot than the Lee-Kirby original, okay – 30 years ago. So far the closest Hollywood has come to building a discrete film around a newer character is the alleged Deadpool movie. Since the New Mutants and X-Force titles that whelped the character are both X-Men spinoffs, however, Deadpool doesn’t really count as something that isn’t a brand extension. If Jeff Robinov’s successors don’t share his aversion to making a Lobo film, maybe then I’ll sit up and take notice.
To make matters worse, the comics themselves are not being used as a development lab, since most, if not all, of the new titles in recent years have themselves been brand extensions. (And, when films like RedandThe Loserstank, the incentive to look to newer “original” Big Two titles as source material dies with them.)
If the Big Two can’t be profit centers from publishing alone, the only way Pub Ops can truthfully be a development lab is if the publishers increasingly take back control of the creative development of their comics, which they’ve completely outsourced. This, to control new product development focused less on selling comics and more on creating potential movies and TV shows. But they probably can’t do this – at least, not easily.
For one thing, The Big Two seem to be under pressure to roll back the kinds of deals that used to give Creatives limited profit participation in new characters. And in this Brave New World of self-publishing, it’s hard to find strong, seasoned talent willing to let their new ideas be Wholly Owned by the Big Two.
So how much longer can the Big Floppymeisters justify their existence? Especially when they’re completely reliant on the freelance talent … because they no longer have editors who can control the process credibly, even if their bosses were willing to redefine the role of the editor. Few, if any, of them have the chops to pick up a pencil, graphics tablet or keyboard and make the product themselves (and show the newbies how it’s done) – the way the Infantinos, Orlandos, Lees, Romitas, O’Neils, Weins, and Shooters did when they were running things.
More in the third and final installment of this rant, written from the San Diego Comic-Con, where I’ll be looking for signs of a forced-change in Talent Relations – if any – and reporting back from my maybe not-so-uniquely skewed perspective.
The final ballot for the 2013 Harvey Awards is now available. Named in honor of the late Harvey Kurtzman, one of the industry’s most innovative talents, the Harvey Awards recognize outstanding work in comics and sequential art. The 26th Annual Harvey Awards will be presented Saturday, September 7th, 2013 as part of the Baltimore Comic-Con.
If you are a comics professional, you can vote online at harveyawards.org/2013-final-ballot/. This will enable easier and faster methods for the professional community to submit their nominees. Ballots are due by Monday, August 19, 2013.
Danny Boyle’s Trance is now available on DigitalHD and will debut on Blu-ray add DVD July 23. To celebrate, we have 1 copy of the disc to giveaway to a lucky reader.
Trance brings us tons of twists and turns in the plot as multiple layers of backstabbing occur. Movies with unexpected turns have become a favorite of audiences. It’s a difficult task to make sure that the twist is unpredictable, but when it is done correctly, double-cross heist films make great additions to movie history. Here, we lay out some of our favorite twisty-turny heist films.
From Academy Award-Winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) comes an “exhilarating brain-twister” (New York Post)! After a blow to the head during his attempted robbery of a $27 million Goya painting, Simon (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class), a fine-art auctioneer, awakens to find that the painting – and his memory – are missing. Forced by his ruthless crime partner Franck (Vincent Cassel, Black Swan) to undergo hypnosis, Simon enters into a deadly love triangle with his seductive hypnotist (Rosario Dawson, Sin City). As the plot twists, the line between reality and dream becomes blurred in this fast-paced, unpredictable, “sexy and suspenseful” (Empire) thriller.
A series of unexpected changes puts the police close on the trail of Neil McCauley and his crew as they plan yet another bank robbery. After a brutal beating to the crew, only a few are left to carry out the plan. McCauley goes through a lot of difficulties and even develops a mutual understanding with Lieutenant Hanna. In the end, this heist may prove to be too difficult and could be the last string for the crew.
The Bank Job
Terry, Kevin, Dave, Bambas, and Guy thought they had it made when they were given the chance to rob a London bank for millions. The job seemed simple enough for the crew, who made plans to dig a tunnel and empty the bank’s safety deposit boxes. Things got a little more complicated once they realized one of the boxes held scandalous photos of British Royalty, Princess Margaret. Through a series of twists and turns, members of the crew were tracked down and only a few made it out alive.
Jake Hoyt had no idea what he was getting himself into when he started his first day of work as a narcotics officer. His new partner, Detective Alonzo Harris, has planned to steal millions of dollars from a drug dealer and save himself from the Russian Mafia. Alonzo may have surprised the audience with his scheming, but in the end a plot twist leaves the money in the hands of Jake.
Back from retirement, Nick Wells plans to steal a scepter and complete one final heist. He teams up with another robber, Jack Teller to complete his plan. It turns out that Jack and Nick do not make such a great team. Both the robbers become selfish and want the scepter for themselves. In the end, Nick has much more experience and is one step ahead of his partner in crime.
After The Sunset
Max Burdett and his wife Lola promised to retire from the business forever and moved to a tropical island. An FBI agent who had been trying to convict the couple for years followed them to the island, but unknowingly became friends with the retirees. When a cruise ship with a large diamond is scheduled to visit the same island, the stone is taken by a well-planned heist. In the end, the diamond ends up in the hands of the person who is least expected after a few series of back-stabbing situations.
The Trance Blu-ray offers up the following Special Features:
BD Exclusive Features
● Theatrical Feature Blu-ray
● Deleted Scenes
● Trance Unraveled (Easter Egg)
● The Power of Suggestion-Making Trance
● Kick Off
● Danny’s Film Noir
● The Look
● The Final Rewrite
● Danny Boyle Retrospective
● Short Film: EUGENE by Spencer Susser
● Theatrical Trailer
● UV Copy
DVD Exclusive Features
● Theatrical Feature
● The Look
● The Power of Suggestion-Making Trance
● The Final Rewrite
● Theatrical Trailer
To win, tell us which feature film James Marsden has not appeared in:
You must have your answer submitted no later than 11:59 p.m., Sunday, July 6. The decision of ComicMix will be final.
If you’ve ever read anything from Clifford Meth, you know he can be a ferocious writer, and ferociously talented. We like that sort of thing here, and that’s why we’ve published his stuff in the past. He’s compiling his columns and essays into a book, and you have a few hours left to pre-order it on Kickstarter:
Comic Book Babylon gathers icons HARLAN ELLISON, STAN LEE, ALAN MOORE, FRANK MILLER, JOE KUBERT, GENE COLAN, DAVE COCKRUM, WALTER SIMONSON and NEAL ADAMS into a conversation with CLIFFORD METH where anything goes. Among other stories, you’ll learn how & why X-Men co-creator Dave Cockrum became the first Marvel artist to receive a monetary settlement and lifetime royalties for his creations after years of suffering and virtual banishment… You’ll meet a well-known Hollywood film producer who doesn’t like to pay his writers (until someone squeezes his face)… You’ll read Harlan Ellison saying things no one else would publish…
This fascinating book collects Meth’s decades of comics columns and essays–some too outrageous to publish in their day–and adds never-before-revealed material. Everything is brought to life with sensational illustrations by the celebrated and beloved Marvel/DC artist MICHAEL NETZER.
What’s achieved is a startling look at the REAL villains and heroes of comics. Introduction by STAN LEE. Art by NETZER. Rants by METH. Join us!
I freely admit a bias. DC’s animated efforts have always trumped Marvel’s. Always. Super Friends smacked Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends two ways from Sunday. And for every great episode of the 90’s X-Men or Spider-Man there were two Batman or Superman: The Animated Adventures. And sure, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Sensational Spider-Man were brilliant, but they don’t belong in the same breath as Justice League Unlimited and Batman Beyond.
At present moment the only animated war (and it’s a weak one at that…) that may be around is Ultimate Spider-Man against Teen Titans Go! Both are meant to skew young. But only one of them is doing it right. I’ll give you half a guess – it’s Teen Titans Go!
In the simplest of terms, Ultimate Spider-Man ultimately sucks. And that hurts to say, because my personal lord and savior Paul Dini, is a creative consultant. The show is a schizophrenic attempt at making Spider-Man for a new generation. This is after the way-better-written Sensational Spider-Man, mind you. Every single trope a cartoon can use to wave the white flag of “love me!” is plastered throughout the show. A misfit team of B and C listers meant to accompany the star? Check. Family Guy style cutaway gags every few minutes? Check. Frequent guest stars to make you forget there’s no character development? Ch-ch-check. In all the episodes I’ve sat through, the only thread that connects them all is the desperation that oozes from the pores. Here is a series that reeks of plot by committee that does anything short of shuckin’ and jivin’ in order to grab the kiddies’ attention.
On the other hand, Teen Titans Go! seems to suffer from none of this. An oddly post-modern retread of its former self, TTG takes the titular titans of 2003, and re-imagines them in kawaii form. This super deformed (more cartoony, if such a term could ever be applied to a cartoon) Titans show plays towards the micro-sized popular companion toons like Regular Show or Adventure Time. With no serious episodes to be had, TTG is a show hellbent on solely being entertaining. No secret machinations present. Where USM seeks to birth a brand new Marvel Animated Universe™, TTG seeks only to get some laughs. I should note in the wake of the cancelation of Green Lantern: the Animated Series and Young Justice I was apt to be cranky with whatever replaced them. It took literally two minutes of TTG to crack my grimace.
Normally I’m a bit more verbose, but the proof is in the pudding. As it stands, Marvel continues down a terrible path, choosing to aim at any market that will have them. DC continues to allow their creative teams to explore, experiment, and ultimately (heh) aim their cartoons with laser focus. Combine that with their continued brilliant voice casting, and smart writing? You get, more often than not, a superior product.
To the surprise of few, Marvel announced on their website today that Robert Downey, Jr. would don the armor at least two more times. What’s interesting is that the two films he signed for are Avengers 2 and Avengers 3, the latter of which has yet to be given a formal green-light or spot on the Disney release schedule.
Downey has been handsomely rewarded for his early participation in the Marvel film universe, earning a reported $50 million for his work in the first Avengers film in addition to his salary from the first three Iron Man movies.
As the Marvel Film Universe continues, Phase 2 is well mapped out and with the claiming of two weekends in 2016 and 2017; Disney is clearly staking their territory for Phase 3. Speculation abounds as to what Phase 3 will be comprised of but with today’s announcement, it is increasingly clear the solo Iron Man series are done for now. Instead, other characters will fill the void with projected second sequels to Captain America, Thor, and one for Guardians of the Galaxy leading the way. Should Edgar Wright’s Ant Man succeed, that too would spawn a sequel. Meantime, an armload of other heroes and heroines are being eyed for the Big Screen.
At present, Marvel has not announced if Black Panther, Doctor Strange, The Inhumans, or Heroes for Hire are being seriously developed or merely teased. No one saw Guardians coming so the possibilities are really limitless.
Add into the mix the recently returned rights to films featuring Blade, Ghost Rider, and Daredevil and Marvel has an embarrassment of riches. All of which leads one to wonder when the saturation point will be felt. That could come as early as next summer when four Marvel films from three studios are released in four months, starting with April’s Captain America: The Winter Solider leading the way, followed by The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of FuturePast, and Guardians. Sony has also just announced third and fourth installments of the current Spider-Man series of films with several plot threads added in the second film.
It has been speculated that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD television series may be used as a launching pad for new film properties or television series. While the CW’s Smallville trotted out numerous spin-off possibilities from Aquaman to Booster Gold, none of them succeeded and there’s no guarantee Marvel will be any more successful, even with Joss Whedon’s intimate involvement.
DC Entertainment has finally succeeded with getting their cinematic universe off the ground with the smash success of Man of Steel. While its sequel is being fast-tracked for, most likely, a 2015 release, they’ll be playing catch-up well into the 2020s. By then, though, audiences may have been super-heroed out reminding one that Denny O’Neil always described them as “DC Misses the Boat Comics”.
A man unconscious on a city’s shore line. The only clue to his identity was a small medallion with a name stamped on it. Taking it for his own, this stranger to himself became one of Sovereign City’s greatest heroes! Pro Se Productions, an independent press on the cutting edge of genre fiction, heroic storytelling, and New Pulp, proudly announces the latest volume in one of the most popular New Pulp series today- THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME THREE: EIDOLON! From the mind of Award Winning Author Barry Reese!
“Heroes,” Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of and Partner in Pro Se Productions, explains, “are not only a major part of what Pro Se does and does well, but they’re vital to New Pulp! Pulp as a style covers many genres, but the two fisted, fast paced tales of the Hero are what people remember and want to read! We’re fortunate enough that Barry Reese hangs his mask at Pro Se and continues to add to his own Pantheon through Reese Unlimited.”
From Pro Se Productions and Reese Unlimited -Pro Se’s inaugural Author Imprint- comes the latest chapter in the Sovereign City Project featuring one of the most popular New Pulp heroes of recent years! Thrill to tales in this latest volume as Lazarus Gray and his aides battle against their opposite number as some of their most dangerous enemies band together to form MURDER UNLIMITED! They’ve sworn to destroy Lazarus and his team, but is there another agenda that secretly guides this sinister alliance? Also, Gray squares off with a new foe- Eidolon! Who or what is this latest adversary! Follow Gray as he works out a puzzle that began in the steamy jungles of Peru and may end with the fall of a hero!
“Barry Reese,” Hancock states, “not only delivers a tried and true Pulp Hero tale in the tradition of the Classic tales, he brings a definite excitement to his work. Twists and turns combined with characterization and controlled chaos make Barry’s dialogue pop and action roll like thunder.”
The Adventures of Lazarus Gray continue explosively with a third volume full of action, excitement, and danger as Assistance Unlimited plunges into the heart of evil…but will they all survive the journey?
Also presenting SECRETS OF THE DEAD, the first in a series of illustrated features by Barry Reese and Award Winning Artist George Sellas!
THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME THREE: EIDOLON featuring cover and interior illustrations by George Sellas, print formatting and design by Sean Alim and Ebook design by Russ Anderson! The latest and greatest in New Pulp from Reese Unlimited and Pro Se Productions!
“Barry Reese’s new pulp heroes have all the zest of the classic heroes of the 30s with a discreet touch of today’s sensibilities for an added kick. Always a fun, page-turning read.” – Will Meugniot, artist of DNAgents & Supervising Producer of X-Men: The Animated Series
For Review Copies, Interviews, or further information, contact Morgan Minor, Pro Se Director of Corporate Operations, at MorganMinorProSe@yahoo.com.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been a Superman fan pretty much forever. Superman was my first encounter with superheroes, beginning with watching the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie when I was very small. Through the years, Superman has remained one of my favorite superheroes. Sure, I love Deadpool (obviously!), and I’ve always been a big X-Men fan… and Batman… and Spider-Man… and I could go on and on from there – but Superman, the most unequivocal and steadfast symbol of hope and ethical humanity in the whole collection, has always been there in the background, informing my appreciation of the rest of the bunch.
Some people say that Superman is a boring character. He’s too perfect. He’s incredibly powerful and can do almost anything, way beyond what most of us can fathom, and he’s constantly doing the “right” or noble thing. How interesting can someone like that be?
Very interesting, I think. It’s Superman’s decision about how to use his power; his nobility; and his steadfast idealism in the way he decides to live his life for humanity and constantly be striving to do that right thing that have made him a multi-generational symbol and inspiration. At the same time, it is also his choice to live for humanity that drives him to live amongst humanity, and thus empathize with their plights, and, eventually, fall in love with one of them – Lois Lane.
Lois is the other half of what makes Superman so interesting. She’s a strong character in her own right, as she has to be to match up to someone as powerful as Superman. But she’s also only human, with human difficulties. Lois humanizes Superman, she pulls him back to Earth from the skies in which he might otherwise constantly float above us all. Sure, as a child, Superman is in touch with humanity, anchored by his parents and their desire to raise him with a strict moral code that respects and teaches responsibility for humanity. But once Clark seriously takes on the Superman persona and is living far from his parents as an adult in a strange city, someone else’s influence is needed. Enter Lois.
In most iterations of Superman, Lois does not, for at least a significant period of time, know that Superman and Clark Kent are the same man. Various reasons for this remaining the status quo of their relationship exist, from the potential danger to Lois if she knows Superman’s secret identity to Clark’s insecurity about her feelings for him asClark, or his desire for her to, essentially, “like him for him,” and not for being some kind of alien demigod. This dynamic not only serves to anchor Clark, but also to drive the story – as a lot of the drama, humor, and interest of the Superman story stems from Clark’s attempts to live a double life and somehow still win over the woman he loves and attain a very human kind of happiness.
Superman’s power and nobility, combined with Clark’s very human relationship with Lois Lane, are what make him such an interesting character, and what make me throw up my hands in disbelief when someone says that Superman is boring. Because how could an interaction of our human struggles with our human desire to be heroic be boring? How could it be just another story? Well, if people make it that way, I suppose. If people stray from what makes Clark-and-Superman great, and try to instead fit him into the box of every other superhero out there.
Now, let’s talk about Man of Steel.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
On a strictly is-it-an-enjoyably-watchable -movie level, I liked Man of Steel. Except for the overly long fight scenes (of which there were several), the pacing is pretty good. The cinematography is good. The story is fairly cohesive and easy to follow (despite some odd plot holes/questions, like how Superman’s costume was just hanging around on a ship that had been buried in Earth’s icy caverns thousands of years before the destruction of Krypton). Henry Cavill is delicious, and also shirtless in pretty much his very first scene. Shirtless and on fire. And it’s hot (all puns intended). Amy Adams is also adorable. Overall the acting is pretty top-notch. And there are many recognizable genre, TV, and mainstream actors to clap about (including at least twoBattlestar: Galactica dudes, Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani). There is also some blatant product placement…that works (Clark’s childhood friend Pete Ross works at an IHOP. After watching the movie, my friend and fellow journalist Alicia and I were forced, forced I tell you, to go to IHOP because we suddenly had IHOP cravings. But it was delicious, so that’s okay).
On a Superman mythos level, things get a lot shakier. One thing I did enjoy was the minor Superman character name-drops. Pete Ross, as mentioned, shows up in both Clark’s flashbacks and present day. Dr. Emil Hamilton is there as a military scientist or consultant. Steve Lombard is working at The Daily Planet. And there’s a wee Lana Lang on the flashback bus when it goes into the river. I also actually really enjoyed the first part of the movie, from Krypton through about the first two or so flashbacks. This is one film I’ve seen that actually world-built Krypton to a realistic extent and then spent some time there. Sure, there are echoes of what’s been developed before, and the combination of technology and organic, mythical-looking creatures was a bit weird at first, but I loved details like the floating silver orbs that are a combination of personal assistants and bodyguards, and also allow for a sort of 3-D video communication (or for a 3-D ultrasound!). And I liked the extent to which they managed to make the look of Kryptonian attire realistically tie in with Superman’s costumed appearance.
After Krypton, the first few scenes establish a Clark who’s wandering the world, interspersed with some growing-up time. These scenes are very enjoyable. The current scenes show a Clark that, like a well-developed Krypton, we don’t usually get to see much on screen. Clark’s soul-searching and wanderings as a young man are referenced in several versions of the Superman story, but we don’t often actually see them. And each of the early flashbacks shows a young Clark who is learning about his powers, and about his responsibilities, in a way that is organic and not heavy-handed.
Once the movie has spent some time on this, however, it moves more firmly into the present day origin story, with just a few more flashbacks here and there. These are of an older Clark and, while I get that teens are difficult and superteens perhaps even more difficult, these scenes are devoid of the familial love and warmth that marks the earlier scenes. They also include a scene in which Clark literally stands fifty feet away from his dad and watches him get swept away by a tornado. While the movie tries to make this into a character development point, it’s such a wrong note for Superman that I just couldn’t get behind it. Keeping his powers a secret or not, no Superman I’m interested in would be that selfish, even if his dad was telling him not to save him. It’s around this point that the movie also moves firmly into being, essentially, an alien disaster movie that happens to feature Superman.
Given the trailers we’d been seeing, and the fact that both Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan were signed on, I feared that we were going to get a very grimdark Superman in Man of Steel. And although the first several scenes were all fairly serious, since they cut back and forth it relieved the grimness somewhat, and I thought maybe my fears were going to be unfounded. Well, not so much. After the first few cuts back and forth, things turn continuously grim and grimmer in Man of Steel. Death and destruction (on a global scale) begin to appear everywhere and only increase for the rest of the story; and boy, is it exhausting to watch. It’s also not what I wanted to see in a Superman movie.
During Man of Steel, we are told by Jor-El that the S on Superman’s chest means “hope” to Kryptonians. And that’s exactly what Superman is supposed to be for us – a symbol of hope. He is our hope that there are people like him out there, and that it’s okay to believe they exist – which is important, because if they do exist, and succeed at existing, then maybe it’s not so unrealistic for us to try to be a little bit like them. Maybe we can be heroes too, at least now and again. In a way, Superman is the first part of that iconic last line of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current…” Superman reflects the best of human idealism, and the struggle to move forward, despite obstacles, and to continue moving forward. Superman is a symbol of hope…but this is not a hopeful movie.
There are a lot of dark superhero movies out there. The recent movies of Superman’s sometimes-partner Batman, for instance, are dark; and that works for him. I loved The Dark Knight, but I don’t need a hundred Dark Knights. The world is depressing enough right now, and I don’t need to constantly see destruction and death on the big screen; because we see it every day. What I need right now, what I crave, is a movie that shows me a hero who strives and succeeds at being better than that. At being better than all of the “reality” we are facing both in reality and in our current media. At actually “saving the world,” and not being beaten down by it in the end. At being a steadfast constant who won’t break under the pressure. And what I really want to know, after seeing Man of Steel, which could have been the perfect vehicle for this, is: why couldn’t this movie’s producers have been “the brave and the bold” movie team who dared to actually celebrate an ideal and a hopeful future in which disaster is not an inevitable and acceptable norm? In which there is somebody who can actually stop the world from being destroyed before half of it is gone?
Instead, they opted for a Superman whose introductory film features a final body count that at least equals if not exceeds that of the villain, General Zod (and that includes General Zod, since Superman, albeit reluctantly, straight-up snaps Zod’s neck in the end). As someone on Twitter said, “There is no Man of Steel criticism more stark than the fact that Earth would have been better off had Kal-El died on Krypton.” And as writer Brian Reed snarks, a conversation between Zod and Superman that would easily fit in this movie could be: “I’ll kill all of these humans you love.” “I punched you through 30 buildings. I’ve probably killed more of them than you at this point.” That…is a sad state of affairs.
Along with all of the death, the film also features a metric ton of property (and Earth) destruction, and Superman and the Kryptonians constantly whaling on each other to the point where my soul was craving even a smidge of character development, and welcomed Perry White and Steve Lombard’s struggle to free some random Daily Planet intern from rubble. You know your Superman movie is in trouble when a watcher is more interested in that than in Superman. Maybe because your Superman movie tries but fails to show the complexity or nuances of being both Superman and Clark Kent? Because it’s too busy showing things blowing up and the whole world falling apart? Yeah, maybe that.
One way in which the movie does try to humanize the adult Clark is via the introduction of Lois, and his interactions with her. But in my view, this is another great failure of the movie. Lois, as a character in Man of Steel, is great. She’s smart and upbeat and determined and fearless and loyal and successful and kind and has a strong sense of what’s right. She goes after the story, and gets the story, and has earned the respect of her editor and fellow reporters, and she is all around the sort of Lois I want to see. Lois and Superman, in their interactions, are also very strong.
But do you notice what’s missing about the previous sentence? Any mention of Clark. The meeting of Lois and Superman in this movie is just that – a meeting in which Lois knows him as Superman from the get-go. Yes, his name might be Clark, and she knows that too, but that’s incidental to all of their interactions. And while that may not greatly affect the dynamic of this particular movie as a movie, what does it do to the Superman mythos and to any potential sequels? Well, it strips out the human factor, the fun, the heart, and the drama that all come from the original Lois and Clark dynamic. It strips out a large part of what makes that story great.
As mentioned, when Superman is forced to be Clark around the woman he loves, and to wonder if she’ll ever love him for himself, rather than just for his powers as Superman, it brings him down to Earth, and to humanity, and gives him a reason to strive to be a better human, as well as a better superhero. It also makes the story a lot more fun; even if eventually, Lois does discover the truth. The story leading up to the reveal makes the reveal that much better, and also makes the relationship that much deeper. But here, it’s like they decided to skip right to the third season of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – when those first two seasons were what makes anything after them work at all.
To catastrophically misunderstand this dynamic to such an extent was so unbelievable to me that, even though it’s a weak storytelling element and has been done before, in Man of Steel I kept waiting and hoping for amnesia. I seriously thought that when Superman saved Lois from the burning Kryptonian escape pod and she said, “I’m sorry…” the sentence was going to end with, “…but I don’t remember how I got here.” I couldn’t believe that they’d seriously set up the entire relationship to be Lois and Superman-who-also-happens-to-masquerade-as-Clark-to-other-people. And yet, they did. What a disappointment. Sure, maybe they can make it work if they do another movie, or a Justice League movie, or whatever; but it won’t be the Superman I know anymore, or the Superman I love.
In our post-mortem discussion of this movie, my friend Alicia said that Henry Cavill, while very good, would never be her Superman. And while I love Henry Cavill, and think he acquitted himself as well as the script would allow, I agree with her with a bit of a rephrase (because really, Henry Cavill isn’t the problem). Man of Steel will never be my Superman. And while I realize that heroes can be re-made for modern times, and sometimes should be to keep things fresh, Superman is one of those rare few where messing with his core story too much just flat out ruins who he is.
Superman is known as the Big Blue Boy Scout for a reason. Sure, the nickname is affectionately snarky; but it’s also a great compliment – a nickname for a hero who always does the right thing and acts to help others, and who is always prepared to solve the world’s problems and deal with its disasters. The goal of making a movie about Superman should be to maintain the bright ideal he has always been when at his best, without making him unrelatable or cheesy. I don’t know what Man of Steel set out to do, but in the end, it certainly didn’t feel like that. If I don’t leave a movie about Superman feeling like there’s some hope in the world, then that movie is not about the Superman I love. And Man of Steel didn’t leave me with much hope.
Well, that’s about all the movie analysis I can manage for one day, but until next time, Servo Lectio!