The interweb is abuzz about Man of Steel director Zack Snyder admitting in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly that there is apparently one large omission in the upcoming and otherwise well-received Superman reboot:
There will be no Kryptonite, at least not in Man of Steel.
In a related story, producer and co-writer Christopher Nolan has confirmed that while Truth will have a meaty part in Man of Steel, Justice just gets a supporting role, and The American Way will only have a special after-credits cameo, so make sure you stick around for that.
Far be it for me to comment so directly on something I haven’t seen yet, but dropping Kryptonite from such a high profile reboot is a huge mistake.
Glowing space rocks that somehow manage to cross the void of space and reach the Earth in mass quantities from a planet so distant mankind didn’t even know it existed have been part of the cultural vernacular for seventy years.
And to rob of us, as the American public, of part of our heritage, is just intolerable.
Not to mention robbing Warner Bros. of the lucrative merchandising possibilities of selling an ordinary rock spray-painted flourescent green and telling kids it is of utmost importance that they buy and hoard as much of it as possible to keep it out of the hands of Superman’s enemies, lest it be used against him.
Mostly because I fell for that years ago, and will feel better if someone else ends up with a closet full of the stuff, too.
There are three things that a good Superman story must have:
(Whoops, wrong universe.)
2. Lois Lane.
Because when you’ve got a protagonist who has such an obviously inflated ego, you need to have someone who can emasculate him, put him in his place at a moment’s notice, and despite all the amazing things he has going for him, to make him generally feel poorly about himself.
Low self-esteem IS the 21st century American Way. Just ask any reality TV hopeful.
In most incarnations of the Superman mythos, Clark Kent does not choose to call himself Superman, but adopts the title after the general public starts calling him that (often after Lois herself popularized it in print).
But despite his modest and humble midwestern upbringing, he still is okay with calling himself SUPERman.
Sure, it may be true, but if people start calling me ‘awesome’ and I decide to put a big A on my chest and start calling myself Awesomeman . . . that says something about me, doesn’t it?
If there’s anyone who deserves to be arrogant enough to call himself Superman . . . it’s Batman.
Here’s a guy who could essentially just be a worthless filthy rich debutante, famous for just being attractive and wealthy without having developed any other applicable life skills.
Dude’s got an English butler at his beck and call 24/7, to drive him around, make sure he doesn’t choke on his own tongue after downing a case of Cristal, and who could make his booty calls and do his sexting for him.
In other words, Bruce Wayne could just be a male Kardashian.
At the very least, Taylor Swift could date him, break up with him, and then write a chart-topping song about it.
But he’s not that vapid. The man pulls himself up from the tragedy of watching his parents gunned down in front of him, then travels the world for a good decade, learning every possible skill and discipline, then dons a flimsy cape and mask and goes up against the worst his hometown has to offer.
Bullets don’t bounce off of him.
He can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound.
More powerful than a locomotive?
He’s not even more powerful than a Kia Sorento.
And on top of the thugs, dealers, pimps and assorted lowlifes, he’s got an entire rogue’s gallery of criminally insane adversaries, many of which use dangerous weaponized toxins and homebrew chemicals. Who knows what adverse effects repeated, long-term exposure to those could cause.
You think working in a bar or nightclub and being exposed to secondhand smoke is bad?
Try huffing Scarecrow’s fear toxin every couple months for decades.
Oh, but wait, we’re not done. Aside from staying up all night, every night dealing with the cray-cray in his immediate backyard, Bruce tosses in with the Justice League and goes toe-to-toe with the likes of Darkseid, Starro, Amazo, and every other extraterrestrial sociopath that can give Green Lantern a lemon yellow wedgie or make the fleet-footed Flash do a faceplant, should they decide to tackle them solo and not have the safety of spandex back-up.
And Bruce does it armed with nothing more than a belt full of gadgets designed more for use against bath salt zombies than alien conquerors.
James Bond may laugh flippantly at crossing swords with Goldfinger, but he’d be shaking and stirring his martinis in his Union Jack boxers having to square off with Gorilla Grodd armed with just a laser pen and a wristwatch with a garrote secreted inside.
If anyone deserves to call himself Superman, it would be Bruce Wayne.
But Bruce just sticks with Batman. He’s the World’s Greatest Detective, but he doesn’t need to advertise on all his merch that he makes Sherlock Homes look like Encyclopedia Brown.
That’s why you have to have Lois around, to keep Clark and his swelled super-head in check.
And he needs that: the guy is so smug that he doesn’t even bother to wear a mask, assuming that his ability to act like a bumbling nerd, a pair of glasses, and a quick comb through the hair will throw everyone off.
It runs in the family, too: think about Superman’s biological cousin Kara, a.k.a. Supergirl. She likewise goes sans mask, and flies around in a SKIRT.
It takes a certain kind of mindset to flash all of Metropolis your Fortress of Solitude every time evil rears its ugly, misshapen head and you need to take to the sky.
Back in the pre-Crisis DC Universe, Power Girl was Kal-L’s first cousin.
Again, no mask, and I don’t think anything needs to be said about her trademark costume.
The whole Super-family, frankly, could use a nice, lengthy sitdown with Dr. Phil.
And last but not least, the third thing a successful Superman story needs, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is . . .
. . . Beppo the Super-Monkey.
And Kryptonite’s pretty cool, too.
Kryptonite has been a staple of the Superman mythos since first appearing on the Superman radio drama in June, 1943, and eventually moved to the comics in 1949. It wasn’t even green to start with — in its first appearance in Superman #61, it was actually red . . . then someone at DC decided that clearly, anything dangerously radioactive in a comic book should be colored bright green.
Stan Lee over at Marvel didn’t get that memo right away, as when the Incredible Hulk debuted in 1962, he was originally grey.
Kryptonite has long been associated in modern-day culture with the concept of the Achilles’ heel, the single weakness of an otherwise invulnerable and indestructible hero.
Not only because the fictional substance clearly does perfectly embody the concept, but because thanks to our consistently deteriorating educational system in America, the closest most young people get to classical mythology is Chris Hemsworth lugging around a magic hammer.
You could tell most of them that Achilles is the villain of Thor 2, and will be played by John Travolta, and the biggest reaction you’d get is outrage that Tom Middleton won’t be back as Loki.
Of course, in comics, excess is best, and there’s never been a popular and interesting idea that editors and the marketing and circulation department didn’t deem worth of overusing and running straight into the ground.
So, over the years, writers and editors had decided that it wasn’t enough to have so much green Kryptonite running around so that even a lowly hobo rooting around in a field for a potato or two could trip over a fist-sized chunk of the stuff and subsequently be able to hold the Man of Steel at bay when he showed up at the debutante’s ball reeking of Mad Dog and flop sweat and helped himself to the buffet spread, much to the consternation of Biff and Buffy McSwankerston.
No, there needed to be other hues of the substance that didn’t just make Superman get weak in the knees and clutch his stomach like he’d had some sushi that had sat out on the counter a little too long, and utter a lot of dialogue that included judicious amounts of the expressions *gasp* and *choke*.
Which, to be completely honest, is one of the reason modern day comics are not as fun as the ones of yesteryear. No thought balloons, and not nearly enough people saying *gasp* and *choke*.
Now, where to start . . . there’s Gold Kryptonite, which permanently removes the powers Earth’s yellow sun gives to any Kryptonian upon exposure to its radiation.
While it seems harsh, this was used more often than you might think, because in the world of comic books, ‘permanently’ actually means “until readers forget why it was we did away with this place / person / thing in the first place and then we’ll sneak it back in, or because undoing this permanence will anger enough people to boost sales.”
And White Kryptonite, which kills ALL plant life within a twenty-five yard radius. (Yes, it’s that specific. You’ve never spent any time around superhero readers and their attention to fictional detail ? Let’s not even go there, lest I have to explain to you that someone has figured out and established that Kryptonite is a stable transuranic element — 126, to be precise — that will eventually decay into iron.)
Orange Kryptonite gives any animal exposed to it superhuman abilities, just like Superman’s faithful pet, Krypto, who, for many years, was popular enough to star in his own solo comic book.
This came in very handy because Krypto needed his own rogue’s gallery of super-animal enemies to fight.
There was only so many times you can have Lex Luthor defeated by Krypto getting . . . well, let’s just say ‘friendly’ . . . with Lex’s leg, completely shattering both his tibula and fibula and forcing the bald mad scientist to collapse, screaming in pain, while Krypto enthusiastically licks his face and waits for the authorities to arrive.
Blue Kryptonite is actually ‘Bizarro’ Kryptonite. To wit, it affects Bizarro in the same way Green K does Superman, but actually acts as a sort of vitamin enhancer to normal, non-Bizarro Kryptonians like Superman.
Why Superman did not simply carry around a chunk of this at all times to essentially cancel out the effects of any Green Kryptonite thrown his way is beyond me.
Silver Kryptonite turns Superman into your average anime fanboy. It makes him act like a hyperactive child who has just downed a truckload of Pocky and makes him see everyone as if they were drawn in a cutesy chibi style.
Not making this up, it was in the modern era Superman / Batman team-up series.
Clark wisely gave Batman the Silver Kryptonite to store in the Batcave, where in his spare time, Bruce has been tinkering with trying to alter the atomic structure of the Silver K to change the visual effects from ‘chibi’ to ‘hentai’.
At which point Bruce will give it back to Clark and Kal will figure out how simultaneously team-up with Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Zatanna, and Black Canary against the Squid Men of Thangar.
Jewel Kryptonite? Check. (Gives the Phantom Zone criminals extra psychic powers.) Slow Kryptonite? Affects humans the same way Green K would Kryptonians. X-Kryptonite, Magno-Kryptonite, Black Kryptonite (does not make Superman emo, despite what you may think), Anti-Kryptonite, Blood Kryptonite, Kryptonite-Plus, Yellow Kryptonite . . .
. . . and even Pink Kryptonite, which, in its sole appearance in the modern Supergirl #79, Volume 4, made Superman very chummy with his pal, Jimmy Olsen, giving his ginger-haired, befreckled sidekick many compliments on his fashion sense.
Again, not making that up for comedic effect.
When you’re poking fun at superhero comics, it’s usually like shooting fish in a barrel . . . with the Death Star.
The best kind of Kryptonite, though, for my money, was Red.
Red Kryptonite always made Superman undergo bizarre and completely outlandish (even for superhero comics) bodily transformations, sort of like a sci-fi version of LSD that actually did cause the walls to melt when you took it.
Best part? The effects of Red K were established as random, so anything goes with no restrictions, and the effects were always temporary, so whatever lunacy Superman got himself into could be wrapped up by the end of the issue with no lasting damage. It was the ultimate plot device for idea-strapped Superman writers up against a looming deadline.
Writer: ” Uh . . . what if Superman gets hit with some Red K and . . . grows really big? Like King Kong big? No, wait, he thinks he IS Kong! Climbs a skyscraper, knocks planes and choppers out of the sky. THAT’S IT! ”
Editor (napping at desk): ” Uhrmh . . . sure, good, just go away and lemme sleep . . .”
So, clearly, we are not getting the best Superman films we can get without Kryptonite.
Give me a second to yank my tongue free of my cheek.
Okay, maybe a couple seconds. Wow, I have that wedged in there pretty good . . .
While I am very much looking forward to Man of Steel, there’s a part of me that can’t help but think, as with the recent Amazing Spider-Man, that the darkened, more somber tone is maybe not the way to go.
Take a look at these two photos.
In both, we have the late Christopher Reeve, who, to a generation of moviegoers and nerds was Superman, having played the role four times over the course of a decade. On the left, is Reeve in his original costume — guessing this is maybe Superman II, from 1980.
That’s about as perfect of a comics page to live-action movie screen translation as you can get.
On the right, someone took Reeve and composited it with a still from Man of Steel.
Frankly, it looks like Superman has either just finished helping clean up a massive oil spill and headed to the Fortress of Solitude to clean up, or it’s some sort of evil clone Brainiac or Luthor whipped up to force Kal to fight himself.
Nope, that’s Superman, the 2013 model. That’s the Man of Tomorrow, where apparently no one can wear bright clothes. (And nothing against Henry Cavill, whom I know absolutely nothing about — he looks the part … at least the part of him I can actually see and isn’t almost Batman black.)
I don’t doubt that Man of Steel is going to be a good film: there’s an amazing amount of talent attached to it, both behind the cameras and in front of it.
The question is if it’s going to be a good Superman film, which we really haven’t had since Superman II in 1980.
The past twenty years has seen no fewer than four serious attempts to get another Superman film off the ground, some of which had gotten far enough along to be cast and almost had cameras rolling, before Bryan Singer did Superman Returns in 2006. Returns was, in my opinion, horrible — a $209 million piece of celluloid fan fiction that was more a love letter to Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve than Clark Kent.
I remember sitting in the theatre watching that train wreck and thinking to myself that I should just get up and leave — and that’s the only time I can recall being that disenchanted with a movie to consider doing so.
Superman, as a character, can be a tough nut to crack. Batman works ‘better’, because let’s face it, Batman is about vengeance and obsession, which are eternal themes. The only thing that really changes about Batman is what movie the Waynes went to see the night Thomas and Martha were gunned down, and that Batman has gotten more and more impressive toys to play with as the years went by.
Superman, to me, is about the suspension of disbelief.
Not just that you buy into the pseudo-science of how he gets his powers from the sun and so on, but the idea that one man can have this much power and still be a good guy.
That he can live a pretty lonely existence pretending to be two different people and not really being able to connect with anyone in either persona, and the only real joy he gets is the fleeting ‘thanks, Superman!’ before he takes off to deal with the next crisis — because there’s always some problem he can solve, be it rescuing a kitten from a tree or foiling a bank robbery.
I don’t think Superman resonates with modern audiences well because we, fundamentally, do not like him the way we once did.
Or rather, what he represents, which isn’t truth, justice, and the American Way, but showing us just how far from super we actually are.
He’s too good, too noble, too damned perfect. We like our heroes flawed, because we can always point to that flaw in the throes of our jealousy and say, “I may not be as good as that and that and that but at least I’m not an egomaniacal alcoholic, like Tony Stark, or have daddy issues like Thor Odinson, and I wasn’t dumb enough to mess with things that I didn’t quite understand like Bruce Banner, or I’m not blind like Matt Murdock, so I have that going for me.”
Captain America is another character that falls into the same mold as Superman in that he’s not interesting enough to some people because he doesn’t have these deep scars, and like Superman, we don’t like to put him up on a pedestal because we like to be able to play the angry mob and pull our heroes back down when they start getting a little too ‘above’ us, and you can’t do that with Steve Rogers.
Steve was a selfless guy who wanted to do his part, was deemed unfit to have that role, but didn’t take no for an answer. Clark Kent didn’t have to become Superman, he just did. He could’ve spent an unassuming life, or perhaps more ‘realistically’, he could’ve used his powers in subtle, selfish ways to benefit himself.
We seem to want to look at these heroes and see ourselves with masks on, with all our imperfections present in the image. You can’t do that with Superman.
You look into that mirror and the person you’re going to see on the other side is always going to be better than you. Smarter, faster, more noble, more courageous, more selfless.
And that’s not a bad thing to have something to aspire to, instead of identify with. Challenge ourselves to elevate ourselves to his level instead of dragging him down to ours, throwing him on the floor, kicking him around a bit, riddling him with the same self-doubt and emotional baggage that keeps any of us from being a Superman or Superwoman.
Of course, that gets well into a personal interpretation of the character and matters of fandom, but in a more broad sense, as someone who would like to see DC’s stable of characters represented on the big screen alongside Marvel’s, I also question whether a gloomy Superman is going to have the sort of mass appeal that it needs to have.
Quote from Warner Bros. president Alan F. Horn, concerning their disappointment in Superman Returns: “We should have had perhaps a little more action to satisfy the young male crowd.”
And you should’ve had a movie, too, that wasn’t essentially set in the 1980s, because that’s what they were going for, for this to be the Superman III of some alternate timeline, instead of the campfest we got with Richard Pryor as a bumbling computer genius.
It was a film made for adults powered solely by nostalgia, down to having Brandon Routh ably mimic Chris Reeve, having Kevin Spacey essentially do the same thing with Gene Hackman’s Luthor, and having a beyond-the-grave cameo by Marlon Brando cobbled from unused footage from the first 1978 film.
I was eight years old in 1980 when Superman II came out, and that movie was awesome: Superman fighting not one, not two, but three escapees from the Phantom Zone that had the same powers he did. Yeah, there was a bunch of mushy stuff with Lois Lane, but Superman got to actually fight someone this time, throw a punch or two, so it was even better than the original.
You know that scene at the climax when they throw the truck on Superman, and he doesn’t immediately toss it off and get right back up? And then all the bystanders are gasping and exclaiming, “Superman’s dead!”
I’m pretty sure I went into cardiac arrest.
I can only imagine being eight years old and watching Superman Returns and sitting through all the boring talky scenes.
Lois Lane is pregnant, and she’s with someone else and not Superman? I’m not even sure I knew what ‘pregnant’ meant when I was eight. Blah, blah, blah, all this talking. When’s he going to fly into a volcano? That’s what he does in the comics! Lois Lane keeps chasing him around and trying to get Superman to marry him and he just laughs it off and then punches Metallo in the face. Why isn’t that happening here?
Superman, out of all the comic book superheroes, should be *the* most accessible one to kids and adults alike, and I don’t see that with Man of Steel.
It’ll be a meaty film for adults, but for a younger crowd? Clark Kent on a fishing boat with a beard? Who cares! Why is the Army giving Superman a hard time? It’s not like he’s the Hulk. What’s all this stuff about Krypton and genetically engineered babies — BO-RING! When’s Doomsday gonna show up? They should do a movie like Avengers but have Batman and Superman in it. Is Batman in this? No, wait, that’s right, he *retired*. What about Nick Fury?
And the downside here is that while Nolan and Synder and co-screenwriter David Goyer may serve up this poignant dissertation for the adults, kids are going to fall asleep — if for nothing else because Superman’s costume is almost black and even the bright colors flashing by aren’t enough to keep them awake.
The only way Warners is going to fully invest in a DC cinematic universe is if there is cash registers a-ringing, and that means being attractive to a broad audience, not just thirty and forty somethings who are looking for this deep, layered psychological drama about a guy from another planet.
This might be the first superhero movie where a family drives home and the parents are buzzing about it in the front seat, and the kids are fast asleep in the back.
And that’s not how you’re going to build a multi-franchise line of films.
Zack Snyder said in his EW interview that while there’s no physical Kryptonite in Man of Steel, there is “emotional Kryptonite”.
Which is nowhere near as fun as painting a rock green and running around the backyard with a red towel tied around your neck. That should be the feeling a Superman movie goes for, whether you’re 8 or 80.
Thanks for stopping by Public Domain!
My apologies for the super-mega-sized post, but I couldn’t really find a good place to split it up, without seeming like I was milking it for extra screen time. Think of this as our version The Stand, only with less Randall Flagg and more Lex Luthor. When you’re done reading, it makes for a handy doorstop.