I have to admit that as much as I like the idea of a new Superman movie that isn’t trying to walk in Christopher Reeve or Richard Donner’s boots (looking at you, Superman Returns), the more I see and hear about Man of Steel, the more it bugs me.
Yesterday, I was Wal-Mart, killing time while waiting for an oil change for my car, and of course, Superman merch is in full force. It’s Wal-Mart, and there may be no better embodiment, good or bad, of ‘the American way’.
And I noticed something — in none of the merchandising for this film, even — and especially — the toys and action figures, is Superman smiling.
Kal-El isn’t looking stoic in this images, he just looks kind of . . . well, miserable. Maybe that armor-like suit is riding up and a bit pinchy in places it shouldn’t be, or he’s just not used to not having his trunks on the outside, I don’t know.
I’ve been watching early reviews of Man of Steel come in, and they’re not all good. Which reinforces my feeling that this is going to be a long-winded, boring attempt at putting deep psychological drama in a story that doesn’t really need that gravitas. It’s Superman: if any superhero film should be fun, this should be the one.
This should be all about bright, primary colors, a sense of optimism, and action spectacle the likes of which the Avengers, en masse, can’t touch.
Instead, we get this:
Seriously, even this shot, which seems to be in broad daylight, looks washed out and drab.
Listen, I respect Christopher Nolan for his work with Batman (except Dark Knight Rises, which was pure meandering indulgence with no oversight), and I like Zack Snyder as a director, too.
But really, guys, this isn’t Batman IV. If this is your way of setting the DC films apart from the Marvel ones — which are fun, bright, and loud, like their pulpy counterparts, because we all know what HUGE flops those were — then you need to come up with a new gimmick.
Then I came home, flipped on the computer, and ran across this image, the cover of apparently the newest issue of Superboy:
So that’s the New 52 version of Krypto, Superman’s beloved pet? Well, I guess when you’ve got armored Superman dry-humping a sword-wielding, half-psychotic Wonder Woman who gives Wolverine a run for bloodlust on a cover, that just about makes sense.
I could go on a long rant about everything that’s wrong with the New 52 and DC Comics in general, but I won’t. I gave up on that horse — or at least the modern incarnation of it — a long time ago. I can take misguided Hollywood types making questionable decisions and mucking up the characters to sell movies to a mass audience, but this is supposed to be from people who have a little more respect for what they’re doing.
Since the saying is a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll just save a few keystrokes:
Okay, enough with that. Let’s have some fun and a few laughs with the Man of Tomorrow, because I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of that in the multiplex this weekend, thank you Mr. Nolan.
People seem to think Superman is too goody-goody and too Boy Scout-ish to be interesting, but the truth his, the Man of Steel did have a dark side, especially when it came to his inner circle.
You try being the most awesome being in the universe but have to spend half your day bumbling around pretending to be the penultimate nerd and see if you don’t need to let off some stream and mess with people once in a while.
Sometimes, he even got his Super Friends in on the gag:
Of course, it’s a wonder anyone really wanted him around the Hall of Justice to start with:
Superman and Batman were usually BFFs, but even a jealous wage slave Clark Kent has to voice his opinion on his 1% pal and his attempts to stimulate a sluggish economy in the Giant-Death-Robot sector.
Those poor stiffs who work in the killer-mechanoid plants gotta eat, too, Clark. And it’s not like Lex Luthor or Brainiac always make their payments on time, especially on the models you crumpled up like an oversized tin can and hurled into the heart of the sun.
However, Superman seemed to have a special disdain for the lesser-known heroes, and really messed with them:
Because, you know, more powerful than a locomotive but can’t pull apart an ordinary PHONE CORD.
And Clark apparently truly had a beef with Aquaman, and saw the opportunity to nail two flying fish with one stone:
Even later on, when apparently there was some mishap with a de-evolution ray, notice that Cave-Clark is smart enough to beat down the rest of the Justice League — presumably including Robin — and save Arthur for dead last, almost as an afterthought:
And even when Superman’s not actively trying to crush Aquaman’s larynx, he still manages to insult the King of Atlantis:
Did you get the putdown there? He just compared Aquaman’s powers to that of a MERMAID.
So he’s got a good singing voice and looks great in a seashell bra.
No wonder this eventually went down:
You can’t see Bruce’s smirk behind that diving gear. Or the fact that he’s going to count to fifty backwards before intervening.
Superman reserved his biggest and best mean streak for his supposed ‘girlfriend’, Lois Lane. Lois’ own comic pretty much revolved around the conceit that once a month, Lois, who was an otherwise intelligent, modern career woman, would suddenly lose every scrap of dignity she had in order to trick, beguile, or otherwise cajole Superman into putting a ring on it.
And sometimes Clark would go along with it just to get a laugh before finding a way to get the union annulled faster than a hungover Britney Spears in Vegas:
Despite being a brilliant and deductive investigative reporter, Lois didn’t quite get that Superman sort of wanted his space.
This was why his man cave was in the Arctic Circle.
Still, regular hijinks like this went on:
To be fair, Lois did usually treat Clark like she stepped in one of Krypto’s deposits on the front lawn, so maybe she had it coming, just a little. But she also went from being awfully headstrong to completely co-dependent and desperate, like the time Superman just happened to casually mention to her that he’d stopped off at a Metropolis grindhouse theatre and caught Foxy Brown and thought Pam Grier was *very* attractive:
Occasionally, Clark’s little pranks would backfire and Lois would get tired of seeing him making out with Lana Lang (who despite her midwestern Smallville upbringing seemed totally cool with being a swinging Super FWB) and actually go get herself another marriage-minded man.
Like . . . oh, Satan. (This must have come around the same time as The Exorcist was originally popular — never let it be said DC missed a cheap marketing ploy.)
Or this guy:
Clark would later regret that one, as after spending a wedding night with ol’ Titanman and his ‘alternative’ sort of lifestyle, Lois picked up a few ‘quirks’ she couldn’t seem to get out of her system:
Some sort of voodoo and S & M. Takes a lot to make a guy with X-Ray vision blush, but boy, Lois pulled that off nicely.
You know, when I was a kid, I always thought the Lois Lane comics were just for girls. Appears I may have been too hasty on that call.
Or maybe they *were*, and that explains the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.
Anyway, after that, then things just got progressively weirder. Like taking a break from using Lana to torment Lois and switching to being awfully chummy to his
cousin adopted daughter:
But the absolute pinnacle of this strange and dysfunctional relationship had to be when Lois somehow got turned into a baby yet retained her adult consciousness:
Because that particular story ended with this:
Superman bottle feeding his infant girlfriend while said infant has murderous thoughts while his childhood sweetheart looks on and smirks.
As a wise man once said, ‘Nuff Said.
Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen really didn’t fare much better on the romance front:
That explains a lot about Jimmy’s constantly shifting identity crisis:
Because shaving his head and doing his best impersonation of a freckle-faced Agent 47, going undercover in a devil-worshipping cult while Superman grins, and crossdressing for gangsters doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for a cub reporter.
Robin was probably glad at least all he had to wear was Underoos in public.
All in all, maybe Superman hasn’t been the best role model. Like the time he went on that Quarter Pounder bender:
And then he chugged that tanker truck of Diet Coke to wash it all down, didn’t brush his teeth properly, and this happened:
Then Superman told us not to smoke (because it’s not like he was able to catch up to this guy because he was the second fastest man on Earth after the Flash, it was because the guy smoked three packs of unfiltered Luckies a day and was to the point where Professor X could’ve caught up to him if there was a slight downhill slope):
But if you smoked Perry White’s magic cigars, you could be just like Superman:
“Power to rival the mightiest gods” . . . “majesty as great as the mightiest emperors”.
Who needs Joe Camel when you’ve got the Last Son of Krypton making lighting one up sound that sexy?
So, no, let me tell you, anyone who has the impression Superman is ‘boring’ and too ‘vanilla’ has *no* idea what they’re talking about. Because outside of maybe R. Crumb’s underground comix work, there wasn’t stuff that was much more subversive — or just plain @#$%ing weird — than Superman comics:
Then there was the time in the late 70s that DC realized just how much money Marvel had made off their KISS comic book, and decided they’d one up the House of Ideas by teaming Superman with a famous rock star.
But the DC guys were a bit stodgy and behind the times, so by the time they were just about ready to put the finishing touches on Superman vs. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars in 1981, they realized it was a little out of date and cancelled it.
Which was a shame, because they even made up a special Superman action figure to commemorate the crossover:
Well, all things considered, I’m not too worried about Man of Steel. Superman’s been around long enough that he’s weathered any number of awkward attempts to make him hip (remember that 90s post-Doomsday mullet?). You can put him in ridiculously ugly futuristic armor with a throwback Victorian collar:
Make him as badass and grim as you want so the kids will think he’s ‘cool’:
And none of it will stick. (Although at this rate, with a sequel to Man of Steel almost certain, if the Superman movies are going to be this dark, I imagine the Justice League film will end up looking like Sin City.)
Superman is timeless. And yes, he’s a throwback. You can’t really reinterpret him so that a new generation can try to claim him, because he’s beyond that. He, along with Batman, are the only two comic book characters to have been continually published through multiple ‘ages’, even when the superhero genre fell out of favor and lesser supermen and women went by the wayside. Superman was the first one in the door and he’ll be the last shutting out the lights if it ever comes to that.
And here’s the thing: the Batman movies that were the best were the ones that were the most true to the character’s roots. Man of Steel is just lazily applying the basic stylistic bits of the Batman formula to Superman so that it can be sold by using ‘from the creator of the Dark Knight films’.
You don’t bend the Man of Steel to the cultural whims of the day, he bends you and makes you appreciate him for what he is, the first and in many ways, even after all the retcons and strangeness and baggage, the ideal best. Someone, whether it’s in comics on the silver screen, will come along and realize that you don’t need gimmicks and will restore him to his former lustre. This lame armored grimness will someday too, pass.
Not fast enough for my tastes, but …
Thanks for stopping by Public Domain! I thought it strange that no one really tried to capitalize on this new darker Superman by doing a videogame tie-in, then I realized, they already did . . . in 1992.
The kids will love it, it’s so angsty, like that whats’ his name, the one with the skull on his chest. Or the one with claws that smokes a stogie.