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It's a bitter acknowledgment of unrealized dreams
September 2, 2012 6:53 AM   Subscribe

"Superman Returns is far from perfect, yet its flaws don't diminish the film's impact. Its greatness originates in its respect for Superman's decency; in Routh's graceful, almost balletic incarnation of the character; and in Bryan Singer's decision to express the hero's goodness in a cascade of iconic images as beautiful as superman himself--challenging us, daring us not to fall in love with him." A video essay from Matt Zoller Seitz and Kan Cancelosi about Superman Returns.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi (144 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Superman Returns is far from perfect, yet its flaws don't diminish the film's impact. Its greatness originates in its respect for Superman's decency

This is the film that is basically Superman: Shit Dad?

Well it'll probably be better than the Snyder one I suppose. I'm going to stick with S:TAS as my go-to screen Superman I think.
posted by Artw at 7:17 AM on September 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I didn't care for Superman Returns. However, the trailer for next year's Man of Steel sends chills down my spine.
posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo at 7:22 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


> "This is the film that is basically Superman: Shit Dad?"

See, I saw it as more Superman: Creepy Stalker.
posted by kyrademon at 7:24 AM on September 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


Maybe instead of calling it Deep Focus, they should call it Sloooooooow Fooooccuuuuuuus. I got through about five minutes of it before I had to turn it off.

I am a huge Superman fan, and I liked Returns well enough, but it was flawed in so many ways. The overall tone was too much like a soap opera, the actress that played Lois was not believable in the role, and the best effect sequence was in the first act. I am really tired of Lex Luthor and his petty real estate schemes as a plot device. I much prefer the animated series version of Lex as the canny, manipulative business tycoon who, on the surface, appears to be an upright citizen, rather than the guy who surrounds himself with dolts and tries to make one big score instead of incrementally gaining power and influence like a smart person would.

And don't get me started about the creepy eavesdropping, the Kryptonite continent, and the clumsy "Superman as Jesus" death and resurrection.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:25 AM on September 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yes, a thousand times yes! I sometimes feel like I'm the only one who loved Superman Returns, but geez, I thought it was great. As we saw in the X-Men movies, Bryan Singer has a powerful sense of what it means to be an outsider, so focusing on Superman as an alien pretending to be human was a great way to modernize the character, as well as giving him enough moral failing to be interesting without tampering with his desire to do good. Plus by making the second half of the movie less about Superman than about the effect Superman has on other people, he expanded the emotional and intellectual range of the super-hero movie better than anyone else has.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:26 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tenacious.Me.Tokyo: "I didn't care for Superman Returns. However, the trailer for next year's Man of Steel sends chills down my spine."

Does anybody else have a problem with the shot where we see (presumably) a child Clark Kent running around the backyard with a red blanket around his neck? Is he pretending to be some other superhero with a red cape? Are we meant to understand that Superman based his costume and persona on some sort of metafictional Superman-analogue that exists in the world of the film?
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:44 AM on September 2, 2012 [23 favorites]


Kevin Spacey was terrific in Superman Returns. Some other nice stuff aside, though, it's pretty much garbage. Not only is Superman himself is a shitty person, but James Marsden's character is obviously the real hero of the piece. He stuck by Lois Lane when her shitty ex abandoned her; he helps raise her child; and above all, as a man without superpowers, he has to work the hardest, and actually takes risks, in order to fly his little airplane and all that other stuff that he does in and around the climax.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:46 AM on September 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


I absolutely hated Superman Returns... but, it has one scene that is the most perfect scene I think I have ever watched where it shows what it means to be Superman. It is when Ma Kent is standing in front of the hospital (within the crowd) and her son is injured and might die and to protect him, she walks away.
posted by mrgroweler at 7:49 AM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The plane rescue is SR is pretty much pure, distilled, concentrated SUPERMAN. it's everything I ever wanted a superman movie to do and it did it BEAUTIFULLY.

Everything else? Eh. But I'll give it credit for that. Also Spacey's scene chewing Luthor is a delight.
posted by The Whelk at 7:53 AM on September 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


I also really loved Superman Returns, and I had no idea I was in the minority until long after I'd seen it. I thought Routh was great, and I found the story affecting. Was really looking forward to sequels, oh well...
posted by sundaydriver at 8:02 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I sometimes feel like I'm the only one who loved Superman Returns

You aren't. It's a great, great Superman film.

Also, Ang Lee's Hulk is awesome.
posted by cribcage at 8:04 AM on September 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


Are we meant to understand that Superman based his costume and persona on some sort of metafictional Superman-analogue that exists in the world of the film?

I mean, what are we to believe, that this is some sort of a *snort* magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:04 AM on September 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Are we meant to understand that Superman based his costume and persona on some sort of metafictional Superman-analogue that exists in the world of the film?

Man, I'm glad that bothered somebody besides me. There are no prior flying, cape-wearing superheroes for him to pretend to be. I tried to complain about this elsewhere, and nobody could grasp what I was saying; people were just like, 'Of course he grew up playing superheroes. Everybody grows up playing superheroes.' Sigh...
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:10 AM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I forget where I read this, but the cape trope was invented to help show Superman's motion through the air, yeah? It's an artifact of the printed page.
posted by HeroZero at 8:13 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You aren't. It's a great, great Superman film.

Also, Ang Lee's Hulk is awesome.


As long as we're being superhero-movie-opinion heretics, can I just put in that all the Donner Superman movies are terrible?
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:14 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a long standing tradition in silver age comics of people getting the idea to become superhero from superhero comics, even going as far to become the ' new' version of whoever they loved growing up. Clark's childhood would have been full of dime store cowboy comics, detective comics, caped avengers and super spies, no superpowers needed to get the idea in a young, spongy brain.
posted by The Whelk at 8:14 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are we meant to understand that Superman based his costume and persona on some sort of metafictional Superman-analogue that exists in the world of the film?

Heh, this about a movie where the main character is a flying alien with laser shooting from his eyes.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:14 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Strange Interlude: "Tenacious.Me.Tokyo: "I didn't care for Superman Returns. However, the trailer for next year's Man of Steel sends chills down my spine."

Does anybody else have a problem with the shot where we see (presumably) a child Clark Kent running around the backyard with a red blanket around his neck? Is he pretending to be some other superhero with a red cape? Are we meant to understand that Superman based his costume and persona on some sort of metafictional Superman-analogue that exists in the world of the film?
"

Did you miss Superman hitchhiking? That was him right?
posted by Splunge at 8:15 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


As long as we're being superhero-movie-opinion heretics, can I just put in that all the Donner Superman movies are terrible?

Ergo, you think Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is awesome?
posted by jeremy b at 8:16 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed Superman Returns, although I don't like the Gene Hackman/Kevin Spacey Lex Luthor. It seems kind of bumbly and cartoony to me, whereas LL should be more cool and controlled. Spacey was better than Hackman.

The one scene I loved, though, was when the bullet bounced off of his eye... I imagined that exact scene when I was a child and it kind of freaked me out to see it in the movie; it was exactly how I imagined it.

Couple of other highlights for me:

S swooping down to save the guy on the street...
S listening in the upper atmosphere for people in trouble...

And I liked Watchmen a lot, so I'll see ZS's reboot.
posted by Huck500 at 8:19 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Strange Interlude, maybe he just made it up on his own. You know how kids are when they play. Perhaps we are just lucky Superman didn't grow and and base his costume on sticking a pot over his head or something.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 8:23 AM on September 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


@Tenacious.Me.Tokyo: I didn't care for Superman Returns. However, the trailer for next year's Man of Steel sends chills down my spine.

Interesting. I gave up on Kevin Costner years ago, but that last shot of Superman as Saturn V rocket almost got to me.

I see that David Goyer is the writer -- it could go either way.
posted by vhsiv at 8:25 AM on September 2, 2012


Also, Ang Lee's Hulk is awesome.

Yeah, the dislike for that film baffles me. I think it'll eventually be the Blade Runner of comic book movies... hated at the time, loved 20 years later.
posted by Huck500 at 8:34 AM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow, I saw this movie with my ex-boyfriend's mom, who grew up on the Superman strips and had a fondness for the comics of her past. As a genteel, church-going woman I don't think she liked the Superman-as-Jesus trope, but I remember being entertained and feeling vaguely ashamed about it. I'm totally going to rewatch it soon. I'm glad my instincts weren't horribly broken, as I assumed at the time.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:40 AM on September 2, 2012


Also, Ang Lee's Hulk is awesome.

Hulk had some good stuff but it was way too long. Somewhere in that movie, there's a two hour edit that would have been awesome but at 2:20 it drags.
posted by octothorpe at 8:44 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought Routh was basically not there, Spacey was trying too hard to be Hackman, and the whole real estate plot was utterly ridiculous. On the other hand, I loved Routh in Scott Pilgrim, so maybe it wasn't his fault that his Superman was such a...nonentity. I remember being so, so disappointed in Singer, like, you abandoned X-Men for that?
posted by adamdschneider at 8:48 AM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey guys, maybe the kid with the cape isn't Clark Kent, but instead some other kid imitating the Superman that is real in his world? Didja ever think of that?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:48 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the ur-mistake of Superman Returns was making it a sequel to the Donner films. Pretend they don't exist and it's fairly good.

But you can't and it's not, so ... next.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:49 AM on September 2, 2012


Splunge: "Did you miss Superman hitchhiking? That was him right?"

Foci for Analysis: "Heh, this about a movie where the main character is a flying alien with laser shooting from his eyes."

entropicamericana: "I mean, what are we to believe, that this is some sort of a *snort* magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder."

I think some of you might be missing my point. I'm not fanboy-nitpicking about trivial inconsistencies in how Superman's powers work in the film. I'm pointing out that since Superman is the first true costumed superhero (in both the fiction of our world, as well as in the fictional world of the Superman films), that it doesn't make sense to show Clark Kent "playing superhero" as a boy. It would be like showing a young Philo Farnsworth watching "I Love Lucy" on TV.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:52 AM on September 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Great Rao, I thought I was the only one who never liked Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor. I really wanted to see Kevin Spacey's Luthor, so imagine my disappointment when he just played Hackman's instead.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:53 AM on September 2, 2012


Oh, and the ur-mistake of Superman Returns was making it a sequel to the Donner films. Pretend they don't exist and it's fairly good.

That was weird, a sequel thirty years after the fact. It didn't help that some of the casting in the new movie was terrible, especially Lois Lane. Casting a 22 year old Kate Bosworth as a character who would have to be at least thirty made no sense at all.
posted by octothorpe at 9:06 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really liked Superman Returns, don't know if I'd go so far as to say that I loved it, but I certainly would watch it again. It struck me as less a superhero film than a film about a superhero, if that makes sense?

Also, yes, Ang Lee's Hulk was good.
Plus it had a giant mutant hulked out poodle. What's not to love?
posted by Fence at 9:12 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not fanboy-nitpicking about trivial inconsistencies in how Superman's powers work in the film. I'm pointing out that since Superman is the first true costumed superhero (in both the fiction of our world, as well as in the fictional world of the Superman films), that it doesn't make sense to show Clark Kent "playing superhero" as a boy.

Nah, you're fanboy-nitpicking, which is fine, everyone does it from time to time. You've seen 5 seconds of the movie and the only context you have is the 50 years of comics and previous films, not the entire movie the scene is from.

The scene may wind up making total sense within the movie. Or might just be a striking image that non-comic book reading people respond to. Whatever the case, just wait to see the film, instead of focusing on one particular part from the trailer.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:17 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed Superman Returns, although I don't like the Gene Hackman/Kevin Spacey Lex Luthor. It seems kind of bumbly and cartoony to me, whereas LL should be more cool and controlled.

And there it is. Spacey is a pretty hammy actor at the best of times, but here he was especially ill-served by the script, which made the mistake of taking the potentially awesome bits, printing them in all caps, then underlining them and printing them in red, just to be sure we got the joke.

The airplane rescue that ends Act I is a competent-if-not-quite-excellent set piece. Act II begins with Luthor's thugs returning from stealing the kryptonite. Luthor walks out the door and past their bullet-riddled van. He turns a single incurious glance at the dozens of bullet holes but does not even break stride as he proceeds. Then to make sure we GET IT, he says to them, "Run into trouble?" I just don't know why we didn't go for a full-on double take here with a comical gulp.


It didn't help that some of the casting in the new movie was terrible, especially Lois Lane. Casting a 22 year old Kate Bosworth as a character who would have to be at least thirty made no sense at all.


Indeed. I thought the casting was a pretty mixed bag. Luthor was terrible, and Parker Posey was grievously out of place, but if you need a Perry White, I see nothing wrong with Frank Langella, who does gruff as well as anybody. But you are absolutely right with Bosworth.

In a previous thread, someone opined that Margot Kidder was a lousy choice for Lois Lane. The link in my original response is now dead, so here it is with a different link:

---

Seriously, who the hell thought that [Kidder] was a good casting choice?

I did. Her Lois Lane was a bit frazzled and frankly kind of a mess in some ways. She had -- even in a literal comic book movie -- something of the air of a woman who had reached her thirties and was not entirely satisfied with her career or her love life and was hearing the biological clock ticking and thinking about whether the choices she had made were the best ones. There was a bit of nuance there. She lives in an improbably nice apartment, I will grant, but this is a comic book movie.

In contrast, when Lois Lane appeared in Superman Returns, the powers that be decided to make her a 22-year-old who is married to a fantastically wealthy man who adores her and they live in a massive house in the countryside and also she has a sweet five-year-old son, and also also she has won the Pulitzer prize. Oh, and she looks like this (Not-Entirely-SFW).

Margot Kidder was pretty refreshing in retrospect.

---
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:22 AM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


a child Clark Kent running around the backyard with a red blanket around his neck? Is he pretending to be some other superhero with a red cape?

That's an interesting question. I've watched that trailer a number of times and the irony of that escaped me until you brought it up.

I sent the question off to the kid (he's on a hectic 4 day trip to Bulgaria right now, not sure when he'll have time to answer). I asked him if any thought had been given to that question. I'll let y'all know if/when he answers.
posted by HuronBob at 9:33 AM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Great Rao, I thought I was the only one who never liked Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor.

He's Superman's nemesis, for God's sake. Superman's nemesis should not leave you wondering what happened to Larry and Curly.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:44 AM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]



When I saw the trailer, honestly, I couldn't help but but be reminded of these words of wisdom regarding superheroes and capes...
posted by foxhat10 at 9:46 AM on September 2, 2012


The original Superman costume design is said to have been influenced by circus performers. I know it's a stretch, but it's possible the kid in the trailer (who may or may not be young Clark) is playing something other than superheroes. Superheroes aren't the only ones who wear capes. Evel Knievel wore a cape, for example. Pro wrestlers have worn capes, too.

I really want to enjoy the new Superman, but I have a hard time getting past the lack of red shorts. It looks like he's not wearing pants now.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:00 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Plus it's some kind of rubberized perv suit. And I in no way am convinced Nolan or Snyder would have any interest in making Superman like Superman.
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on September 2, 2012


I'd say this Chris Sims review sums my feelings up quite nicely.
posted by gideonswann at 10:18 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought Routh was a fine Superman, and think it's too bad that the failure of Superman Returns did so much damage to his career (apparently). On the other hand, while we're doing this sort of thing, here's who he's married to, so I guess he's doing all right. The film he was in looked perfect, and while its mood was entirely too somber, I can't help but feel that an earnest effort was made to make a great Superman movie, but that it was hobbled by a strange desire to make it a direct sequel to a thirty-year-old movie most of its audience had never even seen.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:19 AM on September 2, 2012


Superman should not exist only to mope and solve problems by lifting things.
posted by Artw at 10:21 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Superman does not have to solve problems by punching things, but it's nice if he punches something once in a while. Superman should not only have problems that are solved by punching things.
posted by Artw at 10:25 AM on September 2, 2012


All-Star Superman is my favorite Superman.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:27 AM on September 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Are we meant to understand that Superman based his costume and persona on some sort of metafictional Superman-analogue that exists in the world of the film?

Well, Nolan is involved, so I'll give it a pass for now -- he does have his ways of creating a mythic-iconic connection. For now I'll make a WAG that it has something to do with Jor-El (Russell Crowe), which is more or less the rationalization from the Richard Donner film.
posted by dhartung at 10:30 AM on September 2, 2012


Strange Interlude (and others): For a non-canon answer to your question about the "hero or the cape?" question, check out Mark Waid's comic series "Irredeemable" for an answer. :-)
posted by cjkarr at 10:30 AM on September 2, 2012


I hate video essays almost as much as I hate podcasts.
posted by goatdog at 10:49 AM on September 2, 2012


However, the trailer for next year's Man of Steel yt sends chills down my spine.

Sadly that one always makes me giggle because of the musical association with LOTR. Superman, fly you fool!

I preferred the one with the music from The Thin Red Line.
posted by homunculus at 10:50 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


SR had the best and worst parts of any superman movie. It also didn't need Lex Luthor.

And Unbreakable us the greatest superhero movie ever.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:53 AM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Superman Returns was inarguably a terible let down and in my opinion a downright injustice to the franchise/character/mythos...but on a complimentary note I would like to point out that one part of the sheer magnitude of its disappointment was that it had possibly the best edited and most inspirational non-spoilerific, non-insulting, simple yet amazing teasers of all time.
posted by trackofalljades at 10:56 AM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is he pretending to be some other superhero with a red cape?

Or maybe...he's a Zack Snyder fan?
posted by biffa at 10:59 AM on September 2, 2012


I hate video essays almost as much as I hate podcasts.

Thanks for your contribution. Using the loosest possible definition of "contribution."


I just want a superman movie that makes me care about superman as a character. He's just too good at everything to be interesting to me.
posted by absalom at 11:04 AM on September 2, 2012


Best complaint about Superman's powers supposedly making him impossible to do good stories with I've heard: "He doesn't have a Kryptonite!"

I think it was utterly without irony as well.
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on September 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's not a question of wearing the cape, but a question of how true to Superman is Snyder trying to be. Having a young Clark Kent running around in a red cape breaks all kinds of "rules". Then again Snyder doesn't seem to mind doing those types of things, see also - zombies who can out sprint you with only a torso and two arms.
If that still doesn't make sense, think of a new Batman trailer that included: a just woken up, listless, 17 yr old Bruce Wayne sitting down with his parents to snack on some hangover-cure-coffee and cigarettes, while his father implores him "to find some direction in life".

Overall I think Lee's Hulk is a good comparison to Superman Returns. Had everything it needed to be great and but somewhere someone got a bright idea. Hulk dogs? Really? Hulk dad? Come on. The superkid and kryptonite continent were hokey 70's silver age plot devices and should not be thought of as a good idea for a Superman movie.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:25 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think Superman is about a guy having ultimate power; it's about a guy wielding it correctly. Someone noted Irredeemable upstream, and yeah -- Tony snaps and loses his mind and is a huge danger to the entire world because while he has ultimate power, he isn't any better at wielding it than most anyone else would be. He's probably much worse. Superman to me is about a man with godlike abilities whose real goodness stems not from what he does with those abilities, but from knowing what lines he cannot cross, even though it would be easy, even though it might solve problems in the moment. He doesn't have to respect any boundaries and he does it anyway. And doing that right is hard. That's his conflict.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:31 AM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Consider: We don;t really worry about Superman dying or getting injured, he kinda can't. he worry about the people around him dying or getting hurt cause we know that Clark takes that very, very seriously cause if he didn't he wouldn't be Superman.
posted by The Whelk at 11:35 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


DC seems pathologically terrified of making a good superhero movie series, big or small screen.

For me, SR had a heavy element of "The Last Kryptonian", trapped on a planet with people not his kind, but similar looking, and coming to terms with his "solitude". Freaked Out Lonely Superman, if you would. Don't need a Sad Superman movie, that's what Batman's for.

I live in hope of a series of truly great Superman and Batman movies that ultimately lead to the Dark Knight Returns scene of Batman stepping on Superman's neck.

Because Purity of Heart and Powers of the Gods ain't nothing against The Crazy.
posted by djrock3k at 11:37 AM on September 2, 2012


There always is the idea that Superman actually does not have god-like power.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:38 AM on September 2, 2012


And Unbreakable us the greatest superhero movie ever.

Unbreakable is pants next to The Incredibles.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:38 AM on September 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


At this point I'd be up for a Superman/Batman fight where Superman just punches Batman to the moon, just for variety.
posted by Artw at 11:40 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can very easily dial back Superman's powers to less god-like heights, he's still the man of steel and neigh invulnerable but not reversing time via world spinning.

Then again some of us like our Supermans sunny and goofy
posted by The Whelk at 11:41 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel that The Incredibles was always missing the tag line"Disney's Fantastic Four!"
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:42 AM on September 2, 2012


Superman to me is about a man with godlike abilities whose real goodness stems not from what he does with those abilities, but from knowing what lines he cannot cross, even though it would be easy, even though it might solve problems in the moment.

Superman never much interested me because he has was raised to never cross those lines and probably wouldn't even think to do. My impression of the character is that he's still in 1930s rural America, even the 21century.

Now Superman with Clint Eastwood's attitude at the 2012 Republican convention would be extremely interesting. Still basically good, but with an arrogant do-as-I-please attitude. Which only hits at the severe limitations of the Superman character. Christ, the gun can fly to around the solar system, do immense destructive damage, yet he's basically a boy scout with simplistic notions of right and wrong. He's completely outside the human chain of command in terms of shaping a society and country and yet he seems to do nothing but follow orders.

No wonder Batman hated him in The Dark Knight.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:44 AM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Anyway everyone knows the most unbelievable thing about Superman is that he has a well paying job in the newspaper industry.
posted by The Whelk at 11:44 AM on September 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


You can very easily dial back Superman's powers to less god-like heights, he's still the man of steel and neigh invulnerable but not reversing time via world spinning.

Yeah, you have to define godhood in relative terms. 1938 Superman has superhuman strength and gets places by jumping thousands of feet into the air. I guess that's not godlike compared to the Donner Superman, but it's kinda godlike compared to...people?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:45 AM on September 2, 2012


Well in your super-jesus metaphor, Superman refuses to deny people free will in exchange for safety, but I'm not sure if that ever comes up in the movies.

it totally came up in the Justice League cartoon with the alternate universe lobotomy-happy Superman cause that series is awesome.
posted by The Whelk at 11:47 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are we meant to understand that Superman based his costume and persona on some sort of metafictional Superman-analogue that exists in the world of the film?

Maybe young Clark was a fan of Zorro, pirate movies, Knights or other cape-wearers throughout literature? Super heroes didn't invent capes.
posted by cell divide at 11:48 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


before Superman there were eleven million comics with masked/caped crusader without superpowers going around and stopping crime
posted by The Whelk at 11:51 AM on September 2, 2012


Now Superman with Clint Eastwood's attitude at the 2012 Republican convention would be extremely interesting. Still basically good, but with an arrogant do-as-I-please attitude. Which only hits at the severe limitations of the Superman character. Christ, the gun can fly to around the solar system, do immense destructive damage, yet he's basically a boy scout with simplistic notions of right and wrong. He's completely outside the human chain of command in terms of shaping a society and country and yet he seems to do nothing but follow orders.

We-ellll, the '30s Superman was the one that went after union-busting thugs and stuff, though. The more conformist Superman came along later. Morrison seems to be doing an interesting thing (not unlike Miller with Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One) where he's bookending Superman's life with first All-Star Superman and now Action...in the former, we have a Superman whose concerns are largely cosmic, a more alien Superman; in Action, we have a young and very human Superman who will fight good guys, bad guys, gangsters, aliens, whatevs, anybody who gets in the way of him kicking ass for the oppressed. Somewhere in the vast middle is when he evidently either matures or sells out, depending upon one's POV.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:52 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel that The Incredibles was always missing the tag line"Disney's Fantastic Four!"

I humbly submit that Disney's Fantastic Four would suck. The Incredibles was PIXAR's Fantastic Four.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:53 AM on September 2, 2012


Clark was a fan of Zorro, pirate movies, Knights or other cape-wearers throughout Super heroes didn't invent capes

So you understood the trailer to mean a young Kent was a flying pirate? Or perhaps a Roman Soldier who fights two fisted by jumping at them with said fists?
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:55 AM on September 2, 2012


it totally came up in the Justice League cartoon with the alternate universe lobotomy-happy Superman cause that series is awesome.

Hell yeah it is! The Justice Lords are exactly the kind of thing I'm thinking about vis a vis how it all goes wrong when heroes give in and do the ugly, easy thing; Superman just finally says fuck it and burns Lex to a cinder, and then it's a straight shot down to hell.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:55 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


before Superman there were eleven million comics with masked/caped crusader without superpowers going around and stopping crime

Doc Savage was a science hero. The Phantom didn't have powers or a cape. You can put Batman in a straight line of descent from Zorro and The Shadow, but... Superman?

Who else you got?
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:56 AM on September 2, 2012


I humbly submit that Disney's Fantastic Four would suck. The Incredibles was PIXAR's Fantastic Four.

And I would submit there is less of a difference between those companies than you are willing to admit
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:58 AM on September 2, 2012


Superman is a bad character because of the way he was handled in the 1960s. He's forever tainted by the idea of him being all-knowing and all-perfect.

Today, the best stories are about 1) limiting his power, 2) showing a perversion of his character or 3) taking the focus off him almost entirely.

That gives you things like...

1) Smallville, and stories where he loses his power, etc.
2) Red Son, Superman vs. The Elite, etc.
3) For The Man Who Has Everything, Superman in The Dark Knight Returns, Justice League stories, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:59 AM on September 2, 2012


Doc Savage was a science hero. The Phantom didn't have powers or a cape. You can put Batman in a straight line of descent from Zorro and The Shadow, but... Superman?

Who else you got?


Captain Marvel, maybe?
posted by kafziel at 12:01 PM on September 2, 2012


There is kind of a difference between cape and cloak.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 12:02 PM on September 2, 2012


Captain Marvel, maybe?

Nope, Superman's first appearance is in '38, and Captain Marvel's is in '40, to the best of my understanding. Captain Marvel is an early imitator, but Superman is the prototype, again, as far as I know. In fact Wikipedia, the repository of all Correct Human Knowledge, says Fawcett had to stop publishing Captain Marvel books in the 50's because DC sued them for copying Superman.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:10 PM on September 2, 2012


Captain Marvel, maybe?

Oh, wow. No. Sadly for so many people involved, no.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:10 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Superman Returns was inarguably a terible let down and in my opinion a downright injustice to the franchise/character/mythos...but on a complimentary note I would like to point out that one part of the sheer magnitude of its disappointment was that it had possibly the best edited and most inspirational non-spoilerific, non-insulting, simple yet amazing teasers of all time

I'd forgotton how much Superman looked like Captain Jack from Doctor Who in Superman Returns.

Now John Barrowman as Superman is a Superman I'd pay to see.
posted by dng at 12:16 PM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't kn ow if anyone noticed but in the trailer, as Superman is flying up, his cape doesn't seem to move at all.
posted by RedShrek at 12:16 PM on September 2, 2012


Superman is vulnerable to magic as well and there are other characters who can be made to match up well (Darkseid) against him...... there has been a lot of lot of amazing stories with Superman not involving kryptonite. All star Superman was one...
posted by asra at 12:17 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Superman's meraphorical Kryotonite can be many things... But yeah, Kryptonite is one of them.
posted by Artw at 12:20 PM on September 2, 2012


No, no, obviously Superman is basing his childhood play on Superman comic books. They're just comic books based on the EARTH-2 Superman, who, as we all know, predated the Earth-1 Superman by a couple of decades and whose stories were transmitted to the dreams of Earth-1 comic book writers because of vibrational frequencies and things.
posted by kyrademon at 12:21 PM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I kind of hate characters like Darkseid, Thanos, Galactus, etc. "Superman can bench press the Earth!" "Oh yeah, well Darkseid can bench press THE SOLAR SYSTEM!" "Nuh uh! Anyway, Galactus can bench press INFINITY SOLAR SYSTEMS!!!!!"

Combined with the way heroes' and villains' power levels tend to vary wildly from story to story depending on the needs of the plot, it just starts to seem ridiculous even for comic books, after a while.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:23 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, no, obviously Superman is basing his childhood play on Superman comic books. They're just comic books based on the EARTH-2 Superman,

I.... actually.... I'm not sure what it says about me, but I could accept that. You know, if I thought anybody involved with making that trailer had actually gone to the trouble to think that up, I'd buy it.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:24 PM on September 2, 2012


Darkseid is.
posted by Artw at 12:25 PM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


You can very easily dial back Superman's powers to less god-like heights, he's still the man of steel and neigh invulnerable but not reversing time via world spinning.

Then again some of us like our Supermans sunny and goofy


It's funny to me, how much personal models of superheroes vary.

Me, I rather liked Superman Returns, for many of the reasons MZS cites here. But I think it's notable that I grew up the daughter of a superfan who raised me on a steady diet of George Reeves reruns and Silver Age comic books. Oddly, I don't have any particular memories of the Christopher Reeve version, though I'm pretty sure I saw bits and pieces here and there. Reeves always seemed to me to be a fundamentally kind of . . . serious? Supe, despite the gee-whiz 50s trappings. Like there's this understated and very subtle melancholy there, maybe because he wasn't a particularly happy person or particularly happy playing Superman.

I went with my mom, the aforementioned Superman freak, to see the Routh version and we both loved it. He seemed sensitive, adult, understated. I was surprised to hear the widespread negative reaction. This negativity seemed especially deeply felt among my friends who are fans of the modern, dark incarnation of Batman, something that I, growing up with George Reeves and Adam West, never really understood. To me, Batman is goofy camp and Superman was this sort of quietly desperate guy working in a world filled with vague red scare/nuclear panic. My perceptions of their characters are essentially reversed from what a lot of people my age feel about the characters.

Ironically, a few weeks after we saw the Routh outfit my mom and I tried to sit down and watch the Reeve Superman movies on Netflix. Both of us fell asleep! Superman there seemed slow and cheerful and muted, like he was wrapped in cotton, or I was. Routh's portrayal, and Singer's story of Superman in a post 9/11 world felt more Supermanish to me--but I'll admit that my Superman is one I don't share with pretty much anyone but my mom.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:33 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, no, obviously Superman is basing his childhood play on Superman comic books.

It's been done (I'd watch an adaptation; that was a great comic book).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:37 PM on September 2, 2012


> "It's been done (I'd watch an adaptation; that was a great comic book)."

Ooo, Kurt Busiek! Thanks, I'll check that out.
posted by kyrademon at 12:40 PM on September 2, 2012


Sing Or Swim: "I kind of hate characters like Darkseid, Thanos, Galactus, etc. "Superman can bench press the Earth!" "Oh yeah, well Darkseid can bench press THE SOLAR SYSTEM!""

yeah well darkseid has six billion thumbs
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:41 PM on September 2, 2012


Once the ANTI-LIFE FORMULA is perfected a free will will be eliminated and ALL thumbs will belong to Darkseid.
posted by Artw at 12:44 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but Superman can thumb wrestle at the SPEED OF LIGHT, and all his thumbs get drawn superimposed on each other so it's LIKE he has six billion thumbs.

Also, if he twiddles his thumbs fast enough he can go back in time. Okay, I'll stop.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:27 PM on September 2, 2012


That would rip off the thumbs of all Darksieds mi d controlled thumb-slaves... Superman can't do that, he's going to have to *think* his way out of this cosmic thumb wrestling match.
posted by Artw at 1:31 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want a superman movie that makes me care about superman as a character. He's just too good at everything to be interesting to me.

That's what I liked about Returns---he's got all these super-power, but he's still really bad at understanding people.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:38 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Based on my current model extrapolating the evolution of chunky glasses among hipsters, I estimate that Reeve's Kent's glasses (which, incidentally, distinctly resemble those of his father, Franklin Reeve, a noted poet and Frost scholar, who just happens to look exactly like Reeve's Clark Kent) will be back in the height of style in about 4 years. I'm looking forward to the urban hipster remake where the bumbling Kent strides into the phone booth (now wifi hotspot), doffs the dull monochromatic t-shirt and jeans for the checked uniform, covers up those dull naked eyes with a set of bitchin Alan-Greenspan-style specs, and flies off.
posted by chortly at 1:50 PM on September 2, 2012


I don't remember if The Whelk and I talked about our Supes proposal here.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:51 PM on September 2, 2012


As a boy, I really disliked the original superman movie...I mean reversing the worlds spin to go back in time...WTF?!? But now my opinion has reversed. There's that wonderful economical sadness when Pa Kent dies, then the journey north to form the fortress of solitude, and the transformation/intervention ofmhis father...they don't really bother explaining it, just some sort of knowledge download from father to son?

And the Clark Kent is fantastic, again I hated him when I watched the movie as a boy, then I grew up and realized that that Clark was Supermans impression of human, not who he actually is, he's superman first, from the moment he emerges in the fortress of solitude.

Then there's the world turning...eventually I just accepted it as an act of will, something not meant to be explained, just what was possible when superman really got his blood up.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:53 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not a fan of the movie either, and I agree with Chris Sims's review cited earlier in the comments thread. Rather than a movie about Superman the character, it was a movie about Superman: The Movie by Richard Donner et al. I like the Donner movies okay, but treating them with holy reverence is nuts.

What could work for a new movie is a rough adaptation of the "Brainiac" story from the Superman animated series of about ten years back. If I remember correctly -- years of malt liquor and fast women make that far from a given -- in that series, Brainiac was the core computer from Krypton. It survived the planet's destruction as well and came to Earth. You don't even need to make it Kryptonian -- keep it as being from whatever planet it was originally from (Was it Colu? Damn you, tasty malt liquor and your memory-fuzzing abilities), but make Brainiac into Worst Case Superman. As folks above have pointed out, the Big Question for Superman is "why doesn't he fix everything?" He can. Well, how about an alien intelligence comes to Earth who doesn't feel any restrictions towards fixing the Earth its way. We get the dilemma of Superman facing up to the fact that he could have made things better but didn't, which explains why we don't get to the punchey-splodey part right away. We get the illustrations of the problems that come with allowing alien superbeings to come to town and solve our problems for us, which explains why Superman works within particular boundaries. And, of course, we get KILLER ROBOTS FROM OUTER SPAAAAACE VS. SUPERMAN: FOR ALL THE MARBLES!! Ethical dilemmas, character conflict, and KILLER ROBOTS FROM OUTER SPAAAACE. This sounds like a winner.

This is exactly what Dini did, isn't it. It's too obvious and he's too good.

They should bring him in for a consult, yo. Or just give him the damn script to write.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:54 PM on September 2, 2012


Superman wasn't spinning the earth backwards to reverse time. He was slingshotting around the earth to exceed the speed of light in order to travel backwards in time. The backwards rotation was just what it looked like to him, the same as I'd they'd had a clock spinning in reverse.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:59 PM on September 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


shakespherian:: I don't remember if The Whelk and I talked about our Supes proposal here.

I can't speak for more than myself, but I would love to read it. He's one of the great possibilities of comicdom, despite his prominence. There's still so much one could do with him. He's great fun to play with, and tremendously difficult.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:59 PM on September 2, 2012


Nope, Superman's first appearance is in '38, and Captain Marvel's is in '40, to the best of my understanding. Captain Marvel is an early imitator, but Superman is the prototype, again, as far as I know. In fact Wikipedia, the repository of all Correct Human Knowledge, says Fawcett had to stop publishing Captain Marvel books in the 50's because DC sued them for copying Superman.

Well, yes. That's my point. Maybe in the world of this film that didn't have Superman comics, there were still Captain Marvel comics, and he's imitating that.
posted by kafziel at 2:04 PM on September 2, 2012


Sing Or Swim: "I kind of hate characters like Darkseid, Thanos, Galactus, etc. "Superman can bench press the Earth!" "Oh yeah, well Darkseid can bench press THE SOLAR SYSTEM!""

Reminds me of this.
posted by Groundhog Week at 2:09 PM on September 2, 2012


I think there was some Mefite comment that outlined a three movie Superman Arc using the titles Man Of Action, Man Of Steel, Man Of Tomorrow. I can't really find the comment or remember the pitch too well but I liked the idea of a linked trilogy showing Superman at various ages, played by different actors, showing Superman going from gangster-punching do-gooder For America, to more mature, responsible protector of the Earth, to finally a remote and alien savior of life in the universe who has lost any connection to his youthful humanity that he'll have to get back somehow.
posted by The Whelk at 2:17 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't speak for more than myself, but I would love to read it.

It's set in the same whiz-bang 40s as the Fleisher cartoons, lots of ROBOTS and gangsters! and Luthor is a war profiteer and people say 'Thank you for saving me Superman!' totally straight and without irony or anything and it's maybe in black and white but eventually Superman gets run down and ragged because he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, every time he is saving a train for being derailed or rescuing a kid drowning in the bay he has to consciously choose to ignore a million other people in distress, and he can hear them all, he has the ability to help any of them-- but not all of them. Every decision means countless (but not for him-- he's counted them) other people will perish. Every moment he spends tossing quips at Jimmy is a moment that he could be-- should be-- stopping a robbery or catching a falling airplane. Every minute he spends with Lois is a minute that a hundred people are drowning and getting hit by cars. Finally, overwhelmed, he quits, Superman disappears from the world, and he just becomes Kent forever, and he and Lois go on a picnic out in the countryside far away from the hustle and bustle of Metropolis, and Lois tells him a joke, the two of them sitting on a checkered cloth, and he doesn't respond. Lois is saying 'Clark? Clark?' and we zoom in slowly on his face, he's just frozen there, staring off into space, he can't hear her, his head is just filled with a billion cries for help from all over the world, and he closes his eyes.

THE END
posted by shakespeherian at 2:17 PM on September 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


Nerd ramble follows. Don protective eyewear.

Why doesn’t Superman conquer the Earth to fully save it? Not because he’s too inherently noble or because it never occurred to him. He’s thought about it. He rejected the idea, because he knew how it would play out. Even if he didn't conquer but made himself an interventionist demigod, he would have to become omnipresent and make billions of decisions for people that even he isn’t equipped to make. The repercussions for humanity would be devastating. Mark Millar drew this out in Red Son, where baby Kal-El grew up in Stalin's USSR and did become the well-intentioned interventionist demigod.

There's another way, of course: he could be a tyrant and not care about humanity. But he can’t do that either, simply because he’s too aware. He can’t shut out other people. He can’t not see. Worse, to be a tyrant would mean doing horrible things that could never be un-done. Heroism and altruism are the only options he has. He can’t be selfish and maintain his sanity. He can’t hide his gifts or let them lay fallow for the same reason. He is what he is because he has to be.

Moreover, it’s tremendously fulfilling. Superman knows a truth that popular fiction prefers to ignore. Simone Weil said, “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” Superman’s life is filled with novelty, marvel, and joy, and it’s because of his commitment to the good. His life is difficult but fulfilling, a deep and rich journey anyone would envy. Luthor’s life is crabbed, gloomy, and, yes, boring. Nobody who considers beyond the surface really wants to be Lex Luthor.

To add still more pretentiousness -- because it's the internet and therefore I must -- from the Nicomachean Ethics, another idea:

Benefactors are thought to love those they have benefited, more than those who have been well treated love those that have treated them well, and this is discussed as though it were paradoxical….the case of those who have lent money is not even analogous. For they have no friendly feeling to their debtors, but only a wish that they may kept safe with a view to what is to be got from them; while those who have done a service to others feel friendship and love for those they have served even if these are not of any use to them and never will be.

…all men love more what they have won by labor; for example, those who have made their money love it more than those who have inherited it; and to be well treated seems to involve no labor, while to treat others well is a laborious task. These are the reasons, too, why mothers are fonder of their children than fathers; bringing them into the world costs them more pains, and they know better that the children are their own. This last point, too, would seem to apply to benefactors.


Superman loves the human race because he keeps saving it, rather than the converse. His vast compassion and love for the Earth derives from the good he's done. In a way, the Earth and everyone on it belong to him, because it lives only due to his labors. The human race is like his child: he has suffered and fought and sweated to keep it alive, and he loves it so very much because of this.

The other side applies to Luthor: people hate the ones they hurt. Luthor's misanthropy, like Superman's compassion, feeds upon his actions. Every time he fires a death ray at a city or takes a hostage, he hates humanity all the more. And that's why he hates Superman most of all.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 2:18 PM on September 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


you know shakes you have to leave the audience with some kind of hope at some point.
posted by The Whelk at 2:19 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The hope is that the world is overrun with ROBOTS
posted by shakespeherian at 2:22 PM on September 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


You are Metallo and I claim my five dollars.
posted by The Whelk at 2:24 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, yes. That's my point. Maybe in the world of this film that didn't have Superman comics, there were still Captain Marvel comics, and he's imitating that.

And again it's a question of how true to Superman Snyder is attempting to be. It's essentially messing with his origin story. Superman did not come about because when he was really young he was into comics and acting like other superheroes, he is who he is because it is essentially his core being. It was imparted to him by his family not comics.
You can explain it away any way you want to and Snyder is going to do what he wants, but it is stepping away from cannon.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 2:25 PM on September 2, 2012


That Chris Sims review is hilarious:

Chris: We should be glad that he had some kind of hobby to take his mind off of earning his keep by getting tantric with an octogenarian. Oh, Lex. You don't have to put on the red light.

David: Yeah, Lex Luthor seriously did prostitute himself for a boat, didn't he? That happened?

Chris: That definitely happened

posted by Sebmojo at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


DC seems pathologically terrified of making a good superhero movie series, big or small screen.

Watch the animated series.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:19 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Groundhog Week: That article is completely stupid. Everybody knows Superman can beat Goku in a fight.

Some time ago, I saw a cartoon which purported to answer the question, "Who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman?" It showed Batman making various devious preparations--kryptonite underpants and so forth. It then showed Superman flying to the other side of the Earth and, from there, pushing the entire planet into the sun. When the Earth hit the sun, the comic supplied the sound effect, "FUCKBLAMMO."

I'm not sure where it went from there, but the sound effect made a real impression on me.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:23 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The people who liked Superman Returns seem to be more interested in the idea of a superman-like character. They'd like to see a good superman movie the way some people might like a good movie about The World's Greatest Detective or The World's Fastest Racecar Driver.

The people who hated Superman Returns seem to be more people who are interested in the character Superman the way people are interested in Sherlock Holmes. They want to see a story about that particular character, that person, not just any person with Superman's powers and circumstances.
posted by straight at 3:56 PM on September 2, 2012


I always found it strange when people say that Superman is hard to engage or understand because he is so powerful or too good. Well, I guess I didn't always find it strange; when I was a boy, I liked Marvel Comics more than DC because I felt like their heroes were more flawed. Fallible. Limited. Realistic. As I grew older, however, I started to appreciate the archetypal qualities of the DC heroes. They were icons, templates, and metaphysical representations of our best and worst.

I am not Superman. But I am like Superman in some ways, and he is like me. Now, we don't look at a Superman comic while he's battling in outer space against galactic threats and say, "Yeah, I go through that" in the same way that we do when we read about Peter Parker trying to keep down his day job or the X-Men dealing with covert racism. However, I at least enjoy that the epic space battles that he engages in are part of mythic structure that touches upon the entire Universe—and seeps into ours. Everyone has their Kryptonite, their piece of the past that has come back to kill them. We have our Lois Lanes that are embarrassed about some parts of us even as the other parts make them swoon. We all feel like otherworldly immigrants at times, blending into a culture, but not of it. And though we have things that we can't do, we also have things that we can, and we do them without hesitation and with joy. Yes, we have decisions we wrestle with like Batman, but a lot of the time, we have those moments, "I can do something, and I should. And I will." And instead of always being essays in Man's hubris, they can display Right Action without irony, reservation, or regret. We have those decisions every day.

The tension from Superman isn't him wrestling with his inner demons like alcoholism, violent urges, physical weakness, or temptation. The tension is that Superman wrestles with external threats, with other's greed, with other's attempt to dominate or destroy, with how weak the people he tries to save can be. But it's a joy when he does wrestle. Instead of Batman's painful inner struggle, Superman's attempt to make the world better is born not out of rage, but a desire to be fulfilled and to use the talents he has for the best. He works hard, fights hard, and knows sorrow and loneliness, but ultimately his life is a happy one. Lex Luthor is selfish, but doesn't have a defined sense of self—he's just a hungry little hole of a man that can never really be happy. Superman is selfless because he has a very defined sense of self. He knows what he is. He knows what he can do. He knows what he should do. Superman is generous because how could he be any other way? At our best, we feel like that too.

Anyway, point being is that Superman and Superman comics can have the incredibly complexity of the Good. His stories can be full of tension and humanity despite him being a big blue boyscout and having godlike powers. When written well, he's certainly my favorite hero.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:13 PM on September 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


He rejected the idea, because he knew how it would play out. Even if he didn't conquer but made himself an interventionist demigod, he would have to become omnipresent and make billions of decisions for people that even he isn’t equipped to make. The repercussions for humanity would be devastating.

Not necessarily and it's bonkers that Superman as God or world leader is seen in this one particular, negative light. No, he can't fix everything, but what if he fixed enough? What if his one rule was no war? Everything else would be as it was, but countries are specifically forbidden from going to war. Then were does all the money spent on war go? How do people react to that edict or live in such a world? These are the sorts of stories that would the character interesting.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:14 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think those stories have been told, in places.
Just they are Elseworlds, or short runs.

It usually ends up badly. Very badly for everyone.

(What do I know? I thought Superman III was a pretty decent movie as a kid, and I still enjoy reading Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? once a year.
posted by Mezentian at 4:38 PM on September 2, 2012


Brandon: the problem with that is it removes human agency. It transforms him from a metaphor for our transcending our human limitations and provincialism into an unjust god. After all, who the is he to say what we can and can't do? What makes him right? Also, how would he intervene in a civil war, where the government is violent and oppressive and the rebels desperate and dangerous?

That's not to say you couldn't wring great stories from this. You absolutely could. But they wouldn't be Superman stories. There's a difference between "guy with Superman's powers" and "Superman." The former is a character who could be at the core of a lot of SF stories about the dangers and possibilities of one man or woman holding virtually unlimited physical power. The latter is a character who embodies one single idea, well expressed by Grant Morrison: Superman is the one person who will never let you down. That's why he's so mighty. On a storytelling level (not an internal story logic level), he's mighty because he's righteous, because he needs that power to help us all. Thus he's divorced from darker interpretations. Because once you do that, that character is no longer Superman. He's someone with Superman's powers.

It's the major split between SF and superheroes when it comes to superhumans. SF tries to apply the logic of superpowers to real(ish) people; in superhero tales, the moralities and metaphorical meanings are foremost, and the powers are ways of expressing them. That's why "Alphas" is SF and Batman, a story about a dude with no superpowers at all, is a superhero story.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 5:02 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The tension from Superman isn't him wrestling with his inner demons like alcoholism, violent urges, physical weakness, or temptation. The tension is that Superman wrestles with external threats, with other's greed, with other's attempt to dominate or destroy, with how weak the people he tries to save can be.

Yes, and then the problem is there's no one for the reader to identify with. You have one perfect character and a bunch of weak ones that are defeated. Where's the weak one that rises up against all odds?

Superman, then, is the inverse of all Western literature. If literature is about characters and their probkems and what they do about them, then Superman is an earthbound god with no problems of his own to deal with. So the only question is, how and when is this god going to throw his thunderbolt? Who cares? The thunderbolt gets thrown, regardless. When you're Superman, the solution to every problem is "Punch it harder." Yawn.

Compare: Nobody cares what Odin thinks. He's Odin, the All-Father. You're not supposed to care. He's above us all. But we care what Thor thinks, because Thor furst struggles with his temper and gains self-control and self-respect.

Honestly, the most interesting character in the Superman mythos is Lex Luthor, a man with an actual goal and blind spots in his thinking. Just like all of us have.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:15 PM on September 2, 2012


Well, of course we feel like Luthor a lot; all of us have that angry outcast in us that would rather spite and be smug then let ourselves be compassionate and just. Superman let's the barriers of the self fall down because he's strong enough to withstand disappointment, loss, and malice. Luthor erects mighty barriers of selfishness because he's weak. We understand him because of that. At our worst, we're like him: snarky, angry, smug, self-righteous, willing to hurt others to be proved right. We might not fashion deathrays, but we're like that even when we wish we weren't. The worst of us are those who have persuaded ourselves that acting like Luthor is how we should be and indulge it.

And Superman isn't perfect. He might have incredible goodwill and mightier than most, but he is keenly aware of his limits. His question is not what he can do, but what he should do. And even when he's fighting others, he still struggles with the problems of his adopted planet in very specific ways. How can he be a good Clark Kent? Does his affection for Lois compromise his love and protection of all Mankind? How does one act like a man when one, ultimately, isn't? It's not as literal as say, Batman, who is the weak one that rises up against all odds, but instead is intensely metaphorical, rooted in archetypes, and telling the story of a hero that isn't supposed to change the world in a physical way, but rather inspire and preserve it. You see many of the same characteristics of Superman in the New Testament, Arthurian Romance, Greek and Egyptian Myth, the stories of the American West. He's keenly rooted in Western Literature.

So, yeah, I connect a lot with Superman. I connect a lot with Lex Luthor too, but that's not always good.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:09 PM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Superman isn't a character. He is an allegory.
posted by polymodus at 7:56 PM on September 2, 2012


Superman: Luthor Beats the Shit Outta Kal-El is just bleagh.
posted by inturnaround at 8:15 PM on September 2, 2012


Relevant Penny Arcade.

Some time ago, I saw a cartoon which purported to answer the question, "Who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman?" It showed Batman making various devious preparations--kryptonite underpants and so forth. It then showed Superman flying to the other side of the Earth and, from there, pushing the entire planet into the sun.

That's the essence of the Batman Gambit (TVTropes!) Sure, Supes could do that, but Bats is betting that he won't because it'd be out of character for him.

The Kryptonite underwear is just Bats being Crazy Prepared.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:34 PM on September 2, 2012


If they do Luthor again, they really need to cast Bryan Cranston.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:37 PM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's always bothered me that when Superman catches someone falling, the force of the person and Superman 'catching' him./her would cut the regular person in half, or at least leave them with severe spinal injuries or at least massive internal damage. Case in point, Superman catching Lois in Superman I (Donner version) - she would have been broken to pieces had he caught her like that.

Anyway, he would have to catch them from the top, carefully matching velocity, and dispersing the energy of falling gradually, so that the person being caught doesn't suffer.

Also, there is the Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex issues with spawn of Superman (Larry Niven, Google it).
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:05 PM on September 2, 2012


they really need to cast Bryan Cranston

He was pretty fantastic as the big bad in the forgettable new Totall Recall.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:18 PM on September 2, 2012


Coincidentally, just watched the Donner cut of Superman 1 tonight. I thinks Returns was okay considering it was purely an homage to Superman 1. I mean, it had the same story, and the actors involved were basically doing impressions of their predecessors. The special effects from 1978 are way better than the CGI ones from Returns. The front projection shots are beautiful and believable, and the helicopter sequence is still amazing. You know, the sequence in Returns where Superman catches a commercial jet is basically lifted from the animated series, almost shot for shot. I think it may have come across better in the cartoon even. All this to say, you reach a certain point in life where you become really tired of the whole concept of reboots, and can't get excited about them. Superman 1 is a classic of American cinema, so remaking it was kind of pointless.
posted by jabah at 9:23 PM on September 2, 2012


I always found it strange when people say that Superman is hard to engage or understand because he is so powerful or too good.

On a practical level, Superman is an incredibly difficult hero to write well, though. He's from an earlier time and his mythos doesn't map well onto ours anymore.

Every time you see Superman save some unfortunate soul falling from a building and set him down gently on the sidewalk, you are jolted by the absence of raised camphones recording the moment. The fact that Superman can fly is less unbelievable than the idea that his face wouldn't be the number one video on YouTube. Unless you want him skulking about, peering over his cape like Bela Lugosi, Clark's secret identity would last about 10 minutes.

Which leads into the problematic damsel-in-distress relationship between Supes and Lois. Back when Superman was first created, the notion that Lois Lane, intrepid girl reporter, couldn't see Clark and Superman were the same person was meant as a sexist wink at women who aspired to professional roles in the workplace, only to find themselves in over their heads and needing the help of a man -- or Superman -- to sort things out. Any modern version of Lois Lane that doesn't realize Clark Kent is Superman is too steeped in this sexism to be a worthy character; any version that does precludes many of the most familiar Superman tropes.

Newspapers aren't the cultural heavyweights they once were, either. In the latest Spider-man film, they turned the Daily Bugle into a Fox News Channel clone, but what's the Daily Planet's equivalent? Who sends reporters like Lois out to investigate powerful people who aren't celebrities anymore? And how long can any article tear the public gaze away from trending hashtags and cat videos? Newspapers have never seemed so impotent to change the world, and this makes the Daily Planet feel as doomed as the one Kal-El fled as a baby.

Finally, Superman is too powerful to create drama fighting ordinary criminals, like Bats does. Aside from the occasional plane with an engine out, or surprise asteroid, what's Supes to do with his heat vision and X-ray vision and super-breath and invulnerability? It's not like they help unwind the mortgage-backed securities mess. He's all dressed up with nowhere to go. This leads to manufacturing overpowered, generic villains who exist solely to give Superman a workout.

If it sounds like I hate Superman, I don't. I'm a fan, for all the reasons Lord Chancellor so eloquently lays out above. When done well, Superman is a revelatory character. He has layers of identity; the only superhero I can think of whose secret identity has a secret identity of its own. He's intelligent, and a deep thinker, so much so that he requires a Fortress of Solitude to retire to at times. Most of us understand this feeling, and most superheroes don't.

Superman ultimately remains optimistic and cheerful about life, though, despite often reaching grim conclusions. This is a hard thing to do. And this superpower has nothing to do with being a Kryptonian under a red sun, and everything to do with choice and character. Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust and concentration camp survivor, wrote: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

That's the sort of spirit Superman embodies.

Frankl also wrote: "Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone's task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it."

I can imagine Kal-El reading this in his Fortress of Solitude before he flies back to save the world.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 10:38 PM on September 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Newspapers aren't the cultural heavyweights they once were, either. In the latest Spider-man film, they turned the Daily Bugle into a Fox News Channel clone, but what's the Daily Planet's equivalent?

The new comics have the Daily Planet as part of a conglomerate: Planet Broadcasting.
Jimmy Olsen has an Asian pal (Mikki?) who uploads the video he takes to the web (she hacks into stuff too), and Lois is no longer a plucky gal reporter, but the head of Planet's news division.

IIRC Perry White still runs the paper, and Clark still reports for it.

All of which is less silly then the '70s when Clark was the 6pm news anchor for Galaxy TV.
posted by Mezentian at 2:04 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


...less unbelievable than the idea that his face wouldn't be the number one video on YouTube. Unless you want him skulking about, peering over his cape like Bela Lugosi, Clark's secret identity would last about 10 minutes.

All sorts of tortured explanations have been offered for this. I think at one point, it was canon that Superman super-micro-vibrated his face whenever he was in public, so that it'd be impossible to take a really good picture of him. The idea may even have been that he did this subconsciously--I can't remember.

The thing is, Kryptonians are aliens who coincidentally happen to look absolutely indistinguishable from human beings. And in spite of the total absence of major anatomical differences, they can fly and shoot laser beams out of their eyeballs. If you can get past all that, you can probably find a way to make peace with the idea that putting on a pair of glasses makes Clark unrecognizable. It's just another one of his superpowers.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:07 AM on September 3, 2012


I think at one point, it was canon that Superman super-micro-vibrated his face whenever he was in public, so that it'd be impossible to take a really good picture of him. The idea may even have been that he did this subconsciously--I can't remember.

Nope it was conscious, and it was ludicrous. One of many stupid things in John Byrne's boring reboot from the 80s.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:44 AM on September 3, 2012


Brandon: the problem with that is it removes human agency. It transforms him from a metaphor for our transcending our human limitations and provincialism into an unjust god. After all, who the is he to say what we can and can't do? What makes him right? Also, how would he intervene in a civil war, where the government is violent and oppressive and the rebels desperate and dangerous?

The questions you're asking are basic ones found in society. There's always someone or a group who can say what we can or can't do. Why not have it be a boy scout?

There shouldn't be civil wars, because Superman would have cleared the planet of violent and oppressive regimes! :)

The latter is a character who embodies one single idea, well expressed by Grant Morrison: Superman is the one person who will never let you down.

Will never let who down? Humanity? Politicians? Americans? North Koreans? Tenants of slum lords? The suburbs? Farmers?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:01 AM on September 3, 2012


Nope, Superman's first appearance is in '38, and Captain Marvel's is in '40, to the best of my understanding.

So this Man of Steel film is a period piece that therefore, because it should strive for historical accuracy, there would be apparently no comic book superhero or any other source of caperty at the time of this individual's childhood? Or is it s set in our times where presumably it may have been possible to be inspired by comics from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s? Or was Superman as a child around at the same time as the original comics and he's just been doing that I age very slowly as an adult so I have to change my identity to get jobs sort of thing?

There's a shot of a butterfly as he's playing in his cape. Is it not possible he was trying to mimic that from time to time as well (i.e. give himself wings) and we never saw that part of the cut?
posted by juiceCake at 7:40 AM on September 3, 2012


DC seems pathologically terrified of making a good superhero movie series, big or small screen.

Watch the animated series.


My Point unstated. I can't get enough of DC Nation on CN and the Timm Batmans are Legendary.
They should let the cartoon guys do the movies, DC animation has been ringing the bell ever since. Of course, how many decades has _that_ been the battle cry?

(right now, couldn't feel more happily nerdier)
posted by djrock3k at 7:56 AM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Superman isn't a character. He is an allegory.

But he is also a character, and it is possible to be more interested in that character than whatever allegory you think he represents.
posted by straight at 8:21 AM on September 3, 2012


So this Man of Steel film is a period piece that therefore, because it should strive for historical accuracy,

That's kind of the opposite of what I'm saying. In the real world, it's a historical fact that there have been comic books about caped superhuman heroes since the 1930's, and a boy growing up in American in the 70's or 80's would certainly have read them.

But if you're making a movie about an eyebeam-shooting alien, you've clearly said 'to hell with the real world'. That means you get to toss out any historical facts that don't fit in the world you're constructing.

So yeah--there have been superheroes since the 1930's, but the first of them was Superman. Subsequent heroes added all sorts of variations to the plain-vanilla idea, to get around the problems of being too powerful, not human enough, not interesting enough, too hard to write for, etc., etc.--all the stuff that Superman is getting slagged for in this thread. But subsequent heroes are ALL IMITATIONS. Superman is the genuine article, the real McCoy.

If you say that Clark Kent, as a kid, read superhero comics, you've taken away Superman's primacy. You've made Superman into one of the imitators. That's what bothers me about it.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:22 AM on September 3, 2012


Superman wasn't spinning the earth backwards to reverse time. He was slingshotting around the earth to exceed the speed of light in order to travel backwards in time. The backwards rotation was just what it looked like to him, the same as I'd they'd had a clock spinning in reverse.

Ah-HA! I've finally put my finger on why this explanation bugs me. If this was what was happening, we would have to be in Superman's frame of reference, i.e. watching from a camera with Superman stationary (or nearly so) in the frame, or from a camera mounted on Supes himself, to see the Earth spinning backwards.

As the scene is filmed, we observe him whipping around from a stationary (dare I say inertial) reference frame, and in that frame we would see Superman speed up, then break the light barrier and disappear into the past. If we could leap back to the time before the accident, we would observe him arriving (from the future) flying backward (feetfirst and prograde, i.e. counterclockwise as viewed from the north) with the Earth rotating as normal.

You have no idea how much that has been bugging me.
posted by BrashTech at 11:54 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's supposed to be metaphorical, BrashTech, as if they had superimposed a clock moving backwards on the scene. It's the movie version of the way they show time travel in the comics, with Superman passing through calendar pages, or just weird circles labeled with dates to represent time travel. Like this or this.
posted by straight at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I still say they need to make a Crisis movie, starring Dean Cain, Brandon Routh, and Tom Welling as Earth-2 Kal-El, Superman, and Superboy Prime respectively: not only the characters, but the shows/films they're from being their "Earths". The absolute clusterfuck of names, faces, and events involved in Crisis would be nigh impossible to actually make into a live action feature film, but holy shit would that rule.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:26 AM on September 4, 2012


I'm still working on the cape question... the kid is still out of the country and I haven't heard back, but I did get an e/mail from Zack's wife, her statement was, and I quote "I have no idea what z was thinking...." and that she was forwarding the e/mail to Snyder to answer... I'll keep y'all posted.
posted by HuronBob at 12:50 PM on September 5, 2012


As a Marvel fanboy with disdain for Superman, I must admit that this thread has been very enlightening. I'll think of Superman more as an allegory for how to wield infinite power from now on. Might even pick up Red Son and some other titles mentioned here.

Great thread y'all, thx!
posted by butterstick at 4:40 PM on September 5, 2012


Yeah, whatever else can be said about Mark Millar's body of work - and in truth, there's a lot to be said - Red Son is absolutely fantastic and completely justifies his entire career.
posted by kafziel at 4:47 PM on September 5, 2012


All-Star Superman is well worth getting your hands on. It pretty much is the best of the Man of Steel.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:32 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed how part 2 of the video discussed how Superman learned that his attempt to revisit the past by leaving Earth was a mistake. How Luthor literally corrupted the present by dredging up something at should have been left behind. How all the characters, Superman, Lois, Luthor, all were stuck living in the past when they needed to learn to move on.

I enjoyed this because it seemed a perfect metaphor for Superman Returns as a whole. Should we have revisited the great Reeves series or move forward?
posted by ChipT at 4:45 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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