The Trouble With Superman
February 8, 2016 12:38 PM   Subscribe

He’s boring; he’s unrelatable. He wears his underwear on the outside. But is that the real problem of Superman? It’s a problem that has less to do with the character himself and more to with DC Comics, which found itself stuck with a flagship character it thought needed fixing. In trying, it broke him nearly beyond repair.

Zack Snyder, however, will deny that the character needs fixing. After all, he didn't change Superman from his true canon version.
posted by 1970s Antihero (154 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't enjoy any of the DC movies (I'm a Marvel girl, I guess). I'm just so over the Grim!Dark aesthetic. I mean, sure, I loved it in The Crow I suppose. In 1994. When I was 15.
posted by Windigo at 12:41 PM on February 8, 2016 [29 favorites]


I'm a DC girl and I stopped doing the DC movies after TDK (and regret not stopping with Batman Begins).

My guess is that they don't want to do something like Captain America and actually have him be a straight-shooter upright Big Blue Boy Scout because the dudes running the show creatively think that's boring. What that says to me as a reader/viewer is that they're not up to the creative challenge of writing a heroic hero. (I worry a lot about Wonder Woman for the same reasons.)
posted by immlass at 12:46 PM on February 8, 2016 [30 favorites]


Obligatory link to the greatest thing to ever hit YouTube.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:46 PM on February 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


This is hilarious because the Golden Age-era comics were cheap entertainment for kids and people who had a nickel to spare. Try to imagine people discussing the discursive or soteriological significance of the new Bazooka Joe movie in 30 years to get a sense of how absurd it is that people keep mythologizing a figure as patently banal as "Superman." Even his name is boring and unimaginative.
posted by clockzero at 12:47 PM on February 8, 2016 [30 favorites]


The problem DC faced was this: You can’t fix something if you’re not sure where it’s broken. . . . a man with the powers of a god, who chooses to live as a normal person and fight for normal people.

This actually brought a tear to my eye, because it is exactly why I love Supes, and also why I can't bear to watch any Zack Snyder versions of him. Superman is Mister Rogers in man-panties, who also happens to be starry-eyed in love with a lady who bosses him around nonstop, and making him edgy and tortured sucks all the joy out of it.

My favorite thing is Justice League interactions where Batman is being all growly and gloomy and Superman is all "I LIKE MILK" and, you know, Parks and Rec, but fighting robots and aliens and natural disasters.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:48 PM on February 8, 2016 [90 favorites]


He’s boring; he’s unrelatable.

I totally 100% agreed with this statement until that bit in The O.C. where Zach explains him and for a glorious moment I really understood.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:48 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


All-Star Superman = the best Superman and Zack Snyder is the dudiest dudebro that ever bro'd a bro.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:49 PM on February 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


> In one of the uglier paradoxes of the superhero-comics industry, characters who were devised to entertain children soon became completely unsuitable for them.

My experiences with superhero comics; when I was a young adult I gravitated towards the gritty stuff (anything and everything by Frank Miller, mostly) because I thought it was more befitting of my budding maturity. Then I aged out of reading them altogether, and most of the gritty books I thought were awesome and "real" and badass that I've re-read as an adult seem just as immature as the kids' stuff, just in a different (and often appalling) way.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:49 PM on February 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


Despite loving the Christopher Reeve Superman movies growing up more than was healthy, I wouldn't want to try to adapt/fix Superman in the 21st century either.

However, CBS's Supergirl proves that there's still room in 2016 for an all-powerful supper-powered hero without a ton of grimdark; that the story of orphaned immigrant trying to find her place in the world works better with a woman in the role than a white man is so obvious I'm angry I didn't realize it sooner.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:51 PM on February 8, 2016 [24 favorites]


My guess is that they don't want to do something like Captain America and actually have him be a straight-shooter upright Big Blue Boy Scout

And the thing is, the Cap movies have shown exactly how yes, you can have a character like that and still have him/her be interesting. I'm not a Supes fan at all, but even so it's super (ha) disappointing that DC/WB has been so reluctant to take on that challenge.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:54 PM on February 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Superman works best when he has problems that can't be fixed by him punching something.

Marvel has really nailed Captain America, who's sort of like Supes in that he's supposed to be symbol, a boy scout. Cap is stronger than most people, hell most Olympic athletes, but his real super power is that he gets other people to believe in what he believes in. He reduces the complexity of the modern era to simple ideals and other characters love him for that.

It's a shame DC hasn't figure that out for Supers yet, at least in the movies.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:58 PM on February 8, 2016 [18 favorites]




Yeah, while Steve Rogers is just so decent and wholesome there's actually a lot to work with there when it comes to his loneliness, ethical quagmires, and man-out-of-time angst. If they can make Captain America arguably the most fascinating, loved, and multi-layered of the MCU cast, why can't they pull it off even a fraction as well with Superman?
posted by Windigo at 12:59 PM on February 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


If you want a distillation of why Superman's such a great character concept, All-Star is fantastic but you could also do a whole lot worse than Superman: Secret Identity, especially if you're not a fan of the way Grant Morrison references a different Silver Age concept every panel-and-a-half.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:59 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am also a supper-powered hero, but not exactly all-powerful.

I also derive power from breakfast.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:00 PM on February 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


THIS! Superman is Mister Rogers in man-panties, who also happens to be starry-eyed in love with a lady who bosses him around nonstop, and making him edgy and tortured sucks all the joy out of it. Thank you a fiendish thingy, can we be buddies?
posted by pjsky at 1:03 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


My favorite thing is Justice League interactions where Batman is being all growly and gloomy and Superman is all "I LIKE MILK" and, you know, Parks and Rec, but fighting robots and aliens and natural disasters.

btw, I said this completely off the cuff, but now I'm thinking about it and it is totally true-- Batman:Superman::Ron Swanson:Leslie Knope. They disagree fundamentally about almost everything, but by gum they are going to work together to make the world a better place.

-Batman just wants to be left alone, has vast hoards of gold (wealth)
-Batman is constantly nauseated by Superman's love of teamwork, but goes along with it because it isn't worth the effort to get out of it (only to do whatever he was going to do anyway, regardless of the plan)
-Superman would 100% give Batman a present that allowed him to slam his doors shut
-Superman often has to save Batman from his scary exes
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:04 PM on February 8, 2016 [40 favorites]


I am also a supper-powered hero, but not exactly all-powerful.

I also derive power from breakfast.

Do you get twice the power if you eat breakfast food for supper?
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:05 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Taken together, these stories point to a way forward for Superman that could easily recapture people’s imagination while mirroring Siegel and Shuster’s original vision: stories of a man with the powers of a god, who chooses to live as a normal person and fight for normal people.

This isn't my theory, but: The problem isn't that Superman has the powers of a god, it's that he is God. There are tons of stories of a man with the blahblahblah -- that's every other superhero comic, and they're all imitating Superman both on and behind the page. He's the First Superhero, slowly growing in power as more superheros filled smaller niches and spread them out. Look at Superman's original power set -- able to punch through a wall, leap half a mile, tough but not impenetrable skin. Any superhero can do that stuff now, so Superman had to become Moresuperman, able to kick the Earth out of the way of a meteor and then put it back and rewind time so no one noticed. So at this point, any problem that he has to deal with is on such a grand scale that either he deals with it immediately and orders of magnitude beyond our notice, or the world ends in the blink of an eye. The Bible mostly isn't about God -- God is a force that other people have to deal with.

Superman in the modern era doesn't need movies made about him -- one of the great things about Supergirl is that it uses Superman as an aspirational figure rather than a character. Kara is worried about letting down her cousin almost as much as anything else.

The only ways to do a good Superman story are A) make it more about everyone else reacting to Superman, or B) make it in a world where he's the only superhero (or very near it) and is only somewhat more powerful than, say, a battalion of Marines.
posted by Etrigan at 1:08 PM on February 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


Supergirl does what Superman apparently can't.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:12 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was always more of a Spiderman guy, but I give respect to the Big Blue Boy Scout for being the first.
posted by jonmc at 1:15 PM on February 8, 2016


supper-powered hero

Of all my MANY MetaFilter typos, this is my favorite.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:15 PM on February 8, 2016 [21 favorites]


Try to imagine people discussing the discursive or soteriological significance of the new Bazooka Joe movie in 30 years to get a sense of how absurd it is that people keep mythologizing a figure as patently banal as "Superman." Even his name is boring and unimaginative.

And yet, somehow, this patently banal character with the boring and unimaginative name has endured for 75 years and has meant something to a lot of people all around the world. Clearly for millions of people of all ages, races, religions, and places the character has significance while endless characters with clever names and attempts at non-banality have come and gone.

Perhaps that is worth looking into and deserves more than a sneer.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:21 PM on February 8, 2016 [30 favorites]


My guess is that they don't want to do something like Captain America and actually have him be a straight-shooter upright Big Blue Boy Scout because the dudes running the show creatively think that's boring.

And I think that's where they are wrong. I was never a big Superman fan, and I didn't expect to enjoy the Captain America films from Marvel, but I love what they have done with the character. He's a symbol - of greatness, of heroism, of selflessness, of sacrifice, of strength and courage and on and on and on. He's a boy scout, now living in a world where there aren't many boy scouts anymore, but carrying on just the same because the image of who and what he is matters. And it isn't easy, but he knows he has to keep going and keep standing for what he believes in and what he represents. So you get some tension and some drama out of Cap not fitting in and being the idealist, while at the same time seeing how having someone like him around improves and inspires others.

Superman could be the same or something similar: here, choosing to be in this world, because being an example of virtue and justice and all that jazz, that is the fight that is most important: that it isn't about smashing things and bad guys to pieces, but how you carry yourself and your power and your responsibility that matters, especially in the face of cynical self-interest and self-aggrandizement, of apathy and disillusionment.
posted by nubs at 1:22 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


The only ways to do a good Superman story are A) make it more about everyone else reacting to Superman
And by "everyone else", we mean Lex Luthor. It's much more natural to pull off "every villain is a hero in his own mind" when the real hero is also technically a dormant WMD.
posted by roystgnr at 1:22 PM on February 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Have you read the Lex Luthor: Man of Steel mini? If you haven't it's an excellent look at the world from Lex's eyes. The art even emphasizes how alien Lex sees Supes being.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:25 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I figured a while back that while people have difficulty doing a good Superman movie, it shouldn't be too difficult to make a good Lex Luthor movie with Superman in it. But that might be giving Warner too much credit.
posted by ckape at 1:27 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


if you're not a fan of the way Grant Morrison references a different Silver Age concept every panel-and-a-half.

Can there really be people who reject the divine word of Morrison?
posted by Sangermaine at 1:32 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


The point that both Morrison and Moore make, the only two writers to really get Superman in the modern era, is that Superman isn't just a guy who can punch anything, he's an emphatic and emotional hero as well. He is at his best fighting sociopaths like Luthor but mostly when he's written as finding the best solutions for everyone to the moral problems they create.

Batman struggles with being just in the face of crime, Superman should struggle to find humanity and optimism against arrogance and despair.
posted by bonehead at 1:33 PM on February 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


There's a scene early in John Byrne's run where one of Lex Luthor's lackeys runs a computer simulation and figures out that Superman is actually Clark Kent. And when Luthor hears the news, he immediately rejects the notion. He simply cannot conceive of the fact that someone as powerful as Superman would live his life as an ordinary schlub like Kent. That's exactly the problem that DC/Warner has telling Superman's story; on a fundamental level they do not understand the character or his motivations.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 1:33 PM on February 8, 2016 [27 favorites]


meh. I think Megamind hit it out of the park on this topic. Even Metroman Superman doesn't really want to be Superman - he'd rather have a chance to explore his creativity and play a guitar... because... yeah, at some point - peeps gotta step up and be the best that they can... which of course was part of the whole point of that Crash Test Dummies Song... I mean, you figure a super hero wouldn't need to work a second job to pay his rent - the least the city could have done is put him up in something that had rent control.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:33 PM on February 8, 2016


...and Zack Snyder's Superman gave into despair by killing Zod. It was a foul betrayal of the character.
posted by bonehead at 1:35 PM on February 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Ugh...don't get me started.
posted by Alexander J. Luthor at 1:35 PM on February 8, 2016 [19 favorites]


Everybody pokes fun at the idea that Superman can hide in plain sight as Clark Kent by just throwing on a pair of glasses, but the other issue is...well, just look at the guy. Where would he even buy business casual clothes that would fit him?
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:38 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Where would he even buy business casual clothes that would fit him?

Superman's tailor is the true superhero!
posted by nubs at 1:40 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]




I saw this on Tumblr, I think: People can't recognize Zooey Deschanel without bangs, of course they wouldn't recognize Superman with a glasses and a different hairstyle.

He simply cannot conceive of the fact that someone as powerful as Superman would live his life as an ordinary schlub like Kent.

I loved that, and I loved Miller's inversion of it in Born Again, when the Kingpin discovers that Matt Murdoch is Daredevil: "In a way I even admire him...pretending to be blind all these years, just to hide his secret life."

(When Man Of Steel came out, I wrote a little bit here about what I would have done if I'd been asked to reinvent Superman in a post-Nolan world.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:43 PM on February 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


Interestingly, the very first incarnation of Superman was as a 1933 derelict who gains super psychic powers via drugs, uses them for fun and profit and with a view towards world domination, comes down off his high, and returns, not without regret, to the status quo ante.

Too edgy for 1933, apparently. So Siegel and Schuster tried something a little more Dick Tracy/Andy Hardy and in 1938, they got themselves a hit.
posted by BWA at 1:44 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I should have guessed that someone had already worked out the logistics of Superman's suits.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:47 PM on February 8, 2016


That's a sketch from All-Star Superman. It's not really about his suit, it's showing how Superman changes his appearance and mannerisms when he's Clark Kent. Kent comes across as a big, frumpy, clumsy farm boy trying to dress up in big city clothes.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:52 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I dunno man, I think the problem with Supes is that it's harder to believe in a guy who's omnipotent and omnibenevolent, in 2016. And yet to give him a believable conflict instantly renders him terrifying. Because the believable conflict is temptation, temptation to use your power for selfish ends. The article compares Superman to Spider-Man, pointing out all the ways in which Spider-Man is more earthbound, weaker, and therefore relatable version of a hero. And the first thing Spider-Man does with his powers is try and win a bunch of money, and it leads to the death of his Uncle Ben; Spider-man becomes a hero out of guilt, in part.

A tempted Superman --- a superman who's even thought of using his powers to manipulate and control people for his own ends, who might enjoy even for a second lording it over a fallen enemy, might crave the adulation of crowds...that's rather terrifying. Because he could have it, easily, and who could stop him, really? You must trust Superman completely to love him, and for him to deserve that trust he must be inhuman, beyond and above humanity and apart from it, more so than even a saint. A mystic. A Buddha ascended to the astral plane.
posted by Diablevert at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


.....and Zack Snyder's Superman gave into despair by killing Zod."

but.... did he, are you sure?
posted by HuronBob at 1:54 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


See: Red Son.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:54 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Captain America has one big advantage over Supes with regards to staying fresh and relevant of course: the continuing conflict between America the country and the American dream, Roosevelt Liberal variant, that he embodies. Not entirely unrelated, the fact that he looks like Hitler's wet dream Aryan ubermensch yet has been antifash since his first cover appearance. There's a lot of tension there good writers can and do use, all the way from Simon & Kirby on down.

Superman doesn't quite have that, though good things can be done with him as the ultimate anchor baby, both quintessentially American and an immigrant from Krypton. But this has been less well used and less often used than Cap's similar tension and Supes has been retooled enough times over the decades that he has lost a little bit of definition.

Nevertheless, it is still not that hard to write a decent or even good Superman story, as long as get away from the idea that conflict equals punching. There are literally decades of Superman stories that prove that and if Kal-El lost a bit of definition, in return he has gained a lot of flexibility. Superman can be a crusader for social justice, a goof playing childish pranks on his friends to teach them a lesson, an explorer of wonder, a man skeptical of the ability of his own powers to make a difference, even a yuppie. Only bad writers think he's boring.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:56 PM on February 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


The Superman movie I want to see is a live action version of the 1940s cartoons with Supes punching out giant atomic robots, and Lois tracing it all back to Lex Luthor or something.


(I won't deny that the tailoring is a big factor in my motivation to see this)
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:57 PM on February 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Despite loving the Christopher Reeve Superman movies growing up more than was healthy, I wouldn't want to try to adapt/fix Superman in the 21st century either.

What's interesting is that Superman I/II strike me as pretty darn complicated. You have the whole missing fathers issue and the character arc of coming to the realization that he can't be human with Lois and protect Lois. So you wind up with the classic superhero conflict, can one be both emotionally vulnerable and physically invulnerable, when having both puts loved ones at risk?

As mentioned up-thread, Captain America is an idealist who periodically walks away from American government for failing to meet his ideals.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:00 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


"The only ways to do a good Superman story are A) make it more about everyone else reacting to Superman, or B) make it in a world where he's the only superhero (or very near it) and is only somewhat more powerful than, say, a battalion of Marines."

That pretty much sums up the original (pre-WW2) comics.
posted by TDavis at 2:03 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]




Martin Wisse, agreed, and I would frankly double down on Superman's roots - he's not just supposed to be the quintessential American, but the quintessential average Joe. A Kansas dirt farmer in the 1930s is in a pretty desperate circumstance, and a Jewish-reading (he is Space Moses, after all) immigrant in New York isn't Johnny Privilege, either. Just like Gilgamesh gets a frisson by being 2/3 god and 1/3 man, Superman becomes a more purposeful character by simultaneously being a salt of the earth native farmer and a fresh off the boat immigrant. Those are some pretty big signifiers, and they're all sadly neglected. Add in the golden age walloping of war profiteers and loan sharks, and Superman is about as politically neutral as Pete Seeger.
posted by The Gaffer at 2:06 PM on February 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


Anyway, that's why the perfect Superman movie has a scene where he nut-punches Martin Shrekli.
posted by The Gaffer at 2:07 PM on February 8, 2016 [39 favorites]


pjsky, happy to be buddies with any Superman defenders!

The great thing about Superman is that the way the rest of the world feels about him is basically how he feels about Lois. He's invincible, which means he doesn't have to be particularly brave to stand up for what's right. But Lois! Lois is fighting gross sexism and constant threats, she's offered money if she'll just shut up and stop writing, but she WON'T. She wants the truth. She will not keep her mouth shut or stop chasing that lead or be satisfied writing fluff pieces.

She stands up for the helpless and the vulnerable and never cares about being vulnerable herself. Held at gunpoint, dangled over the edges of buildings, syringes of poison at her neck, and she spits in their eye and dares them to try it, the story is being printed whether she's dead or alive.

She's the invincible one to Clark. She's his favorite hero. I think that's why he never resents her for falling for Superman instead of Clark--of course she does! Like will to like. Lois is Superman's ideal because she's willing to suffer for her convictions in a way his invincibility means he never will, but she accepts those risks gladly.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 2:07 PM on February 8, 2016 [53 favorites]


Superman is a wonderful fantasy of power operating with kindness. He never uses his power in his own interest, only in ours. He does this because we're weaker and he's always mindful of that imbalance, and of fairness. He forbids himself to kill because it would be too easy. He is literally the only pulp character out of thousands you can say all of these things about--and yet people accuse him of being boring on the grounds that it's too difficult to murder him.
posted by Superfrankenstein at 2:09 PM on February 8, 2016 [23 favorites]


After all, he didn't change Superman from his true canon version.

I was so sure that would be a link to super-dickery.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:12 PM on February 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


Haha, I was going to mention the Zooey Deschanel thing -- she's become the prototypical real life refutation of the Superman/Clark Kent Problem.

Re: ol' Supes himself, I may be a little biased because (similar to Batman) I find Superman most interesting as a supporting character/guest star than a protagonist, but clearly the obvious solution here is a movie about intrepid feet-on-the-ground reporter Lois Lane. Emotional hook provided by her love interest Clark Kent, who is almost as good a reporter but manages to keep up with his godlike powers.

a fiendish thing, I would like to subscribe to your newsletter, please and thank you.

However, CBS's Supergirl proves that there's still room in 2016 for an all-powerful supper-powered hero without a ton of grimdark; that the story of orphaned immigrant trying to find her place in the world works better with a woman in the role than a white man is so obvious I'm angry I didn't realize it sooner.

MCMikeNamara, I'm with you in principle, but I don't think a blonde, blue-eyed white woman is the best 21st century embodiment of that archetype either. As much as I'm enjoying Supergirl, yikes is it White Feminism for Dummies sometimes.

My Superman rec of choice, incidentally: Up, Up and Away by Busiek/Johns/Wood.
posted by bettafish at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


The essence of Superman is combining Captain America (MCU) and Thor (MCU) into one character. If DC did nothing more than that, I think they'd have the Superman that everyone knows and loves.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:21 PM on February 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Superman doesn't quite have that, though good things can be done with him as the ultimate anchor baby, both quintessentially American and an immigrant from Krypton.

I really liked Ennis' take on Big Blue from Hitman. Not the bit about how everyone who comes to the US should forget their history - that's more than a little tone-deaf, even though I get why a Northern Irish guy who saw some of the Troubles would hate the idea of going somewhere new and taking that shit with you - but the idea of Superman as this being of impossible empathy and near-infinite capability, who is struggling not with a physical challenge, but with his inability to save everyone all the time, and the idea of Superman as the quintessential American immigrant story.
posted by protocoach at 2:34 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I love Superman.

I love the idea that the immigrant, the farmer and the journalist will save America. I love the idea of a demigod that loves humans so much that he envies our frailty. I love that he's more about rescues, even in a fight: I love when he smacks the villain just hard enough to buy himself the time to get people out of harm's way. I love that he does his damnedest to win without applying even a millimeter more violence than he needs to. I never want to see him scowling in the dark with scary red heat vision eyes because the cartoonists or filmmakers trying to contain him are too cowardly to lay down their cynicism. I love that he's a dork who points out the statistical safety of air travel while saving people from a burning plane. He doesn't need to be badass and violent; he's too cool for that. Leave that to guys like Batman with something to prove. I love that he wears his trunks outside of his tights. You ever try pulling up tights over your trunks? DOESN'T WORK.

She's the invincible one to Clark. She's his favorite hero.

fiendish thingy, I love this reading of his relationship with Lois.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:37 PM on February 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


Superfrankenstien - I think the "boredom" complaint has come about because of the fact that too many of the stories about Superman (I think - I haven't read Superman is a long, long time) don't focus in on his use of compassion to temper his power, but just on the power of being Superman.

As much as I loved Superman I & II with Christopher Reeve, there is a sequence in II that has never, ever sat right with me. So, Supes gives up his power, only to be faced with a world in which Zod will reign supreme. So he heads back to his Secret Fortress, and along the way he stops at some diner, where he - in his Clark Kent guise - gets beat up. It's a good moment, because Clark has never faced this before; he now knows what it is like to be one of us and to be vulnerable. At the end of the movie, though, after he has had his power restored and Zod has been dispatched, he goes back to the diner, just so he can beat up the trucker who humiliated him and inflict humiliation in return. It's played for laughs, but this has always bugged me. Superman wouldn't do that; he might go back and quietly, discreetly make sure that bully knew the error of his ways; but to publicly pick a fight and beat on a human being just because he felt humiliated? He's better than that. He's supposed to have compassion, even towards those who wrong him. Especially those, perhaps.

That should be the strength we see in Superman stories. He has tremendous physical strength and powers and all that: the only thing that keeps those in check, the only force strong enough to overcome them is Superman himself and his strength of character and will. That compassion (and the struggle against the temptation of power) should be the driver of the character; the desire to serve, not to rule; to save, not to destroy; the belief that by being an example, he can lift humanity to a better state of being.
posted by nubs at 2:37 PM on February 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


DECADE PLUS OLD SPOILER:

The part of All Star Superman which chokes me up every time is when Lex Luthor defeats himself by spending a moment paying attention to his stolen super senses and understands all at once why Superman is who is and does what he does.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:41 PM on February 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


but with his inability to save everyone all the time

Highlighted by Busiek's Samaritan, who counts the seconds he gets to fly each day between emergencies. It's a conflict someone like Superman should have to face: morally, how can he have a private life when there's even one person on Earth in danger?

I hope they do a bit more with this idea in Supergirl. How does she square being a regular person with emotional needs and being an actual super-girl who could always be saving someone?
posted by bonehead at 2:41 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Having just finished Infinite Jest, I've got David Foster Wallace's themes stuck in my head, one of which is that sincerity has become deeply uncool. Superman dates from a time when "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" were very real and untarnished things to most people. One of the ways I think Marvel is getting away with having Captain America be such a good-guy Boy Scout is by playing up the fish out of water from another era aspect. Cap is embodying this clash of values between then and now.
posted by dnash at 2:45 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Zooey Deschanel without bangs is Caroline Dhavernas.
posted by Chitownfats at 2:56 PM on February 8, 2016


MCMikeNamara, I'm with you in principle, but I don't think a blonde, blue-eyed white woman is the best 21st century embodiment of that archetype either. As much as I'm enjoying Supergirl, yikes is it White Feminism for Dummies sometimes.

Oh absolutely — though considering it airs on a network that debuted a show like Stalker last fall, I consider even that a minor miracle.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:59 PM on February 8, 2016


I've got David Foster Wallace's themes stuck in my head, one of which is that sincerity has become deeply uncool.

There's another side to that coin, though. Now that cynicism is obligatory, sincerity shines all the more brightly when writers allow it to peek through. There's a real power in that contrast which could work greatly to the advantage of the kind of Superman movie we all seem to want.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:01 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


[Cap]'s a boy scout, now living in a world where there aren't many boy scouts anymore, but carrying on just the same because the image of who and what he is matters.

It would be treat if more attention was paid to the fact that there really weren't so many boy scouts back then, either. Truth: Red, White and Black did a good turn with this, as did some of Brubaker's rehabilitation of Bucky as the "distraction with a bag of murder-assassin tricks." More needs to be done.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:01 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Zack Snyder, however, will deny that the character needs fixing. After all, he didn't change Superman from his true canon version.
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["true canon Superman"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:01 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Sangermaine : Even big frumpy farm boys can find suits.

No wonder we never see Garrison Keillor and Superman in the same place!
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:03 PM on February 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Wow. Sangermaine wins. Well played.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:03 PM on February 8, 2016


the perfect Superman movie has a scene where he nut-punches Martin Shrekli.
Can we please add Roosh V to this?

a fiendish thingy - your Lois Lane analysis is brilliant and now I want to fake marry you. *smooch*
posted by pjsky at 3:15 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hell, Peggy Carter is a "boy" scout also and she manages to be damn interesting, so DC has no excuse.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


The Superman movie I want to see is a live action version of the 1940s cartoons with Supes punching out giant atomic robots, and Lois tracing it all back to Lex Luthor or something.

I'd love to see either a Batman or Superman movie set in the 30s. All of the secret identity stuff works a lot better in an age before computers and universal surveillance. Plus all those hats.
posted by octothorpe at 3:27 PM on February 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I listened to the Superman vs. the Klan radio show episodes recently, and I have to say my favorite part was how every character not connected with the Klan would constantly mention how the Klan were un-American cowards at the drop of a hat.

And it was the 40s, so you know there were a lot of hats to drop.
posted by ckape at 3:34 PM on February 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


We're talking about an industry that, at least since the 1980s, has been driven by playing musical chairs with creative staff given the mandate to make each new vision different and frequently edgy, punctuated by "events" that involved throwing character, plot, and setting into a blender set on frappe.

There is no canon. (In fact, the concept of "canon" in this area started off as a big joke about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's inconsistencies.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:40 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Anyway, that's why the perfect Superman movie has a scene where he nut-punches Martin Shrekli.

I...would pay to see that. Actually, I would settle for buying a pay-per-view where Henry Cavill, as himself, punches him in the nuts.
posted by MikeMc at 3:43 PM on February 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


What I liked about Smallville when it was good was that most of each episode had to do with Clark's personal relationships with other characters. And when he had to do hero stuff, many times it was figuring out who was the bad guy or how to defeat said bad guy, because sometimes just punching them doesn't work (laser eyes and freeze breath were treated as "fatal" so he only used those indirectly); a lot of these stories he had to rely on his friends. That's where the true strength of the show was, his relationships and the struggles of a teenager who's also a budding superhero.

Like the article said, they could do a lot with just focusing on who he is, his origins, his established relationships, and build out from there in relatable ways.
posted by numaner at 3:44 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The problem DC ran into as I see it: they started with the mythology and not the man.
posted by Tevin at 3:46 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


It would be treat if more attention was paid to the fact that there really weren't so many boy scouts back then, either. Truth: Red, White and Black did a good turn with this, as did some of Brubaker's rehabilitation of Bucky as the "distraction with a bag of murder-assassin tricks." More needs to be done.

I think there have been the smallest hints of this in the MCU with Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier, and I guess we'll see if anything comes of it in Civil War. My kingdom for even a mention of Isaiah Bradley though.

Anyway, I agree that DC needs to to take some notes from how the MCU is portraying Cap. It's true that Steve Rogers has some inherent pathos that Clark Kent/Superman is missing; I think it's really to the MCU's (and Chris Evans') credit that they've kept a relatively light hand with that pathos. Steve Rogers is a man who has effectively lost everything, and there's not even really a villain to blame for all of it. It was just time, and the price he continues to pay for his own sacrifice, and there's a genuine, affecting sorrow to that.

On top of that, Steve Rogers also does the superhero/guy behind the mask dichotomy pretty well too. There's tension and pathos in the fact that Captain America is this tremendous symbol, and displaced in time as he is, that symbol is remembered and known more than Steve Rogers is. In a lot of ways, Captain America has eaten Steve Rogers alive, and just to twist the knife, there are only two people who could remember and love Steve Rogers, take or leave Captain America, and one of them only sometimes remembers him (Peggy Carter, succumbing to dementia) and the other had his memories of Steve Rogers forcefully erased (Bucky Barnes, turned into the Winter Soldier).

Is there a comparable possibility for pathos and tension for Superman/Clark Kent? Surely you can find one in his struggle to reconcile Krypton and Earth, in the difficulty of being both alien and human, in the journey to find a way to live as well as he can with such enormous power. I think DC needs to find a way to tell smaller stories with Superman, because he quickly becomes unrelatable and an untouchable, creepy god when they try to go big. Either that, or they need to go full Supergirl and embrace the sweet optimism and joy at the heart of the character.
posted by yasaman at 3:47 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Or rather, on closer read Snyder is entirely using the word "canon" properly as it's become in fandom circles, a meaningless buzzphrase to position oneself closer to some unspecified authority than thee.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:53 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with the nature of Superman - the usual gripe is that he's too powerful. Well, his villains never seem to have any trouble giving him the business, because Superman Villains are at their best when being more clever than the hero, with the exception of a literal omnipotent being (Mister Mxyzptlk). The best stories are when Supes is has to figure out a novel way of using his powers, because the badguys are too canny and can see him coming every time if he just tries to god-mode it. In the 50's, this usually meant he's marrying Jimmy Olsen in a gorilla suit, usually for Kryptonite-related reasons, in Smallville, it meant the villains got away and people got hurt, sometimes people he knows ans cares for personally.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:56 PM on February 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Superman really isn't about edgy, Snyder isn't about anything else, putting the two together will make for dumb results.
posted by Artw at 4:14 PM on February 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


It really does get my goat running into the prevailing opinion outside of nerdspace that "Superman is boring." There's nothing wrong with Superman himself, but we often are treated to come pretty boring stories about him because the industrial fiction product corporation that owns him right now can't really let him be as dangerous as he was when he debuted.

Thing is, conditions here on Earth-Prime are approaching a level of misery comparable (or in excess of) that of the early twentieth century, when we first met Kal-El of Krypton. Cynical, crooked fucks sit atop the structures of power, same as they ever have, but the innovation of the last 30 years or so has been to normalize this cynicism in us. We celebrate the individual over the commons, the one over their community. We get stories about people descending into cruelty in order to accomplish some marginal, temporary good. We're trained up to be scared of each other, to mistrust our neighbor if indeed we even know them. As a country, we've completely bungled the test of the prisoner's dilemma: surely our fellow citizens are out to take all they can from us, either through abuse of government and legal systems or outright force. So we'd better beat them to it! We need to arm ourselves, put bars and alarms on our windows and never, ever unite because that might disrupt what few comforts the Neubility has left to us. Generation Reagan grew up thinking this zero sum shit is the only real thing in the world when it never, ever had to be.

This is a world where trusting each other has become a radical act. Giving back to your community is a radical act. We're watching the wheels come off right now - zero sum capitalism has created an endless crisis of homelessness but the only solutions our cities now offer is further cruelty. Passing laws under the bitterly ironic banner of "quality of life" which outlaw feeding the homeless, or even letting them sit down. DC/WB keeps trying to cram Clark into this cynical box of escalating violence against threats detached from real pain here on planet Earth and he's never gonna fit into that because that's not who he is or what he's about.

Imagine Seigel and Shuster's Superman in today's world. Imagine him standing with Occupy and Black Lives Matter. "I understand you're upset officers, but you're meant to protect their right to have their say." Imagine him streaking into Moscow to let Putin know exactly what he thinks of his "gay propaganda" hokum. I don't think he would punch Martin Shkrelli in his nuts - I think he'd grab him by the collar and put him face to face with the people suffering because of his greed. I think he'd be right out there reminding Donald Trump that immigrants sometimes contribute a whole hell of a lot to making America great. I think he'd give Lois and Jimmy awful lot to cover on dailyplanet.com.

I think he'd scare the shit out of all the right people, give hope to the people who need it and sell a hell of a lot more comics than he does right now.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:29 PM on February 8, 2016 [47 favorites]


Imagine Seigel and Shuster's Superman in today's world. Imagine him standing with Occupy and Black Lives Matter. "I understand you're upset officers, but you're meant to protect their right to have their say."

Why imagine? Superman Faces Police Brutality In 'Action Comics' #42

He's even got the right logo.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:53 PM on February 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


I feel like these guys get Superman.
posted by echocollate at 4:57 PM on February 8, 2016


Holy Musical B@man! did a great bit about Superman's appeal vs. Batman's.

Also, Holy Musical B@man! is the greatest thing. Watch it already.
posted by duffell at 5:03 PM on February 8, 2016


Zarquon's Singing Fish - Awesome!! I hardly keep up with monthly books at all anymore but I gotta check that out! Thank you
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:06 PM on February 8, 2016


I have heard good things about the t-shirt wearing Superman, but I understand there are like three different unrelated Superman comics running now? I haven't been following the comics and the DC website is pretty terrible if you just want to know what comics they're currently running.
posted by ckape at 5:09 PM on February 8, 2016


I did a reboot of Superman for my blog like 5 years ago when The New 52 came out. My idea was to make Superman the sort of half-life of the DC universe. He starts out all noble and hopeful, but the world eventually grinds him down. When he eventually gives up - on his principles, his hope, his faith in humanity - that's when the universe ends and heads back for the next reboot.

There is no single villain who can defeat Superman except us. We, all of us, our needs and fears and hopes and passions, we are the villain that lays him low.

And he knows that.
And he saves us anyways.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:12 PM on February 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Larry Niven summed it all up here. Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.
posted by njohnson23 at 5:19 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Are we just not mentioning Doomsday?

When superman gave into the temptation to Really Cut Loose.
posted by LD Feral at 5:21 PM on February 8, 2016




Moore pretty much pushed Superman-as-horror-story out as far as it could go with Miracleman back in the 80s, and other writers have been chasing that extreme ever since and each time they copy each other it gets dumber and duller.
posted by Artw at 5:35 PM on February 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've always been annoyed that Superman always half-assed his job as a journalist. Imagine if he'd fully committed to that side of things and teamed up with Lois.
posted by ursus_comiter at 5:43 PM on February 8, 2016


Greg Pak's work on Superman has been fucking GREAT. I've heard good things about Gene Yang's stuff too. Like, you put a nonwhite American writer on this quintessential immigrant character and good things happen -- who knew?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:47 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've always been annoyed that Superman always half-assed his job as a journalist. Imagine if he'd fully committed to that side of things and teamed up with Lois.

They kind of addressed that in One Year Later, where it was revealed that a full-time Clark Kent (because Superman was depowered at the end of Infinite Crisis) won the Pulitzer for his reporting. Perry even made a comment that Clark had been more "together" and a better journalist over the past year.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:59 PM on February 8, 2016


maybe I just like the grimdark too much....but "Lex Luthor: man of steel" is the first superman story I have read in a LONG time that I really enjoyed.
posted by das_2099 at 6:13 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Isn't the trouble with Superman that there is so much "source" material out there that it totally intimidates the kind of creator who gets hired to make a big-budget movie for Warner Brothers/DC? There have been almost 1,000 issues of Action Comics as well as 1,000 issues of Superman, and then titles like Superboy, Legion of Superheroes, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson comics, JLA and JSA comics, as well as newspaper comic strips. On top of that there have been movies, live action tv shows, cartoons and radio shows. Is there anyone who has had as much published about them?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:14 PM on February 8, 2016


Batman?

Who they've been pretty successful with, all things told.

Also I don't think you can really argue that Captain America's arctic holiday makes him that much less of an established character.
posted by Artw at 6:45 PM on February 8, 2016


Isn't the trouble with Superman that there is so much "source" material out there that it totally intimidates the kind of creator who gets hired to make a big-budget movie for Warner Brothers/DC?

You were under the impression that they were hired to make something original?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:49 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if Hollywood has finally met its need to make the Superman/Batman fight from Dark Knight Returns and can move on to trying to make other things.
posted by Artw at 6:51 PM on February 8, 2016


Grant Morrison showed you can approach and incorporate the entire corpus of a character into a work with All-Star Superman and his Batman run.

Then again, Morrison is a 5th-dimensional Scottish chaos wizard.

But more seriously, you don't need to have read, listened to, or watched every single Superman tale to be able to create a new Superman work. People seem to have a handle on the core of the character without having read even a sizable fraction of the total. In fact I'd guess the vast majority of people have consumed only the tiniest percentage of Superman media.

If you wanted to orient and prepare yourself, there are countless collections of all the major milestones, and collections of all the rest if you want to get a sampling of what's been done. The movies, shows, and cartoons are all easily accessible.

The creators of these big-budget movies just don't care to even try. They're doing what they think will sell regardless of how it butchers the character. Hopefully they're wrong and future attempts will be better.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:53 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm wondering if Hollywood has finally met its need to make the Superman/Batman fight from Dark Knight Returns and can move on to trying to make other things.

Yes, well, if it's anything like Watchmen, it will superficially resemble the comic but Zack will completely miss the point. I mean, for chrissake, the TKDR brawl on Crime Row is the final battle between two polar opposite ideologies, hashing out decades of slights, disagreements, resentments, and grudges... It's the culmination of a 30-year relationship, so naturally Zack takes it because Batman in armor looks "badass" and uses it as their first meeting.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:05 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I remember reading this somewhere, probably here on metafilter, but I like it, so I'm going to repeat it:

The real problem with Snyder going to the Batman/Superman fight at the end of TKDR for inspiration is that in that story, Batman has known Superman for years and years, has fought alongside him in the Justice League for decades. He knows that Superman will not kill. So, he evens the playing field by funneling enormous amounts of Wayne Industries wealth into power armor development. He recruits Green Arrow to be his kryptonite ace-in-the-hole. And he exploits the fact that Superman is going to pull his punches. Superman won't kill even under extreme provocation, and he almost certainly won't do anything to seriously injure Bruce if it can be avoided at all.

The Batman in this new movie, though? He doesn't have those years of experience with Superman. No years partnering up as the World's Finest. There's no such thing as a Justice League, yet. And he just recently watched this Superman snap a mans neck, along with the rest of the world.

The whole scenario is different, and changes Batman from a canny tactician who knows his opponent like a brother into a suicidal idiot who's picking a fight with a being that can vaporize him in an instant if he wants to, and who, as far as anyone knows, has no reason to refrain.

That's why this version of Superman is broken. The attempt to make him "edgier" has only served to blunt the moral clarity that has to go hand in hand with tremendous power if it's going to be anything other than a horror story (as in Moore's "Miracleman", as Artw pointed out). The real Superman knows that the ends do not justify the means, and it's a bloody good thing, because there are no real limits on his means otherwise.
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:22 PM on February 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


I agree with the main point of the article but note there aren't many specifics about how to make a great story out of it. And it's important because I think there's both a plot problem (so powerful he can be boring) and a character problem (so virtuous he can be boring) and they feed off of each other.

The easiest way to make Superman vulnerable is to have him outsmarted, and the trap is often baited with his friends or the innocent. Even my nine year old self could see the trap that Christopher Reeve walked into coming from a mile away. You can give him lab or make him a genius for a few panels, but whatever his raw intelligence many times he doesn't seem at all canny or clever.

And once you start thinking of him that way, his virtue doesn't look like a moral choice, it looks naive. A little silly, like he never matured past his Kansas adolescence. And it's not his strength, it's his weakness. Maybe some writers can avoid this but it's the natural rut to fall into. Solving the plot problem makes the character problem harder.

With Captain America, who's not invincible, it's the opposite. He's vulnerable not when he's caring about others, but when he's alone. And you imagine a Captain America scene where he's making a moral stand, I bet he looks farsighted, not naive. He's saying don't betray the people who trust us, and he'll be proven right because at some point we'll need their help. Most versions of Superman end up being the Boy Scout we might have made fun of; Captain America (and similar heroes) are much easier to see as actual things to aspire to.
posted by mark k at 8:01 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is there a comparable possibility for pathos and tension for Superman/Clark Kent? Surely you can find one in his struggle to reconcile Krypton and Earth,


I think you could d a good story where Superman has always had a vision of Krypton as the perfect science utopia, an ideal to look up to. But then he meets an older respected Kryptonian who says that Krypton not so perfect after all- in fact it brought about it's own destruction. And they ask Superman to join them to do whatever it takes to avoid the same thing happening to earth...

...Oh right. Supergirl. Again.
posted by happyroach at 9:10 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Etrigan The only ways to do a good Superman story are A) make it more about everyone else reacting to Superman, or B) make it in a world where he's the only superhero (or very near it) and is only somewhat more powerful than, say, a battalion of Marines.

Or C) stories where the primary conflict is with Superman's greatest limitation on his power: his morality.

Or D) stories about Superman fighting problems that can't be solved by punching, like income inequality and domestic violence. (AKA Strong Female Protagonist)
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:30 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Examples of Superman being done well and true to form seemrelevant to this discussion.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:04 PM on February 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


"The only ways to do a good Superman story are A) make it more about everyone else reacting to Superman, or B) make it in a world where he's the only superhero (or very near it) and is only somewhat more powerful than, say, a battalion of Marines."

I dug the rest of your comment, but wanted to point out that Superman: Peace On Earth is a) really about Superman, and b) how being more powerful than a battalion of marines isn't enough.
posted by klangklangston at 11:31 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


That's beautiful, scaryblackdeath! I want to read the whole thing - what's it from?
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:45 PM on February 8, 2016


I think that the big problem is DC; while a lot of this is pulled out of my ass as I haven't bought much of their stuff in a good long while, I get the distinct impression any decent work coming out of there is in spite of editorial/management, not because of it (Lest anyone think I'm biased, I haven't read a new Marvel book in just as long a time). If anyone running that shitshow had half a brain it'd be someone like Mark Waid - or Tom Peyer? - at the editorial helm, not Bob Harras.

That's beautiful, scaryblackdeath! I want to read the whole thing - what's it from?

Wow, that choked me up a little; it's from Superman/Shazam: First Thunder.

I've always been annoyed that Superman always half-assed his job as a journalist. Imagine if he'd fully committed to that side of things and teamed up with Lois.

Writer/funnyman Ian Boothby wrote a great skit where Lois reveals herself to be Wonder Woman and mocks Clark as being a bad reporter for not realizing his rival/love interest of several years had this amazing secret identity. Clark then excitedly reveals himself to be Superman only for Lois to then reveal she isn't Wonder Woman, she just tricked him, the big dummy. I'm not doing it justice, but it's pretty funny.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:51 AM on February 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


Steve Rogers is a man who has effectively lost everything, and there's not even really a villain to blame for all of it.

And then in the MCU, especially in CA2 you have that great shorthand for what kind of person Steve Rogers really is: that little notebook with all the things he hears about and wants to find out from the 7+ decades he's been missing. That's one advantage the movies have over the original comics, where Cap's return has happened so long ago its entirely taken for granted (and indeed the sliding timeline makes it hard to pin down his return date anyway).

Greg Pak's work on Superman has been fucking GREAT.

Try his earlier work on The Hulk as well, that's some of the best writing old greenskin has ever had.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:56 AM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


This thread gets Superman.

I've been hearing the Superman is boring thing since I was a kid, and I probably drunk a little of the Kool Aid around the Byrne reboot, but wow. This thread is bottled Kandor.
posted by Mezentian at 2:48 AM on February 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


What's special about Superman by Max Landis

I didn't realize Landis was writing a Superman comic. His understanding of the character makes me want to check it out.
posted by mokin at 8:02 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


@McMikeNamara line about "that the story of orphaned immigrant trying to find her place in the world" reminds me of something I've said many times, which is that with Superman in the modern era -- and I'm counting the Donner films -- there are really only two interesting stories you can tell.

The first is precisely the story that, apparently, they're trying to tell with Supergirl, which is how he comes to grip with his origins and powers, and how he decides what to do with them. We all know where Kent ends up, but that doesn't make the story less interesting to tell. It is, despite the superpowers, a very human story.

The second is what happens when, inevitably, he is faced with a being as powerful as he is.

It's not for nothing that the first story is, basically, the plot of the 1978 film, and the second is the plot of the 1980 film.

Some grit is to be expected given what we know about the new film, but MAN OF STEEL was pretty light in tone, at least to start. Where it fucks up is that Snyder decided to shoehorn in BOTH stories in a single film, which was a HUGE mistake. (Also kinda fucked up was the MIRACLEMAN-level carnage the battle with Zod produced, which was really out of tone with the whole rest of the film IMO -- though I'm untroubled by having him kill Zod.)

We gave the new Supergirl series a whirl after hearing how good it was, and came away from the pilot -- in which she spends a LOT of time seeking approval, and quite often seeking it from MEN -- baffled. Did it get better?

Oh, and Cap is more interesting than Supes from the get-go precisely because of his origins. His early life as a weakling who wanted to help people but literally couldn't absolutely inform the adult, probably even more than being a man out of time. Kent has been invulnerable his whole life; he can have some empathy for weak humans, but he's never BEEN helpless himself. That's a big difference.
posted by uberchet at 10:29 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think everyone has some great points about Superman's continued relevancy and ability to inspire, but I think for me the moment I parted ways with Superman was with the idea of (and to borrow an adage from across the aisle) of great power equals great responsibility, or in as in Superman's case near infinite power equals near infinite responsibility. It's just somewhat criminal in my mind, that a being of that kind of power, no matter how he was raised or what values he held, would spend his days playing cops and robbers with the local ego maniac. The moral implications of that much power being welded by someone who has only absorbed American values on justice and who also seems to have an almost simple minded focus on "being good" in the face of the real other evils in the world seems almost wrong. I firmly believe any super being that attuned empathically to human suffering would not just hang back and wait for us humans to "figure it out" as Superman seems to do. I know some writers have played around with some of these ideas, and the idea of Superman, Dictator for Life, is not a new one, nor any fun, but I still contended that a being with that much immense power would probably skip the superhero pretense all together.
posted by abigailKim at 10:33 AM on February 9, 2016


Whoa, this only just came to my attention - how egregious was the violence and carnage of Man of Steel's climax? Mark Freaking Millar thought it was too much!
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:40 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


He's selling something.
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well yes, always, but the first few graphs still crossed my eyes a little
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:46 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


That has to be a helluva thing to sit in a cinema and be confronted with the toxicity of one's influence
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:46 AM on February 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


mokin What's special about Superman by Max Landis

In that video, Max makes the great point that Lex Luthor's greatest strength is his weakness. Superman is so powerful that he can't straight up fight Luthor. Luthor in a giant robot suit, sure, but not Luthor on his own. When Luthor is on his own, Superman has to save him instead.

Superman's strength and morality means he will never fight or kill Luthor. Luthor weakness and amorality means he can take advantage of Superman as much as he wants to get away with things that other supervillans fighting less powerful heroes cannot. That's a great conflict and a great story.

While most superhero stories are just about who's better at punching, the fact that Superman/Luthor stories can never just be about punching makes the conflict much deeper. Instead the power differential makes it a much more emotional conflict: similar to the conflict between an adult and a disobedient child, or between caring friend and an addict.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:52 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Superman is always going to run up against the problem that I think Bill Willingham (for all HIS faults) illustrated well in a piece in front of an Elementals comic back in the late 80s.
The godlike man sat on the roof of the tall building and used his amazing powers of observation to survey his adopted home.

At the comer of Main and 42nd Street, the godlike man saw a local pimp working over one of his girls. This is the second time the pimp caught her holding out on him and she needed a good lesson, or some of the other bitches might start to think they could get away with that. too. He only used his hands this time. The bruises would heal within a day or two and he couldn’t afford to keep her off the streets any longer than that.

In an alleyway nearby, a feral dog worried at the arm of an old man who had died there during the night. He had been on the streets for eleven years and sold blood to get drinking money.

The godlike man could see everything he wanted to. He watched with mild interest the steady withering of a child. tortured by parents who had creative ideas about discipline. He watched each murder and rape and act of vengeance or desperation as it happened.

Because his interests included more than this city, the godlike man pushed his magic vision to oversee the lengths and breadths of the world.

ln the North Sea, a Soviet nuclear submarine plunged out of control into the deep, its crew being burned alive by a runaway reactor. Before the radioactive infero could kill a small group of crewmen trapped in the forward torpedo room. the pressure of the depths crushed the ship's fragile hull; and the godlike man watched this.

ln the Middle East, Iraqi soldiers bombed one of their own towns with poison gases. The village had been collaborating with enemy forces from Iran. The godlike man watched as dying mothers covered their infants with their own bodies, vainly trying to shield them from the burning air.

ln Israel, an officer in the military beat a Palestinian prisoner with a rubber hose packed with cat litter and sealed at each end with duct tape.

From his resting place on the top of the tall building in the vast metropolis. the godlike man quietly pondered the various wars and pogroms and genocides that killed thousands of human beings as he watched.

Then he was distracted by another sound. ln the building below him, a copper-haired young man had just tripped on a moving escalator. The boy was in danger of tumbling into the crowd below him and hurting himself.

Faster than the eye could follow. the godlike man flew to the rescue, his crimson cape fluttering in the wind. Before a whole second could pass, the godlike man had entered the building and covered the distance between them. With gentle ease, he caught the boy in the midst of his fall and lowered him safely to the floor below.

"Gee, thanks!" the boy said. "You really saved my bacon that time! l could have taken a bad spill!"

"No problem. son," said the godlike man. "With great power comes great responsibility. As long as l'm around, I'll always look out for my friends."

Having said that, the godlike man flew away, filled with the satisfaction of a job well done.

ln letters or at public appearances, l am often' asked why l constantly portray the Elementals as self-centered. squabbling, moronic cretins with highly questionable ethics.

Why can't they be more like mainstream super-heroes? Why aren't they written as role models that kids can learn from?

The answer of course is quite simple: Role models don't work in the super-hero genre.

What do you think?
- Bill Willingham
I don't think it makes it impossible to write good Superman stories, but I don't think you can have Superman powered at the level Snyder showed him or that DC can't seem to resist consistently restoring him to and not confront the "why is THIS how Superman gets involved?" Even if it's just by keeping your focus and scope sufficiently narrowed that you completely avoid the question.

Then again I loved the Warren Ellis & Mark Millar run of The Authority precisely because it addressed this sort of thing, so my opinion is colored by my particular bugaboos here.
posted by phearlez at 12:22 PM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, as I suggested above a major conflict baked into the character is between Clark Kent and Superman. Superman is farmboy Clark Kent in a costume wanting to do right by Ma and Pa Kent. While Bruce Wayne is Batman in disguise. Becoming the benevolent godlike dictator wouldn't make Superman human, which is something he craves. Superman doesn't have to put up with White, Lane, and Olsen, but he does anyway, and that's an important plot beat.

Any superhero story falls apart if you give it more than a few minutes of thought. But then again, so does Star Wars and Star Trek, and it's not like any of the Marvel films have offered much in the way of a tight narrative. To quote Gaiman misquoting Chesterton, "Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten." Even if us nerds don't analytically buy the farmboy-orphan-hero as realistic, it would be nice to have him in a movie.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:37 PM on February 9, 2016


Just my opinion, but I thought Alex Ross humanized Superman pretty well. But then again I think he humanizes all super heroes... and villains well.
posted by prepmonkey at 12:41 PM on February 9, 2016


The godlike man could see everything he wanted to. He watched with mild interest the steady withering of a child, tortured by parents who had creative ideas about discipline.

I mean, you can characterize Superman this way, just like I can characterize Waldo from Where's Waldo as a voracious sexual psychopath traveling the world looking for ideal prey. To do so, I have to ignore context and tone and privilege the story I want to tell over the story the original creators wanted to tell, but I could do it.

But it would be kind of upsetting if I then told little kids reading the books that Waldo's a serial killer, just because I decided my own interpretation was the only possible reading for anyone with TRUE intellectual integrity, STOP CRYING, JOHNNY, YOUR IDEOLOGICAL FOUNDATION IS A SHAM.

That's how I feel about this reading of Superman, and the disgusting women of kleenex piece that is bordering on hate speech, and everything Zack Snyder does.

I'm not saying that explorations of the implications of the character aren't interesting, but they are often paired with a didacticism that is pretty exhausting. The dude has a friend who is a dog in a cape. To say that his friendship with a cape-wearing dog is coming at the expense of nonstop human rights violations all over the world is the "wake up sheeple" of comics fandom.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:44 PM on February 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


Super heroics really doesn't work on any kind of real world social logic at all. If you want to write super heroes any amount of patching that over to make it "realistic" is going to fail you eventually and you might as well just roll with it.
posted by Artw at 12:59 PM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


To say that his friendship with a cape-wearing dog is coming at the expense of nonstop human rights violations all over the world is the "wake up sheeple" of comics fandom.

I don't think that's the point at all. If anything, the point is that you have no choice but to confront this problem once you decide you're no longer going to have the character be friends with a cape-wearing dog. When you place this character within that world maybe you don't have to cope with him ignoring child abuse or genocide because perhaps that world doesn't have those things. After all, it has superdogs and the conundrums Superman faces are sometimes downright whacky.

When you decide you're going to place this character in a world that looks a whole lot more like our own, maybe you do have to address that those things exist. You don't have to do this way, but if you decide you're not going to be able/willing to do the heavy lifting of finding other ways to make this character relatable to people without making his situation look identical to their own... then you have to confront the question of what this person would do if he was in a situation like their own. A situation with those ugly things.

Kurt Busiek did an interesting take on this in an issue of Astro City, where his variant on Superman - Samaritan - is darting out to solve problems and times himself to the second. Astro City doesn't look like our world too much and Samaritan, in the story, comes off as a little odd. He's not just like us because he's not like us. The story instead examines what a person in his situation would be like.

If you want to write super heroes any amount of patching that over to make it "realistic" is going to fail you eventually and you might as well just roll with it.

I agree entirely. And I think a big problem with Superman is that DC and comics writers in general have a very hard time accepting this.
posted by phearlez at 1:24 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I tend to be with the crowd that says that Alan Moore has said pretty much everything that needs to be said about Superman, mostly in the eighties, through the characters of Marvelman/Miracleman and Dr. Manhattan. The former showed a Superman who made the world better, but only by taking it over, and only after his evil counterpart (Kid Miracleman, standing in for Zod and company) had murdered millions of people in a ridiculously short amount of time. (My guess is that Zach Snyder, who of course also directed the Watchmen adaptation, will put as much of the Olympus arc of Miracleman in BvS as he can.) The latter showed a superhuman who became alienated figuratively as well as literally, not really caring all that much even as the world went to hell due to the mere implications of his existence.

Then, in the nineties, he redid Rob Liefeld's Supreme as a pure pastiche/send-up of the Silver Age Superman, where he's saying, hey, why so serious? to all the Moore-wannabes who were still pushing the X-TREEEEEEEM grimdark. He not only brought back the cape-wearing dog, he had an entire issue showing the cape-wearing dog breeding superpuppies at superspeed. (They chased cars, they caught them, they brought them back to the Headquarters Supreme like good doggies.) He made the point, as forcefully as he could, that if the only thing you can think of to do with comics is to ask yourself (and the readership) "if these guys are so good, why don't they get us single-payer healthcare?", you may be missing the real wonder and glory of the medium and the genre.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:32 PM on February 9, 2016


A fiendish thingy writes:
I mean, you can characterize Superman this way, just like I can characterize Waldo from Where's Waldo as a voracious sexual psychopath traveling the world looking for ideal prey.
WAT. Superman, at "peak" power, is absolutely guilty of the kinds of selective aid that the bit above references. That's a big reason why nearly every rejigging of the DC universe since the early 1980s has attempted to reign him in a bit, because you end up with real storytelling problems when your hero is omnipotent. All the adjustments made to him since the Bronze Age have been, at least, in part, so that they can AVOID this implication.

I have no idea where your Waldo idea comes from. That's a really weird thing to take away from a picture book, and isn't supported by the text. Hell, there's ISN'T any text.
and the disgusting women of kleenex piece that is bordering on hate speech

Oh, FFS.

(Confidential to Halloween Jack: I'm pretty sure the Olympus arc material is exactly where Snyder got the battle royale in Man of Steel. It'll be tedious if he needs to do it again, even with Doomsday in the picture.)
posted by uberchet at 1:38 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


One thing Chris Sims is fond of pointing out is that the Silver Age Superman, with his nigh-godlike powers, was so often thrust into goofy situations and weird gimmick supervillain situations because he had already eliminated all petty crime and cruelty in Metropolis. It's only when you remove him from that context but keep those powers that he gets into serious "don't think about this at all or it's horrific" territory.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:50 PM on February 9, 2016


I have no idea where your Waldo idea comes from. That's a really weird thing to take away from a picture book, and isn't supported by the text. Hell, there's ISN'T any text.

Congrats, that's literally my point. For a lot of people who love Superman, the only versions they've ever experienced of him are the most innocuous and old-school. They haven't read all the issues that "complicate" him. And telling those fans (or fans who have read those plotlines and responded with "eh, I like the old version better") that they are naive or delusional is a thing a lot of Comic Book Store Guys do, and it's gross.

If a little girl dresses up as Batgirl, she shouldn't have to "own up" to the grim events of "The Killing Joke". It is okay for some people to engage with forms of media in their uncomplicated, cartoon-y versions. It is okay for people who like the more complicated versions to let them do so without telling them they are doing comics wrong. I love the critiques in The Authority and in Watchmen. But I can also like Superman being friends with a dog. It isn't inherently hypocritical or gutless to do so.

And regarding the "FFS" remark about women of kleenex, look, there are a LOT of people who find it hilarious, I know that. All I can tell you is that when I read it as a teenage girl, I felt sick, and still do, at knowing that so many people (most of them men) find the concept to be a rollicking good jest. You can decide that my viewpoint has no merit, I guess, but the good news is this: who cares.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:56 PM on February 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


For a lot of people who love Superman, the only versions they've ever experienced of him are the most innocuous and old-school.

It is okay for some people to engage with forms of media in their uncomplicated, cartoon-y versions.

Don't tell us, tell the people who own the copyright. They're the ones who are uncomfortable putting forth such a version. They lack the will or ability to present Superman stories in a framework that doesn't create the problematic godlike man framing.
posted by phearlez at 2:15 PM on February 9, 2016


Don't tell us, tell the people who own the copyright.

I have! Repeatedly! By not giving them any of my money when they portray him that way, by engaging in ongoing discussions in public social media conversations about what garbage grimdark Superman is, by actually spending money when they release versions where he's closer to the version I prefer.

But in this particular discussion, I am telling it to the people here who seem skeptical about anyone liking Superman in the first place.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 2:24 PM on February 9, 2016


I tend to be with the crowd that says that Alan Moore has said pretty much everything that needs to be said about Superman, mostly in the eighties, through the characters of Marvelman/Miracleman and Dr. Manhattan.

You can't forget about his run on Supreme either. That's a remix and rethink of the whole 50s and 60s period, the Superman-is-a-dick timeframe, mostly concerned with playing practical jokes on Lois. It's not as splashy as the Watchmen or as full of drama as Miracleman, but it has some really interesting things to say about how Superman was written in those years, and particularly how we can tell multiple and conflicting stories about a still recognizably singular character.
posted by bonehead at 2:52 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


The ability to revise characters seems to be an integral part of the the whole superhero genre, in a way that's not common elsewhere in literature (James Bond might be an exception, but then isn't he a superhero too?). Luke is always Luke, Gatsby is never anyone but Gatsby. Superman, however, is a thousand different versions, yet still recognizably Superman.
posted by bonehead at 2:57 PM on February 9, 2016


phearlez I don't think it makes it impossible to write good Superman stories, but I don't think you can have Superman powered at the level Snyder showed him or that DC can't seem to resist consistently restoring him to and not confront the "why is THIS how Superman gets involved?" Even if it's just by keeping your focus and scope sufficiently narrowed that you completely avoid the question.

Which is why I referenced Strong Female Protagonist above. It's the comic that directly confronts "why is THIS how Superman gets involved?" and it's Goooooooooooood.

Halloween Jack I tend to be with the crowd that says that Alan Moore has said pretty much everything that needs to be said about Superman

I have to disagree, simply because Alan Moore didn't write SFP.
posted by yeolcoatl at 3:05 PM on February 9, 2016


Ultimately what DC really has to come to terms with is the fact that that the conflict comes not Superman's powers, but his powerlessness. No matter how many falling kids he saves or robbers he puts in prison, he doesn't generate the secondary effects. Any random schoolteacher off the street does more cumulative good than Superman does, and she doesn't need superpowers to do it.
posted by yeolcoatl at 3:15 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


fiendish thingy:
Congrats, that's literally my point.
It's not a very convincing one, because nothing about Waldo implies he's a predator, whereas pretty much everything about Silver/Bronze age Superman leads inescapably into questions about how an omnipotent being sets his priorities.

Any discussion of the mechanics of storytelling with Superman has to touch on this, because the realization of this problem drove no end of other tweaks and changes to the character to try to fix it. That's interesting. That's what's (mostly) being discussed here.

This isn't the sort of thing you trot out in a naive conversation about Superman with normal people (or the little girl dressed as Batgirl), obviously, but we're not having that conversation. We are all of us Comic Book Guy in this thread. (I mean, really, who complains about didacticism in a Metafilter thread? Come for the grammar, stay for the didacticism!)

It doesn't mean there's not a place for the cartoony stories, but the cartoony stories are by definition taking place in a cartoony, simplistic world. Obviously, neither bit referenced above is discussing the Golden Agey, simple-world cartoon Superman. Put simply, they aren't even ABOUT "your" Superman.

You also seem to be reacting to stuff that I know *I* haven't said, and that I don't think is in this thread. You're complaining that people are telling you that you're "naive or delusional" for liking a cartoony, friends-with-Krypto Supes, but the post I responded to seemed to be turning that around and saying that interrogating the character in terms of the modern world -- in which he is increasingly placed! -- is itself somehow doing Superman wrong. Isn't that just as gross?

Finally, your reading of Niven's "Kleenex" essay is obviously your own business, but it seems idiosyncratic -- and absolutely a stretch to say it borders on "hate speech." I've always read it as a critique of precisely the issues we're discussing here. I've absolutely never found anyone who thought it "a rollicking good jest" -- to do so is to miss Niven's point entirely.

(bonehead: Yeah, Bond is a superhero, and so is the Doctor, but I think the difference between them and other characters in fiction who are more static isn't superhero/not-a-superhero; it's that Bond, the Doctor, and comic heroes continue to exist for decades and necessarily change with the times; it's hard to think of other storytelling forms that have to account for this. There's soaps, but even then adult characters tend to age in real time, so some evolution is expected, right?)
posted by uberchet at 3:30 PM on February 9, 2016


Yeah I didn't have the energy to get into this with my comment last night, but to my mind "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" is misogynistic snuff porn targeting a frequently-derided female character. Regardless of what Niven's intentions were almost fifty years ago -- and frankly I don't see why we should give him that much credit for juvenile, half-baked gross-out wannabe-satire that evidently failed to make its supposed point considering the way it's deployed today -- if you don't think nerdbro fanboys regularly pull it out today as a territory-marking "joke" you haven't been paying attention.

I was going to snark about how it's progress that women objecting to a popular shibboleth of male nerddom are now only "reading the text idiosyncratically" instead of being oversensitive. But honestly, if you genuinely think it's appropriate to tell someone it's idiosyncratic that she, as a teenage girl, read a detailed, graphic description of a woman being dismembered during sex -- by sex -- written as a nerdy point-scoring rhetorical device, and it made her feel sick -- I don't know what to tell you.
posted by bettafish at 3:58 PM on February 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Finally, your reading of Niven's "Kleenex" essay is obviously your own business, but it seems idiosyncratic

Nah. It's not light years away from my own reading of that piece, for example. It's yet another entry in the long of things that get passed around as a great example of something (in this case, science fiction style premise-exploration ) which upon closer examination requires one to wade through a hefty dose of violence against women in order to get to the supposedly good part.

And near as I can tell, the full extent of Niven's supposedly insightful "critique" is this: boy, comic books sure don't attend to actual real-world physics very well, do they?

L-O-fucking L. It's a complete yawn.
posted by Ipsifendus at 3:59 PM on February 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


"That's a big reason why nearly every rejigging of the DC universe since the early 1980s has attempted to reign him in a bit, because you end up with real storytelling problems when your hero is omnipotent."

"Yeah, I see what you're saying, but I think it plays better if he kills Caesar."
posted by klangklangston at 8:32 PM on February 9, 2016


I think the difference between them and other characters in fiction who are more static isn't superhero/not-a-superhero; it's that Bond, the Doctor, and comic heroes continue to exist for decades and necessarily change with the times; it's hard to think of other storytelling forms that have to account for this.

I take you point. The comparison is often made to the pre-literate pantheons and their many versions of their gods and heros.

However, theatre is another form that also has to grow and adapt to its audience. How often has Richard III been interpreted and re-interpreted? For many more generations that the few that superheros have, at least. Is West Side Story the same sort of thing as a Superman reboot? Maybe.
posted by bonehead at 10:11 PM on February 9, 2016


Ugh, I also hate that Larry Niven piece. < comic book guy > worst beanplating ever < /comic book guy >
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:43 PM on February 9, 2016



However, theatre is another form that also has to grow and adapt to its audience. How often has Richard III been interpreted and re-interpreted? For many more generations that the few that superheros have, at least. Is West Side Story the same sort of thing as a Superman reboot? Maybe.


That's an interesting question. What I meant was that we have the illusion of ongoing continuity with the Doctor and Bond and Superman and Batman and Spiderman and etc., but that's not really always the case, is it? All but the Doctor have been explicitly rebooted, sometimes several times -- and the Doctor comes with his own "reboot" mechanism as part of his story, right? These stories get retold and readjusted for the times, just like myths in an oral tradition society. And it happens fast -- just a decade or so is enough for Marvel or DC to tweak origins and retcon something and there you are.

I guess, in terms of human storytelling, the ongoing redefinition we see in superhero stories to the norm than the static character presentation we associate with other forms of entertainment.

(Now I wonder how much of this is due to copyright law.)
posted by uberchet at 5:59 AM on February 10, 2016


It's how easily that's accepted that kind of boggles me.

In a year or two, we'll get the third reboot of Spider-man, new origin that almost, not quite the same as the last two, almost but not quite the same supporting cast. The great Gatsby was filmed a few years ago. There doesn't seem any burning desire to redo it right now. Even more so, the liberties that can be taken with the source text translation into a screenplay seem to be much, much smaller than the wholescale re-imaginings allowed in superhero movie reboots.
posted by bonehead at 8:04 AM on February 10, 2016


> I guess, in terms of human storytelling, the ongoing redefinition we see in superhero stories to the norm than the static character presentation we associate with other forms of entertainment.

(Now I wonder how much of this is due to copyright law.)

> It's how easily that's accepted that kind of boggles me.

Stretching back (blah blah superheroes-as-modern-mythology I-read-Joseph-Campbell-one-time blah blah), it seems like that's a more natural way to tell stories, and more in line with how people have always told stories, rather than the stuck-in-amber style that's become more common with printed works. And I do think that copyright has had a huge impact on it, because when you look at materials that skirt the lines of copyright (mostly thinking of fanfic here), they also engage in constant revision and reinterpretation of characters from printed work.

What I find interesting is that, where other copyrighted works have traditionally rejected reinterpretations, or at least held them at arm's length, comics embraced them wholesale from a fairly early point in the development of the medium, and they've become an expected and (mostly) accepted part of the appeal of comics - the characters are amorphous, and there's space in the big floating cloud that is "Superman" for A. the guy who is turned into a lion, B. the authority-worshipping TDKR version, and C. the guy who takes a moment from saving the world to speak quietly to a young suicidal woman and let her know that someone cares.
posted by protocoach at 9:41 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Absolutely.

The amusing note is that we started talking about superhero reinvention here, and citing examples of exactly that, and those characters are themselves in copyright jail. They only get reinvented and retooled because their owners decide it's needed.

Sure, we get analogs elsewhere that do some of the work of retelling the tales of some of the more iconic heroes, but that's at arms-length out of legal necessity. THE AUTHORITY's Apollo is the "Superman" figure, but in being different enough to avoid a lawsuit, he's also different enough that his stories resonate less with Clark.

"comics embraced them wholesale from a fairly early point in the development of the medium"

Oh, yeah, you're right. It's not the tweaking in the 60s and 70s that's the ur-text here; it's the golden age -> silver age transition, where nearly everyone got re-imagined and some got absolutely re-created from scratch, e.g. Jay Garrick vs. Barry Allen.
posted by uberchet at 10:12 AM on February 10, 2016


Stretching back (blah blah superheroes-as-modern-mythology I-read-Joseph-Campbell-one-time blah blah), it seems like that's a more natural way to tell stories, and more in line with how people have always told stories, rather than the stuck-in-amber style that's become more common with printed works. And I do think that copyright has had a huge impact on it (mostly thinking of fanfic here), they also engage in constant revision and reinterpretation of characters from printed work.


I think it is both copyright and the ubiquity of printed/more "permanent" forms of media. Before wide-spread literacy, and then before wide-spread books, the oral tradition was how it was done, and it could be modified and change over time and space. Now, there is always a record to go back to and comparisons to be made. One of the potential drawbacks about fandoms is that it can cause a crystallization of stories being a certain way and always having to have certain beats and elements, and not allowing those stories to evolve and develop and change over time, leading to a refresh or a renewal or something new growing from the soil of the old. But fandoms can also explore those stories in unique ways and make things different and new in fanfic, and other projects bourne out of the love of the source material. And then copyright comes along and adds a whole new level of complexity to the challenge of adapting and changing things; certainly having our current major mythological figures and stories owned by corporate entities is problematic in many regards.

In general though, I think our relationship with story is complex; we want to have stories that are new and challenging and tackle emerging things, but we also like to have stories that are familiar and comforting. Walking that balance is hard at a time when we can point to things and say that they are the "definitive story of X" and there are lawyers who will fight to keep it that way.
posted by nubs at 10:33 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


they've become an expected and (mostly) accepted part of the appeal of comics - the characters are amorphous, and there's space in the big floating cloud that is "Superman"

This is a fairly recent thing too with a couple of decades of transition from literary to full-on reinvention mode. What-if/Elseworld stories have been around for a while, form the 60s and 70s, but in those decades the majority of the publications were with canonical characters which went back to the earliest days of their publication. DC had two official versions of Superman through that time frame (Earth-1 Kal El and Earth-2 Kal-L), one major reinterpretation. There were minor accretions through those decades as well, particularly in the 70s when the number of Earths started to explode.

It came to a head in '84, with the Crisis. Moore's famous farewell to Kal-L, the superman of the 50s, happened then too. Byrne's reinvention of Superman happened shortly after. That seemed to really open the floodgates. DC since seems to reinvent and reboot every few years, multiple times in a decade. The average reader will see it happen at least once or twice. Marvel was less ready to revise characters so frequently, preferring to start new ones, but lately they've fully embraced the superhero-as-palimpsest too.

So, in the context of this discussion, the DC movie version of Superman, it is really important, I think to ask the question: Is this Superman really a good, faithful version of the character at his core? I really like the response by Max Landis linked above, to the point of willing to admit that I was wrong about the central problem of Snyder's movie---it's not that he kills Zod, it's that he lets Zod wreck a city and kill 100s of thousands of people, people Superman has made himself responsible for.
posted by bonehead at 10:39 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think what he was referring not to the explicit "other Supermen" in DC continuity, but the way in which the official DC mainstream "Superman" varies over time, and especially how he is differently portrayed in the various "official" channels -- in animated TV, in the Donner films, in the Snyder films, in Frank Miller's work, by Ben Affleck, etc.

I think DC reinvents and reboots more than Marvel because their history reaches back further. For DC, everything hinges on two guys invented before Pearl Harbor, whereas the "deep" roots of Marvel are from 25 years later, and the difference between 1939 and 1962/63 is pretty vast, even before you include the fact that Marvel has always grounded their heroes in real places -- Spidey is a New Yorker -- instead of in an imaginary Other in addition to giving them more realistic roles in society (Spidey is hounded by the press; the X-Men's mutant-vs.-human storylines mirrored civil rights; etc).

Because of this, there's a modern relate-ability baked into the whole Marvel Universe; it's in the foundation. DC's roots in prewar pulp mean it lacks that, and its ongoing rebooting and rejiggering is an attempt to enjoy the modern-mythic status of Superman and Batman while still connecting them, somehow, to modern sensibilities that have little room for Batarangs and Krypto the Super-Dog.

(Not for nothing, either, has Batman had more success; there's really just as much problematic about his story as there is with Superman, but he's easier to tell stories with because he's not a godlike alien.)

"Is this Superman really a good, faithful version of the character at his core?"

I think what we've run into in this thread is that this question has no canonical answer. You and I and others will doubtless disagree on what such a "good, faithful version" would look like, no?
posted by uberchet at 11:37 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's a strong element of "know it when I see it", sure (which is one reason this is so fun to talk about). And that a big part of why there has been a problem with the character representations, particularly in the media. I don't think this is just a Tru Fan vs public issue either, but a sense of the types of stories that might be interesting with that sort of character beyond simple spectacle.

Not for nothing, either, has Batman had more success; there's really just as much problematic about his story as there is with Superman, but he's easier to tell stories with because he's not a godlike alien

For the record, I hated the Tim Burton Batman treatment. Not because of Keaton, who was great in the role, but because Burton made Batman a killer as well.
posted by bonehead at 12:00 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I really like the response by Max Landis linked above, to the point of willing to admit that I was wrong about the central problem of Snyder's movie---it's not that he kills Zod, it's that he lets Zod wreck a city and kill 100s of thousands of people, people Superman has made himself responsible for.

"Can you imagine if you'd had to fight those guys on land?
"
"Oh my gosh! Thousands of people might have died!"
posted by phearlez at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


"but because Burton made Batman a killer as well."

I hear you there, but I think that's as much Miller's fault as Burton's. And without Miller, I wonder if we'd have gotten those movies at all.

Burton gave us a Bat-world that visually resembled Miller, but the actual film is a weird pastiche of 60s-TV-Batman and DKR. It hasn't, IMO, aged well. (My Controversial Opinion is that _Batman Returns_ has fared much better, largely because of the humanization and characterization work done by Keaton and Pfeiffer, but that's just me.)

Nolan's Batman is just as beholden to Miller, but without the need to soften it with cartoony villains. The whole thing was more grounded in reality, so even when we eventually get an iconic Bat-villain, he's played as a disfigured psychopath instead of, well, Jack Nicholson in what looked like Cesar Romero's old suit.

But, yeah, killing. I guess I see the "must not kill" rule for Supes and Bats as less a core attribute and more a leftover aspect of their kids-only origins that proved incompatible with more realistic portrayals.
posted by uberchet at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2016


"Not because of Keaton, who was great in the role, but because Burton made Batman a killer as well."

Bob Kane made Batman a killer. His original appearances have him killing people with pistols and silk ropes. He didn't stop murdering gangsters until after Seduction of the Innocent.
posted by klangklangston at 1:56 PM on February 10, 2016


Fair enough, I suppose (though technically, that's the Earth-2 guy in continuity, isn't it?).

Still felt like a betrayal though, for a kid raised on the likes of O'Neil and Adams and Aparo.
posted by bonehead at 2:21 PM on February 10, 2016


"Bob Kane made Batman a killer."

Well, maybe. But both Superman and Batman evolved quite a bit. Supes couldn't fly to begin with.

But we can acknowledge that the sentence "Batman doesn't kill people" has been accurate for most mainstream presentations of the character from sometime in the 1940s or 50s through to, I assume, Miller's DKR, right?

(Both contain multitudes, obviously, too.)
posted by uberchet at 2:30 PM on February 10, 2016


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