Super Anxious for “Man of Steel”
This is not one of those hand-wringing pieces wondering whether Superman is still relevant. This week, I’m sure you’ll have any number of those to choose from, should you feel the need. (I can save you the trouble, though; the answer is simple: yes, Superman is still relevant.)
By the time you read this, I’ll have seen “Man of Steel” earlier today at a screening in Manhattan, thanks to a “plus one” invite from my friend and DC Direct sculptor Paul Harding. But as I write this, I’m no more informed about the film than any of you. Beyond watching the various trailers — probably more times than I should have, and getting choked up at “You are my son” every time — I’ve avoided reading reviews. I don’t want my opinion of the film colored by anyone else’s opinion.
I usually don’t see movies on opening weekend. I’m not a fan of crowded theaters full of people who don’t have the basic decency not to talk, text or generally act like morons and ruin the communal experience. It took me weeks for get around to seeing “The Avengers,” for instance, and longer than that to see “Skyfall” (and I’m practically a fanatic for all things James Bond). My desire to make the movie-going experience as positive and undisturbed as possible almost always outweighs my desire for instant gratification, or at least opening-weekend gratification.
But even if I hadn’t been able to tag along to today’s screening, I probably would’ve made an opening-weekend exception for “Man of Steel.” I’ve been that anxious to see it… because it’s Superman. For me, there’s no other character who can match him.
Full confession: I liked “Superman Returns” just fine (here’s a good piece that covers a lot of the reasons why, so maybe I’m an easy mark. Yes, I know, Superman didn’t punch anyone in that movie. But frankly, if you think Superman is primarily about punching people… sorry, you don’t really get Superman.
I remember seeing Richard Donner’s “Superman” film in the theater when it was first released, the next genre blockbuster after 1977’s “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I remember that it snowed the day we saw the movie. I remember we sat on the right side of the theater, about a third of the way up from the screen. And I vividly remember a color photo in the Sunday edition of our local newspaper, showing Superman putting his body on broken train tracks so the train wouldn’t derail. More powerful than a locomotive, indeed.
I did believe a man could fly. I believed it wholeheartedly. Christopher Reeve’s Superman was earnest and somehow gentle, wearing that bright suit like he was made to do so. Even “Superman 3,” which is awkward at best, and embarrassing at worst, is still watchable when Reeve is in the suit.
Superman long ago transcended being a comic book hero, or even a trans-media character. He’s a fictional icon, lofty status attained by few others in the last couple of centuries: Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Dracula, Batman, Mickey Mouse. A number of years ago, DC Comics sent out the book “Superman: The Complete History” by Les Daniels as Christmas gifts to freelancers. But I’d already bought a copy, because I’m fascinated by both the character and the history.
Superman and Batman are the superhero archetypes, the twin foundations upon which most other characters are built. Later, the creation of Spider-Man popularized a third superhero archetype, the Everyman. But Supes and Bats were first, and my affection for each is near limitless.
In a great many ways, Batman and Superman are mirror images of one another. Batman is utterly human; he’s actually the pinnacle of human accomplishment. Superman is not human, he is a god among us.
Both characters, though, are ultimately defined by their parents. Batman is who he is because his parents were taken from him. Superman is who he is because one set of parents saved him, and the other set of parents, the ones who raised him, taught him to be the man he is.
Batman’s tragedy is obvious. But there’s an underlying tragedy to Superman as well, a measure of longing and loneliness. Kal-El is the last of his kind. As much as Clark Kent blends in with us, he is forever apart. Superman is not one of us, but he is the best of us. He is, paradoxically, the human ideal. Superman inspires us to aspire.
In a less cynical era, we embraced Superman more than we do now. Now we seem more prone to identifying with a broken man who dresses up like a bat and fights disfigured psychopaths in grim alleys. We apparently have come to understand revenge as a motivation more so than goodness for the sake of goodness. I’m fairly certain that says a lot more about us as a society than it does about Superman or Batman.
When I was fortunate enough to write some Superman issues, the plotline was handed to me by the editor. The four-issue story, spread across the era’s four monthly Supes titles, took Superman to the bottle city of Kandor. Left to my own devices, it certainly wasn’t the story I would have chosen to tell. The most memorable aspect, honestly, was the set of architecturally-astounding covers by Paul Rivoche.
I was able to write some additional Superman issues (this time with Walter Simonson covers!), another case in which the story, revisiting a classic Superman concept, was handed down from editorial. But even working within the constraints of a pre-determined story, simply getting the opportunity to write Superman was reward enough. I guess creators are supposed to get jaded to that kind of thing after a while, but having my name on the same cover as the Superman logo still means a lot to me.
If you scan the shelves at a Barnes and Noble, or even your local comic shop, you’ll see a lot more Batman volumes than Superman. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say there are far more landmark Batman stories than there are landmark Superman stories.
But we have a new Superman movie, and seemingly a sequel already in the works. As of yesterday, we have a new Superman comic series by two of the best in the business in Scott Snyder and Jim Lee. The “Adventures of Superman” digital series is producing some great stories (and provides my necessary fix of red underpants). I sit here listening to Hans Zimmer’s “Man of Steel” score, and I know it’s a good time to be a Superman fan. It gives me hope. That’s what Superman is all about.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it’s pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes “Artifacts” and “Ravine” for Top Cow, “The Protectors” for Athleta Comics and his creator-owned title, “Shinku,” for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.