Friday, June 21, 2013

Superman Of Two Worlds

Greetings, fellow citizens of Earth!
And welcome to my blog!
Welcome to.....

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You!
I am Dave-El! Thanks for dropping by.
On Sunday, I posted to my blog some thoughts and opinions about the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, as you see here. My assessment of this latest attempt to bring Superman to the silver screen was rather positive. In fact, I said "Man of Steel is the best Superman movie ever!"
And I have had several days to think about it and you know what? I'm going to stand by that statement. Why? Because I still believe what I said. But even though there are lot of moviegoers last week who feel equally positive about the movie, there are others who...don't. Some have a bit of hesitation and sat something like, "I liked it but..." while others are more outright in their displeasure with Man of Steel, asking "Do the filmmakers even GET who Superman is?"

Now I'm not going to knock people for opinions other than mine!
Even if those opinions are stupid, ill-considered, poorly thought out, asinine, small-minded, idiotic, uninformed and (for good measure) more stupid.
OK, let me be serious for a second.
(Can I manage a whole second? I could try. This bit doesn't count!)
As much as it seems like I'm declaring that Man of Steel is the GOD OF ALL SUPERMAN MOVIES, I am not. As I posted on Twitter,
"A perfect Superman movie? Maybe not but it's damn well as close as I've ever seen!"
But there does seem to be a bit of disconnect between movie Superman and comic book Superman. But is this a bad thing or do we just need to accept that Superman in the movies is different from one in the comics.
So I'm going to take a look 3 pieces of the movie that drew a significant amount of consternation and see what I can stir up.
I read reviews where people took issue with the film from the get-go. The sequence on Krypton was too long, too overstuffed, too frenetic and just too weird. Well, there's a lot to get to before we stuff Li'l Kal-El in a rocket and shoot him in the general direction of Earth. There's been a tendency to show Krypton as a cold and sterile world. The ice crystal Krypton of the first Richard Donner film and John Byrne's version of that world in his mid-80s re-boot are two examples of that motif. This certainly does a lot to show how Superman in his brightly colored costume and his embrace of humanity differs with his forebears on doomed Krypton.
But what we see in Zack Snyder's film is a world that is at once fantastic yet recognizable. The fantastic is astonishing to behold as we see Jor-El on the back of a flying beast as sweeps over the spires of a Krypton smoldering under the pressure that pushes at its crust and from the forces at work to claim power over Krypton even as it spins towards damnation and ruin.
And that is the sadly recognizable part as Krypton's leaders fret impotently over problems created by their own blindness and lack of will. Zod thinks he can save this world by the power of his own will and his special nature as one of the elite of Krypton. And Jor-El and Lara, they know that doom is coming to Krypton and they can't do anything to save everything but they can do ONE thing: save their son.
Yes, there is a lot going on as one scene rushes into another and it does seem kind of hectic. But we get the picture we need, of the sinister politics of dying Krypton that will come to haunt Superman and threaten Earth later on. And when Krypton's end does come, we've lost more than just Kal-El's parents but a world that was brilliant and messy at the same time. A world with strange machines and flying winged creatures. A world with unique sights and features is now lost in fire and dust, lost forever.
Except for that one tiny baby hurtling through the void.  The more we knew of Krypton, the more we feel the loneliness of its one tiny survivor and the heavy weight to come of his special destiny.
Side note: If you read Superman comics in the 1970s, one of the recurring back up features was The Fabulous World of Krypton which developed the story of Superman's home world as we met it's people and the strange sights one would see there. I had a sense of these stories providing some of the aesthetic qualities we saw in the Krypton sequence.
Below is a splash page from a Fabulous World of Krypton story
by a just getting started Marv Wolfman and a just before X-men Dave Cockrum.
One of the cooler things that comic books could do but movies really could not was the knock down, drag out super-fight! Super strong punches hurtle invulnerable bodies through walls of concrete and steel! It's a thrill to see super powered heroes finally get to be super, their mighty powers unleashed without limits! But live action movies? Think about it, the gold standard for the longest time of super hero & super villain going mano e mano was Superman II when Supes fights Zod. And this sequence as its charms, to be sure. But even taken in the best perspective possible, the fight is slow and ponderous. Meanwhile, in the comics, these fights could be portrayed with speed and power.
But by 2013, special effects have caught up and the level of power unleashed in Man of Steel is off the charts as Superman fights the powerful followers of Zod and the terrible, massive machine that threatens all of Earth. It looks so freakin' awesome!!
In the comics, Jack Kirby could draw someone running out from under a collapsing building or Stan Lee could drop in a thought balloon as the hero thinks, "Good thing that building was empty."  In the comics, Curt Swan could draw Superman zipping away from battle to rescue innocents in danger and the back to the fight in the blink of an eye.
But let's face it, if heroes existed in the real world, the death and destruction would not be so tidy or contained. In Man of Steel, the more the intensity of the fights build (Woo-hoo! Punch that sonuvabitch, Superman!), the more the collateral damage increases and the more likely that below those crashing buildings, people are dying. (Woo--what? Uh, I don't want to think about that.)
But you don't bring Chris Nolan on to a super hero film and expect heroes to be perfect and save everyone. In the Nolan-verse, heroes are good guys doing their best against impossible odds but they're not perfect and not everyone can be saved. Maybe we expect more from comic book Superman but movie Superman is different. And I'm OK with that. If I want comic book Superman, I'll mosey on down to Acme Comics and buy some Superman comic books.
The thing that bothered me most about the collateral damage was how little we see Superman affected by it. We don't have a moment where we see Superman pausing to consider the catastrophic ruins of Metropolis, ruins he helped create, and consider the lives lost. Yes, Zod and his minions are defeated and the Earth is saved. But at what cost? Maybe Superman can't save everyone but Clark Kent can do what everyone can do: he can mourn. 
While comic books could do super powered slug fests really well, Superman himself didn't get to cut loose all that often. Here's a really great example of one of those times by the legendary Neal Adams.
Wow, look at all that carnage down below!
But what you don't see are the Superman robots flying citizens to safety.
Yeah, let's go with that.
Comic book super heroes not killing is a good idea for any number of reasons:
The challenge of using powers and skills in a clever way and not having an easy way to defeat the villain.
  • Penguin: Wauk! Wauk! You can't stop me, Batman!
  • Robin: Holy fish entrails, Batman! What are we going to...?
  • Batman shoots Penguin.
  • Penguin: Arrrgghh!
  • Robin: You shot him? Man, you ALWAYS do that.
  • Penguin: *gurgle*

Not losing out on a great recurring character because the hero killed him last issue. Trust me, there is no pent up demand for Stays In The Ground Man.
We see heroes as an ideal of who we are or can be. We want them rise above the stuff that drags us down. For that reason, we would rather not see them kill. We surely don't want our heroes to be lower than us.
Within the story or comic book universe, heroes engender trust by not being killers. Even death by accident can be a problem for super heroes. Look at what happened in Marvel's Civil War#1.
The kids are watching. For the sake of the little ones that we hope are still out there reading comics, super heroes who do not kill are better role models for using their powers and skills to accomplish a task of stopping a bad guy without killing them.
So no killing, OK, comic book super heroes? OK.
But what about movie Superman?
What has stirred up the biggest hornets nest of controversy is.......OK, if you've read this far, you better have seen the damn movie 'cause here be...
S P O I L E R S!
...when Superman kills Zod.
Zod, alone and driven to madness by his schemes being undone, decided to unleash hell on Superman and his adopted world.  In the course of his rampage, Zod finds some hapless citizens who have somehow not had rubble dropped on them and starts blasting with his heat vision. Superman zips up to Zod to stop him. But Zod won't turn off the damn heat vision and that heat beam is getting closer and closer to helpless innocents until Superman stops Zod.... breaking his neck.
And I'm OK with that.
OK, how can I call myself a Superman fan and say that. SUPERMAN DOES NOT KILL!!
But yes, yes he has.
In the second Christopher Reeve Superman movie, our hero drops our now powerless General Zod into a deep, dark pit with (we assume) a death inducing hard stop at the end.
And let's look to the comics. Anybody remember this doozy?

But Dave-El, that's only two examples. Yes, I imagine that I would be hard pressed to find many more examples of Superman killing. But the point is that however rare it is, Superman DOES kill.
He has a vow against killing and that's good. I imagine policemen who are armed with guns would rather not use them. But use them they will if they have to.
I think taking the whole "heroes don't kill" to such absurd levels---really, every time Batman does NOT punch a damn hole in Joker's chest, another couple of hundred people are going to die the next time Joker escapes from Arkham Revolving Door Asylum----makes the hero look less noble and more clueless. Still, in comics we roll with this because this is how our heroes roll.
Should Superman have done the impossible and stopped Zod without killing him? As Mark Waid said, Superman's all about doing the impossible. But is our hero really challenged with the hard questions, the hard decisions when they all can be side stepped with a clever (or ass pull, take your pick) las second save?
Think about this sequence between Superman and Zod:
Superman does NOT want to kill Zod. He's screaming at Zod to stop not just to save those people but to keep himself from doing what he must.
Zod has more than one chance to stand down. Instead he keeps blasting away with his heat vision.
Times up. The next tick of a second will see those innocent people vaporized. Zod won't surrender, won't back down.
The decision is made. A quick thrust and Zod's neck is broken. Even before Zod's dead body hits the floor, the anguish on Superman's face is palpable. 
Superman mourns. He falls to his knees and screams in helpless rage. Even for Zod, the madman who sullied the legacy of Superman's lost world and sought the destroy his new home, Superman mourns. Superman's last living connection to long dead Krypton lives no more.
While I think this sequence is well handled by everyone involved but I do think this strong and dramatic reaction to taking a life would have been even that much more meaningful if something more had been said or acknowledged in some way of the death and destruction that preceded this moment.
Whew! That was exhausting! I wanted to also touch on Jonathan Kent's infamous "maybe you should've let them die" sequence (it actually makes sense in the larger context of his conversation with a young Clark Kent and no, good ol' Pa Kent is not suggesting letting people die should be Clark's thing) and the really, really overt Christ-like imagery and comparisons (I'm sure those two Jewish kids from Ohio---Jerry and Joe---would be so proud of their "son", the Messiah) but I've beaten this dead horse enough. Well, other than for the sheer joy of it.
But let me wrap up with this: loved it, liked it or hated it, Man of Steel has done something remarkable.  It made us stop and think.
It made us talk about Superman again.
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Is Dave-El Stressed?

A day after Dave-El's birthday, another year older and closer to death, am I feeling stressed? YES! Yes, I am a bit stressed!!!