Revisiting Man of Steel

man_of_steel_ver2_boxartWith the upcoming release of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I decided that it may finally be time to revisit Man of Steel. A film that I had avoided heavily re-watching since its first release. Let’s just say that like a large portion of the general public, the film did not sit well with me. However, now that some time has passed and my initial rage has subsided (mostly), it’s time to answer the question. Was Man of Steel any good?

In short, no. The critics and general public alike have made no secret of the films flaws. Given the length of time between viewings and the changing of your perceptions over time though, I had to wonder. Had my hatred of the film been sharpened by the constant criticism the film was receiving? If only the flaws are being discussed, are they the only memories I will retain and revisit? Causing a deeper hatred than the film may have disserved.

screenshot_1244With a character such as Superman, or even Clark Kent, there is a certain weight and expectation that exists in the mind of the viewer, even before the film is experienced. This makes the film incredibly hard to separate from the character’s history. Cavill will always be compared to Reeve. Reeve is the definitive Superman to a lot of people, even to those that do not read the comics, this already stacks the deck against Cavill before we even saw him in action. One can’t help but feel sorry for the actor, for the fact that he is not being judged on his own ability, but by his predecessor. The darker tone of the film only hinders this fact, as the films blatant attempts to cash in The Dark Knight‘s success, forces the character into an atmosphere and tone that, while can and has been explored throughout Superman’s history, is not his natural state. The tone and format, retelling Superman’s history in a miss matched order, are elements taken directly from that of Batman Begins in the hopes that the familiar storytelling devices and now bankable formula, would win the film some good graces. One would hope that this was done to allow the creators to use the format to complement the differences between the two films, but sadly all it does is create a Batman clone in Kryptonian garb.

9053_4Superman is not Batman. While both characters can be equally enjoyed by the audience, their motivations and raison d’être’s are separate. Leading to a difference in personality and appeal. While the brooding superhero has undoubtedly become popular in recent years, what Hollywood must remember, is that it is not a necessity. Something that I fear Batman Vs. Superman will unfortunately reinforce.

Throughout Man of Steel, the man we watch grow and supposedly root for, stands as neither the classic Clark Kent nor the traditional Superman. The films decidedly dark tone 106056_zpsac36da8b.png~originalplays a key role in this matter, depicting a man that attempts to embody the icon but fails to comprehend it. Though glimpses of childhood embrace Clark’s frustration and attempts to appear normal to the world, providing some of the films greatest (and briefest) moments, remain promising as they play off the mood well. Clark as an adult, shows a man far more self centred and arrogant than previous incarnations. While it’s only natural for children, particularly those that are adopted, to have moments of friction or argue over their future, Clark’s interactions with his parents, particularly Jonathan, are cold hearted and do little to ground him to his life in Kansas. Rather than a being of two worlds, equal in his loyalties, Clark stands as simply a Kryptonian living on Earth. At multiple times, reminding Jonathan and Martha that they are not in fact his real parents and simply found him. Compounded by the fact that his first words to Martha after being gone for a considerable time, based on her reaction, is to state that he “found his real parents”. In order to sell an actor as Superman, you must also convince the world that he is Clark Kent, Something Cavill fails to do. It is in fact more tempting to refer to him as Kal than Clark, for the mere fact that his preoccupation with Krypton outweighs his bonds to the Earth.

Man_of_Steel_teaser_trailer_screenshot_10_460x259The controversial “neck snap” scene, while originally anger inducing for its general existence, brings about more controversy in hindsight. The taking of a life is seen in Superman’s eyes as crossing the ultimate moral line, in the few previous crossings, the weight bears so heavily on his mind that he exiles himself from society. In the case provided, the situation does become dire enough that crossing that line becomes morally expectable, even if it feels wrong. However, taking into account the previous destruction of the city and the countless lives most likely lost in the incident, the fact that a single family becomes his deciding factor creates a hypocritical flaw in his own judgement.

While Cavill bears the brunt of the backlash, it is clear that he has the ability to portray a true Superman, as well as an honest Clark. If only the darker tones enforced upon the project could be loosened. Allowing him to break free of the Kryptonite shackles that is studio mandate, could provide us with the next definitive Superman actor.

man-steel-sequel-superman-lois-laneIn contrast, Amy Adams’ portrayal of Lois Lane provides not only a strong willed centre, but a faithful embodiment of everything Lois has stood for overtime. She’s not afraid to put herself in harm’s way for a story, charging in when she knows it’s the only way she will get her answers. In contrast to the hollow shell of a Superman story the film becomes at times, Adams plays an honest character, a stand in for those as curious enough to investigate Cavill’s Superman rather than a scared onlooker, too frightened to comprehend a world beyond the familiar Reeve.

Screen-Shot-2013-04-17-at-4.11-600x369The film is most definitely a flawed production, confusing a stand in of Superman with embodying his principles and life. It’s stigma in the media proves that its missteps have not gone unnoticed, and with Batman Vs. Superman on the horizon, it is hopeful that the criticism from Man of Steel has been taken on board. However, with Snyder’s continued defence of the film, it seems that the ‘Batman-afying’ of Superman sees no clear end. The fact that Superman has been sidelined in his own sequel unfortunately, leads us to conclude that the dark and gloomy times are yet to see an end. May Dawn of Justice, shed some much needed light onto the character and franchise, so that once again Superman can bask in the sun.

 

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Superman: Evolution of Power – Relating to a God

SM-AMALIEN_final_600Created at the hands of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Superman is the quintessential superhero. The one that started the entire genre, inspired by circus strongmen and the fantasies of outsiders. Heroes that came afterward would leave a mark in their own way, but only one was Superman. Many would not only carry the idea of Superman, but would take on a name of and attributes from a second source, in the case of Batman, he would take the form of a Bat and strike fear in the hearts of his enemies, “for Superman, the name and costume both contribute to the impression of him as “super” – a mighty Other.” [Brownie, Graydon. 2015:12] But the Superman introduced in Action Comics #1 1938, differs greatly from the Superman we have come to know and love now.

When Superman was created, he was envisioned to be the fantasy of many. While Clark Kent is viewed as mild mannered and weak, Superman is a hero to the world, a source of hope and strength. They are one and the same, providing hope for even those that are looked down upon, that they can be strong. Clark Kent, is shown as an outsider, a being from another world living among us and using his gifts to help the people of the world he has called his home. Superman’s powers when created, are an extension of those displayed by circus strongmen. At the time of his first appearance, Superman’s only abilities were to “Leap 1/8th of a mile; hurdle a twenty story building, raise tremendous weights, run faster than an express train, and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!” [Siegel. Shuster.1938:2]. Compared to Superman’s modern skill set, ” It’s surprisingly grounded.” [Whitbrook.2015]

Action_Comics_1Over time, more powers and abilities were added depending on the writer or situation. Including traits that we now naturally associate with Superman, including Flight, Heat Vision, Super Breath and X-Ray Vision. By the 80’s, so many one off powers, such as Super-ventriloquism, Super-Mathematics and the ability to shoot tiny versions of himself out of his hands, were introduced. The problem this created was that Superman had ” Too many powers, and not enough flaws” leaving Superman a shell of his former self and ” one that was difficult to write challenging, engaging stories for ” [Whitbrook.2015]. With the ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ event, many of Superman’s more outrageous abilities were dismissed to form a more definitive power set. Even after his death and return in 1993, no major abilities were introduced until 2015’s Superman #38, with the addition of the ‘Super-Flare’ ability. What we now consider Superman’s definitive power set, all have a basis on his Kryptonian physiology and its reaction to Earths yellow Sun. Once his abilities were grounded in this foundation, the ability to humanise the character became a lot more forthright.

Despite his origin story being retold multiple times, a larger focus in the last few years has been on a young Clark having to learn to not only control his abilities, but to deal with the alienation that this would cause with the general public. The exploration of a young Clark and the alienation that he feels, somewhat mirrors how the public felt about the multitude of outrageous and ridiculous powers forced upon the character in the 50’s through 80’s. One of the most interesting explorations of this, is in 2016’s ‘Superman: American Alien’.

Untitled-1-b53a5During the first issue, Clark is frequently woken due to his inability to control his power of flight. While this drives the story, the crux takes place while watching a Sci-Fi movie with his friends and becoming uncomfortable by the depiction of government soldiers capturing an alien. For a brief moment, Clark loses control and momentarily flies and crashes to the ground. Angry with himself, he hides in the bathroom and sees in the mirror, the alien from the film in his reflection, leading to the destruction of both the mirror and the wall. Clark displays his fear and disgust at what he is, “Dad.. I’m so unhappy. I wanted to be myself, I don’t want to worry that I’m some-thing else. I’m scared – I just want to be normal. I’m not normal.” [Landis, 2016:15]. By the end of the issue, Clark begins to grasp his abilities and is reminded by his father that “Who needs normal? Maybe weird is better.” [Landis, 2016:15]. In later issues, a teenage Clark would even begins to use his powers to help those around him in ways the police can’t hope to achieve. Post action, Clark is confronted by his mother about the dangers of his actions to only break down in a genuinely tender moment. ” I had a whole speech planned out. I was really gonna get into it with you. But I already put my foot in my mouth, Didn’t I? Because Now.. Now … I Can’t … I Can’t stop thinking about what would have happened to that family if you hadn’t been there..” [Landis, 2016:29]

When Superman was created, he was imagined as the ultimate strongman, An other in the eyes of man and a hero beyond human limits. The explorations of this concept for the young Clark, provide more humanity to a character that, by all rights should be hard to emphasis with. Showing both Superman and Clark in these more human moments, prove just how relatable he can be. Despite having powers comparable to a god, Superman embodies the best of humanity.


Sources:

  • Brownie, B. Graydon, D. (2015) The Superhero Costume. Identity and Disguise in Fact and Fiction. Bloomsbury Academic. London.
  • Johns, G. Romita Jr., J. (2015) Superman #38: The Men of Tomorrow, Chapter Seven: Friends and Enemies. DC Comics. New York.
  • Johns, G. Frank, G. (2010) Superman: Secret Origin. DC Comics. New York.
  • Jurgens, D. Breeding, B. (1993) Superman #75: The Death of Superman. DC Comics. New York.
  • Kakalios, J. (2009) The Physics of Super Heroes. Duckworth Overlook. London.
  • Landis, M. Dragotta, N. (2016) Superman: American Alien #1: Dove. DC Comics: New York.
  • Landis, M. Edwards, T. (2016) Superman: American Alien #2: Hawk. DC Comics. New York.
  • Romita Jr., J. (2015) Superman #40: Powerless. DC Comics. Burbank.
  • Siegel, J. Shuster, J. (1938) Action Comics #1. National Comics. New York.
  • Straczynski, J. Davis, S. (2010) Superman: Earth One, Book One. DC Comics. New York.
  • Taschen. (2015) The Little Book of Superman. Koln. Taschen.
  • Waid, M. Yu, L. (2004) Superman: Birthright. DC Comics. New York.
  • Whitbrook, J. (2015) The History Behind Superman’s Ever-Changing Superpowers. [Online] i09. 2nd September. Available from: http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-history-behind-supermans-ever-changing-superpowers-1684736603 [Last Accessed: 16/01/2016]

Batman ’66 – A Quick look back at 50 years of the cultural phenomenon

1406650404099Holy Golden Anniversary Batman!

The 1966 Batman television series has become a touch stone in pop culture history. Running from 1966 to 1968, the show became a phenomenon, boosting comic book sales and ” resonated with the ironically detached ‘camp’ movement of the era” [Rossen.2014]. 50 years later you can see its impact everywhere. It’s been referenced in countless other series, become a quintessential idea to the general public as to what a comic book is, and has provided hours of enjoyment for the young and the old, the comic fanatic and the novice.

Despite the popular consensus of laughing at it compared to the ‘dark’, ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’ Nolan films of recent years (actually, you should be laughing at it, it’s a damn funny series), the 66 series not only helped to save the Batman comic books, “but it turned him into a global superstar” [Diaz. 2012].  When you consider just how comics were viewed in the post war 50’s and 60’s, the fact that a show like Batman could be made, let alone last for 3 seasons and 120 episodes, is astonishing. Unlike our modern interpretations, “it walked the line between sincerity and parody” [Rossen. 2014], creating a culture all its own and infecting the general consciousness. For many, it was their introduction to the world of Batman or even comic books in general. Bringing not only Batman and Robin into countless homes, but 32 villains! From the hugely iconic Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwomen, to the laughable Clock King, Minstrel and False Face. As well as bringing phrases such as Biff, Bam and Pow into the public lexicon. The series was so successful at launch that despite the series having only begun in January, by the Summer a feature film was pushed into theatres, using many of the same sets and props. Though it’s worth noting that the Film was in fact originally intended to be produced before the series to introduce the Batman series to the general public. This allowed some of the props and vehicles to be reused in the series due to the films slightly higher budget.

batman-tv-dvd-coverDespite the series long lasting impact, it’s hard to believe just how long it took for the series to come to DVD and Blu-ray, much to the joy of many long time fans and collectors. The first ‘official’ collection wasn’t even released to the public. In fact the first and only tapes of all 120 episodes, were created by Fox for a post-Star Wars Mark Hamill. Coincidentally enough, Hamill would go on to become what is considered the quintessential Joker voice actor, almost 30 years later. ” Home-video distribution didn’t exist when the series was produced” [Rossen.2014] and even when attempts were made in the 90’s, Fox and Warner Bros. were “at odds” [Rossen.2014] when it came to home distribution rights and the legal problems that would come from handing it over to a third party. In the case of the 90’s, Columbia were the ones most interested in distributing the series. Thankfully by 2014, the series is now widely available and easy to access.

In recent years, the series has most noticeably been revisited by the ‘Batman 66’ Comic Book, revisiting the plot, style and characters of the original series with their own 60’s art inspired flare.  The just announced Lego 66 Batman Batcave, and the soon to be released Batman 66 Animated movie are adding more and more to the pop culture phenomenon. The legacy of the series is destined to continue in the hearts, minds and media of all those that have been touched by it, weather directly or in directly.

Here’s to another 50 years!


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