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.

 

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]

Humanising Gods, Deconstructing Superheroes – Fixing the Clock.

14348_comics_watchmenThe common trope of Superheroes, particularly those brought to film, now a days, is to make them grim, gritty and above all else ‘realistic’. In 2013 Superman was famously remade in the form of Man of Steel, leaving behind the vision Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve brought to the screen for a dark and brooding hero, compared numerous times to Christ through visual cues. Previously, realism was supposedly brought to the screen with the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (2005 – 2012), and even before that, we had Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). While the non comic book reader would point to these as the true visions of realistic superheroes, and the comics as purely kids stuff, these dark tones and realistic notions all came directly from the comics. The deconstruction of superheroes, to show how they would fair as real people, has existed in comic form long before the first shot was taken on the set of Batman (1989). While many have tried their hand at deconstructing heroes, including Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, none have been more successful and more celebrated then Alan Moore.

Moore has described the act of deconstructing something as being and extension of the alchemist principle referred to as ‘Solve et Coagula’. “‘Solve’ is to take something apart and examine it – it’s analysis. ‘Coagula’ is to put it back together again – synthesis. 250px-ForthemanAnalysis and synthesis.” [Graydon. 2009] To deconstruct the superhero genre is to take it apart, look at what you have, then find a way for it to come back together logically. While this sounds like a task that would be simple to comprehend, there were very few attempts to display it in a cohesive, and tangible state that would actually sell. Moore’s famous run on Miracleman/Marvelman, acts as a precursor to the “absolute deconstructionist last word on the superhero” [Graydon. 2009], with the original story structure and notion coming from a childhood curiosity of Moore’s in regards to Mickey Moran (Miracleman/Marvelman) growing up and became a real world adult. “I thought it would be funny to have Mickey Moran grown up and become an adult, who’d forgotten his magic word.” [Mealoid.2013] The idea of a comic book character growing up, even giving the hint of growth, was something that was rarely shown. Comics would usually develop a status quo, allowing a new reader access to the title at any issue and be able to enjoy it as a standalone work. As Moore has stated, “this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seem to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence.” [Flood. 2014]

By not allowing these characters to grow and act as real people would, you are essentiality creating a reality that does not exist. The general status quo attitude of life depicted, shows a world where superheroes need not even exist, everyone is depicted as some form of stereotype, with no true human nature to them. Making it easy to pick out from any line up just what made everyone tick, you could tell a bad guy from a good guy at a simple glance. “They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hand of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine to thirteen year old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently.” [Kelly. 2013] To bring humanity and to ground and deconstruct these gods, you need to display their flaws. Everyone, regardless of their capabilities, has some flaws. “There is no way that they work in terms of the conventional idea of the hero.” [Graydon. 2009]. In the prospect of bringing something new to the superhero genre, you introduce the most human of concept, flaws. “Obviously, if you are going to be doing something new, then to a degree you’re destroying whatever preceded it”. [Kavanagh. 2000]

tumblr_my4eo60gpl1srbmxlo1_1280In the earlier piece, Miracleman/Marvelman, Moore gave the previous treatment of superheroes, the light hearted child like fantasies, a realistic view as the delusions they truely are. Giving the 50’s comics a purpose in story as Miracleman/Marvelman’s brainwashed reality. In Watchmen, the notion of children’s comics is not addressed as their background, and impact such beings would have, are treated as true and realistic to this world. Beings such as Miracleman and Dr. Manhattan would inspire a deep routed sense of fear in the general public, just as a real life Superman would send panic through our very society.

The Act of deconstruction, as described by Moore, is similar to the childish whim to take apart a wrist watch to see how it would work. “, you could perhaps get an old screwdriver and start to take them apart, take all the little cogs out, which is why that perhaps turns up as a motif in the Dr Manhattan.” “. It’s very easy to take things apart, even if you do it in an elaborate way”. ” Taking apart the conceptual apparatus of the superhero… it’s not rocket science… but putting it all back together in a more benign and more transcendent form that works – a more flexible form, a better, improved form – that is something which is a bit more tricky.” [Graydon.2009]


Sources:

Superman/Shazam! First Thunder – Review

Superman_-_Shazam_1“We are born from darkness into the light.. And thus, Humanity, by its very nature, fears the unknown. The Shadows. It fears the dark. Humanity is not driven by rage. It is driven by desire. So, we are easily led astray. But, in that, we can also be led home.”

When the Man of Steel and Earth’s Mightiest Mortal join forces, big things are expected. When both heroes come across a threat that neither can take on alone, it provides a fascinating comparison between the original superhero, Superman, and what was once considered a simple rip-off, Captain Marvel. The Story, while titled for both heroes, seems to take a greater emphasis on exploring the character of Billy Batson and the reality of a ten year old actually inheriting the abilities of the gods, chosen by fate to bear that mantle. Previous explorations of Billy Batson, Pre – New 52, have cared more for the heroic exploits of  Captain Marvel and only displayed Billy as a simple carefree ten year old who happens to be an orphan. While short scenes, his interactions with what appears to be his only friend become quite touching as you realise that these interactions are the closest thing he has to a normal life. Comparing this to Superman, you have a hero that not only had a loving family, a good childhood and the choice to use his power and become his superhero identity, as well as have his entire life to discover his own abilities. By the stories end, both the reader and Clark can see and feel just how much was really thrown at the young boy and the responsibility on his shoulders, with little else for him to fall back on for support.

“My name’s Billy Batson. But maybe it’s too dangerous to be Billy Batson anymore.”

spshft00The quiet conversations between both Superman and Captain Marvel essentially make this story. While physically resembling a full grown adult, Captain Marvel is reduced to a fan boy, taking joy in the private talks, referring to these opportunities as an honour. While Superman is initially confused by the admiration, he finds some form of solidarity with him and leads to some brilliantly played out moments where the two work off of each other beautifully. Bringing a large amount of depth to them both in a short amount of time.

The art by Middleton is wonderfully fluid, displaying not only the heroic nature of the two but introduces many subtle character quirks, such as Billy’s pension for half sticking his tongue out when pondering, or the intense rain of emotion Middleton is able to emote just from gestures. The combination of Winick’s writing and Middleton’s art, brings about a compelling mix of action, tragedy and comradery in a classic Superman Shazam tale.

“I suppose I feel a lot better about this realm of magic, or mysticism.. Well .. Knowing that you’re guarding the gate.”