– You’re too super!
by SCV Taylor
I have always connected with “Superman” from my childhood and have enjoyed the various incarnations of the story from the golly-gee-whiz of the black and white serial with George Reeves, to the definitive film (at least the first one) starring Christopher Reeve (who will always be Superman to me). And even into the more modern, hip and confusing post-modern versions of “Lois & Clark” and “Smallville”. Each new version is a mirror of the artists and times in which it was crated. In fact, Superman has always been my primary example of how we as a myth-making and story-telling species change and adapt and remake our myths over time. The best myths, the ones which resonate as true, transcend time and location. If you want an ancient example of this, we could talk about how the Greek plays tell stories about the gods and mortals and heroes, but the storiess stretch and grow and change based on the socio-economic and political landscape of the playwrights over hundreds of years, from Homer to Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus – but, back to Superman.
In the 40s Superman fought the Nazis, in the 50s the Communists and anti-capitalists, in the 70s and 80s he was cool and had a spunky, independent girlfriend who was his emotional and intellectual equal; in the 90s he and Lois were a power couple and in the 21st century he was a misunderstood teenager filled with super-human angst. And I’ll have to admit that at various points in my life I have been in love with all of Clark’s girlfriends (thank you Margot Kidder, Terri Hatcher, Kristin Kreuk and even Erica Durance).
If you haven’t seen it, check out the new trailer. It is very evocative – especially the music and the playing up of Superman as an outsider – especially an outsider whose well-intentioned help is not wanted. I’ll be very interested to see if any character in the film brands him a “T-word”. (You saw those guys with guns, you know what I’m talking about.)
I’m hopeful, partly because I like Zach Snyder and partly because Superman is bigger than the most recent incarnation of the hero in Bryan Singer’s 2006 disaster (“Superman Returns”).
One of the problems in making Superman truly compelling is he has very few weaknesses. Yes, Kryptonite is a problem, but if you can shoot him in the eyeball at point-blank range and he doesn’t even blink (damn you Bryan Singer!) … then he’s never going to be outmatched, except by 3 Kryptonians who’ve escaped from the Phantom Zone. Now “Smallville” did probably the best work with this, but even so it’s a problem. Superman also has such an ideal support system in the Kents, that even an emotional arc is difficult.
Batman, on the other hand, is a self-important, murdering vigilante who will easily cause tens of millions of dollars in damage to Gotham’s city’s buildings and infrastructure, probably killing civilians along the way, in his zeal to enact “justice,” as he defines it.
What if Superman was more like his original inspiration — a strange visitor to another planet who, because of the differences in gravity, stature and experience, finds himself with very powerful super-human abilities. Remember the intro from the TV serial – “A strange visitor from another planet, faster that a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to LEAP tall buildings with a single BOUND” – (and not fly or levitate).
I’m talking of course about Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars. (Read a great review on the Andrew Stanton film by Liam here) What if Superman has super-human abilities, like John Carter, because he comes from a planet with much stronger gravity than Earth – which helps him to have greater strength, speed, and jumping ability than us – and could stand up to small arms fire because the molecular makeup of his body was akin to a bullet-proof vest. Add to that the notion that our yellow sun gives him increased strength and accelerated regenerative abilities. Then you have a hero, like John Carter, who is strong and powerful — but not invincible.
Finally, you have a Superman who is still a “man,” with weakness and defects – who has to struggle with and overcome his demons in order to progress on the hero’s journey. After all, a hero’s greatest adversary has to be himself.
What do you think? Would you buy a less-super “Superman?”
Also, I hope now we all recognize that the 50s TV show was naively optomistic (at best) and blatant propaganda (in the extreme) in a post-WW2 American which had emerged as the leader of the free world. Incidentally, I would like to point out that in my experience “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” are almost always in conflict, with the American Way (whatever that is) winning almost every time.