Thursday, December 13, 2012


So I was watching the new trailer for Zack Snyder's Superman movie, not really expecting anything interesting in the least.  Superman is such a haphazardly created character, no cohesion in his powers or purpose, no compelling stories that don't include punching a big alien, copying Hercules' labours or lifting a kryptonite continent into orbit - so I was already rolling my eyes as the WB logo appeared on the screen.  But then, a revelation...

Midway through the trailer, Clark saves a busload of children from presumably certain death.  One of the children sees him in action.  Later John Kent is admonishing his boy for not being more careful.  "What was I supposed to do, Dad?  Let them die?" the boy asks.

John Kent looks down at the ground.  "Maybe..." he replies sadly.

I was flabbergasted.  You mean this situation won't be easily remedied by the kid suddenly falling into a coma, or him blowing up in a freak explosion that wasn't Clark's doing, or being killed in a tornado?  Why was Johnathon Kent acting as if his son's existence -  a God in the form of a boy - was a difficult and challenging reality?

Because this isn't really how Superman has been written.  His works are always hard, but they're never particularly difficult.  It would be hard to repair the San Andreas faultline, or fight other meta-humans who were very strong or revitalize the Sun, but for Superman, all those things can be accomplished by his powers.  What would be difficult are all the things that an interventionist God would have to deal with that had nothing to do with his powers.  Like convincing someone not to give up his secret?  Or deciding whether protecting that secret was worth letting people die?

The difficult things are generally left up to other people.  Superman is largely just the guy in tights that helps people during natural disasters.  Superman is supposed to be this inspirational leader of mankind, the perfect warrior, the perfect general, the man of tomorrow.  But other than his secret, what problems do his stories show him wrestling with?  Because how someone deals with their limits is, to me, much more interesting than showing them taking cats out of trees with their phenomenal powers.  That scene in this trailer is the second time the issue of who to save and who not to save has even come up in a live action Superman production.  In the movies, it's just assumed that he can and will save everyone.  Only in a lone episode of Smallville does Clark explain to Lois that the most important of his abilities is to listen not only for who needs help, but also how soon they need it and whether human responders can handle the situation.  For the first time that I've ever seen, the difficult part of being Superman - the limits of who he can help - was actually touched on, albeit briefly.

When Nolan was announced to be producing this movie, I was cautiously optimistic.  I didn't particularly like TDKR but Superman was a license that could really only go up.  Superman is an alien.  Superman is a God.  Why do they write his stories like 1) he's a man & 2) he has problems like paying taxes.  Any realistic treatment of the reality of Superman would have to touch upon the fact that he would have to make decisions that no one else on Earth would ever have to make.  I always go back to the word Ubermensh, the Nietzsche archetype for the Homo superior, that Siegel and Shuster used to name their character.  At some point, real-world Superman would be in Germany and someone would call him Ubermensch.  He would pause, really thinking about the implications of that. Is he better than the average man?  Does he have a responsibility to lead or to rule?  To unite or pick sides?  To stand for human rights or to enforce the status quo?  To sacrifice the few to save the many?  But instead Superman stories always come back to protecting his secret, punching something hard, lifting something heavy or flying through the clouds.

That line from John Kent was the first time it ever occurred to me that being Superman could actually be difficult.  I'm curious to see how far they'll take it.


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