In echoing the title of the Joe Kelly Action Comics (#775) issue from twelve years ago my intention is to show that issue (itself a response to the grim and gritty superhero works in the comics of its time) as also an appropriate response to Snyder/Goyer/Nolan’s Man of Steel.
Action Comics 775 by Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, and Lee Bermejo
I don’t think this is going to be a review. This is more of a venting of my emotions after seeing this movie and a commentary on our summer blockbusters. Because the heart of the matter is that I liked it, loved some things, but have some real grievances….
I like superhero movies. I find even the middling ones entertaining and re-watchable to an extent and it’s been my exposure to a lot of characters before I became the big comic book reader I am today, but most of my attachment to these characters come from the cartoons of the 1990’s, particularly the works of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Warner Bros. Animation. The Superman, Justice League and Batman cartoons really got the characters in a way that was inspiring to me. I want to preface whatever I am going to end up writing below with how those works have spoiled me. THAT is how I imagine a modern movie of these characters to work, those dynamics and those themes between those iconic characters.
So I went into Man of Steel with confused expectations. I tried to lower them so I’d enjoy what I saw no matter what it was simply because I wanted a good Superman movie on such a primal level. I don’t know if my expectations were too high. I know what to expect from Snyder and Nolan. I knew they were going to really try to make this a modern take on it, and I am totally fine with reinterpretations of these enduring characters, but in the end I wanted something else and didn’t realize it entirely until seeing Man of Steel.
Man of Steel has glimpses of the movie I saw in my head. I loved the Clark as a boy stuff, I loved Ma and Pa Kent and wanted more of them. I mostly love the whole cast and hope to see it really come together in the sequel. I think Cavill is entirely capable of the charm and cockiness that Superman needs to exude at all times. So in looking at this as still a budding Superman story, it works. He makes mistakes and hard decisions. He really doesn’t know how to fight, but there is still something unforgivable about the way some of these things play out in the movie and I don’t necessarily place the blame on the filmmakers so much as on us and consumers of mass media and on what Hollywood knows we want and expect in a summer tent-pole picture.
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitley.
The core of my argument, and perhaps my disappointment, lies in the wanton destruction of everything and the failure of our hero to attempt to save anyone. This is the umpteenth movie in the past few years where a New York-proxy is annihilated, and it has become a tired trope. It works fine in some other movies, but I still think it is unnecessary but studios seem to think it is the only way to show the stakes are really dire and that they have an unlimited effect budget. Where the disconnect is in Man of Steel’s version of it is how massive it is and how Superman doesn’t do anything about it. It is two gods flying through buildings while thousands die and suffer - but we don’t see any of them so it feels empty and ultimately vapid. This happens in Star Trek into Darkness as well and Avengers has the same large scale destruction but there are still scenes of Captain America on the ground saving people. Overall there is a certain lack of showing the consequences of our entertainment and Man of Steel never follows up on the rebuilding of Metropolis that would take years of it being inhospitable.
Superman Birthright by Mark Waid and Lenil Yu.
This hits me on a more guttural level though. I’m trying not to be the comic fan who complains about the movie because it isn’t the comics. I find that an unintelligent response to criticism of a work. Of course a movie isn’t a comic! They are wholly different mediums that require different things. It is also a different time, and while Superman is an enduring icon he is not one that everyone knows so well that he can’t be rebooted and changed at least five times over the last quarter-century. But the thing my heart screams out about with this movie is Superman would move the fight out of the city. He would take punches from Zod while trying to get people out of a building that was collapsing. He would sacrifice himself in anyway to get everyone to safety. And that doesn’t happen until the one moment at the end of the massive CGI fisticuffs and the thing is… it wasn’t earned. If Superman has to make such a terrifying decision to murder and at the same time further isolate himself from his people, and immediately regret it, I almost get it. I’m not crazy of the idea of Superman killing, but in this world and this interpretation I can almost buy it but only if he showed the slightest attempt at saving any of the other people who most certainly died in their wake. I don’t see how that family mattered when so many countless others did not and that is the disconnect this movie had with me. It’s core emotional and heroic beat rings false and is the hero failing in the climax of the movie. It is almost like his Spider-man moment, where he learns with great power must also come great responsibility. Superman’s responsibility is to be that icon that is above killing, and if this is the moment in the beginning of a franchise where he learns that, that can be an interesting thing to explore… but it isn’t my Superman, and it isn’t the Superman we really need in these times but is the one we get based on the movies we spend money on.
This is the Superman movie we get because The Dark Knight trilogy made so much money. We get moral complexity instead of hope. And that is the film’s other failure. It shows us so many themes - Kal-El being there to allow humanity to better themselves, the S being the symbol of the House of El as well as meaning hope and Jonathan’s vision of waiting for the right time for him to reveal himself… and all of these don’t really pan out. They are dropped and instead we get a fight scene and just… there was no pay off for the theme of hope. I really wish there was. I hope there will be in Man of Steel two. I will go into that film with the same confused expectations and hopefully I will leave with that sense of hope and optimism that I want from a Superman movie and the feeling I get when I finish reading All-Star Superman or Superman Birthright.
This page above from the Morrison/Quitley All-Star Superman is really what this movie needed. It encapsulates Superman’s role and the idea of hope in such an elegant manner.
These commentaries are essential:
I’ve seen his stuff on shelves around me my whole life and I still have never gotten around to reading any. This summer for sure.
The Superhero Twinkie ads Volume 2
I love these things. They seem to be a lost relic of comic book advertising. Now everything is an ad for a video game or a movie from the parent company. I’d love to put a book together of all the classic illustrated comic ads.
The Superhero Twinkie ads Volume one
Gordon’s ‘stache. ‘nuff said.
Space Ghost #1 (Comico) by Steve Rude
Some of comic book icon John Byrne’s best work of the last few years happens to involve the original Star Trek universe created by Gene Roddenberry and IDW has put out a collection that gathers together all of the work he created for the franchise into a single handsomely-designed volume. It’s a 320 page hardcover that features the following: Assignment: Earth (catching us up with Gary Seven); Crew, featuring Number One helping rescue the Enterprise during its shake down cruise; Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor, letting readers get a glimpse of what happened before Star Trek: The Motion Picture and a spotlight on the Romulans, Pawns of War.
You can pick it up on Amazon or at a local comics retailer, but we like the cut of this book’s gib so much that we’re going to give away a copy with the help of IDW Publishing.
Want a shot at it? The rules are pretty, pretty straightforward.
• Reblog this post before 6:00PM EDT on Monday, May 27th.
• You must be following both They Boldly Went and the IDW Tumblr to qualify.
That’s it! Follow two Tumblrs and reblog and you’re in it to win it! You can do that, right? Right.
We’ll announce a winner on Wednesday, May 29th. Good night and good luck!
Coming to DIsney Blu-ray on August 6th!
Disney has seen fit to celebrate my quarter century on this mortal plane by giving me Robin Hood on Blu-ray two days before my birthday.
on script formatting:
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