Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Look Up in the Sky

Since my attempts to blog about politics tend to devolve in to rants (seriously, you should have seen the one I planned about cherry-picking the Real America. Completely. Imploded.), I've decided to direct my ranting powers toward something a little more down-to-Earth. I'm talking here about Superman, the Man of Tomorrow.

News has reached me of the rumor that Christopher Nolan will be shepherding, "godfathering," in fact, a new Superman film while at the same time continuing his fine work on Batman.

I like Christopher Nolan. The man does fine work. 'Memento' is a revelation, his work on Batman has been top-notch, I'm even looking forward to 'Inception,' though every trailer seems only to up the "what the HELL?" factor. But I think this is the wrong direction for a prospective Superman sequel.

Nolan's pedigree with superhero movies is he puts 'em back in the grim and gritty category, and that works great for Batman. He's been doing that schtick since '86 and it works fantastic. But Superman...not so much. For evidence, check out the Singer version.

Singer's Superman is loaded down with hopelessly on-the-nose Christ allegories and a talky plot that's all about how Superman--played by an actor who's 25--has been gone for five years, leaving Lois--who's played by an actress who's 23--with an infant son because he schtupped her while still pretending he and Clark were two different guys. The ick factor alone coming off this film was enough to doom the project. Darkness does not equal quality. Grittiness does not equal greatness.

So, for what it's worth, and for anyone reading this who hasn't heard my constant entreaties to check out Grant Morrison's 'All-Star Superman,' let me hold forth the example of how the Superman reboot should be handled--and every Superman project, really.

One of the many, many good things about 'All-Star' is how it captures Superman's origins in four panels. The latest spate of superhero franchise movies all start with the origin story. Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, even (gagh) Daredevil and Ghost Rider, all follow the same beats. The only thing 'Superman Returns' had going for it was ditching his familiar-as-rote origin story. Unfortunately it replaced all this with baggage from a film that was released twenty-six years before.

Superman needs to not be about x-raying through your ex's house walls and listening to her phone conversation. It needs to not be about deadbeat dads and just the terrible, terrible burden it must be to fight giant cube planets full of zombies, here to eat the Earth.

Superman as a character tends to get the short shrift. He's dismissed as dorky and anachronistic and leeched of drama because, really, you have to drop a mountain on the guy to hurt him. These are not elements that can be fixed by making him, well, Batman.

Warner tried this tactic once before, with a TV adaptation of 'The Flash.' Following Bruce Wayne's cinematic success in 1989, Barry Allen followed suit with a dark, set-at-night show where he growls at people a lot. You've never heard of it. There's a reason.

I don't think Warner Brothers understands this. Morrison knows it, though. That you can tell stories with a mythic quality and still make them human. That the crux doesn't have to be "will Superman survive?" but rather "Can he save everyone?" And the answer to this is always going to be "no," even for him, and he's going to keep fighting anyway, and that's what makes him great.


  1. Well, you've motivated me to go off and read action comics #1.

  2. Totally. Awesome. Wow, Superman used to be a prick. (Hence, I suppose, the wonderful site superdickery.) I can't stress this enough, though: read All-Star. Easily the best Superman story of the past 20 years, if not the definitive take on the character.

  3. I had forgotten Supes couldn't fly at one point. Looks like I'll need to read All-Star, too.