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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It Is Very Hard to Tell a Good Superman Story

Posted by on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 2:29 PM

Here is the full trailer for Man of Steel:

The thing I like most about this trailer is the part where Clark Kent is talking with his father about saving the bus full of kids and revealing his powers. Clark says, "What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?" His father responds, "Maybe." The thing about really great Superman stories is that they aren't about power. A lot of bad writers have written a lot of bad Superman stories. This is because Superman is basically God. He can be slowed down, but he can't be stopped. A good Superman story is always about internal struggle about important moral choices, about doing what's right, even if it's difficult.

I haven't read a truly great, accessible Superman story in years. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman was a well-crafted, beautiful Superman comic book, but I think it's too mired in decades' worth of esoteric Superman comics to be truly accessible to all but the most hard-core fans. I thought Morrison's Action Comics was going to be that kind of book, the Superman story you could give anybody to explain Superman's appeal. But when I read the first collected edition, Superman and the Men of Steel, I was deeply disappointed. The book begins perfectly: We start with a young Superman fighting against slumlords and greedy businessmen. What he's doing isn't necessarily legal, but it's right. He's a little bit arrogant, but his heart's in the right place.

Unfortunately, the book quickly escalates into generic sci-fi adventure, as Superman fights Brainiac and Lex Luthor. There are no stakes, and no difficult moral choices to make. The bad guys are unquestionably evil, and Superman is on his way to becoming unbeatable. The whole thing is a gigantic mess; it feels like Morrison is cramming thirty issues' of story into a few months worth of comics. While it's nice to read a comic that overextends itself—you won't find the modern superhero convention of pages worth of pointless dialogue here—Morrison misses the chance to write the great modern reintroduction to Superman.

But it could be worse; Morrison could've written J. Michael Straczynski's Superman Earth One Volume Two. The second chapter in the umpteenth Superman origin retelling pits Superman against the Parasite, and it introduces a new character: Clark Kent's neighbor, who happens to be a hooker with a heart of gold. The whole book is just elaborate time-wasting in the guise of boring superhero action. And the moral choices that Superman makes are questionable at best and dumb at worst. Even if Man of Steel is awful, it simply can't be as bad as Straczynski's Superman story. That would be pretty much impossible.


Comments (17) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
As dumb as The Avengers was, it was fun eat-lotsa-popcorn type dumb.

Superman looks like the Dark Knight unfun man-dressed-as-flying-mouse-movie-takes-self-too-seriously-when-is-Ironman3-out type of dumb.
Posted by mubhappy on December 11, 2012 at 2:48 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 2
Superman is just boring. DC, Batman included, is generally boring, and I knew this as a 10 year old.
Posted by Max Solomon on December 11, 2012 at 2:53 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 3
Straczynski, sad to say, burned himself out years ago: if you have a strong stomach for great plotting but uneven writing and occasionally terrible (but also occasionally awesome) acting, you can watch Babylon 5 all the way through and more or less pinpoint the moment, midway through the 4th season, when he'd written the last story he had in him. Unfortunately for all of us, that was nearly 20 years ago now and people still keep hiring him to write movies and comics.
Posted by Doctor Memory on December 11, 2012 at 2:56 PM · Report this
I'll second Paul's disappointment with Morrison's run on Action Comics...such promise, followed by such a letdown the moment that Brainiac thing happened.

Every issue since has felt like issue #2 of a 3-issue arc—lots of complications and crises, with no context, coherent story, or emotional involvement.
Posted by PEM on December 11, 2012 at 2:57 PM · Report this
blip 5
Oh god, make it stop. The world does not need another Superman movie. I wish I didn't care but my partner is obsessed with superhero movies so I will end up seeing this fucking thing at some point.
Posted by blip on December 11, 2012 at 3:06 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 6
It looks like a fantastic trailer, but the trailers for Superman Returns were also fantastic (and that was a flawed film). The best thing that we may be in for here is that this is a complete, total, 100% break from the previous films. Superman Returns was really a direct sequel to Superman II with Christopher Reeve. They said as much.

Man of Steel, like Batman Begins, is it's own entity, so fingers crossed. It really is one of the best trailers ever made for a comic-book based film.

Nerd bonus point: when Superman is about to fly away and crouches down, we see snow, dirt, and rocks around him begin to swirl and float into the air, like in anti-gravity. Pretty overt nerd shout out right there to the deep revisionist nerdery that all his powers come from an energy field that Kryptonians generate. That made me pointlessly happy to see, since it's such a cool and logical twist on how a character like Superman does the absurd things he does, even by comic book scales.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on December 11, 2012 at 3:06 PM · Report this
thelyamhound 7
It has Michael Shannon. I can't help but hope for the best.
Posted by thelyamhound on December 11, 2012 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 8
Have they started on the reboot to this film yet?
Posted by Urgutha Forka on December 11, 2012 at 4:03 PM · Report this
pg13 9
But how does Superman shave?
Posted by pg13 on December 11, 2012 at 4:19 PM · Report this
Knat 10
I really want to be excited for this film. I really, really do. But I haven't really seen anything yet to justify any excitement.
Posted by Knat on December 11, 2012 at 5:56 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 11
Jesus, another origin story.

Who doesn't already know Superman's origin? The 70's Superman movie was an origin story. Hell, Smallville spent years covering that ground.

Is Superman simply not interesting enough as a fully-formed superhero?
Posted by Free Lunch on December 11, 2012 at 6:00 PM · Report this
Hover Dog 12
Paul, I'm sure you've read it already, but Birthright remains my favorite Superman story to date. It really hit home his real limitation - that for all his power, he can't control the actions of others.

I find myself hoping that Man of Steel borrows from it heavily.
Posted by Hover Dog on December 11, 2012 at 6:00 PM · Report this
Smallville rules. This movie looks like it sucks.
Posted by Slog Tipper David on December 11, 2012 at 6:24 PM · Report this
"Is Superman simply not interesting enough as a fully-formed superhero?"

Posted by fairly.unbalanced on December 11, 2012 at 6:49 PM · Report this
Knat 15
@12: It's also fantastically well drawn, and gives a more plausible origin for Lex Luthor's hatred of Supes (that is, public humiliation) than "lost his hair in a fire because he wasn't smart enough to jump through a ground floor window." Though I must admit that some of the Africans at the beginning set off my hand-wringing liberal white guilt alarm.

That aside, I'd love to see that brought to the screen. Or pretty much any of the ideas discussed in this thread so long ago, rather than what I've seen of this so far.
Posted by Knat on December 11, 2012 at 7:13 PM · Report this
Puty 16
@9: eyeball lasers and a mirror.
Posted by Puty on December 12, 2012 at 2:29 AM · Report this
The simple reality is that the Superman movies are not for the comics/graphic novel readers. And they're certainly not made to satisfy ANY need (@5) other than entertainment.

I find the trailer only promising, mostly because the tone is unlike that of previous versions. I personally like the fact that we keep re-telling these stories (@8). That's how they rise to the level of modern mythology. Imagine the audiences in Athens moaning, "oh crap, not another play about Orestes!"

And what is the big objection (@11) to origin stories? I hear this all the time. In the case of Superman, maybe the origin really is the most compelling part (cf. the success of Smallville @11, @13). I think the origin is the part of his story where he is least in control, whether through inexperience, or ignorance of his abilities, or emotional immaturity. And unlike some other superheroes, Superman is essentially born one.

In any case, I'd be happy if it isn't a schlockbuster like Avengers/Ironman (@1). Those have their place, but they're so disposable.
Posted by stilloptimistic on December 12, 2012 at 9:49 AM · Report this

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