Second Note: Okay, I’ve seen the two follow-ups to Man of Steel and they just aren’t worth the effort to write about. So I guess I will never share my half-baked opinions about them.
I have to be honest. I find Superman to be the most boring character in the history of forever.
Okay, that’s probably both needlessly harsh and wildly inaccurate. No doubt I, myself, have created characters more boring than Superman. It might be more on point to say Superman is the boringest famous character in the history of forever.
Your mileage may vary, but I seriously do not get it. Superman? Seriously? Who likes this crap?
I will be the first to admit I’m not deeply read in the Superman canon, so no doubt someone will charge in here and quote chapter and verse about how in Pointless Reboot numbers 683 through 1,521, Superman was blah blah blah. Whatever. Because there’s always an angry retort about why Pointless Reboot is totally lame and if you want to talk good Superman you gotta read Let’s Try This Again #85, though damn if they didn’t fuck the story arc up in #86.
The thing is, at his core, Superman is a
nie nigh invulnerable goody-goody whose only weakness is a piece of rock which will arbitrarily appear when the plot gets bogged down in his unstoppableness. Aficianados can blather on as much as they want about how in this retcon or that “re-imagining” he was different in blah-di-blah way, but at his core Superman will always be a sanctimonious noodge afeared of a glowing green rock.
Which brings me to Man of Steel. Actually it doesn’t. It brings me to Superman, the Movie. Actually, wait. It brings me to George Reeves and 1970s Superman comics. Actually … shit, I’m all discombobulated.
My first encounter with Superman was on TV, so George Reeves then. After school, one of the local independent stations showed cartoons and old serials, with the Reeves Supermans among the mix. I watched it, and I think I liked it. At least, I liked it better than doing homework, which is an endorsement if there ever was one. I was at that age when I could naively believe Truth and Justice were both a part of the American Way, so watching a tights-clad fellow with his gut sucked in fighting bad guys probably seemed reasonable.
The first actual Superman comic I can remember was one in which he went to a laboratory to help some scientist. His job was to hold a device perfectly, utterly still lest a wormhole open up which would inhale the Earth and we’d all die. Some bad guys show up at the lab, and they think it’s not really Superman but rather a statue because he’s utterly still. They even knock on his head and he clanks like he’s made of metal. (Slapstick!) They go on to menace the scientist, or maybe try to steal something, or — I dunno. Something. Superman is thinking how he can’t move because wormhole, but his scientist buddy is in trouble so eventually he springs into action, defeats the bad guys, but oh bloody hell: WORMHOLE!
I don’t really remember how it got sorted out. Superman tried to cork the wormhole with his body and we got to see him stretched toward infinity, but that’s all I recall. The whole thing was really dumb, and thus eminently Superman. I didn’t read much Superman beyond that, unless he showed up as the smarmy Superguest in Batman or in Justice League, which I read and liked a lot.
Now we get to Superman, the Movie, which everyone has seen and we all love it because Christopher Reeve and that truly surreal baby in space indoctrination sequence, plus the Earth spinning backwards to save Margot Kidder. But be honest: the best part of that movie was Miss Teschmacher, and also Lex Luthor a little bit. But especially Miss Teschmacher. Otherwise, Superman, the Movie was totally dumb. Because Superman.
Superman II was more of the same, except General Zod! And then Superman III with Richard Pryor, because why not? And of course Superman IV: The Quest for Peace because good grief have we not been smarmy enough yet? No, we have not. Also: all dumb.
Somewhere in there I read the Frank Miller Dark Knight books, and there I encountered what was to me the most interesting Superman, not least because ancient, broken-down Batman fought him while wearing an awesome exo-skeleton. That Superman was an asshole, which makes more sense than sanctimonious do-gooder. But I kinda liked that Superman, in the sense of not liking who he was but finding him actually semi-interesting because of who he was.
After the last Christopher Reeve Superman, I mostly forgot about the character. In terms of comics, I’d drifted heavily in the Marvel world by then, and then, I admit, drifted away from comics altogether for a long time. Now, I know a lot of stuff has happened in the Superman universe over the years which I have utterly ignored. You will not convince me to give any of it a try now. Because Superman is dumb.
When Superman Returns came out in 2006, I ignored it. Superman? Boring. Eventually I watched it on cable, and it was … okay, I guess. For a Superman movie, it actually didn’t suck. But it was pretty meh overall, and did nothing to convince me that Superman wasn’t dumb and boring.
Then, last year, Man of Steel arrived on the scene. And here’s where things get weird. For me, anyway. First, it was a Zack Snyder project, which was not a point in its favor. (At least it wasn’t a fucking Michael Bay project.) But the picture of the outfit came out and a bunch of people were angry about the lack of red underwear, and … I actually thought it looked pretty sharp. It wasn’t enough to make me want to go see the movie, but for the first time in decades I’d had a thought about Superman that didn’t feature a deep sigh.
So, no, I didn’t go see the movie in the theatre. Liking a Supersuit wasn’t going to get actual dollars out of my pocket. I also joined the internet in rolling my eyes at “On my planet, it means hope.”
But eventually it made its way to cable, and eventually I was half-asleep in my chair at 11pm and opened my eyes to find it on. And I watched the damn thing.
Now, let me just say up front that I don’t think it’s a particularly good movie. The fight sequences are absurdly overlong and pointless, Zod and his crew are flat (bring back Terence Stamp!), and don’t even get me started on the Pa Kent character. Except the Pa Kent character did do one thing very important to my perception of Superman himself: he took over the job of being the sanctimonious noodge. That freed Clark up to be an actual person.
Despite its clear flaws, I actually like this movie, and I actually like this Superman. I enjoyed the way his backstory was framed. Henry Cavill made me give a damn about this character for the first time ever. I liked his rough edges, the way he was down to earth and conflicted. You know, hanging out with his mom drinking a beer. Wrapping up that dude’s truck in telephone poles. And, hell, he killed a guy. Yes, I know this is problematic for Superman TrueBelievers®, but it’s part of what humanized the character in this movie. He’s not just an awesome super (hope) guy with the occasional arbitrary and capriciously applied weakness.
And the “On my planet, it means hope” moment? I’m sorry, but Cavill nailed it. He had just a bit of a self-deprecating smile which said, “I know this is silly, but what can I say? It’s true.” I believed him.
And the other moment he nailed was at the end when he told Swanwick, “I grew up in Kansas.” He did grow up in Kansas, and his childhood kinda sucked and kinda didn’t, as it does for those of us who aren’t so unfortunate as to have it totally suck. He’s not some paragon, some Ideal Type. He’s a guy trying to do his best but not always sure he can, albeit one with the ability to shoot fireball rays from his eyes and to fly into space and do battle on the side of a satellite. But otherwise, he’s all right. I would totally hang out with him, because then I would have the chance to convince him to drink a good beer.
As a result, I actually wanna see Superman v Batman in the actual theatre, though admittedly I’m not convinced about Ben Affleck. I mean, I like Ben Affleck quite a bit, but … well, we’ll see.