Comic Conventions, Superman, Etc.

Superman-Man-of-Steel-poster-newYoung Sentinels nears completion, and I am as impatient as many readers to see it finished–there is nothing like holding a complete manuscript in your hands (metaphorically speaking). There is still work to be done, but you’ve reached the top of the mountain and can enjoy the accomplishment and the view for a while. Of course I can’t give any spoilers, but I will say that I think fans of Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc. will not be disappointed.

I took a short break last weekend to man a table at my first comics convention, the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con–you’d think I would have done this sooner than summer 2013. It was a very interesting experience, and a lot of fun so I think I’ll be doing more of them; a couple of my readers even brought books for me to sign!

The other big thing was, of course, Man of Steel. Since I’d planned on seeing it anyway–Superman had been my favorite superhero growing up, and I had to see how they handled the superpowered fight scenes–I ignored all reviews so I’d go in with no preconceptions. My verdict?

Spoiler Warning! If you haven’t seen it yet, do not proceed.

Man of Steel is a solid entry into the Superman canon. While it wasn’t perfect (and what movie is?), it retold Superman’s origin in an imaginative, compelling way while breaking new ground; the single greatest departure from canon–which sets it solidly in an alternate reality from all of the comics–is Louis Lane. An intrepid roving reporter who goes where the action is (she says something early on about getting writer’s block when not wearing a flak jacket), she does her investigative thing and figures out who Superman is before he’s even Superman. In fact, it is implied by the end of the movie that quite a few people know who Superman is and are helping him keep his secret.

There were a few motivation and plot problems, but only one serious “oh c’mon” moment–and that’s when it is revealed that breathing a Kryptonian atmosphere weakens Superman. Wait, what? And then General Zod proposes to terraform Earth into New Krypton, complete with Kryptonian atmosphere. Because of course a genocidal dictator doesn’t want to be a demigod, right? A real head-scratcher, that.

That aside, however, in my opinion Man of Steel succeeded wildly. It delivered the noble Superman we all know and love, and if the dialogue wasn’t always clever the action was bone-shaking and visceral. The fight-scenes used CGI to its full potential to show us gods at war. Superman was in all ways super here (side note: just as in WtC, when Supes went supersonic they showed him forming the distinctive vapor-halo, which was awesome), and although I would have liked to see more of the aftermath the movie ended in a good place, well positioned for multiple sequels.

A last note: I really enjoyed the movie’s take on Krypton. The whole “Krypton is doomed because we have selfishly and stupidly tapped the core for energy” thing aside (an environmentalism anvil dropped very unsubtly), the portrayal of Kryptonian society is actually extremely technocratic and totalitarian. Krypton is very much a Brave New World distopia where life itself is under government control, and Jor-El and Lara are rebels; they have the first naturally conceived, non-genetically tailored child born in centuries. Indeed, while Krypton might have been destroyed by “greed,” Kryptonian civilization was destroyed by, near as I can tell, a monolithic and all-encompassing government that halted interstellar exploration and expansion, instituted rigid population control and a genetic caste system, and generally caused Krypton to stagnate so that, when the end came, all their race’s eggs were in one basket. Oops.

But then when it comes down to it, Superman has always been a libertarian idealist; he wants to help mankind generally and save as many as he can individually, but while he respects authority, it has to be on his terms. Knowing what happened to his homeworld, he doesn’t trust the government.

17 thoughts on “Comic Conventions, Superman, Etc.

  1. Interesting – I liked the elements you talk about, and enjoyed the attempts to show the social impact Superman might have rather than relying on the standard reactions from the comics – but on the whole, I really hated the film. Mostly because 1) Superman should not inhabit a crapsack world, in my view – yes, the movie makes stabs at showing hope, but in a very, very dark world – heck, the movie desaturates every shot so the colors are less bright; 2) the direction was abysmal, framing everything in waist-to-head closeups that neither allow emotion to reach the audience nor a full grasp of the action; 3) the weird blend of Jesus-symbolism and tyrant (despite all the attempts to pump for freedom and choice and chance, every time Jor-El and Kal-El talk about Superman’s purpose, it sounded like a tyrant promising Hope…if you do what I say).

    That being said, it was very well cast and decently acted, with some quite interesting ideas.

    1. I’ll never argue with another man’s taste, since I can guarantee he doesn’t like all the things that I like. However, I do think you’re wrong in seeing Man of Steel as a crapsack world. I think here you’re mistaking style (the desaturated color, a choice to move the movie away from the bright four-color pallet of the comics and earlier movies) for substance (and here I rely on the Crapsack World definition from TV Tropes: For myself, I found all the human characters to be fairly upright and idealistic. The Jesus-symbolism of the movie cannot be denied, but Superman has always been a savior-figure although only in a strictly temporal sense (“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”) rather than a theological one. And in the Jor-El/Kal-El dialogue I saw nothing more than an injunction to lead by example. What kind of example is never explicated–although you can bet Jor-El thought Krypton was a bad example.

      Where I think the movie really fell down was the aftermath; we needed to see the human moments of rescuing survivors from the wreckage, honoring the dead, etc., and especially the world’s response to Superman, his recognition as a hero and the intimation that here the new heroic age has begun. As it is all we got was a scene showing that the US military was attempting to spy on him via drone. Missing that epic/sad/triumphal moment, the movie felt incomplete.

      1. I view the desaturation as more symptomatic than the cause of my viewing the world of Man of Steel as crapsack. There’s an overseriousness, an eagerness to destroy, a distrustfulness or paranoia, and a grimness that penetrates every scene. Now, compared to Snyder’s other films, it’s certainly a bit less crappy and sacky, but it’s still far from a place where I see the idealism, kindness, and above all joy of Superman triumphing for any significant time or situation.

        I can definitely see that people might try to see the Jor/Kal dialogue as “lead by example,” but combined with Snyder’s other works, it seems more than a bit ominous.

        I do admit to a huge amount of anti-directorial bias in this case – the visual style really, really bothered me, and I’ve really disliked the other films of Snyder’s that I’ve seen. I still maintain that there’s a lot of things that keep this film from being the awesome Superman film I was hoping it would be.

        Though again, I do really like the cast. The relationship between Superman and Lois Lane was really nicely written and played (even if it suffers from the really horrible plot holes that every Superman film seems to fall into). It’s really great seeing a Lois who actually acts and behaves heroically, instead of merely lipservice to the idea of a strong female character as I felt Margot Kidder’s character as written in the first Superman film. I miss my dark-haired Lois, but Adams was quite good.

        I do hope that if there are sequels, they develop the world of Superman as human, rather than just racking up larger and larger threats with a higher and higher body count. (The huge amount of collateral damage was another factor that played into my viewing Man of Steel’s world as being crapsack – though to be fair, the first Superman movie has something of a similar problem – which is probably one of the reasons I’m not the biggest fan of that film either.)

      2. I haven’t seen any other Snyder films, so I’m not reading anything into it from outside. Yes, the implied body count (roughly a square mile of Metropolis reduced to rubble and dust, buildings outside that radius damaged or destroyed by the Superman/Zod fight) was extreme. But by definition a crapsack world is a busted, No Hope world; even shows like Independence Day (body count of millions), that end in triumph, are not crapsack worlds.

        Could Snyder have lowered the body count without losing impact? Yes, although I think drawing a line between what happened to New York in The Avengers and what happened to Metropolis in Man of Steel is nitpicking; the real difference is The Avengers had an upbeat aftermath and a real sense that the world had changed, where The Man of Steel didn’t.

      3. You make a great point with the Avengers reference. I think part of the difference is that the tone of the two films was completely different. Avengers has probably just as much darkness (possibly even more, given the Hulk) as Man of Steel – but there’s a sense that humans are good eggs in that film. In Man of Steel, even the noble characters like Jonathan Kent are distrustful and paranoid. They may come around in the end, but it’s a bleak, dark place.

        Also, our two readings of Jor-El’s vision for Kal probably play quite a bit into our reactions. You see it as leading by example, and kindly – which I think is probably how it was meant (at least, I hope so). If you see it that way, the end is much sweeter. I see it as an unpredictable, arbitrary god-alien, though the film does try to work against that reading sometimes. I just don’t think that the dictatorial aspects of the message were eradicated quite well enough.

      4. Directorial choices are interesting things; since you can’t show everything you have to decide what to focus on. The Krypton story focused on the stagnant condition of Kryptonian society (thousands of years with no growth or change) to contrast Jor-El’s “radical” belief in free will and equality. That one worked well. Clark’s early story focused on his difficulties and alienation to contrast his gifts and Jonathan’s belief that he would one day change the world. That one didn’t work so well according to a lot of viewers. Perhaps the reason I enjoyed the movie anyway is I brought so much of Clark’s story with me; I know Clark’s parents because I’ve seen them positively portrayed so often, and my history with Superman gave me a lens that “softened” the movie’s darker aspects so that I simply didn’t see them that way.

      5. I actually thought the Jonathan part worked better than the Kryptonian part – but that it worked in such a way that wasn’t good for a Superman film. It would fit better for a Batman film, where the paranoia about secret identities and the harshness of the world and the villains match the darkness of the hero’s struggles.

        You make another excellent point – I am not favorably disposed to Superman in general, so the movie had a lot more to prove for me. 🙂

  2. I also enjoyed the movie. I used to collect the Superman comics in the 1980’s-1990’s and I saw a lot of different takes on the character. The movie was not perfect, but for me the movie delivered. If we want to see the character interactions in more depth we can read the comic books or watch one of the iterations of the character on TV (Lois & Clark, Smallville, or the cartoons). But for action we need to see it in a movie and this delivered big time. I actually saw it twice once in 2D and the second in IMAX 3D. Once to catch the story and the second to see the action again.

    I liked the Pa Kent scenes, I may be reading to much into it, but Pa Kent was split between protecting his son from the World and protecting the World from the existence of his Son. He was afraid of shattering peoples belief in God and also how would a young Clark react/develop if people worshiped or hated him. He definitely was not ready to deal with those kinds of emotions.

    One of the best scenes was when Clark goes to see his Priest. It totally reminded me of when Hope talks to Father Nolan. And it does underscore what Clark believes in.

    I believe the filmmakers could of done a better job of showing how beyond Superman’s control the fight was for him. There has been a lot of debate that Superman should have been able to reduce or direct the damage, but even I forget that this literally is his first and second fight. And it was against people developing similar powers and a lifetime of training as warriors.

    All the destruction underscored a very big point though and that is that Superman is super powerful and if he wanted to he could destroy or take over the World, but he chooses not too (In the comics this always drove Lex Luthor crazy). That has got to have the governments of the World freaked out. In fact I am going to make a prediction for the sequel and that is that the government will contract with Lex Luthor to experiment with Zod’s body and come up with something to keep Superman in check (Krytonite).

    It is kind of interesting in the comics some of the most amazing Superman stories revolve around alternate versions of him crossing that line and trying to force the World to follow what he believes is right. He always makes the ultimate villain. Which is why this movie version of Zod was one of the best villains. He wasn’t crazy or insane he was following what he believed was right.

    You touched on this with Atlas how he was starting to get more ruthless before Hope showed up.

    By the way it’s kind of interesting, how did you know that S on Krypton means hope?

    It’s a totally appropriate name for your main character.

    1. I actually have to disagree here; I don’t think Jonathan was worried about the theological implications of Proof of Extraterrestrial Life, and the truth is that most modern Christians have no trouble believing we may not be alone in the universe (and probably are not alone). If nothing else, just knowing how BIG the universe is leaves one with the impression that God would be utterly wasteful to only create intelligent life here. Certainly learning that he was born on a different world didn’t seem to have shaken Clark’s own faith significantly.

      Keep in mind just what Jonathan actually knew. He didn’t know about Krypton, it’s history, beliefs, or destruction. He knew that somewhere out there were aliens that looked Just Like Us but were more advanced scientifically and immeasurably more powerful physically. That’s all he knew, and he quite rightly worried about what that revelation might do to the world and what the world might do to Clark (especially when Clark was younger and not so strong and invulnerable and in control of his powers yet).

      Even so, he believed utterly that one day his son would change the world.

      1. I miss phrased that I meant more that it would mess with peoples understanding of God. Because for someone like Pete’s mom the possibility of Clark having extra-ordinary abilities seems miraculous possibly God given.

  3. Going to wait till the Blu-ray. I was a long time collector of comics up till last year. DC rebooted everything with Flashpoint and we got the Superman of Man of Steel out of it. I’ll pass on the overpriced theater experience. Bring back the Boy Scout any day. And yes, the reboot was made to get to a younger audience, which it achieved by alienating everyone else. Heroes as marketing tools. Wonder what Astra would say? Her marketing is secondary but there. Wonder what Astra would experience if seen from the average person level.

    1. I thought the Boy Scout was very much present in Man of Steel, but I may be in the minority.

      As to the whole thing being a marketing tool, of course it was; comics are a business first and an art second–if it was the other way around then we wouldn’t still have them (and we certainly wouldn’t have a movie built on millions of dollars worth of special effects).

      The problem with ongoing comic series, which cannot be fixed, is that if they are successful they don’t end and at the same time the characters in them change very little if at all. How long did it take for Clark and Louis to marry? There are only a few ways to handle this. One is the Archie solution: stand-alone stories that do not build on previous stories beyond the basic origin. This is the way Archie, Veronica, and Betty have managed to stay high school seniors for decades–but the downside is zero character change or growth. In musical terms, imagine if every new pop-hit still sounded like Elvis or The Beatles.

      Superhero comics take a slow change method, but to keep older reader’s interest they must have multi-issue arcs and developing metaplots, and they do build off of past events (in theory). This, however, eventually results in a back-story so dense and unyieldy that even writers have a hard time tracking it, as well as eventual character-exhaustion (Superman, Batman, The Avengers, etc). Or the characters may simply move so far beyond the original character concept that they lose the “magic” that made them popular in the first place (this eventually happened to Wonder Woman post-Perez).

      The obvious solution is the reboot, Crisis On Infinite Earths style, and naturally the rebooted character will be “upgraded” to fit the modern sensibility of a comic’s core readership; so long as a rebooted character does not drift too far from the spirit of the original hero, I have no problem with that. I felt that Man of Steel’s Superman fit the iconic “do-gooder” Superman of the comics of yore, so although I thought there were a few plot holes and points that could have been developed better, I enjoyed the movie.

      But, to be honest, I don’t closely follow any of the main DC or Marvel titles anymore; instead I look for new superhero worlds and characters that don’t have decades of baggage they must live with (Wildguard, Powers, The Incredible Universe, Astro City, etc.). To each his own.

  4. I have to agree with your statement about the Krypton shown in Man of Steel, and I also agree that there were some plot holes. One thing you mentioned that I did have a lot of trouble with was the general lack of secrecy towards Superman’s alter ego. Apparently Lois found the truth out quickly and easily, and Superman even tells one of the army soldiers that he was raised in Kansas. It seemed very blasé to me. Also, I was head-scratchingly cofused at the idea of the Kryptonian codex (a horror-story skull with a spiderweb of glowing symbols) being broken down and imprinted into Kal-El’s DNA. A thing I loved was showing Kal-El’s inner struggle with balancing his own inner demons and his desire to help people.

    Anyway, back to Sentinel Central:

    Is there a limit on how big the teams can get? Also, Omega Night mentioned Astra and Watchman being equipped with suits for interstellar travel. What is the space program in the world of the Sentinels? Are there capes cruising amongst the stars?

    In your last post, you stated that you would love to do another Artemis book, but that the first one didn’t go over very well. I was wondering if maybe that was because it appeared more like a Vampire novel, and less like a Superhero novel. Vampire and werewolf stories are knee deep in today’s fang-fanatic culture, so maybe it got glossed over. I myself would love to see what happens when the new and improved Artemis return to New Orleans.

    Also, in a reply to a post in your last message, you said that no one knew Seven’s real identity. How can his team trust him if they don’t know who he is? How can Astra trust him? For all we know, he could be one of the biggest con artists in the world! How can they trust their lives to someone who won’t even trust them with his name?

    1. Is there a limit on how big the teams can get?

      There is no hard limit; however, most cities have one team at best, and team size generally ranges from 5-9 members. Bigger cities will usually sponsor extra teams rather than bigger teams.

      Are there capes cruising amongst the stars?

      No. First of all the suits in Omega Night are simply spacesuits, for life-support only (and navigation and communication). As fast as Atlas-types can accelerate, they might be able to fly to the Moon–but certainly not to Mars or Venus. Now an interesting program might be for a crew of Atlas-types to “fly” an entire spaceship between planets, but they are so valuable here on Earth that it’s hard to see them working for NASA. Although I imagine a few Atlas-types are payed real good money to take satelites up to orbit…

      You said that no one knew Seven’s real identity. How can his team trust him if they don’t know who he is?

      Seven has legally changed his name, which is every citizen’s right to do so long as it is not for purposes of fraud (look at Prince as a strange example). This does not mean that nobody knows who he was before; just that his former identity is not public knowledge and the government accepts his current one. As for trust, he served for several years as an LA Knight and has earned a reputation for being good at what he does.

  5. This is a decent review of the movie. I liked it, despite its notable gaffes — nothing made of the RED sun of Krypton being debilitating, though Kal-El derived his power from our YELLOW one, and the incredible error of “Kryptonian atmosphere”, being high on the list. Why didn’t they simply have red-sun lights and force-shields on the ship, and THAT was what screened Kal-El from our sun and only supplied energy insufficient for his powers? That would have explained it AND stayed within canon and prevented a major plot hole. I didn’t like how easily Lois found him out, though as “Lois and Clark” said, to not recognize Clark as Superman because of some glasses is GALACTICALLY stupid — and young Clark didn’t wear glasses. Lois is a great reporter, but she’s set up as an embedded journalist, not an investigative one, and the skills of one are not necessarily the skills of the other. She could be both, but they didn’t SHOW that she was both, except by her incredible ability to ferret out someone who no one else had ferretted out yet.

    Jonathan Kent was NOT paranoid. You aren’t paranoid if they really are out to get you. Speaking as someone who was the “pink monkey in the cageful of brown monkeys”, to quote Heinlein, I was torn at by my peers daily for my perceived differences. We have a long history of literature and film showing the “alien from another world” as the evil, slavering, “I want to eat your women” sort of invader. It wasn’t until MUCH later, long after Jonathan’s generation, that we started treating the alien as potentially a friend in much greater scope. Star Trek did a lot to change that, though there were still the Klingons and the Romulans to watch out for. Early Sci-Fi movies were of the “Flying Saucers vs. The World” genre, and that’s what Jonathan Kent feared — that his alien son, arriving on a “flying saucer”, would be seen in THAT light. What did we do to such invaders? We fired on them with guns, we shot at them with “radar death rays” cooked up by diminutive Japanese ladies, we lured them into a freezer and zapped them with electricity, we even set off nukes to kill strange creatures we didn’t understand. Alien intelligence was, at one time, always met with deadly force, and that’s what Jonathan grew up with.

    But what I don’t like seeing, in Man of Steel to some degree, and in the New 52 DC portrayal of Superman in “Action Comics”, is what I call the “deconstruction of the hero”. We used to see superheroes as that, heroes who are super. Now we have a new reboot of some of the most influential pieces of popular literature — our comic books — showing Superman as a distrusted alien the government wants to chain through Lex Luthor’s science, Green Lantern is mistrusted and feared, the Flash is shot at by police instead of idolized, and Wonder Woman is seen as some kind of unnatural freak who thinks she has godlike powers…even though SHE DOES. Even when these heroes do heroic things, they are treated fearfully by the public, and with anger by the authorities. When they’ve built up a little trust, it goes quickly by the wayside if the hero slips a little, and the fear rises again.

    I understand that a lot of this is that we’re seeing these heroes from their first showing, and the public needs to learn about them. But as Our Heroes from the Sentinel ‘verse show, the public doesn’t always react with immediate suspicion and fear when heroes arise out of nowhere during a crisis. They need to be managed a bit, but Atlas was accepted practically from day one as a Good Thing ™. Superman, in his latest incarnation, is SHOT AT or feared by police and military from day one. This, in my opinion, is a Bad Thing ™.

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