Man of Steel Lament

Lament of Superman

I am sick to death of the fan boy rage around the recent release of Man of Steel. Sick to death, I tell you. All I hear over the Internet is:

“This isn’t my Superman!”

“Why didn’t Superman protect the people of Metropolis?”

“He had time to kiss Lois Lane but not to look around at the catastrophic damage done by the Kryptonian World Engine. Where was the empathy we associate with the character?”

“These writers didn’t know the character, weren’t aware of the canon. They wasted 75 years of history to make a movie where Superman fails in an epic fashion.”

“Where is the transformative scene in the third act where Superman finds himself and creates a solution to an unsolvable problem?”

“How could they have Superman kill anyone?” “How could they have Superman let anyone die?” “Superman has superspeed, so he can save everyone. That’s what he does!”

“The body count and catastrophic destruction show in Man of Steel is on the order of 100,000+ people and 730 billion dollars worth of damage.”

I have people all over the internet finding images of Superman being super, doing his thing protecting people from threats which do not equal the scale of the problems seen in Man of Steel.

Superman saving people from falling aircraft. Wow. This show Superman at his best.

Superman saves people from burning building. Yes, he can do that. And he can protect people by putting out the fire with his super-cold breath.

“Superman gave people hope in the 50s and 60s in happier and simpler times. This new interpretation is the worst ever.”

Enough!

If we are going to compare stories, then let’s compare stories of equal capacity and challenge.

In terms of destruction, let’s look at Superman vs Doomsday.

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Yeah, baby. Metropolis got completely owned. Entire sections of the city were destroyed and had to be completely rebuilt. Their titanic struggle was more like a bomb going off in the middle of the city. Note Doomsday and Superman were nearly equally matched in power, speed and ferocity. Superman wanted to take the battle out of the city but Doomsday was simply fast enough to make sure that didn’t happen. Oh and for the record, this isn’t the first time Metropolis gets destroyed. Consider the 1994 epic “The Fall of Metropolis.

You know where else this happened? Man of Steel.

Zod’s superior fighting skills, honed by a lifetime of combat meant for most of the fight, he owned Kal-El’s untrained and unskilled ass. What tiny advantage he had was lost as Zod’s mastery of his superpowers increased every second.

Superman saving falling airplanes? We’ve seen it. And we hated it. We complained about Brandon Routh’s Superman Returns, calling it lifeless, dead on arrival, derivative crap, and another appearance of Lex Luthor, public unpowered menace. Hmmm.

Could one of the real reasons we hate Superman Returns is because, in the entire movie, Superman never even throws a punch? That he gets shanked by Lex Luthor and kicked around like he was about to experience a prison rape scene? Huh? Yeah, maybe?

No, don’t turn away. I’ve got more.

Wait, when Superman (Christopher Reeves) failed to save Lois Lane because he had to chase down two cruise missiles heading in different directions, did we complain when he REVERSES the rotation of the Earth and somehow manages to stop the flow of time, which mysteriously allows him to catch both missiles AND saves Lois Lane? No Deus Machina there, huh?

Stop looking at your shoes. You accepted it. You laughed about it. Just like the super-memory wiping kiss. Yeah.

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One more: Superman would never kill anyone. I’ve got a picture for you. (see above)

It’s from a comic series called Miracleman (Marvelman, if you’re old enough to have read it the first time). This used to be London. This image shows what a being with the powers of Superman/Zod could do if he just did what he wanted to do. And there was no one to stop him. Oh yes, I could see Zod having such a good time this way. This scene is what you get when you have a writer willing to portray the destructive capacity someone like Superman or Zod is capable of. Terrifying and bold were the writings of Alan Moore. Read a bit more if you dare.

Just keep it in mind. Now back to the issue.

Except when Superman does kill, he does it for almost the exact same reason he kills in Man of Steel. To protect the entire world’s population. Needs of the many and all that jazz. On Superman’s 50th birthday, he kills the Phantom Zone criminals of a parallel universe because on their world, after they escaped the Phantom Zone, they killed everyone on the planet. Torturously. Cruelly, as only a Kryptonian could. Even after depowering them, Kal-El decides to make the ultimate judgement because their Zod vowed to get their powers back and come to his reality and kill everyone there as well. This was a threat he took seriously. They had already done the deed once. No moral compunction would stop them.

So for his 50th birthday, John Byrne has him do the deed. Happy birthday, Kal-El. Kill some fellow Kryptonians and let’s eat some cake after you get back from your trip into interstellar space to screw your perfect I-never-kill-anyone-ever little head on straight.

If a man is going to break a cardinal rule, something that defines him and his character, let it be for a threat worthy to the cause.

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For his 75th birthday, Kal-El gets a movie and the same damn dilemma.

Renegade Kryptonians arrive, threaten the Earth, plan to build a Kryptonian K-mart on the bones of the human race.

Faora Ul told Kal-El (while she was kicking his ass) that for every one he saved, the Kryptonians would kill a million more. Zod would later reveal his plans for terraforming the Earth and bringing back the Kryptonian races via the Codex over Kal-El’s dead body, preferably.

So. Presented with at least three combat capable Kryptonians, though I remember at least six being sentenced on Krypton, Kal-El is given the choice of killing the Kryptonians or allowing them to destroy the Earth. 3 against 1 odds didn’t go well in Smallville. Things would not have likely gotten better if the rest of Team Zod hit the field.

The writers made a call to allow Superman to dispose of the bulk of Team Zod by sending them to the Phantom Zone, while disposing of all of the remaining Jor-El tech and links to Krypton.

But now we are left with Zod. Lets go over the checklist of things Superman can do given the circumstance he is left to contend with in Man of Steel. Remember this is as the WRITERS DESIGNED IT, not as Superman would have chosen it.

  • He is standing in the rubble after a powerful terraforming device has turned part of Metropolis into a fine and even grey dust.
  • Zod has decided since he has nothing to live for, he will dedicate his life to the destruction of Earth. He is quite capable of doing it. This is not an idle threat.
  • Kal-El does not have a Phantom Zone projector conveniently hidden in his Fortress of Solitude.
  • For that matter, Kal-El has no Fortress of Solitude.
  • No STAR LABS to whip one up out of Kryptonian “stone knives and bear skins”.
  • No Batman or other superheroes to tag team the villain with and subdue him with overwhelming force or cunning.
  • No stray sliver of green or gold Kryptonite hidden until the last moment. (Quick, someone call Brandon Routh, he had an entire island of the stuff!)
  • No Kryptonian artifacts he could use to depower or cripple Zod.
  • Zod is an alpha male, trained for decades in fighting, sufficient skilled without superpowers to take over (even if it was just for a minute) the government of his home planet.
  • Kal-El is a farm hand who has traveled the world and never raised his voice in anger, let alone fought anyone for fear of turning them into a pile of Chunky Monkey. The Karate Kid (pick your era) has more combat training than he does.

What did you expect was going to happen? Zod would somehow come to love humanity while he and Kal-El were duking it out destroying everything they came into contact with and swear undying loyalty and fealty to Earth?

Somehow, farm-hand Kal-El was going to overcome warrior-god Zod and restrain him without long-term injury? Really?

Without a Deus Machina (which we already talked about in the Lois Lane Incident) Kal-El was left with no real options for restraining or stopping Zod. And yet they gave us one anyway. Zod is stronger, faster, better-trained, more skilled and yet he is “overcome” by Kal-El? Or was Zod simply forcing Kal-El to make a choice which Zod himself would have NEVER made?

Fuggedaboutit.

All of you whiners complaining about this Man of Steel have only yourselves to blame. You loved the Avengers, though they barely did anything at all besides show up. Iron Man and Thor did the bulk of the heavy lifting and Hulk gave us a great bit of comic relief. The Chitauri were about as dangerous as baby food products imported from China. (See: Melamine) It was your worship of the potential of catastrophic destruction which led to this monstrosity of a movie desperately seeking your approval. If you are complaining this wasn’t your father’s Superman, YOU ARE CORRECT.

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This is the Superman of Post 9/11. This is the Superman of Vietnam, Korea, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. This is the Superman of the modern age with all of the fear and loathing superheroes like him never had to deal with in the past. This is the Superman of Big Brother and our surveillance society. This isn’t just the paragon of good, he is the spectre of evil as well; the potential for power to be used for evil as well as good.

This Ain’t your father’s Superman. He has way more baggage than those earlier versions of the character EVER did.

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Personally, I liked the real hidden message within Man of Steel.

There are and will be things beyond your control.

There are things which transcend your ability to right.

There will be people whose power may (or certainly) exceed your own.

It does not mean you do not fight.

It does not mean you give up.

It does not mean there will not be casualties. 

It means you do your best with what you have and understand sometimes your best, even with the best of intention, even with great power and great responsibility, will simply not be enough.

Do it anyway.

In today’s world THAT is the real message. Not a message of faux inspiration when there is nothing at risk. Not a message of do-gooderism which does not take into account the reality of loss. 

You don’t like Man of Steel because it paints a picture of the invincible hero who does not manage to protect everyone?

Good. This is the reality of the world we live in. Get over it. It’s not the 1950s anymore. Times change. You might want to as well. Now sit your fanboy ass down and enjoy the view. Superman will more than likely herald a series of DC movies of other heroes who deserve some screen time besides Superman and Batman. I know someone right now who can’t wait to get to the big screen. Here’s a hint:

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Be like Superman and roll with the punches.

Signed:

A Real Superman Fan

11 responses to “Man of Steel Lament

  1. Pingback: Man of Steel Lament | State of Black Science Fi...

  2. Awesomely written piece. I am by no means a die-hard Superman fan. In fact, I always used to be fairly indifferent to him. He always seemed too perfect and indestructible from the little I knew. But I love superheroes and I want superhero movies to succeed. So I went to the theater with my father and was absolutely floored. I’m not usually one to get weepy eyed, but there were a handful of moments that had my heart racing and my eyes watering. I can’t comment on how this differs from Superman of days past, but it seemed like an incredibly human portrait of the character for the modern day. I’m just glad you laid out such a well though position that shows why this version of Superman is proper for this day and age.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Mike. I had my issues with the movie, don’t get it wrong. But looking at Superman over his 75 years, and his movie appearances especially, I always felt he had been sanitized of any flavor, bereft of any real emotional depth, far more SUPER than MAN. This is the first time I see him as a man, making human choices, sometimes wrong choices, experiencing doubts and regret. No, he isn’t perfect, and isn’t it just about time…

      • You’re more than welcome. I admit I wasn’t a perfect film as well, but it hits such powerful notes for me that I didn’t really care too much. This really emphasized the “man”, as you said, and showed us his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. His humanity.

        I have a little blog with a couple college buddies. I’m hoping to write a piece on how Superheroes are our modern Mythology. Would you mind if I decide to quote and link you?

  3. There’s a book called The World’s Greatest Super Heroes in which Jules Feiffer (sp) observes that Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker put masks on when they go out to fight crime but Superman puts a mask on when he goes to work or takes his girlfriend out. With the first and greatest of the genre, after whom it is named, the false identity is the civilian, not the hero. In the 80s and 90s when the backstory lost Superboy because Clark started not getting his powers or memories of Krypton till he was grown, in the Reeve movies and in John Byrne’s post-Crisis reboot and in Lois & Clark, something seminal and important was lost. Now the same thing is happening again.

    Where the pro-“post-9/11″, “no longer the invincible hero who protects everyone” argument in Man of Steel criticism falls down for me is that it leaves us without any, anywhere. I don’t believe the world or this character are better off with no fiction but realism. This isn’t just a new version of the character, it’s a wholesale repurposing of the character, like a Sherlock Holmes swords & sorcery epic would be. We need stories with modern sensibilities, yes, but we also need stories with archetypes and Superman is one, the last or one of the last, at least of his type. And I believe and hope that the title character of Man of Steel, not being that archetype and despite sequels and Justice League films or whatever, will eventually sink leaving no trace just as the Superman Returns version (which incidentally I liked a whole lot better) did, for similar reasons: just too different.

    • “There’s a book called The World’s Greatest Super Heroes in which Jules Feiffer (sp) observes that Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker put masks on when they go out to fight crime but Superman puts a mask on when he goes to work or takes his girlfriend out. With the first and greatest of the genre, after whom it is named, the false identity is the civilian, not the hero.”

      Honey, this hasn’t been the case in a long, long, long time. If your Superman knowledge or your conception of what is the One, True Superman characterization does not extend beyond the mid 1980s, then your idea about what The One, True Superman characterization should be is not important. Go away.

      • Sweetie Pie, this movie Superman is also not the Superman of the last 30 years.

        Not yet anyway.

        Now I think the answer lies between the blog’s take and Zee’s take.

        That is, this highly fallible Superman is Superman Day One. That he stopped the invasion at all is amazing given that. And I agree, this one instance of killing is in character for him.

        From here, he will do what he can to learn to be the best he can be, to make sure that the next time he has to deal with a threat like this one, it doesn’t end with mass destruction and him having to take life. This is a formative experience that will lead to this character becoming the paragon.

        I just hate that the blogger brought in images of New 52 Superman. The influence of that armor wearing asshole would irrevocably taint the franchise. He’s a spiteful mean-spirited asshole who ignores any rules he finds inconvenient to enforce his vision of justice above all. In that one picture from the blog where he talks about being hated and feared from day one HEY DOUCHEBAG! YOU BROUGHT THAT ON YOURSELF! Thats what happens when you ingnore the law, jeer at the police, throw people out of windows and CHOKE SLAM BATMAN! You bet your ass people were scared of you, you dick! You claim to be doing this all for the little guy. Well whats the little guy to think when you behave like this.

  4. This is indeed a solid counterpoint and, although we disagree on whether or not this Man of Steel compromises some core aspects of the character, you are correct that even the comics are not without some of these precedents. IMHO, the Comics Alliance article “Choice and the Moral Universe of MOS” [link below] nails most of my objections mirroring Mark Waid. That said, I have some faith in screenwriter Goyer that this film very consciously intends to set up these very same themes for examination. Predictable fanboy snark aside, Superman’s moral universe *does* need some post-9/11 reexamination, rethinking, and new relevance. But considered aside the surprisingly more optimistic AVENGERS and the underappreciated CAPTAIN AMERICA movies, Nolan’s ‘Dark-Knightification’ of the DC pantheon delves into a pretty grim worldview (BTW when did Marvel and DC get an attitude switcheroo?). The sequel could just maybe redeem this beginning, but lest we forget: Superman was pummeled to death by Doomsday because he was repeatedly saving lives in the mayhem and minimize casualties, he was helping others first and foremost. Unlike this super-soldier in MOS, Superman’s mission is to ‘protect and serve’ above all else, even if the writers force him into life-and-death decisions for the sake of shock-and-awe. I hope Superman turns out to be the superhero we need, not the kill-happy super-antihero we seem to deserve.

    http://comicsalliance.com/man-of-steel-moral-superman-review-zack-snyder-david-goyer/

    Thanks for sharing!

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