When Superman first hit the newsstands in the Action Comics #1 in 1938, it changed everything about the new and burgeoning comic book industry. Suddenly trench coat-clad detectives and pulp heroes were replaced by men in tights with capes who fought crime simply because they knew it was right and they had the power to do so. Superheroes quickly became a modern mythological pantheon, and nothing would be the same again.
Everything about humanity is embodied in this fictional alien called Superman. People tend to either love or hate him based solely on the ways in which they relate to him. He is an outcast. He is an alien. He is a human. He is a hero who does the right thing simply because doing the right thing is the right thing to do. He has the power to conquer the world and the wisdom to never try to. No wonder he went from being so incredibly popular to being relegated to what some would consider an unrelatable “boy scout” or “Goody Two-shoes.” He’s the goodness in all of us that sometimes just pisses us off about ourselves.
As a reader or audience member, we always read unintended subtext into the great fiction we experience. How much of the Moses story did Siegel and Shuster specifically intend to put into Superman’s origin? Or in modern days, I can specifically ask writer Jerry Ordway (writer of Adventures of Superman #500) if Superman’s death and resurrection was meant to reflect the Jesus Christ story. There was no specific intention to equate the two, yet readers constantly claim that there is. And both the writer and the audience are right. That’s the magic of mythology.
Superman is not the underdog. That’s Jimmy Olsen’s role. Superman was the guy who could do nothing BUT succeed, however he did so on behalf of the underdog, which is to say normal, innocent citizens. He helped the unlikely hero to become the hero. What’s so hard to relate to about that? If he hadn’t become such an important icon in the burgeoning American and worldwide media, he might well have stayed that way. It’s the reason Jimmy Olson became such a prolific character in and of himself and even had his own comic book series for 20 years, which is comic book-reader terms is four to five generations.
Over the years, Superman has been reinvented by new writers, artists, filmmakers and actors. Each version has stuck with the basics, that he comes from another planet, was raised in Middle America by a loving couple, then went to work as a journalist in Metropolis where he hid in plain site, changing into his uniform to keep his two lives separate and saving the day. But other details were added over time from several incarnations. For instance, Kryptonite came from the radio series and setting Smallville specifically in Kansas came from the Christopher Reeve films.
After Superman’s introduction changed the comic book industry, his popularity skyrocketed. Soon there were toys, songs, a radio show and a series of short animated films produced by Fleischer Studios, which was also responsible for cartoons like Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor Man.
Superman changed everything… again. The first short film, simply titled Superman, had a huge budget of $50,000 in 1941 and the production values still stand up today. This was a new style of animation where live actors were filmed and then traced by artists, creating realistic stature and movement. The result was fabulous and led to a total of 17 shorts in three years.
Science fiction and superhero motion pictures of the 1950s and '60s simply didn’t have the technology to create the realism of modern films. In 1978, the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve was released with the tagline, “You will believe a man can fly.” The production was an enormous undertaking and the success was largely thanks to director Richard Donner’s attempt at verisimilitude. Sure it was a world with a superhero flying around and performing super feats, but it was taken seriously, unlike the campy styles of the 1960s Batman TV series with Adam West.
Once again, Superman changed everything. Or at least he changed the way superhero films were treated. Many still consider it to be the definitive take on both the character and the style of filmmaking based on comic books. Even in the current age of popular superhero films, many still declare that the first Superman movie is the best of all the superhero films to date.
The filmmakers on Man of Steel have stated at length that this will be an important film, which is part of their job, yet I am inclined to believe them. They appear to be undertaking the project in a very serious way. And because it’s Superman, there’s a chance that this could change everything once again. We’ll find out for sure on June 14, 2013.
Screenwriter David S. Goyer
David S. Goyer was interviewed by Access Hollywood about Man of Steel. He had this to say:
"I'm really proud of it. I never thought I would be doing a Superman film, but I think the only possible way to top myself or ourselves on Batman is to tackle Superman whose kind of the granddaddy of all the superheroes. He's trickier, it's kind of easier doing a dark character who doesn't have any superpowers but I'm really proud of what we've done and I can't wait for people to see it. I think the movie is going to be the right movie for the times. I'm happy that movie is coming out in the summer, because I think it's the kind of movie that the world needs right now."
Jimmy Olsen is a GIRL!?
There has been no official talk about Jimmy Olsen in Man of Steel. Until yesterday, it appeared that the character might not appear in the film at all and would hopefully be brought in for sequels. According to IMDb, actress Rebecca Buller will be playing a character named Jenny Olsen, which if true means that the character will appear, but as a different gender.
Buller is most certainly set to appear and can be seen in the latest trailer running from a falling building alongside Lawrence Fishburne who plays Daily Planet Editor-in-Chief Perry White. IMDb has a poor track record with these kinds of things, but it’s still possible, although it might be unfortunate.
A small handful of Superman fans were upset at the cross-racial casting of Lawrence Fishburne, even though Fishburne should be excellent in the role. The difference is that a female Jimmy Olsen alters the entire office dynamic. Lois is supposed to be the love interest and Jimmy is supposed to be Superman’s “pal,” who is in many ways inept and immature compared to Lois and Clark. If true, this might be a cheap way for the filmmakers to put their mark on the character. Since it is only a rumor and it’s still possible that she could be an older sibling to Jimmy, lets hope it’s incorrect.
What do you think of Jenny Olsen? True or false? Good or bad idea?