The Geek Beat: How 'Man of Steel' Can Make Superman Cool Again

The Geek Beat: How 'Man of Steel' Can Make Superman Cool Again

Jun 04, 2013

I was introduced to superheroes, really, before I could make real sentences. Batman was my first, and the Dark Knight has really grown to be my favorite character in practically all of fiction. Who couldn’t relate to him? When you hear about the event that formed the young Bruce Wayne into the driven vigilante he would eventually become, it’s very difficult not to connect with him on some level. Since the release of Batman Begins in 2005, I have never had to defend my love of that character. The Dark Knight trilogy’s greatest service to Batman was changing the public perception of him so deftly that even the most seasoned comic book fan’s Batman and the general moviegoing audience’s Batman are more similar now than at any other point in the character’s 70-plus-year history.

My second favorite character in fiction, though, has not fared so well. I’d always loved Superman, but unlike most people, I didn’t discover how fundamentally cool he was until my early teens. I had always really loved his movies where Christopher Reeve managed to redefine performance in a superhero film, but it wasn’t until I went through a difficult time in my life that I discovered the very real power of the Man of Steel. Not the fictitious power of flight, superstrength, or extrasensory powers, but in the very real ability the character has to inspire.

When I went through some hard times in my early teens, I found myself moving away from the grime and grit of Gotham City and a bit more toward the gleaming towers of the DC Universe’s City of Tomorrow, Metropolis. Superman didn’t always have to confront darkness with a scowl on his face and a fire in his heart; he was able to look to something greater in himself and in the problems he faced by becoming a symbol of hope. At a time when I could’ve really used a symbol like that, Superman came and saved me.

It was from that moment that I began to really believe in the character. Throughout my teens I got my hands on Superman stories from every era of comics, from the social crusader and champion of the oppressed of the 1930s up through the unequivocal leader of the Justice League in the 2000s. Although many people point out how much Batman has managed to evolve over his entire history, many of those same fans, observers and historians don’t seem to give as much credence to the rather intense and highly similar evolution Superman has endured over his three quarters of a century on Earth. As a kid and teen, I constantly found myself having to apologize for liking Superman. For some reason, people were very quick to dismiss the most powerful being on the planet because he had the audacity to be, in their rather shortsighted perceptions, morally uncomplicated.

After having immersed myself in some of the greatest Superman stories of the past and the very solid works by creators of the present, I knew that these perceptions of the character may have been true. True today? No, absolutely not. True in the 1960s and '70s? Yes. People of my generation, though, stuck to their guns. Batman would always be more their speed, they claimed. Wolverine has inner turmoil all over the place! The Punisher, now there’s a guy that gets things done! Deadpool? He’s so cool because he kills people and JOKES about it!

Where was the disconnect? Why had people been so unwilling to see beyond their hollow caricature of Superman? Why did they so adamantly and incorrectly believe that he was as interesting as a piece of white bread? He can fly! He’s faster than a speeding bullet. He can melt steel by looking at it. He’s power incarnate! Why he was seen as uncool was beyond me, until it hit me. The fault isn’t completely on a generation unwilling to accept that a good man can exist: it’s on the very people who’ve been spending the last few years fighting a legal battle desperate to keep the name under their umbrella. The people who should be perpetuating the brand of Superman, outside of DC Comics, just haven’t done a very good job of exposing his modern conception to today’s audiences.

If Warner Bros. had been keeping Superman alive to the best of its ability, informing people of his modern characterization and his unlimited cool factor, I’d never have to defend my liking Superman to anyone. When the first previews for Man of Steel came out, I heard a very weird reaction consistently: “Oh, another one?”

ANOTHER ONE?!

What do you mean another one? I’m 25 years old, and Man of Steel will be the SECOND Superman film released in my lifetime. In that time, we got seven theatrical Batman films with an entire franchise reboot between films four and five. The first Superman film of my lifetime, Superman Returns, did nothing for the character except rehash a bygone conception of him: the Superman in that film is the Superman of 1978 reborn. That's why people don’t think Superman is cool, and why many people's first reaction was slight annoyance when they heard a new film was coming: all they know is an old Superman.

The Superman I fell in love with, the one who had to confront interesting moral dilemmas that his powers couldn’t help, the Superman who had to contend with all of the connotations of death and rebirth, the one that teaches and never preaches, the absolute powerhouse that puts dents in Darkseid’s, Brainiac’s and Metallo’s faces on a regular basis, has never been seen by anyone in live action, and even then rarely by anyone outside of comic shops. Those audiences have never known Superman to struggle with death he was unable to prevent in the Imperiex War, or how he had to face 12 exhausting trials before leaving the care of the Earth to its people. They probably don't know about the comic stories that provided the very images they're raving about in the Man of Steel trailers (like Secret Origin and Birthright) because no one has showed them where to look!

Thankfully, the trailers that have been released thus far have shown the public exactly what they're in for with a modern Superman. Already leaving the public perceptions are beliefs in a lack of pathos, in overwhelming Boy Scoutedness (if I can coin a phrase), and the blatantly inaccurate belief that a Superman story doesn't give much to see. The trailers are showing exactly what attention to the evolution and belief in the material can do, and the movie is already starting to make people's hearts soar. The best part of that is that it's not even out yet. 

Man of Steel is a golden opportunity for not only a DC Universe on film, but for Superman himself. Krypton’s Last Son is greatly in need of a reintroduction to the public, because he’s changed a lot in the 35 years since his defining introduction to the public last time. The buzz surrounding the new film is very positive, and as one of the Last Son of Krypton’s most devout followers, I’m ready to fly with a whole new crowd at the movies in 10 days’ time.

For our fantastic coverage on Man of Steel by the great Jeffrey Taylor (including his response to Superman "haters" ) be sure to check out Movies.com’s set visit report and the weekly Man of Steel Countdown!

My Pick This Week at the Comic Shop (Releasing 6/5)

This week, DC concludes the story begun by Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel just a few short months ago in Action Comics #21, the finale of "Hybrid." Unfortunately, the absence of Diggle's guiding hand on the writing was very noticeable in last month's #20, but what definitely came through were the ideas that the man had for where to take Superman. Blockbuster visuals continue to be provided by Tony S. Daniel, and although this story isn't the masterpiece that #19 definitely made it seem like it could be, at the very least this issue should provide very interesting visuals of the Man of Steel doing what he does best.

That's it this week on the Geek Beat! What do you think Man of Steel needs to do for Superman? What do you want to see from the movie? Sound off below!


Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.comThe Huffington PostBatman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his weekly piece The Geek Beat every Tuesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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