'Superman: The Man of Steel' Countdown: Past is Present

'Superman: The Man of Steel' Countdown: Past is Present

Sep 13, 2011

Jeffrey Taylor is a staff writer/moderator at The Superman Homepage, co-host of From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast, available at the Superman Homepage, iTunes and The Superman PodcastNetwork.You can find his new Man of Steel Countdown column here at Movies.com every other Tuesday.

As this article posts, we are 640 days from the premiere of Man of Steel and the cast and crew are approximately 25% done with filming.  Although a small amount of information has been made directly available from Warner Brothers and a few photos have been snapped by fans stalking the set, little is known about the nature of the film itself.  Yet a handful of serious and casual Superman fans have been quick to make their opinions known through online message boards, even though in some cases those opinions are based entirely on assumptions, many of which are false to begin with.

Some of the posts on internet articles about the film have been downright hateful, especially for things like Superman’s costume, which the filmmakers have clearly taken a few liberties with, like removing the red briefs that were originally designed to make him look like a modern circus strongman in the 1930’s.  At the same time, DC Comics has (completely separately) done the same and updated the costume without the briefs as well.  And to be honest, if all this was happening about 2 or more years ago, I would have been just as upset as the people posting those comments.

Superman Drinking

The Past

I began my fandom like many others of my generation by enjoying the Christopher Reeve films.  When “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” began airing on ABC when I was 14, I was bitten by the Superman bug and began regularly collecting the comics.  Other than a brief respite during college, I’ve been getting them every week since that time, and even backtracked through the entire 1980’s and early 1990’s.  Today I own over 10,000 comics and fancy myself a bit of a comic book historian.

2007 was an incredibly difficult year to be a Superman fan.  Superman Returns had been panned by critics and fans the summer before and it was unclear if there would be a sequel, or even any other kind of Superman film.  DC Comics had the hardest time releasing Superman comics on any kind of regular schedule.  Superman’s four to five regular titles had been dropped to just two, and in one month, neither came out at all.  The scheduling difficulties were only part of the problem.

Superman had been rebooted after the release of “Infinite Crisis,” but it was incredibly unclear what version of his origin was the accepted norm.  Even the writers seemed to disagree and one story would harken back to a certain origin, while another would pay homage to an older one, and still more would reference some kind of origin that had never been told.  That story wouldn’t be released until 2009, not long before yet another reboot.  Regulars at The Superman Homepage had a number of opportunities to ask editor Matt Idelson a series of questions each month, and the number one question every time was about the origin.  And poor Matt either wasn’t in a position to discuss the details, or perhaps didn’t even know.  I work part time at my local comic shop and had to explain to customers that all the Superman books they were expecting would be delayed, which not only hurt Superman and DC Comics, but it hurt the shop as well.  So as I said, it was a hard time to be a Superman fan.

The numerous changes and lack of regular release was painful.  I nearly quit buying the comics, and my good friend Michael Bailey who had collected Superman for 20 years straight, finally stopped out of frustration.  The Superman that we knew and loved, had definitely ended.  That was MY Superman.  And he was really dead.

When I look back on that time, I can actually track the five stages of grief.  First it was Denial because I couldn’t believe or accept that it was over.  In fact there were still inklings of the past pervading the stories, so I wasn’t off base.  Then Anger because there was nothing wrong with my version of Superman that he would require any kind of change.  Why would the creators at DC think it just wasn’t good enough any more?  Bargaining directly led to my podcast “From Crisis to Crisis,” where Michael Bailey and I talk about all the Superman comics from that era on a month to month basis.  Depression was certainly hitting me by the time the New Krypton story began in 2008, but again, the all the positive feedback we received about the podcast helped me through that time.  I even stopped reading the modern books, although I continued to collect them, so I have a treat waiting for me now that I’ve reached Acceptance.


The Present

CavilAccepting that my Superman was done and gone wasn’t easy, but I managed it.  Flash forward to the line-wide reboot of DC Comics starting just this month, September 2011, and I’m willing to give just about anything a chance to simply “WOW” me.  I know that nothing can ever compete with the era of my adolescence, but there’s no reason a good story can’t be good just because I chose to cling to a different take on the character.  For a positive review on the new Action Comics #1 from the point of view of someone who has been collecting Superman comics for over 20 years, take a look at this.

So what does all this have to do with the film?  A lot actually.  I’ll be completely honest here.  If I weren’t writing these articles, I would pay attention to NOTHING about the film beyond official picture stills at least until a trailer was released.  And even then I would reserve judgment until the midnight showing at the movie theater on the night of release.  At that point, I would probably try to look at the points I approved of before picking apart whatever I didn’t like.  But now I’ve become invested and even though I have strong opinions about certain aspects, I recognize that I know very little about what the finished film will be.

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Chicago and spent a day on the set of Man of Steel in Plano, Illinois, about an hour west of Chicago.  I was allowed to see some of the sets and locations and interview several of the major creative contributors.  But I signed an embargo forbidding me from sharing any of the information I had learned until Warner Brothers says I can, but I will go on record now to say I’m impressed so far.  I was able to see the costume up close as well, and I’m pretty sure the look on the film will be a different experience than a single still shot from over 100 feet away.

Given what little is known about the plot of the film, what are people even complaining about?  Well, in most cases there are naysayers jumping into the stream of Man of Steel news with wild assumptions that appear to be “fact” to the people maintaining them.  And in a couple of cases, I wish I could jump on and add my knowledge, but again, I signed an embargo and I can’t talk about it.  Can you begin to imagine how frustrating that is?

The Costume

The biggest complaint about the film so far is that Superman’s red outerwear briefs are gone.  Again, Jim Lee had the same idea when he redesigned the look in the comics this month.  The top argument against the briefs is that they were originally part of the costume in the 1930’s and looked great there, but it was time to update and modernize the look.

This far ahead of the release, the costume is probably the number one complaint, and it’s also the most valid.  Sure we weren’t supposed to see as much of the costume as we have by now since the only official picture was too dark to make a completely informed opinion, but thanks to fans spying just off set with their cameras, we have a full view of Superman in broad daylight.

Other complaints include the new stylization for the “S” symbol, the length of the cape because it reaches the ground, the lack of Superman’s classic spitcurl, and his … package.  I won’t say too much about that last part, but it appears Cavill is wearing some sort of athletic supporter to keep that part of his costume out of the limelight.  So I don’t even understand this complaint.

The Origin

Yes, this film will include Superman’s origin.  Jor-El, General Zod and Krypton all factor into the plot in a big way.  This was actually a point of contention long before this team of filmmakers began work.  Most people have seen the Christopher Reeve movie origin, and we just went through 10 years of the “Smallville” TV series.  People already know the origin.

But  that if it’s done in a new and interesting way?  What if the origin is folded into the main plot of the film organically where the story of Krypton is essential to the story on Earth.  However, the biggest mistake of this film would be putting the entire first half hour there.  If anything, I’d like to learn about Krypton at the same time Clark Kent does.  Again, we can’t know until the film is released.

Zod is the villain … again

This one is huge, and people stand by this no matter the evidence to the contrary.  First off, this will be a different Zod than what Terrence Stamp played in Superman: The Movie and Superman II.  When asked about Stamp’s portrayal, Michael Shannon said “I found his performance so powerful that I would be overwhelmed by it if I tried to incorporate it into what I’m doing.  I’m going down a different road with it.”

Based on what we know of the shooting schedule and Shannon’s own admission that almost all of his filming would be sets in Vancouver, it’s more likely that he’ll be a villain on Krypton, but have less to do with the story on Earth.  Again, this is speculation, but every time he or another film maker have been asked about Zod, the response sheds a little more light on the situation.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Perry White

Simply disliking that Laurence Fishburne is playing Perry White does not make a fan a racist, however the day after he was announced for the role, there were a number of truly racist comments about it all over the message boards on the internet.  It’s ok to dislike change, but this isn’t even a big one.  Perry is a second tier member of the primary set of Superman characters, so I view this sort of thing the same way I look at Judi Dench becoming M in the Bond films.  It’s different, but as always, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Future

As someone who interacts with Superman fans on a daily basis, I can say with certainty that we are an opinionated lot.  What we’ve seen and heard about the film so far probably equates to about 2% of what we will actually see when it hits the silver screen in 640 days.  Other than the people who dislike something about the costume, the complaints have little validity and often appear to be from people who just want to complain about something.

I won’t say that those people shouldn’t post about their opinions, or even that they’re wrong.  We just don’t know until we receive an official announcement and it’s a poor idea to produce a final judgment about a film that hasn’t been seen … by anyone.

Instead I’m saying to everyone else: don’t pay attention to the people who are complaining just to complain.

A REAL Complaint

I posted a message board thread on The Superman Homepage inviting fellow fans to discuss whatever they didn’t like about “Man of Steel” from what they knew so far.  And the biggest complaint was …

SPOILERS!  Even though most fan sites will warn about spoilers and photos so a reader is required to consciously want to know about it to see it, there’s still Facebook and other social media where anyone can post just about anything.  And they are.  It’s nearly impossible to avoid these spoilers if you are a fan.  Fortunately the filmmaking process is covered with a cloak of secrecy, so what little is known is just that, “little.”

What complaints do YOU have about the film so far and what do you think the filmmakers should be doing differently?

Categories: Features, Countdown Column
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