December 01, 2013

So, I finally saw Man of Steel

... and I thoroughly enjoyed it. When it first hit theatres, there was a big controversy over (and I don't think I'm giving anything away here, now) Superman killing General Zod at the climactic battle's end. I personally don't have an issue with how it all panned out, but then again I am not as versed in Superman lore as I am with that of many Marvel characters.

Nevertheless, it has been established that Supes has killed before, and that it caused him great torment afterwards. In Superman vol. 2 #22, Supes executed an alternate-universe Zod, along with his two cohorts (basically the same trio as that seen in the film Superman II) after they obliterated an alternate-Earth. Superman could take the chance that the trio would do the same to our planet, and so took the fatal action. I first learned about this incident in the TPB Superman vs. Aliens, of all things. Supes' despair over his actions was referenced because he was (at first) reluctant to kill any of the [Alien] xenomorphs he had encountered on a desolate asteroid.

In MoS, it is clear that Kal-El is in [spiritual] agony after snapping Zod's neck (see above), shown by his tears and bellowing scream following his fateful action. And just like the situation in the comcbook referenced above, Zod had vowed never to give up -- give up trying to destroy Earth -- as long as he lived. For me, killing Zod was the only alternative. There certainly wasn't any place to imprison him, given that the Phantom [Zone] space drives were all just destroyed.

There's certainly stuff to be nitpicky about in MoS, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I think it provides a more realistic situation with the [human] population coming to realize that there's a nigh-omnipotent alien living in their midst. Henry Cavill as Clark/Supes is excellent -- he's built like Hugh Jackman, and a better actor than Brandon Routh (Superman Returns). The distrust of the US government regarding Supes is very much like that of the truly excellent Superman: Secret Identity written by Kurt Busiek. In it, Supes just wants to be left alone, to live in peace and raise his family, and to help out humanity when he can. But the government hounds him, and he eventually has to come to an agreement with some higher-ups to have his persecution cease.

The Kryptonian backstory was very well done, with notable homages to the classic 1978 and 1981 films. I thought the planet's 100,000 year interstellar history was reminiscent of Zenn-La's -- home of the Norrin Radd, aka the Silver Surfer. Both civilizations journeyed the stars and planted their flag on thousands of worlds ... only to get bored and return home to live a risk-averse life of comfort and plenty.

I certainly look forward to the follow-up, which is supposed to feature both Superman and Batman.

Posted by Hube at December 1, 2013 11:15 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Excellent review, Hube. I haven't seen the film yet, but hopefully will soon.

Posted by: Carl at December 2, 2013 01:06 AM

I hope Hube doesn't mind but I'm just going to repost the comment I made at Doug's since... well it's what I'd say here anyway. (though I will have to issue minor correct to Hube because... REBOOT!) Also note that all quotes are quote quotes not sarcasm or scare quotes.

http://douglasernstblog.com/2013/09/25/david-goyer-is-right-the-superman-doesnt-kill-rule-hurts-the-character/#comment-21639

This is one area, and I’ve written comic books as well and this is where I disagree with some of my fellow comic book writers – ‘Superman doesn’t kill’. It’s a rule that exists outside of the narrative and I just don’t believe in rules like that. I believe when you’re writing film or television, you can’t rely on a crutch or rule that exists outside of the narrative of the film.

*deep breath* Obvious link first:
http://natewinchester.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/why-dont-superheroes-kill/

Of course I agree with Goyer here in that such things should be explained within the narrative, not solely via meta explanation.

Posted by: Nate at December 4, 2013 12:34 PM

Now… HISTORY LESSON!

So originally in the gold + silver ages, Superman just didn’t kill in comics with no real explanation. When John Byrne relaunched the series (into the bronze age I believe) he thought that the “no reason” wasn’t good enough so he wrote a story where Supes executes Zod & his two cronies to explain why Superman felt so bad about killing.
See: http://sayitbackwards.blogspot.com/2007/08/10-worst-moments-in-superman-history_07.html

(this is what Hube mentions in the original post, obviously)

In the latest Superman relaunch (last I checked) the creators have now given this thing where Superman “sees” peoples “auras” (or their life signatures or whatever) and he just doesn’t like seeing those things go dim. (yes, makes him even more Christ-like, nearly to an idolesque degree if you ask me, particularly if you’ve kept up with interpretations on the raising of Lazarus)

I will say this, I preferred MoS execution (desperate, no time for a 3rd option, have to act now) far more than the original Byrne story. (look at it at the link. LOOK AT IT!)

However… this excellent post by the always astute John C Wright says:

On the obvious level, if you put Superman in a situation where he either has to kill the bad guy or let innocent people be killed, this makes him look weak. It means he is no longer an angel of rescue with powers greater than Hercules, but is instead like a policeman or a soldier trapped in a world of grim necessity where he must soil his hands with an act of necessary evil. His idealism is shown to be bogus. He is just a man with powers, not the Superman.
Posted by: Nate at December 4, 2013 12:35 PM

Again, the modern audience might like seeing their Superman face a paradox even his great strength cannot solve, so that he must kill or let the innocent be killed. There is a certain gravity, even a dignity, to the portrayal of a mighty man impaled on the horns of a dilemma even his might is insufficient to allow him to escape. Certainly there is dramatic tension there which is lacking in any story where the superhuman character can always escape human suffering.

But this merely moves the puzzle deeper one step. The superhero story shows the ideas and ideals of the writer who presents it and the audience who accepts it more clearly than any other type of story, because it is pure fantasy, and pure heroism. If the audience applauds and rewards the tale, then the tale shows what the audience thinks a hero should be. So what is the ideal here?

Now in principle I agree with him. However…

Ok, as Mrs Hoyt likes to point out, while we all know the difference between fiction and reality, very often it is our fiction that influences how we see reality. (assuming I’m reading her right)

So now I’m torn. Like most people, I do love seeing the heroes triumph, I like clever solutions to problems. However the “take a third option” has become deeply DEEPLY ingrained in our culture by now (seriously, check examples). So much so that I believe it’s intrinsic belief explains everything about modern American politics. Proof? What is the most common and repeated point by rightist/Republicans/conservatives/etc? “We must make hard choices.” Or “Everything has a cost/price.” (and so on) What is the repeated point by leftists/Democrats/liberals/etc? “We can have it all.”

Now, fold those into modern stories. Who is the person who is always “inflicting” hard choices on the protagonist? The villain. The obstacle (in the case of “by the book” authority figures and such). Who is the person who always “takes a third option”? The hero. The protagonist. They don’t have to make a choice, they can save everybody, they can have it all.

Posted by: Nate at December 4, 2013 12:36 PM

And so what do we see in politics? The conservatives are seen as villains and evil, the liberals are seen as heroes and good.

So I’m torn when it comes to Superman. In principle, I agree with John, he should be the hero that always wins. But in practice, I think our modern society has become warped to the point they don’t believe there are ANY hard choices in reality. I think fantasy was usually geared towards giving people what they currently didn’t have. In the past, when every single day was nothing but unending hard choices, we liked to listen about heroes who could always find that option denied us. Unfortunately (or fortunately from a different perspective) our society has changed faster than our stories. Now we are generally bereft of hard choices, we rarely have them before us. Which means we don’t know how to deal with them when they stand before us or deny they exist at all. Maybe now we need stories of heroes who must face the hard choice instead of always escaping? Maybe we need to see Superman and his kind facing those things to remind us of things our ancestors always learned?

I don’t know and as a casual storyteller, I’m still figuring it out.

It’s at least one of the things I liked best about the show Supernatural. In that, even when they could find a third choice, it often sucked as much or worse than the other two. And sometimes, it didn’t work.

Anyway, here's my review of it. It's a good... first draft. Or the best elseworlds superman tale yet. ;)

Posted by: Nate at December 4, 2013 12:36 PM

I finally watched MOS. It's really good.

And Hube, did you know that at one point, DC Comics had claimed that Superman's city Metropolis was situated in your home state of Delaware, roughly in the Lewes area, with Gotham being Cape May Point, New Jersey? It's changed since then but thought you might be interested to know that.

Posted by: Carl at January 11, 2014 02:17 PM

Really? Wow ... where did read/hear that?

Posted by: Hube at January 11, 2014 05:00 PM

Apparently it's in a book called "Atlas of the DC Universe" and a few comics written by Paul Kupperberg in the late '70s reference it.

Posted by: Carl at January 11, 2014 08:59 PM

Hehe ... you remember which of our nemeses lives in "Metropolis," right?

Posted by: Hube at January 12, 2014 10:03 AM

LOL! Yep, good 'ol Perry "The Hypocrite." If Superman tried to capture him for committing a crime, he'd say, "Citation please!"

Posted by: Carl at January 13, 2014 01:24 AM