Superman postsSunday July 28, 2013
HISHE: How 'Man of Steel' Should Have Ended
This one's pretty good:
I particularly like:
- “You mean a randsom priest?”
- “Oh my gosh. Thousands of people might have died!”
- “Oh well, what're you gonna do about it? Snap my neck?”
In the above, Kal-El uses his brains rather than his brawn but then the movie's over in an hour. The dramatic problem is almost always how to lengthen the problem (believably) rather than solve it.
Here's my review of “Man of Steel.”
Did Superman Resurrect Patriotism? On Truth, Innocence, and the American Way
Was “Superman” the first patriotic movie I saw in a theater? I guess I’m asking myself more than you
I was born in 1963 and grew up in the age of the cinematic anti-hero—“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Billy Jack,” “Evel Knievel”—when patriotism was almost always seen as the last refuge of scoundrels. On TV’s “M*A*S*H” it was used by Frank Burns and Col. Flagg as an excuse for spying and incorrigible behavior. In the movies, rich men justified corrupt business practices by wrapping themselves in the flag. Sure, Apollo Creed came into the boxing ring in “Rocky” dressed as Uncle Sam, and wearing stars-and-stripes boxing trunks, but it felt ironic. The flag meant Nixon back then. It meant Vietnam. People who waved it were squares and fools and con artists.
Then Superman embraced it. “I’m here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way,” he told Lois. Moviegoers in December 1978 laughed out loud at that line. So corny! Their laughter drowned out Lois’ response, which was was theirs:
Lois (snorting): You’re gonna end up fighting every elected official in the country!
By the second movie, Superman, the superpatriot, literally carries the American flag to the White House. A year after that, Rocky wears Apollo’s stars-and-stripes trunks himself, inironically, in “Rocky III,” and again in “Rocky IV,” where he also drapes himself in the American flag. Suddenly everyone was draping themselves in the flag: Stallone, Olympic athletes, politicians. Suddenly it became problematic not to wear the American flag. Anyone who didn’t was suspect.
Obviously a lot of factors went into this profound cultural and political shift. In 1979, with long gas lines and Americans held hostage (or America Held Hostage, as ABC News put it), it felt like the world was spitting in our face. Working-class jobs were disappearing and people felt powerless. The U.S. Olympic hockey team, college kids and massive underdogs, upset the mighty Soviet machine in February 1980 before a home crowd, chanting “USA! USA!,” and it felt good to chant that. Apparently it felt good to vote for Ronald Reagan, too. A majority of voters did that. Twice.
But did some part of it begin with Superman saying he was going to fight for truth, justice and the American way?
Here’s director Richard Donner in the 1980 TV documentary, “The Making of Superman: The Movie,” talking about the impact the character had on him:
He’s a lot of what America once was a long time ago. I’m a very liberal human being in my philosophies and my politics. And I find myself, in an odd sort of way, looking and respecting the conservative attitude of what Superman stands for now. Because I think I see a lot of my philosphies in application now and I’m not very happy with them. And I almost wish I could go back to what once was, and what America once was.
I almost wish I could go back to what once was, and what America once was. That line may be the single best description of post-1980 political theater that I’ve read.
According to Christopher Reeve in the same documentary, this fact, this going back to what American once was, was the most difficult part of creating “Superman”:
We all know Superman can leap over tall buildings but the question is could he leap over the generation gap since those early Siegel and Schuster days. We wanted to know if a man from the innocent ‘30s could survive in the post-Waterage ‘70s.
It’s instructive to see how they did this. How did Superman, as a character, go back to what America once was? In a way, he never left it.
He was raised in Smallville, Kansas, in the 1950s, then disppeared for 12 years of education under Jor-El, before turning up in Metropolis in 1978. This means—and this is no small cultural feat—he leaped over the 1960s in a single bound. He avoided our internal conflicts over the Vietnam War, black power, Watergate. He avoided the assassinations of MLK and RFK. He didn’t see the American myth die, or at least reassemble itself into multicultural pieces. He didn’t recognize the limits of American power because he himself had none.
Eventually the movies themselves went back to what American once was. During the Easy Rider/Raging Bull decade, roughly 1967 to 1977, our most popular movies were disaster-ridden (a ship overturned, a tower burned) and dark (the devil was in a Sicilian family, or a little girl, or a great white shark). Our heroes and anti-heroes didn’t end well. Bonnie and Clyde died. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died. Wyatt and Billy died. Ratso Rizzo died. Jenny died. Randle Patrick McMurphy had a lobotomy and then died.
Then Rocky Balboa went the distance. “Rocky” was called a sleeper hit because the lead was unknown and no one expected it to be a success, but movie audiences loved it. Critics at the time wrote that it reminded them of a Frank Capra movie. It began in the gritty ‘70s, with poverty, gangsters and the down and out, but leaped back to the Capraesque ‘40s for its happy ending. It won best picture and was the No. 1 box-office hit of 1976.
Then George Lucas leaped back even further. Not to “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far way,” but to the movie serials of the ‘30s. “Star Wars” was a better version of these heroic cliffhanger fables of good and evil, and it was the No. 1 box-office hit of 1977. “Raiders of the Lost Ark, an even more obvious update, was the No. 1 box-office hit of 1981. Then we were off to the races.
It’s kind of a shock to rewatch all of the Christopher Reeve/Superman movies, as I did recently, because you see this cultural and cinematic shift take place. “Superman: The Movie” is set in the gritty world of the 1970s, where journalism matters; “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” is set in the business-oriented, hostile-takeover world of the 1980s, in which journalism is reduced to a Page-Six joke. In the first movie, it felt innovative that the star of the film actually lifted weights to become its central character. By the fourth movie, we were all lifting weights. We were all going to the gym. Our bodies got hard while our minds got soft.
One always wonders how much the cultural affects the political, and to what extent our cinematic wish-fulfillment fantasies creep into politics. The modern GOP certainly feels like a Hollywood studio of yore, offering up the great American myth in the manner of Louis B. Mayer. It’s morning in America of a kindler gentler nation in which no child gets left behind and we put country first and our enemies are wanted dead or alive. Mitt Romney’s campaign slogan, “Believe in America,” actually comes close to the first line of “The Godfather,” “I believe in America,” which the Italian barber tells Don Corleone. The barber meant it when he said it but the movie didn’t. Back in 1972, we knew there was an underside to the American myth. To get ahead, sometimes you had to get your hands dirty. Or bloody.
We ignore that underside now. We have a forced innocence now. Here’s Reeve again in that 1980 TV documentary explaining Superman:
He’s got all these powers, but he’s got the kind of maturity—or he’s got the innocence, really, to look at the world very, very simply. And that’s what makes him so different. When he says, “I’m here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way,” everyone goes [coughs into hand behind a sly, knowing smile]. You know? But he’s not kidding.
Innocence is the key word here. It’s positive in Reeve’s explanation but it reminds me of this line from James Baldwin’s essay, “Stranger in the Village”:
Anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.
Baldwin wrote that line in the late 1950s, I first read it in the late 1980s, but for most of my adult life it’s not only felt like the truth; it’s felt like the American way.
SLIDESHOW Essay: An Open Letter to Clark Kent
SLIDESHOW: Let’s start with a simple question: What do you call yourself when no one’s around? Kal? Clark? Superman? I can’t imagine you’d call yourself “Superman,” as in, “C’mon, Superman, get your head out of your ass.” You might have given yourself that immodest name in the beginning, back in June 1938 when you could only leap 1/8 of a mile, but you’re no longer that person. You’ve been corporatized and retconned and rebooted dozens of times since. Now others give you that name. The shield on your chest is Kryptonian—the family crest or the word “hope”—but it looks like our “S,” so they extrapolate and come up “Superman.” It might be a nickname you don’t even like—like Stinky. It might even embarrass you. So … who are you? Clark? Superman? Kal? Stinky? (Screenshot from “Atom Man vs. Superman,” 1950)
This wasn’t much of a question in your early years. We knew who you were because it was announced before every episode of the radio and TV series: “Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!” Get that? Disguised as Clark Kent. Who’s weak and cowardly and wears glasses. But all of that is part of the disguise. Because it’s not who you are. (Clark Kent in the opening of the Fleischer Studios “Superman” cartoons.)
Yet you started out as Clark. We all know what. That was John Byrne’s argument back in 1986 when he decided that, no, Clark was the real person and Superman the disguise. Just as Bruce Wayne was the real person and Batman the disguise. Except … Well, in many ways, Bruce, the frivolous playboy, isn’t who he is at all. That life has been given over to revenge, and the representation of that revenge wears a cape and a cowl. He’s been more Batman than Bruce since that night in the alley. (Clark (Jeffrey Silver) having a heart-to-heart with his mother (Frances Morris) in the first episode of the “Adventures of Superman” TV series, 1952)
Blame Don Diego de la Vega for the dilemma. No, further back. Blame Sir Percy Blakeney. Both Diego and Percy were new kids in town, NKOB, and so could alter their personalities to deflect attention away from their attempt to secure justice as, respectively, Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel. They could show up, pretend to be foppish and not at all courageous, and no one was there to say, “Dude, why are you suddenly acting so foppish? That’s not you.” (Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent in “Superman III,” 1983)
Is that how it happened with you? You grew up in Smallville, Kansas, the adopted son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, or Eben and Sarah Kent, and you just acted the way you acted. (Which was how exactly?) Then you went to Metropolis, where you could be whoever you wanted to be. Most of us use this opportunity to put on a better face but you did the opposite. You put on glasses, you acted the coward, you stumbled and bumbled. Me? Superman? Why, I can barely walk down the street. It was a conscious decision. (Clark stumbles on the pier in the Ruby-Spears “Superman” cartoon, 1988)
That’s what Christopher Reeve suggested. In 1978, in the hubub before “Superman: The Movie” was released, he told The New York Times, “I see Clark as a deliberate put-on by Superman. Clark’s a tongue-in-cheek impression of who we are. There’s some of him in all of us. I have a great deal of affection for him—it’s not just that he can’t get the girl, he can’t get the taxi.” (Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Clark and Lois in “Superman: The Movie,” 1978)
Or did it come about organically? Maybe you started acting mild-mannered way back in Smallville because you knew what would happen if didn't; if you blew your top. What disasters you would cause. Maybe you nearly caused such a disaster. Maybe you did cause one. I mean, who wouldn’t be mild-mannered if they could destroy the planet when they lost their temper? (George Reeves' Clark losing his temper in “Superman and the Mole Men,” 1951)
Maybe, too, in Metropolis, when you began to duck out to become Superman, others noticed and came to the wrong conclusion. As soon as trouble brewed, Clark retreated. What a coward! Reputations are established early and hard to shake, and maybe you decided you didn’t want to shake this one because it was ultimately beneficial. It made excuses for your absence so you wouldn’t have to. (Perry, Lois and Clark in “The New Adventures of Superman,” 1966)
Or does it go deeper? Maybe you began to realize that the cowardly persona was a great way to attract the bullies of the world. “The thing you fear the most will meet you halfway,” Victoria Williams once sang, and maybe you realized the truth of this, and feigned fear to attract the world’s predators. They smelled fear, licked their lips, and came out of the shadows to get you. And that’s when you got them. (Tom Welling as Clark in the premiere episode of “Smallville,” 2001)
That’s an explanation anyway. But the real explanation is much simpler and sadder. We need you to be mild mannered. We need you to be a coward. We need you to be like us so that when you turn into him, we can be thrilled. John Byrne got this wrong. So did George Reeves, who played you like Superman in a suit and fedora. The joy you give is in the idea that underneath the weak man, the plain man, is the super man. It allows every weak and plain man, which is most of us, to think, “Maybe ... Maybe ...” You are our ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy. (Clark turns into Superman in “Last Son of Krypton,” 1996)
We still get a thrill out of it. In the new movie, when the dude in the bar starts messing with you, even though you’re bearded and butch and don’t exactly look like a pushover, it’s thrilling to watch. Unlike when someone messes with us, we get to think, as we sit there in the dark with our tub of popcorn, “You’re messing with the wrong motherfucker, motherfucker!” We get to pretend the opposite of what you pretend. We pretend we’re brave. (Henry Cavill as itinerant Clark in “Man of Steel,” 2013)
But … a reporter? For The Daily Planet? In this day and age? The rationale for the gig was always so you could be close to the news; so you could hear about fires breaking out and crimes being committed and rush to stop them. You use that excuse again in the new movie. But, dude, it’s 2013. You don’t need The Daily Planet, all you need is wi-fi. All you need is a smartphone. All you need is you. (Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent in “Superman,” the serial, 1948)
I keep going back to that scene in “Superman Returns” when you're floating over Metropolis with Lois and you ask her what she hears. She says “Nothing” and you say, “I hear everything.” Wow. Everything. Good line. It lets us know the burden of being you. But the follow-up is problematic. “So wait… if you hear everything … why ever be Clark Kent? Why wait for the story to break? Why not save the person crying for help right now? Why not save the people crying for help right now?” (Brandon Routh as Clark in “Superman Returns,” 2006)
In your very first stories, Jerry Siegel had you join the San Monte army to teach a war profiteer a lesson. You became a miner to teach a mine operator a lesson. You joined the circus to save the circus. You became a super-fugitive from a chain gang. You became part of the oppressed to champion them. So why not do this again? (A panel from Action Comics No. 1, June 1938)
Don't be Clark Kent, reporter. Disguise yourself as a member of an oppressed group, then emerge at an opportune moment as Superman. Word would spread: Don’t attack these guys because one of them is really Superman. Then you could move on to the next group. It would be like the scene in “Spartacus,” where, one by one, men stand and say: “I am Spartacus.” Except instead of the many pretending to be the one (to protect the one), you would be the one pretending to be the many (to protect the many). “I am Superman,“ you could say to the tyrants of the world. ”And I can do anything.” (Clark Kent after being beaten up in a diner in “Superman II,” 1981)
It's a thought anyway. It might not even be a good thought. To be honest, Clark, I wouldn’t want to lose you. In the end, you’re still the reason for the thrill. Superman would be a rather dull boy without you. (“The New Adventures of Superman,” 1966)
Ranking Every Superman Movie Ever Made
I did it with the Batman movies so I figured I'd do it with the Superman movies, too. To be honest, I planned on doing it before “Man of Steel” opened last Friday but time got away from me, and unlike some folks, or at least one super folk, I can't turn back time.
So here it is: my ranking (worst to first) of every Superman movie ever made. Feel free to add yours in the comments field.
The principles (particularly Lois and Jimmy) look too old for their parts, while the subplots (aerobics classes and hostile takeovers) remind us of everything we hated about the '80s. The story? Awful. Spurred by an annoying kid, Superman unilaterally decides to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and does, but because Lex Luthor places a Superman hair and a gold suit in one of the rocket capsules, a villain, Nuclear Man, emerges, with whom he battles all over the heavily dropshadowed globe. But the chief villains in the movie are its producers, Monahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the cheap bastards who bought the rights to Superman but fearing bankruptcy slashed the budget from $40 million to $17 million, losing great technicians in the process. As a result, big scenes became small scenes. The global became local. A grand vision was replaced by the rinky-dink. It looked fake ... fake ... fake. Watching it, you won’t believe that you once believed that a man could fly.
Blue eyebeams are for repairing the Great Wall of China.
The theme of small-town intolerance is particularly fascinating here since Superman himself is rather intolerant. If Kirk Alyn played Superman with wide-eyed bombast, George Reeves takes it down a notch. Or 10. For decades, Reeves’ was considered the touchstone performance, the one and true Superman, but I was never a fan, and I’m even less of one now. Reeves’ indifference to the role permeates the character. His Clark Kent is strong and smug, his Superman vaguely disgusted and contempuous. He messes with both the first and second amendments: convincing Lois not to publish a story and (in a hilarious scene) disarming an entire Texas town. “You saved my life,” the movie's chief villain says in amazement at one point. “That’s more than you deserve,” Superman sneers back. It's a dry little movie filmed in a dry little backlot. Its main action consists of a midget in bald wig and furry suit being pursued over nondescript brush and hills. The whole thing makes me vaguely nauseous.
A half hour of this.
We get gags. We get evil Superman. We get an early ‘80s version of what computer programming is like. (Psst: Magic.) But most of all we get Richard Pryor doing unfunny bits. Here he does drunk, here he does “Patton,” here he does the bland white-guy voice. He plays at Superman, with a tablecloth as his cape, then skis off a high-rise and walks away, looking, not astonished at surviving a 40-story fall, but simply embarrassed. He looks embarrassed throughout. He should. Think of everything they could’ve done with this movie and look at what they did. Look at what they did to my boy.
I'm with Vaughn here.
“Atom Man vs. Superman” feels cheaper than “Superman” (1948), the previous Kirk Alyn serial. We get more stock footage: floods, fires, etc. We get redos from the first serial: Clark Kent ducking behind a file cabinet and emerging, a second later, to a triumphant blast of music, as Superman. One episode, about Superman's origins on Krypton, is essentially the entire first episode of the first serial retold. Meanwhile, the titular Atom Man, Luthor's secret identity, is a terrifying figure in a … Naw. It looks like they took a jug, cut in eyeholes and a mouthhole, sprinkled on glitter, and plunked it on Lyle Talbot’s poor head. You know the scene in “Duck Soup” where Groucho gets his head stuck in a pitcher and Harpo draws a Groucho face on it? Like that. On the plus side, in Chapters 14 and 15, Superman beats Slim Pickens to the punch by riding a nuclear missle out to sea. Yee ... ha?
Is that a nuclear missile between your legs or are you just happy to see me?
Remember “This is a job ... FOR SUPERMAN”? Well, this is a Superman who doesn't do his job. He strolls into The Daily Planet in the middle of the day, then spends most of the movie clumsily flirting with, revealing his secret identity to, and wining and dining Lois Lane. At the Fortress of Solitude, he actually gives up his superpowers for her and the two sleep together in a silver bed that seems stolen from Andy Gibb’s 1970s pad. Meanwhile people are dying and the President of the United States (in a bad toupee) is kneeling before Zod. How can we not hate him at this moment? The movie is set up so we hate Superman. Too late he remembers what his job is and begs for it back. “FATHERRRRRRRR!” he cries. But father is in litigation with the movie's producers, the Salkinds, who didn't want to pay him 11%. They also fired the first movie's great director, Richard Donner, for this movie's crappy director, Richard Lester. Apparently they didn't like a man doing his job.
Superman and Lois in Andy Gibbs' bed. He just wants to be her everything.
The plot is typical of the serial genre. The Spider Lady, who never once leaves her mountainside lair, tries to get the mysterious reducer ray, “a force more powerful even than the atomic bomb!” Basically it’s a big ray gun. First she tries to steal it. No go. Then she employs Dr. Hackett, “a brilliant scientist with a warped mind,” who invents a kind of kryptonite gun. That doesn’t work, either. Then she kidnaps Dr. Graham, the original inventor, and forces him to create a second reducer ray. He refuses. After he’s tortured, he complies. But he needs “mono chromite.” It takes a few chapters to get that, at which point he refuses again. So he’s hypnotized. But now he needs an “activator tube” from Metropolis U. Blah blah blah. By Chapter 14, the reducer ray finally works. Spider Lady’s first target? Her own men in jail. Her second target? The Daily Planet building. At 3:00. By then, though, everyone converges on her lair: Jimmy, Lois and eventually ... Superman, When the Spider Lady tries to run away, she’s electrocuted by her own spiderweb. Crime don’t pay, kids.
Superman watches the Spider Lady fry in 1948's “Superman” serial, with Lois and Jimmy behind him.
The best part of the Donner cut is how they open the movie. In Lester’s version, Clark Kent strolls into The Daily Planet office at midday and you wind up wondering why Clark isn’t at work, why he doesn’t know about the terrorists, and why he keeps detonating nukes in space when his mother has already warned him against it in those Kryptonian lesson plans. Here’s what Donner does. Lois sees Clark across the room, and draws a suit, glasses, and a fedora on a photo of Superman. Wah-lah! She ain't dumb. And what does she do with her suspicions? She teases him. Perry calls Lois and Clark into his office and gives them an assignment to pose as a honeymoon couple at Niagra Falls. She’s game, he’s worried. She talks about flying up there and pokes him in the ribs. “You know, fly?” she says, then flaps her hands like a bird, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker would do eight years later. Then she opens a window and falls out. “You won’t let me die, Superman!” she cries. He doesn’t. But he doesn't reveal his identity, either. It’s fun. It’s clever. It’s sexy. It’s got pizzazz. It’s better than any scene in Lester’s version. And it wound up on his cutting-room floor. You watch it and want to call Superman. Because we wuz robbed.
Supercute. And on the cutting room floor in the Lester version.
Too young. Brandon Routh is actually several years older than Christopher Reeve was when he put on the cape; he just looks younger. But the Lois Lane casting is worse. Kate Bosworth was 22 when they filmed this. And she has a 5-year-old? From a consummation six years earlier? That’s some awkward math. Kidder and Reeve were adults in a gritty adult world—New York in the 1970s—but these two look like kids and act like kids. Why the world doesn’t need Superman? Really, Lois? She assumes her pain is the world’s, her resentments ours. And he can’t get past the fact that she wrote the article? That she was angry that he left for five years without a word? What is he—a Vulcan? Even so, the movie has some poignant moments. It brings cohesion to the whole Donner/Singer enterprise. Superman travels to Krypton to discover he's its last son, then travels back to Earth to find out he isn’t. He goes searching for Krypton but finds it in his own backyard.
This headline says it all. Other Daily Planet headlines available here.
Divide this movie into changes that are good and changes that are bad. For me, the good changes to the Superman mythos include: 1) wanderlust, bearded Clark; 2) people freaking when Supes first shows up; and 3) Lois Lane figuring out his secret identity before anyone else knows he even exists. The bad changes include: 1) the adventures of Jor-El, free-thinking scientist; 2) the codex; 3) the whole Kryptonian natural childbirth movement. And the ending? Which everyone is debating? Yes, but not for the reasons others say. I'm just bummed Superman couldn't figure out a smarter way to defeat Zod. “Mind over muscle, Superman?” Lex Luthor said in the first Chris Reeve movie. Here, it's muscle over mind. Again.
Henry Cavill's Superman: Not exactly greeted with cheers from the U.S. military.
Director Richard Donner’s watchword during production was “verisimilitude,” which begins and ends with Christopher Reeve. He’s the greatest superhero casting ever. He’s not only comic-book handsome, he’s an actor. He makes the worst secret identity ever—I’ll put on these glasses and no one will tell—believable. Here’s creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz on what happened when Reeve finally got his screen test:
He hopped off the balcony and said, “Good evening, Miss Lane.” And [cinematographer] Geoffrey Unsworth looked over at me and went [makes impressed face]. Because the tone was just right. He went through the test and we just knew we had him.
The movie was years ahead of its time. It was Kryptonian in its advancement. It took another 11 years before we got Tim Burton’s “Batman” and another 11 years after that to get to Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Twenty-two years: an entire generation. Back in the mid-1970s, Hollywood, enamored of disaster and devil movies, didn’t think much of superhero movies. But it only lacked the light to show it the way.
SLIDESHOW: A History of Superman Onscreen
SLIDESHOW INTRO: According to IMDb.com, as of June 14, 2013, there have been 175 various incarnations of the Man of Steel. But these include Uljas Kandolin in “Kiinni on ja pysyy” (1955), Ronald Wong in “97 goo waak jai: Jin mo bat sing” (1997), all of the web-specific HISHE stuff, but not, believe it or not, Henry Cavill (above). In “Man of Steel” (2013), his character is simply called Clark Kent/Kal-El, so IMDb's algorithms fail to make the connection. Oh, IMDb. When will you learn? (BTW: What are the IMDb parameters for web-specific inclusion? A certain number of YouTube hits? A certain place in the cultural firmament? Or do you just have to ask?) What follows is a slideshow of 17 of the better-known cinematic incarnations of the Man of Steel, including Cavill, but not Kandolin and Wong. They will have to wait. Admittedly, though, the dude on the next slide wasn't exactly cinematic ...
1940: At the 1939-40 New York World's Fair (for which, yes, read Doctorow's novel), actor Ray Middleton was hired to play the Man of Tomrrow at a special Superman Day. This was the first time a man had ever played Superman and he doesn't look bad for a first go. My favorite part of the costume is the written-out explanation above the “S” symbol. Image that. A time when you had to explain the name of the man in cape and strong-man undies with an “S” on his chest. Middleton would never play the Man of Steel on screen but he did play a founding father in the screen version of “1776,” as well as various roles on “M*A*S*H,” “Charlie's Angels” and “Too Close for Comfort,” before his death in 1984.
1941: A year later, the Fleischer Studios, which had created Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons in the 1930s, put together 17 Superman shorts that still hold up. The animation is much better than the low-budget, sketchy stuff of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, for example. Plus Lois is tough, and almost every job is a job ... (drop an octave) ... FOR SUPERMAN. As in the radio series, Superman is voiced by Bud Collyer.
1948-1950: Finally! After 10 years, a live-action version of Superman appeared onscreen. Kirk Alyn has a dancer’s lightness to him and a perpetual gee-whiz expression on his face, as if he too is amazed by the amazing things he can do. He also has an early version of the spitcurl. Yes, at times, particularly employing his x-ray vision, he looks slightly crazed. Plus he’s undone, certainly to modern eyes, by the lack of special effects. But to me Alyn's enthusiasm makes up for these other deficits.
1951-1958: George Reeves was the second actor to play Superman on screen, and he lost both the spitcurl and the enthusiasm. Reeves’ indifference to the role permeates the character. Plus he makes very little distinction between Clark and Superman. Basically he's less deus ex machina than admonishing father, but he does provide one of my favorite moments in the Superman oeuvre: When the defender of truth, justice and the American way tells a Texas mob, “Obviously none of you can be trusted with guns. So I’m going to take them away from you.” Then he does just that. Play the scene, from “Superman and the Mole Men,” for your favorite NRA member.
1966-69: In the intro to Filmations' “The New Adventures of Superman,” Superman fights for “Truth, justice and freedom” (so no “American way”), but make no miskae: by now he's as muscle-bound as his adopted country. He also seems to forget he's adopted. At one point in the first episode, “The Force Phantom,” he says, “It looks like we have visitors from space. OK, I’ll be a one-man welcome committee!” Psst. Dude. YOU'RE a visitor from space. A few villains from the comics show up, including Lex Luthor and Brainiac, but mostly Supes battles aliens from space, aliens underwater, and various giant monsters. The voice was once again provided by Bud Collyer.
1966: That's Bob Holliday on the Broadway stage in “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!” which ran for 129 performances in 1966. But despite the success of a campy Batman that year, a campy Superman didn't really take off. Jack Cassidy, father of David and Shaun, starred as the villainouse Max Mencken, a fellow reporter who wants to bed Lois and unmask Superman.
1973-74: My main memory of “Superfriends” is the work Superman went through to stop a train in the first episode. In the comic books, which I was reading regularly at this point (I was 10), there was a scene in which a subway is about to run over a commuter and Superman stops it. “One foot!” an admiring observor declares. “Did you see that? He stopped the train with one foot!” That was my Superman. This guy who has to struggle to stop a train? What's the point? As was true of many superserious early 1970s cartoons, each episode revolved around an issue of the day: the energy crisis, pollution, etc. “Marvin,” Batman says, “don't forget not everyone has super-strength. But everyone has a brain.” Yes, Batman. Yes, they do.
1975: Poor David Wilson. You know that Seinfeld bit where Jerry talks up the lousy Superman outfit he wore for Halloween? How it hangs off his body in unflattering ways? It looks like Wilson's wearing it for the Feb. 1975 TV adaptation of “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It' Superman!” Even Kirk Alyn 30 years earlier was better outfitted. But no matter. We were about to get the greatest Superman ever ...
1978-87: Look at that. You couldn't draw a better Superman. One imagines the disaster if one of the producer’s original choices—Robert Redford or James Caan—had gotten the role. Instead Superman came to us, as he should, fresh-faced and innocent. Christopher Reeve is shockingly handsome, with a jawline straight out of the comic books, and yet he’s actor enough to make us believe in the worst secret-identity subterfuge ever. He’s also actor enough to say lines like “I’m here to fight for truth, justice and the American way,” make them work, and, at the same time, through this boy-scout persona, flirt with Lois Lane.
1988: The Ruby-Spears Superman Saturday morning cartoons, which died a quick death, take their cue from the “Superman” movies so much they even make Superman look a little like Christopher Reeve, who had become the standard.
1993: For some reason, Dean Cain's Superman lost the spitcurl in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” It's Clark who's now the hottie, so it's Clark whose hair dangles like a man of action. Odder still: Clark shows up in Metropolis without having conceived of the notion of Superman, let alone the maskless costume, yet Clark is already wearing glasses. Why? He's wearing his disguise even though he doesn't have anything to be disguised from.
1996-2000: In 1986, John Byrne rebooted the Superman franchise in DC Comics. Ten years later, Warner Bros. Animation produced a cartoon version of the reboot, with Tim Daly as the Man of Steel and Dana Dulaney as Lois Lane. Superman's powers have been clipped a bit (he can't toss around planets like medicine balls), his Clark Kent is no meek, mild-mannered man, and Lex Luthor is a billionaire industrialist rather than an evil scientist. Oh, and Jimmy Olsen rides a skateboard. Kowabunga, dude.
1999: Superman's No. 1 fan Jerry Seinfeld appeared in several ads in which he palled around with Supes as if the Man of Steel were a gentler, and gentiler, version of Larry David. They weren't bad.
2001-2011: In 1989, a meteor shower struck Smallville, USA, bringing with it Kryptonite, a rocket ship, and a small baby. That baby grew into Tom Welling in one of the more imaginative reboots of the Superman franchise. Here, Supes develops his powers gradually, in adolescence. Here, he learns of his true origins gradually. Everything is gradual. We're interested in the becoming, not the become. The theme song was called “Somebody Save Me,” but it always felt like the cry was issuing from Clark himself, who needed saving from all of that adolescent angst.
2006: You have to admire the attempt. We live in a throwaway culture but in 2006 director Bryan Singer became involved in the greatest recycling project in movie history: a continuation of the Christopher Reeve/Superman movies that jettisons the awful ’83 Richard Pryor vehicle and the ’87 Golan and Globus abomination, and adds intrigue and depth to where we left off in 1981. It didn't quite work, the Jesus metaphor was overdone, and Brandon Routh looked too young to play Superman; but he wasn't bad. Plans for a sequel were scuttled when the movie did only so-so at the box office.
2010: These days there are so many one-offs in the comic books, and direct-to-video Warner Bros. cartoons, that it's tough to keep up with them all. The above image is from “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse,” which involves the rebooted introduction of Kara, Superman's cousin, AKA Supergirl. Here's a line from the Wiki explanation of the plot: “Superman encounters Darkseid, who sets the brainwashed Kara on him. Kara pummels Superman while Darkseid watches, until Batman confronts Darkseid and informs him that he has activated the Hell Spores, all of which will destroy Apokolips.” Makes one long for the simplicity of Mr. Mxyzptlk.
2013: He's got no spitcurl, he's British, but Henry Cavill makes a helluva Superman in David S. Goyer's and Zack Snyder's reboot, “Man of Steel,” which opened this weekend. Reactions about the movie have been mixed, from both non-fans and fanboys alike, but Cavill is mostly getting praise. He exudes a lonely decency as Clark and a steely determination as Superman. My review.
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): Up up and away.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
I'll be going tomorrow morning. I know. Thank God, right? A few folks have complained about how deep up Superman's ass I've been during the last few months. A few more think because I've invested this much time on the subject I have a stake in whether “Man of Steel” works. I don't. I want it to be good, of course, but I invested the time for the historical interest more than anything. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, well, why did they get Zack Snyder to direct? That's my thought.
June 14th. Tomorrow for the Man of Tomorrow.
SLIDESHOW: Lex Luthor, The Badness and the Baldness
SLIDESHOW: For being the greatest villain of the Superman universe, Lex Luthor, at least in his Silver Age incarnation, had the worst reason for turning evil. It's all about hair follicles. Even as a kid I didn't get it. “But Superboy saved him,” I always thought. “He'd be dead if it wasn't for Superboy.” On the other hand, who else can Superman turn to for a good battle? Brainiac? Like a green, computerized Luthor. Bizarro? Absurd. The Japateurs? Superman has always had a villain problem and the unintentional winner of this dilemma has been Lex Luthor.
1950: Lex Luthor first appeared onscreen in “Atom Man vs. Superman” (1950), played by veteran actor Lyle Talbot, who had recently finished a stint as Commissioner Gordon in 1949's “Batman and Robin” serial, and was about to appear in some of the worst movies ever made: Ed Wood's “Glen or Glenda?,” “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” etc. Apparently in the 1930s, Talbot was also instrumental in starting the Screen Actors Guild. His Luthor is even-keeled, never raises his voice. But for much of the movie he appears ...
... like this. That's the titular Atom Man on the right, which, to producers at the beginning of the atomic age, must have sounded cooler than “Lex Luthor.” Besides, the plot involves Luthor pretending to go straight by buying a TV studio. So he needs a secret identity. But that's the best he can do? A glitter tub with transmitter ears? And does anyone ever wonder why someone who can invent a transporter beam 16 years before “Star Trek,” can discover the Phantom Zone 11 years before DC Comics, and can create everything from flying saucers to rocket ships to synthetic kryptonite, why such a person needs to steal jewelry?
1966: Jackson Beck, the voice of Bluto in the classic “Popeye” cartoons, and narrator of both “Adventures of Superman” on the radio (“Faster than a speeding bullet!” etc.) and Woody Allen's great mocumentary “Take the Money and Run,” became the second actor to take on LL, in Fimation's “The New Adventures of Superman.” Initially he required help from magicians like Merlin; but increasingly he relied on his own evil genius.
1978: Ah, what a joy! Gene Hackman took the role because Brando took the role of Jor-El, but Hackman got all the good lines. “It's amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving.” “Otis, it isn't that I don't trust you …. I don't trust you, Otis. What did you do?” “That's krytponite, Superman. Little souvenir from the old hometown? I spared no expense to make you feel right at home.” At the same time, Hackman refused to do what Brando had done in “Apocalypse Now”: shave his head. So they styled his hair as if he were wearing many different toupees. His Lex was amused and slippery, with just a hint of evil. He's the funniest part of the movie.
And he does show off his pate at the end. Here, above, he's serving notice. To you. That these walls ...
1988: In 1986, John Byrne rebooted Lex Luthor as less evil scientist than worse-than-average CEO. This allows Luthor the cover from which to, you know, machinate. He wouldn't wind up behind prison after every episode because CEOs don't go to prison. A brilliant commentary on our culture. The Lex Luthor of Ruby-Spears' Superman (above) was the first adaptation to follow this conceit. Voiced by Michael Bell, who was also the voice of the Parkay margarine tub in commercials of the era, this Lex also has a fondess for milkshakes.
1993: John Shea's Lex Luthor, in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” was also a CEO, who perennially battled Superman for control of Metropolis and the affection of Teri Hatcher's Lois Lane. He almost won the latter battle. In the premiere episode above, Luthor is enjoying a cigar by the fireplace when he stops to stare down a rattlesnake. I know.
1996: The first episode of “Lois & Clark” ended with a tete-a-tete between Superman and Luthor outside Luthor's office and “Superman: The Last Son of Krypton” does the same. Luthor is voiced by Clancy Brown, a good actor doomed to be forever known as Capt. Hadley, the sadistic prison guard of “Shawshank Redemption.”
2001: “Smallville”'s Lex, Michael Rosenbaum, loses his hair in the kryptonian meteor shower that pummels Smallville but becomes friends with Clark Kent, who saves his life in the first episode. This is a Lex with Daddy issues: a spoiled son who grows into his evil genius to become ... doesn't he become POTUS? Eventually? Let me know, fans of “Smallville.” Rosenbaum, by the way, was the best actor on the series.
2006: “Superman Returns” was less reboot than grand recycling effort on the part of Bryan Singer. He was continuing the great Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve movies. But Kevin Spacey, above, is more terrifying, and much less funny, than Gene Hackman's Lex ever was. He reveled in the badness and in the baldness. If Hackman's Lex only appeared once without toupee (at the end), Spacey's Luthor only appeared once with toupee (at the beginning). By the way: Between them? The two actors have four Academy Awards. That's: Luthor 4, Superman 0, if you're keeping score.
The Henchmen: “Why is the most brilliantly diabolitical leader of our time surrounding himself with total nincompoops?”If Luthor's evil genius has always been recognized, his choice of henchmen and henchwomen has generally been suspect—although the first, Carl (Rusty Westcoatt), may have been thin-moustached but was efficient. Westcoatt also played henchmen in the first “Superman” serial as well as “Batman and Robin” in 1949.
1966: In Filmations' Saturday morning cartoon, Lex's henchman is Blinky, who is good at cackling. Dig the crazy highwaters on Lex.
1978: Most people go through their entire lives without having the kind of chemistry with anyone that Gene Hackman (as Luthor) had with Ned Beatty (as Otis) in “Superman: The Movie.” What more could anyone ask?
1987: By 1987, that role was reduced to Lex's nephew, Lenny, played by Jon Cryer, who was hot off playing Ducky in “Pretty in Pink.” Everyone looks horrified here. They should. Check out “Honest Trailers” version of “Superman IV.” Or check out my review. We pretty much say the same stuff. What else can be said?
1988: Here's Lex's henchwoman in the Ruby-Spears cartoon. She's sweet, a bit of a dingbat, serves milkshakes. Consider her a dumber, sweeter, less booby version of...
1978: Miss TeschMACHAAAAAA! I'm surprised they didn't rate the movie “R” for Valerie Perrine alone. But she was smart. She was also Superman's first kiss. Lois couldn't be bothered with Clark, while Lana Lang was hanging out with that stupid Brad dude. Do we ever find out what happens to her? In “Superman II,” she's in the Arctic with Lex, heading south, and ... that's it. We never see her (or her likes) again.
2011: Here's Lex in another update: the straight-to-video “All-Star Superman.” And here he finally succeeds in killing Superman. Not by weakening him but by making him too powerful. He gets him close to the sun, and Superman absorbs too much energy, and eventually becomes pure energy.
2015? “Man of Steel” is playing “The Dark Knight” game by reserving the arch-enemy for the sequel. So who should play Lex Luthor in 2015 or '16? All the geek sites are asking and all the geeks are telling. But mostly they're guessing bald actors, like Billy Zane, who wouldn't be bad. But look at Hackman and Spacey. You don't have to go bald to be bad.
Who Wants to Play Superman? Anyone? Bueller?
“The whole idea embarrassed me.”
--Clayton “Bud” Collyer, on playing Superman on the radio in 1940.
“Well, babe, this is it: the bottom of the barrel.”
-- George Reeves, toasting Phyllis Coates, after the two have been cast as Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the TV show “Adventures of Superman” in 1951.
“Sometimes ... when you're not even really sure that you want [the part], that's when you get it.”
-- Christopher Reeve, on trying out for, and getting, the role of Superman/Clark Kent in “Superman: The Movie.”
SLIDESHOW: Extra Extra! A History of Daily Planet Headlines!
SLIDESHOW: EXTRA! EXTRA! Updating Superman in the new movie, “Man of Steel,” doesn't just mean getting rid of the 19th-century strongman undies and having a few aerial, CGI fistfights. What do you do about his job? What do you do about The Daily Planet? The medium that employed Clark Kent for most of the 20th century is in more peril than Lois Lane ever was. It's also the medium that often informed us, the viewer, the moviegoer, about the story we were watching. It either dotted i's and crossed t's about the things we'd just seen (Superman's origin or his exploits) or it furthered the plot (“Luthor Buys Great Wall of China”). What follows is a compendium of headlines, mostly Daily Planet headlines but rival pubs as well, that appeared in various Superman incarnations over the years. Consider it an extra. Read all about it.
FIRST SIGHTINGS: We first got Superman's origin on the big screen in the 1948 serial, Superman, starring Kirk Alyn, and these are the first headlines about the mysterious caped figured who appeared from nowhere, saved people, and then left before we had a chance to thank him. He was like the Lone Ranger, but, you know, super.
1948: Oddly, none of these early headlines are Daily Planet headlines. Those would come later.
1948: I love this period before Superman is named and everyone is struggling to figure it all out. “Mystery Bird Man.” “Man from Sky.” What do we call this thing? It's still unknown. Once it's named, and known, it becomes a little less exciting.
1953: As here. This is from the George Reeves reboot in the “Adventures of Superman” TV show. Not only is he already named but the feat itself, —his first, saving a man hanging from a dirigible—was redone, to much better effect, in the '78 blockbuster. Dirigible simply became helicopter and airport mechanic morphed into Lois Lane. Even the close-up of the hands losing their grip was similar.
1978: But poor Lois didn't get the headlines. By the '70s, the heyday of journalism, we knew the story wasn't that she was saved; the story was that he existed.
1978: Love this. Biggest story of the century but they keep their sense of humor.
1978: Here, too. As Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent says in “Man of Steel,” “You're the answer, son. You're the answer to 'Are we alone in the universe?'” That should've the hed in '78. But, you know ... Nothing sells like sex.
1996: Of course the big first interview with Lois Lane was toned down for the kids in “The Last Son of Krypton.”
SUPERMAN'S EXPLOITS: Besides telling us of Superman's origins, the headlines also detailed the Man of Steel's exploits over the years. They provided a coda to the story we'd just seen and wrapped things up when necessary. This hed is from one of the early 1940s Max Fleischer cartoons. It's nice to know the Arctic Monster got a home.
1941: Even so, someone at the Planet needs to work on their subheds. Check out the previous slide. How often can Superman save the city from destruction—total or not? Work with me here, Jimmy.
1966: Another favorite, from the 1966 Filmation cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman.”
1996: For some reason, the 1996 cartoon, “Last Son of Krypton,” used quotes in its headlines. Not sure why. To make it all seem ironic? Superman captured by terrorist. Right.
1948: That's Perry White reading his own paper. Feel free to forward to anyone you know named Ray.
FURTHERING THE PLOT: Many of the newspaper headlines were there simply to further the plot. Lex Luthor looks at this headline and sees all of his schemes coming true. “Bye-bye, California. Hello, new west coast, my west coast.”
1950: From “Atom Man vs. Superman.” Two exclamation points, Perry??
1988: Because you can never have enough real estate.
2011: Hardly see why this is a headline. Although it's nice to see in this day and age when many media sources tend to prevaricate about the misdeeds of the rich and powerful.
1950: This edition is actually subterfuge on the part of the Planet and Superman. They want Lex Luthor to think he's getting kryptonite when, like Charlie Brown, he's just getting a rock.
1981: One of the more famous headlines. Is this the one you would've used? I might've just gone with HOLY SHIT.
2006: The various headlines let us know what was going on with Superman, too. This one, from “Superman Returns,” also worked in the trailers and TV spots. It announced the movie. It spread the news.
1983: I wanted to go with the headline, SUPERMAN NO LONGER DICK, but was shouted down. But at least I didn't call him Chief.
1987: The best part of a bad movie: “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” It's the Rupert-Mordoch-styled hed for Superman's non-reaction to the idiotic idea that he should rid the world of nuclear weapons. Which of course became the entire plot of the movie. The hed is a parody, of course, of the Daily News' famous hed regarding Pres. Ford's refusal to bail out New York City in 1975.
1988: Psst. He doesn't really.
2006: Psst. He isn't, really.
2011: Psst. He still isn't, really.
1948: “Man of Tomorrow” will never replace “Man of Steel” as a Superman monicker because it's a little too yesterday. It's from a period when the future was full of whiz-bang excitement, before we knew we might, you know, destroy everything. But it's also the perfect nickname for Superman. Because in 1948, and in 1938, we were tomorrow. And where's Superman? Still with us.
SLIDESHOW: Got it Bad for Little Miss Lois Lane
SLIDESHOW: GOT IT BAD FOR LITTLE MISS LOIS LANE: The above panel details the first meeting between Lois and Superman way back in Action Comics #1. From then on, in what unofficial Superman biographer Glen Weldon calls the most toxic relationship in history, it's about 50 years of stagnation. She wants marriage with Superman; he wants her to like him as Clark, which is odd, since it's his pose rather than his true personality. (Until John Byrne switched the order in 1986.) But if you're a fan of superheroes, make sure you thank Miss Lane this week. Superman only sprang to life in the imagination of Jerry Siegel because he couldn't get the Lois Lanes of the world. He was a Clark Kent wondering what it would be like to be a Superman. Which is why he invented Superman, who revolutionized the business, and whose success led to Batman, Spider-Man, et al. Without Lois Lane, you wouldn't have any of them.
1941: The Max Fleischer cartoons made the most of both Lois' gumption and gams. She was always going the extra mile for a story, getting in trouble as a result, and needing rescue from the Man of Tomorrow. One wonders how she managed before he came along. One wonders if she ever wonders it. Does she take greater risks now? Knowing that Superman is there to catch her if she falls?
1941: She isn't even averse to wielding a machine gun. Fleischer's Lois was voiced by Joan Alexander, of St. Paul, Minn., who also voiced Lois in the long-running and influential “Adventures of Superman” radio series (1940-51). Trivia: In 2008, the year before she died, Alexander would be bilked out of most of her fortune by Ponzi schemer Kenneth Starr, who is currently serving a 7 1/2-year sentence in a federal correctional facility in Otisville, NY. Too bad it's not Otisberg.
1948: In the 1948 serial, “Superman,” another Minnesotan, Noel Neill of Minneapolis, became the first actress to portray Lois Lane on screen. A few years later, Neill played the third-year girl who gripes Gene Kelly’s liver in “An American in Paris,” and, unfortunately, she's a bit of that here: pouty and unclever, without a hint of sex. She’s like a Shirley Temple character who grew into her late 20s less cute, less smart, and more annoying. She barely even smiles. Which is why two years later ...
1950: ... yes, in “Atom Man vs. Superman,” she smiles as often as a Miss America contestant. She still gets in trouble, of course. She still needs super-help. She's just less annoying. Neill would go on to play Lois throughout most of the 1950s in the second through sixth seasons of “Adventures of Superman.” Later in life, she played Lois' mom in the extended cut of “Superman: The Movie” (1978), and even turns up as Gertrude Vanderworth, the wealthy widow bilked of her money by Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor in “Superman Returns” (2006). Too bad Joan Alexander wasn't paying attention.
1951: Phyllis Coates of Wichita Falls, Texas, finally breaks the Minnesota monopoly on everyone's favorite girl reporter. In the short film, “Superman and the Mole Men,” as well as the first season of TV's “Adventures of Superman,” she plays Lois opposite George Reeves. She would also eventually play Lois' mom, Ellen this time, in an episode of “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” in 1994. Apparently old Loises never fade away; they just play Lois' mom.
1966: For Filmation's Saturday morning cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman,” they brought back a lot of the radio actors for the voices, including Joan Alexander for Lois Lane. This, to me, is the classic Lois. Maybe because she was drawn like the Lois Lane in the 1950s and '60s comic books. Or maybe because it's the first Lois Lane I encountered. Oddly, we don't even see her until the third episode. She gets upstaged by Jimmy Olsen and his Superman signal watch. Every boy wanted one of those before they realized they really wanted little Miss Lois Lane.
1975: Case in point. Lesley Ann Warren ratcheted up the sex quotient, as she is wont to do, in a godawful version of the so-so Broadway musical, “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!,” which was broadcast on February 1, 1975. I was 12. I remember staying up late to watch it. I remember “Scoop! Scoop! Stop the presses!” I remember waiting and waiting for Superman to appear. When he did, well, I kinda wanted him to disappear. Warren was in the running to portray Lois again in “Superman: The Movie,” but lost the part to ...
1978: ... Margot Kidder. Why does Kidder's Lois Lane in “Superman: The Movie” still define the role? Because she's tough, funny, cute and vulnerable. There's a difficulty dichotomy to thread in portraying Lois. She's supposed to scoop Clark and get rescued by Superman, but often within this dynamic they make her either too tough (and unlikeable) or too agreeable (and thus hardly a scoop-worthy reporter). Margot was able to inhabit both aspects of Lois. She held the two opposing ideas of Lois in her mind and was still able to function. Her toughness (at work) was never annoying, her vulnerability (around Superman) was always endearing. Plus I just like the way she says “Peter Pan.” Not to mention, “Blaghhh.”
1981: And in “Superman II” Lois finally gets her man. Unfortunately he had to lose his powers first. Did she waver then? Say, “Hey, wait a minute, that's not part of the deal,” or are we to assume that Lois was never that shallow, that she liked the Man of Steel for himself and not his powers? But if she liked him without his powers, why didn't she just go for Clark? Right, right, the milksop perhaps. OK, but how about in those incarnations, such as the '50s TV show, where he's not a milksop? Something to ponder anyway.
1987: One of the oddest scenes in “Superman IV,” a movie full of odd scenes, is the one where Clark reveals himself to be Superman by jumping off the roof with Lois, then flies the two around the U.S. (via horrible special effects), then drops her, ha ha, only to rescue her. Afterwards, back on his terrace, he asks her advice. When she gives it, he does what he did in “Superman II”: He kisses her to make her forget, but it's more of a kiss-off than a kiss. It's completely self-serving. Did he do this all the time? Have fun with her, then make her forget? No wonder poor Lois looks so old. A sad last hurrah for our great '78 team.
1988: The Ruby-Spears Superman cartoon, which appeared in 1988, couldn't get past the Reeve/Kidder movies. It's got the same John Williams theme music, Clark flies Lois around Metropolis, Clark even looks like Reeve, and then there's the helicopter rescue in an early episode. Right out of “Superman: The Movie.”
1993: Top billing! Finally! In “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” Teri Hatcher, everyone's favorite “Seinfeld” guest, gets to play everyone's favorite girl reporter; and while one look at Hatcher makes you think she would bring the sex, what she really brought was the funny. How underrated is Hatcher as a comedic actress? I admit I never watched the show much but I did recently see the 90-minute premiere and was pleasantly surprised at Hatcher's light-comedic skills. She would've been great in a romantic comedy. Why did she not get the chance? Her funny bone is real and it's fabulous.
1996: For “Last Son of Krypton” and “Superman: The Animated Series,” the Supes/Lois relationship gets a reboot and winds up recalling ... the Max Fleisher cartoons. Meaning we've traveled 55 years, through a world war, a cold war, and a feminist revolution, only to wind up back where we started. Voiced by Dana Delany.
2004: What's wrong with this picture? Seeing it now? Right? Since when was Lois ever a dirty blonde? I'm talking hair here, not the pole-dancing thing. But sure, that, too. The woman in the patriotic bikini is Erica Durance, of TV's “Smallville,” which, from its very first episode, in which Clark is stripped to his boxers and hung as a scarecrow in a cornfield, never shied from selling the bodies of its young stars to attract viewers. Hell, the first time Lois and Clark meet on the show, he's butt naked. We scoff, and shake our heads at the cynicism, but the show lasted 10 years. It worked.
2006: Sorry, honey. Kate Bosworth was 22 when they filmed “Superman Returns” and ... it just didn't work. Lois is 22 and she has a 5-year-old? From a consummation six years earlier? That’s some awkward math. Plus that dichotomy Lois is supposed to thread between tough and vulnerable? Bosworth doesn't thread it. Plus there's the hair again. Does everyone in the 21st century have something against brunettes?
2011: This Lois, from “All-Star Superman,” is like Lois reimagined through a mopey Jenanine Garofalo prism. At one point, after Clark reveals he's Superman, and flies her to his Fortress of Solitude, and confesses his love, she gets out her laptop and types up how pissed she still is. It's Carrie Bradshaw stuff. I dont know how many of these direct-to-video or Cartoon Network Superman stories there are, but the 21st century is crawling with them. I could barely watch this one. OK, I stopped watching halfway through.
2013: Oh, Lois. Will you ever be a brunette again? And is that an i-Pad? And you're how much older than the Man of Steel? Eight years? I guess that's not so bad. At least you're an adult this time around. See you Friday.
SLIDESHOW: LOOK, UP IN THE SKY! A History of Superman Flying Onscreen
SLIDESHOW: Look, Up in the Sky! Near the end of his life, Christopher Reeve said, “The appeal of flight. I mean … Batman’s got a cool car. But flight is what really captures people’s imaginations. To take two or three running steps and soar into the air. That’s everybody’s dream.” On the screen, of course, it took a while for that dream to take hold. In the beginning, which is to say June 1938, with the publication of Action Comics #1, Superman couldn't fly; he could only leap 1/8 of a mile. It took adventures in other media for the dream of flight to take hold.
1941: In the early Max Fleischer cartoons, Superman is merely, as they say, “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” But all that bouncing from spot to spot made him look a bit like a Mexican jumping bean, and it just became easier, and cooler, to show him, you know, flying. The Fleischer cartoons immediately subbed out that “tall buildings” line for “Able to soar higher than any plane!” but it didn't stick. As late as 1988, the opening intro (to Ruby-Spears Superman) nonsensically trumpeted Superman as a dude “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”
1948: Kirk Alyn was the first live-action, onscreen Superman, and this was the moment he finally took flight. Did kids in theaters in 1948 hold their breath? If so...
1948 (cont.)... they were probably disappointed since as soon as he lifted off he turned into a cartoon. This was true in all 15 chapters of the '48 serial. On the other hand ...
1948 (cont.) ... there's something to be said for the cartoon. It ain't bad. Dude could move. When they switched to flying of the live-action variety, it had the same effect on Superman that sound had on early talkies: a tendency toward stiffness. It would take half a century before Superman, in flight, could move as well as he could above.
1950: Here we go. This is the first time we see Superman, as a man, in the air. It's Kirk Alyn again from the 1950 serial, “Atom Man vs. Superman.” Most of the flying, though, is still done with animation.
1953: In the 1950s TV show “Adventures of Superman,” George Reeves' flight has a kind of lying-on-a-table effect. In episode after episode: 1) Clark Kent went into the Daily Planet storeroom; 2) Superman bounced out a window to whooshing wind effects; and 3) we saw Supes, against a cloud backdrop, flying rather straight. But then it was an era of flying straight.
1975: But it beat this. It's a screenshot from the TV adaptation of the short-lived 1966 Broadway musical, “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman,” starring David Wilson as Superman and Lesley Ann Warren (rahr) as Lois Lane, which aired On Feb. 1, 1975 at, I think, 11:30 PM. Why so late? I guess they didn't want little kids to see it. I was 12 but wasn’t going to let that stop me. I stayed up late. Unfortunately, I kept nodding off. I kept thinking, “This is painful,” without realizing why. Even Ms. Warren didn't help. Much.
1978: So when “Superman: The Movie” was released in 1978, and Christopher Reeve takes to the air to save Lois Lane dangling from the Daily Planet helicopter, it looked breathtakingly real. Because it was. It wasn’t a cartoon, it wasn’t a man against a blue screen, it wasn’t CGI (yet). It was a man, in a bright blue suit, with big red boots, flying. We never believed, as the tagline counseled, that a man could in fact fly. But we knew it looked real. It had … what’s that word? Verisimilitude. Guess what? Still does.
1987: Nine years later, we'd taken a big step backward. Blame Sylvester Stallone. His film, “Over the Top,” produced by Golan and Globus, who were leasing the rights to make a Superman movie, did poorly at the box office, and as a result the “Superman: IV” budget was slashed from $40 million to below $20 million. It shows in every sad frame—including this one, where Superman returns the Statue of Liberty to its proper station. Irony? Stallone was one of the few big-name Hollywood actors in 1976 who wanted to play Superman. Mostly, though, blame Golan and Globus. They made you believe that a man really couldn't fly after all.
1993: Even in the title, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” the Man of Steel gets third billing. And in terms of screentime, he was probably further down than that. But some flying scenes, like this, from the premiere episode in the Daily Planet offices, aren't bad.
2001: The creators of “Smallville” promised “No flights and no tights” and pretty much adhered to that principle through its 10-season run. Unfortunately, the closer it go to the birth of Superman, the worse it became. I mean, the red-and-blue blur? Somebody save me.
2006: “Superman Returns” is the first big-deal, CGI-infected Superman movie, but it’s still disappointing, probably because it has one foot and three toes in the past. It can’t get over Christopher Reeve. But who can?
2013: Well, David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder, that's who. Their new movie, “Man of Steel,” promises mind-bending flying effects and special effects. Let's just hope it's smart. Let's just hope we haven't been sucker-punched.
Great Caesar's Ghost! It's the Perry White Slideshow!
We won't call him “Chief” in this slideshow, but we will call out the changes to Perry White in his various cinematic and TV incarnations over the years. Shall we begin, Chief? I mean, Sugar? I mean, Paris? Enough. Let's get started ...
1941: In the Max Fleischer cartoons, he's an unnamed “Chief Editor,” but we all know who that is: George Taylor. Sorry, Paris White. Sorry, Perry White. George was the original comic book incarnation, Paris was the original radio incarnation, but they quickly changed “Paris” to “Perry.” Because Paris? I mean, c'mon.
1948: The first live-action actor to portray Perry White was Pierre Watkin in the 1948 serial “Superman,” starring Kirk Alyn. White is gruff, impatient, but he's also the man everyone in Metropolis turns to when trouble brews. I mean, everyone. When Superman captures a crook, he brings him to Perry rather than the cops. When the villainous Spider-Lady contacts the cops, it's so they can forward a message to Perry White. He's BMOC: Big Man of Metropolis.
1950: Two years later, it was the reverse. Perry White got everything wrong in “Atom Man vs. Superman.” He thinks Lex Luthor has gone legit, accuses both Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane of being hypnotized, pressures Lois into writing a “Is Clark Kent Superman?” story without evidence, and, in almost every episode, can't even find a match with which to light his cigar.
1953: For the 1950s TV show, the role was taken over by another no-nonsense, gruff persona: John Hamilton.
1966: Here's how Perry was portrayed in the 1966 Filmation cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman.” The cigar is still in place.
1978: 1930s icon Jackie Cooper was tapped to play Perry White in the 1978 movie “Superman” when Keenan Wynn, the original choice, developed heart trouble. Cooper made the transatlantic trip to England in a day to land the part. Lesson: Always have your passport up-to-date. Up, up and away, baby.
1987: By the last, sad chapter of the Christopher Reeve movies, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” Jimmy Olsen's going bald, Lois Lane looks more like Superman's mother than his girlfriend, and Perry White has shrunk even as his glasses got huge.
1988: A year later, for the Ruby-Sears Superman Saturday-morning cartoon, he's gained the weight back. In fact, he looks more like a villain than the avuncular city editor. He's like Edward G. Robinson here, see? Hey, Robby would've made a good Perry, wouldn't he?
1993: In 1948, Perry White had Abraham Lincoln on his wall; in 1993, he has Elvis Presley. Veteran actor Lane Smith is both gruff and comic-relief in the “Lois & Clark” television series. Perry also lost the cigar. Damn political correctness.
2006: Frank Langella, a towering presence, played Perry White a bit softer in “Superman Returns.” His one “Great Caesar's Ghost!” was spoken sotto voce, in amazement, as Superman catches and places gently on the ground, as if he were Atlas, the Daily Planet icon from the roof of the building. Meanwhile, Perry's son, Richard, winds up married to Lois Lane. It creates complications. (Trivia: Both Langella and Lane Smith have portrayed Richard Nixon, too.)
Larry Fishburne steps into the role in 2013's “Man of Steel,” out this week. He's the first black actor to play the role. The question remains whether he'll say “Great Caesar's Ghost!” (doubtful) or smoke a cigar (even more doubtful). Hell, it remains to be seen whether The Daily Planet will survive the digital age. Now that's a job for Superman.
'Man of Steel' Featurette
This, by the way, is the current IMDb synopsis of “Man of Steel”:
A young journalist is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
A young journalist? Please, no. I know Goyer and Synder and company are changing aspects of the Superman mythos in this movie. So in an age when journalism jobs are drying up, shouldn't that be changed? A journalist? For what? A great metropolitan website?
Not to mention the fact that Clark seems not to have gone to J-School.
Action Comics No. 1 Found in Wall in Elbow Lake, Minn. Home
A 34-year-old man in northern Minnesota, David Gonzalex, who works in construction and remodeling, buys a dilapidated house in nearby Elbow Lake, Minn., for $10,100, with the idea of remodeling it and selling it at a higher price. While tearing out the walls, he found old newspapers used to insulate the walls. And amid those newspapers? Action Comics No. 1.
Not Action Comics No. 8. Not Detective Comics No. 96. Not Archie No. 51 but Action Comics No. 1. The magazine that introduced Superman, and thus superheroes, to the world. The most high-priced comic book in the world.
Then how awful is this? Amid the excitement about the find, his wife's aunt grabbed the comic out of his hands, and when he grabbed it back, the back cover ripped. That downgraded the comic, according to collectors from a 3 to a 1.5 in quality. (10 is mint condition.)
But how great that he shrugs it off.
Gonzalez said he has no regrets about the argument that damaged his discovery. “I am a humble working guy ... Money won’t buy you happiness.”
To be honest, I think I'm angrier at his wife's aunt than he is.
David Gonzalez (right) with the remodeling find of the year (left).
So from this May 3rd post, “Four Reasons Krypton Doesn't Blow Up in the new Superman Movie 'Man of Steel,'” it looks like alternate theory 2:2 is the correct one (“Or he's got a spaceship that's roaming the cosmos”). It also means Entertainment Weekly was wrong in its summer movie guide description of “Man of Steel.” Or the above doo-dad is wrong. We'll find out soon enough.
If the above is right? The plot is taking shape. Kal-El searches for himself on Earth, hides his true nature because people here would freak, and doesn't truly emerge until this threat, Kryptonians taking over Earth, arrives. Cue: battle. But I guess we already knew this.
BTW: That's the best Shannon-as-Zod photo they could come up with? It looks like someone just told him his dog ran away.
Whose Portrait Hangs in Lex Luthor's Office?
Throughout the Kirk Alyn Superman serials, in both 1948 and 1950, a framed portrait of Abraham Lincoln hangs in the office of Daily Planet city editor Perry White (Pierre Watkin):
Perry White (Pierre Watkin), Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) and Lois Lane (Noeil Neill) react (and Lincoln doesn't) in 1948's “Superman.”
In the 1950 serial, “Atom Man vs. Superman,” Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot) pretends to go straight by investing in a television studio. At one point he even hires away Lois Lane from The Daily Planet for man-on-the-street interviews. (One of her questions: “Is city life more exciting than country life?”) Several times we visit him in his office:
So who's the woman on the wall? Perry White has Abe Lincoln, Lex Luthor has ... ? She looks like a starlet. Is she producer Sam Katzman's girlfriend? Is she supposed to be Lex Luthor's wife? Did they just need to fill space?
Movie Review: Superman II (1981)
I saw “Superman: The Movie” six times in the theater in the late 1970s. I saw “Superman II” once during the summer of 1981. It’s not just that the original came out when I was 15 and still reading comic books, and the sequel came out when I was 18 and heading toward college and something resembling adulthood. “Superman II” just isn’t very good.
The director of the first film, Richard Donner, clashed with producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind over budget and scheduling, and, even though 80 percent of principal photography on “II” was done with “I,” he was replaced by Richard Lester (“A Hard Day’s Night”), who didn’t know from Superman. He didn’t know from comic books. And he didn’t like the epic way Donner filmed the first movie—what he called “the David Lean thing,” which included the sweeping camera shots of cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (“2001: A Space Odyssey”). Lester insisted upon flat, static camera shots to evoke comic book panels. He got it. He wanted a less serious movie. He got that, too.
The Clementis of “Superman II”
The second movie begins with an eight-and-a-half-minute recap of the first movie. We see the three Kryptonian criminals, Zod, Ursa and Non (Terrence Stamp, Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran), steal into one of those non-rooms on Krypton, grab a red crystal and break it in two. Then the room goes black, they’re imprisoned by those hula hoop thingees and charged with treason. They’re all pronounced “guilty guilty guilty” and sent off to the Forbidden Zone, while Lara (Susannah York) takes the baby Kal-El and off he goes and… Jesus, they’re going to recap the whole thing? Smallville and Metropolis and helicopter rescue and San Andreas fault? Yes. Yes, they are. The whole thing has an “On the last episode of ‘Superman’…” vibe. It feels cheap.
It feels particularly cheap because Jor-El (Marlon Brando) has been excised. Brando was in litigation with the Salkinds, who were often in litigation over non-payment, and he’d been promised a percentage of the profits if he appeared in “Superman II.’ That’s why he didn’t. He’s gone, scrubbed, like Clementis disappearing in the beginning of Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.” The signing of Marlon Brando for the first film announced its seriousness. His removal from the second film announced the opposite.
The movie proper begins when Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) strolls into the Daily Planet in the middle of the day while his colleagues are working. It’s supposed to be funny when everyone ignores him—as it was funny in “Superman: The Movie” when everyone ignored his “Good night” wishes—but it’s not. They’re doing their jobs and he’s not. Doesn’t he care? Is Kal-El that contemptuous of human affairs? Only after some back and forth with Perry White (Jackie Cooper) does he even realize that three terrorists (including a young Richard Griffiths) are holding the Eiffel Tower and Paris hostage with a hydrogen bomb, and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is already on the scene. So where was Clark/Superman this entire time? Doing good deeds in outer space? At the Fortress of Solitude? We never find out.
The whole “not doing your job” thing suffuses the entire movie, by the way. You could almost call it a theme.
Supes finally shows up and saves Lois, who is trapped in a falling Eiffel Tower elevator with an H-bomb attached. “I believe this is your floor,” he says with a kind of James Bondian twinkle. Ha! Yeah, no. Then he sends the elevator, and the H-bomb, into outer space. This is the second nuclear device Supes has detonated in space in so many movies. Yet when Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) invades the Fortress of Solitude and accesses its Kryptonian learning program, the second lesson he learns is all about Zod, Ursa and Non, the Phantom Zone, and this warning from Lara, finally getting screentime:
The Phantom Zone might, might be cracked open by a nuclear explosion in space.
Two possibilities: Superman either forgot this lesson or he never learned it. Either way, he’s not doing his job.
Lara, wife of Clementis.
This is not a job for Superman
That theme continues. As Zod, Ursa and Non terrorize and kill, first, astronauts on the moon, then a small Idaho town with a redneck Southern sheriff and a boy with an unmistakable British accent, Clark romances, sadly, pathetically, Lois, as the two investigate a Niagara Falls honeymoon scam. “Lois, look,” he says, full of need. “Everyone’s holding hands. Maybe we should hold hands, too.” One wonders what game he’s playing here. Why be pathetic as Clark? To better conceal his identity? Lois obviously loves him as Superman, when he’s at his strongest, so maybe he wants her to to love him at his weakest? Does he truly feel like a schlep? Or is Clark, as Quentin Tarantino has suggested, Kal-El’s rather cruel imitation of humanity? It’s how he sees us. What fools these mortals be.
Mortals certainly be in this movie. We get parents too busy to watch their kid hanging over the railing at Niagara Falls, and a kid too stupid to realize the danger he’s in. We get Lois jumping into the rapids to prove Clark is Superman. There’s the insinuating bellhop, and the redneck sheriff and his Barney Fife deputy, and the trigger-happy gendarmes willing to blow up Paris, and the lackadaisical NASA men at mission control in Houston (including Cliff from “Cheers”), and all of the fools, the many, many fools, treating the final battle between Superman and Zod on the streets of Metropolis as if it were a WWF cage match rather than a battle to determine if three Kryptonians rule the world or we do; whether we’re free or forever enslaved.
The movie also blows the great superhero reveal. From the Scarlet Pimpernel to Zorro to Superman, there’s been a girl. The girl loves the hero but dislikes, or is disappointed in, or doesn’t even acknowledge, the hero in his secret form. It’s the classic love triangle of superherodom and a solace for unrequited lovers everywhere. She rejects me (Clark) because she doesn’t see the real me (Superman). She fails to see what’s super in me. And here, finally, the disconnect is connected. The two men become one.
And it’s as boring as shit.
Lois, always feisty, becomes wide-eyed and starstruck. Superman, always polite and distant, becomes supersenstitive:
Superman: We have to talk.
Lois: I’m in love with you.
Superman: Then we really better talk …
Lois: Where do you want to … talk?
Superman: Let’s go to my place.
At the Fortress of Solitude, Lois belts out, “Wow! This is your home?!” after which Superman flies around the world to get flowers and groceries. Meanwhile, people are dying in Idaho. “Where’s Superman?” people plead. “Where is he? Why doesn’t he do something?” Sorry, but he’s pouring champagne for Lois. When she says, “I’m going to change into something more comfortable,” he uses the opportunity to speak with hologram Lara about what he needs to do to consummate the relationship. She delivers a stern warning:
You must become one of them. All your great powers on Earth will disappear forever. But consider: Once it is done there is no return.
There is no return. Until there is.
They sleep together in a silver satin hammock-bed that seems stolen from Andy Gibb’s 1970s pad. Meanwhile the President of the United States (E.G. Marshall in toupee) is kneeling before Zod.
Question: How can we not hate Superman at this moment? The movie is actually set up so we hate Superman. Because he isn’t doing his job. Then Clark loses a diner fight with an asshole named Rocky. Then he discovers that the Earth is at the mercy of Zod. Then he walks back alone to the Fortress, through the Arctic cold, without hat or gloves or anything, and begs hologram Lara for his powers back. “FATHERRRRRRRR!” he cries.
Sorry, Kal-El. Father is in litigation at the moment.
After booze, Supes loses his powers and beds Lois at Andy Gibb's place.
Cheap cheap cheap, talk a lot, pick a little more
So how does he get his powers back? His picks up a green crystal and all of a sudden he’s streaking toward Metropolis and saying, “Care to step outside, General?” This thing is a joke. It gives Kryptonians the power to point at things and levitate them. It gives Superman the power to kiss away Lois’s memory. It gives the Salkinds the power to kiss away Jor-El. It’s a hot, holy mess, Batman.
They didn’t just excise Brando. They actually filmed without Hackman, Beatty or Perrine. For the Luthor scenes, they just used footage Donner shot. You know the difficulty of maintaining continuity over several days? Try three years. Watching, you can play a game: This was shot in ’77, this in ’80. Here Lois has split ends, here she doesn’t. Here she’s younger, here Margot Kidder’s drug addiction is beginning to show.
They use the cheapest cinematic glue—the distant shot overdub— to bind the story together. When Lex and Miss Tessmacher return from the Fortress of Solitude, someone, sounding like Hackman but not Hackman, says of Zod and company, “Wait, that explains the three alpha waves I’ve been getting on my black box! They’ll need a contact on earth! … South, Miss Tessmacher!” And off they go. We never see her again. Shame. Greater shame? We don’t even need this overdub. We get it when Luthor just shows up at the White House. It’s not difficult.
So much is cheap here. The flying looks worse, the lunar capsule looks like tinfoil, the supervillains shove humans around like they’re on an old episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Sure, special effects are expensive. But how much does an American kid cost? Did no one tell the British filmmakers how British the Idaho kid sounded? Like he’s Oliver Twist asking for porridge: “Please, general. Please put me Daddy down.” And do we need a full minute of Zod using his superbreath to blow Metropolitans around? Like it’s a vaudeville routine? For the scene, according to IMDb.com, “Director Richard Lester improvised most of the jokes.” Jokes?
The pivotal moment of the movie doesn’t even make sense. When Superman first loses his powers in the crystal chamber, he grimaces in pain and emerges with blow-dried hair and jeans. When Superman reverses the crystal chamber so the supervillains lose their powers, they don’t even know it’s happening. How to account for this discrepancy? And why would Superman, emerging, kneel before Zod even momentarily before crushing his hand and killing him? Even at 18, I thought it was bullshit.
This was shot by Richard Donner in 1977...
... and this split-ends version by Richard Lester in 1980. Same scene, three years apart, different conditioner.
When the Salkinds began this project back in 1974 we were smack in the middle of the Easy Riders/Raging Bulls decade of great American filmmaking. By the time “Superman II” was released in June 1981, the era of the blockbuster and its neverending sequels had begun. The Salkinds helped in this regard. “Superman” was No. 2 at the box office in 1978 (after “Grease”) and “Superman II” was No. 3 at the box office in 1981 (after “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “On Golden Pond”). Adjust for inflation, and the first grossed $461 million in the U.S., the second $313 million. Yet somehow they couldn’t find a way to settle with Brando.
So much happened between ’78 and ’81. We went from the middle of Jimmy Carter’s presidency to the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s. Gas prices shot up. Hostages were taken. Chest thumping began. The movies got dumber.
What a shame. “Superman: The Movie,” directed by Richard Donner, was heroic, epic and funny. “Superman II,” directed by Richard Lester, was none of these things. Lester did what Zod, Ursa and Non couldn’t do. He flattened Superman.
Truth, justice, etc.: The beginning of the chest-thumping stupidity.
Four Reasons Krypton Doesn't Blow Up in the new Superman Movie 'Man of Steel'
In “Superman,” the serial (1948), the first live-action cinematic creation of the Man of Steel, Jor-El (Nelson Leigh) is asked to provide facts for why he believes Krypton is doomed. He responds: “We must be guided by my knowledge, which this august body has always respected.” Dude, a pie chart might’ve helped.
As Erik-El, the blogger who believes Krypton isn't doomed in the upcoming blockbuster “Man of Steel,” I know no august body (no, not even yours) that always respects my knowledge, so here are the facts for why Krypton may live, as well as parenthetical alternate theories that may explain away these facts:
- “I’ll be honest with you, there’s no Kryptonite in the movie,” director Zack Snyder told Entertainment Weekly last month. Why no Kryptonite? Because Krypton doesn't blow up. (Alternate theory: Kryptonite is a drag of a plot device and best left alone.)
- “My name is General Zod,” Zod (Michael Shannon) says in this “Man of Steel” teaser. “For some time your world has sheltered one of my citizens. I request that you return this individual to my custody.” Return? Return to where? Where does Zod plan on taking Kal-El if not back to Krypton? (Alternate theories: Zod doesn't know Krypton has exploded. Or he's got a spaceship that's roaming the cosmos. Or the Phantom Zone ain't that bad a place to live and thinks Kal-El will enjoy it, too.)
- ”That's what pits [Superman] against General Zod ... a Kryptonian tyrant who wants Clark to join him back on Krypton ...“ From Entertainment Weekly's Summer Movie Guide on. “Man of Steel.” This is the one that seems to give up the ghost but one of the alternate theories above holds (Zod STILL doesn't know Krypton has exploded).
I've mentioned all of these reasons in various posts over the last two weeks. Now I have a fourth reason. This evidence is actually older—an interview Michael Shannon did with Oliver Gettell of The Los Angeles Times in 2011—but I just came across it and it supports the above:
OG: What can you tell us about the scale of “Man of Steel”?
MS: It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. It’s massive sets. It’s literally another world. It’s the first time I’ve acted on another planet.
OG: What is it like acting on a set like that?
MS: As much green screen as there is and I’m sure will be, they’re actually building a lot of the sets as well. I had thought it was just going to be green screens everywhere and we would just be pretending everything. There’s quite a bit of detail they’re building and putting into it. It’s very helpful. The less green screen, the better — I don’t think you’d be able to find an actor on Earth who wouldn’t have that sentiment.
Why build all of these expensive, detailed sets of Krypton if it's going to blow up in the first 10 minutes of the film? You build them because you're going to return to them. You build them because they will be part of the sequel and the franchise. You build them because Krypton doesn't blow up. (Alternate theory: the other world he's talking about isn't Krypton. Or Warner Bros. just likes spending money.)
The website i09 is apparently on top of the ”Krypton lives“ theory now. The site's tagline is the sci-fi standard ”We come from the future," but I can't help but think the future they come from is my two weeks ago. Either way, welcome, boys. Nice to see you finally arrived.
Last son of Krypton?
KNEEL BEFORE ERIK-EL!
I know. I posted about this yesterday but you never let a good topic go.
Here was my prediction about the upcoming Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” two weeks ago:
...the new trailer reinforces the notion: In the new Superman movie, Krypton, Kal-El's homeworld, lives. It doesn't blow up.
I gave evidence from various sources, including the trailers, particularly the “Zod message” trailer, in which Zod (Michael Shannon) requests that the people of Earth “return [Superman] to my custody.” My thought was always: return to ... where? Where is Zod? Where does he expect to go with Kal-El? Where if not ... back to Krypton?
That was my assumption but no one bought into it. It was like I was Jor-El, but reversed. Jor-El warned the Kryptonian Science Council that Krypton was about to explode and they all laughed at him. I was Erik-El, telling the Earth Science-Fiction Council that Krypton was not about to explode, and no one could see the logic. Here's my friend Tim—now Timonian Elder #2:
Timonian Elder #2: ... it does make Superman remaining on Earth a question if/when he finds out there's still a planet back home. I think it'd be a bit much to leave that question at the end, but it's an interesting thought.
Here's Myriam, now Mynd-Ah:
Mynd-Ah: I can't wrap my brain around a concept that Krypton still exists. It's possible there was a battle taking place as the planet was dying from within. Because if Krypton still existed, why would Superman stay on Earth all the time? He'd want to go “home” to his people, right?
Superman fan Oliver Willis assumed a different end to Krypton but an end nonetheless:
@eriklundegaard i think theyre going with the version in which krypton was attacked/destroyed by braniac— Oliver Willis (@owillis) April 17, 2013
Even the Superman Homepage shrugged:
@eriklundegaard I think it blows up. I don't know for sure, but I guess we'll find out in just under 2 months.— Superman Homepage (@SupermanHomepge) April 17, 2013
And now? In Entertainment Weekly? The truth is revealed:
In this iteration, Clark Kent's heroic tendencies would rise to the surface only when the threat was great enough. It would have to be a global menace — one that might also trigger an internal conflict about whether he belongs on Earth even as he yearns to be among his own kind. That's what pits him against General Zod (Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian tyrant who wants Clark to join him back on Krypton, which would mean abandoning his post as defender of the weaklings of Earth.
I should add that there's one more possibility, which Timonian Elder #2 mentioned in the comments field yesterday.
That does change the Superman concept rather significantly. I wonder if it will make sense. I also wonder if my theory, that Zod simply doesn't know Krypton is dust, is still possible.
That would explain Zod's message. But it wouldn't explain why there's no Kryptonite.
There's also this possibility via Mr. Willis' theory above: Krypton was attacked by Brainiac, and most of the people died, and Zod is interested in gathering the remaining Kryptonians to restart the planet, which is now desolate but still exists.
Four versions of Jor-El, the man of science who wasn't listened to: Nelson Leigh in “Superman” (1948)
Robert Rockwell in “The Adventures of Superman” (1952)
Marlon Brando in “Superman: The Movie” (1978)
Russell Crowe in the upcoming “Man of Steel” (2013)
Krypton Lives! According to EW
Enter Henry Cavill, the 29-year-old dark-haired, blue-eyed Brit selected to don the red cape this time. In this iteration, Clark Kent's heroic tendencies would rise to the surface only when the threat was great enough. It would have to be a global menace — one that might also trigger an internal conflict about whether he belongs on Earth even as he yearns to be among his own kind. That's what pits him against General Zod (Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian tyrant who wants Clark to join him back on Krypton, which would mean abandoning his post as defender of the weaklings of Earth.
Please compare with my April 16th post suggesting same.
Thanks to reader Tony for alterting me to this development.
Movie Review: Superman: The Movie (1978)
I was 15 years old when I first saw “Superman: The Movie” and in some sense I still see it through the eyes of a 15-year-old. Most movies don’t do this to me. Most movies age poorly. I look at them 20 or 30 years later and blanch. But the pace of “Superman” is my pace. Its sense-of-wonder is my sense-of-wonder. Its balance of Biblical myth (Krypton), American myth (Smallville), comic relief (Lex Luthor) and heroic myth (Superman) seems exactly right to me. Give me the helicopter rescue backed by John Williams’ score and I turn to putty. I turn 15 again.
Yes, parts of the movie are dated. The Artctic icebergs look like styrofoam, the threatened California homes look like models, Jeff East’s wig looks like a wig. And so much is left unanswered. Why do Kryptonians, such an advanced civilization, cling to family crests and trial without counsel? Is Jor-El a prosecutor, a scientist, or both? Is there any furniture on Krypton? And when exactly does Clark fall for Lois? Immediately? By and by? The love is just assumed. Suddenly he’s sitting at his desk, staring.
There are chronological issues. We’re told Krypton exploded in 1948 when Kal-El was a baby, and at 18 Clark went north, where Jor-El taught him for 12 years. Which brings us to the present date: 1978. But that means Clark was in high school between 1964 and 1966. (In “Superman III,” we find out he was the Class of ’65.) So why are the kids listening to Bill Haley and the Comets, who last charted in 1956? Is Smallville really that backward?
Don’t even get me started on “Can you read my mind?”
Doesn’t matter. There’s something like pure joy in this movie. It’s the joy of doing what everyone thought couldn’t be done: make a superhero movie as an epic; make us believe, as the tagline said, that a man could fly.
It’s ballsy the way it begins. I’m not talking about the curtains opening, and the homage to June 1938 and Action Comics No. 1. That’s charming but a blip in screentime.
No, I’m talking Gen. Zod. For a movie that’s nearly two and a half hours long, and doesn’t show us a glimpse of its title character until nearly 50 minutes in, and doesn’t reveal this character to the world until nearly 70 minutes in, the filmmakers, including director Richard Donner, have the balls to begin with a sequence that has no real relevance until the sequel: the trial (such as it is), and judgment (“Guilty! Guil-tee! Guil-tay!”), and incarceration into the Phantom Zone, of the criminals Zod, Ursa and Non (Terrence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran). It’s a scene that affects nothing for the rest of our film. They could just as easily have begun with the Kryptonian Council not heeding Jor-El’s warnings about Krypton’s imminent destruction, then threatening him if he tells anyone his theories. To which Jor-El says, “Neither I, nor my wife, will leave the planet Krypton.” I always imagine Kryptonian Elder #2 countering with, “What about your son?” Jor-El: “Uhhh....”
The Christ metaphor is obvious and intended. The baby is delivered via a star-like spacecraft to a childless couple, Ma and Pa Kent (Phyllis Thaxter and Glenn Ford). His middle years are lost in the wilderness. “They only lack the light to show the way,” Jor-El says. “For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you: my only son.” Was the metaphor supposed to continue in “Superman II”? Is that what giving up his powers was supposed to be? Death and resurrection? If so, someone forgot to tell Richard Lester.
Back in the day, Brando got shit for playing Jor-El: too much money ($3 million for 11 days work), ridiculous hair, a role beneath his majesty. But he’s good. It’s a ludicrous role, wrapped in tin-foil suits and surrounded by special effects, and filmed in a rush to accommodate his schedule, but it still works. Besides, with both his signing and his performance he set the correct tone: Superman is serious business.
At the same time, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty are impeccable comic relief. (“Are we going to Addis Ababa, Mr. Luthor?”) Valerie Perrine is funny, too, and so lucious she should be rated “R” just for standing there. She’s also Superman’s first kiss, isn’t she? Who before her? Lana Lang? Too busy being dragged to parties by that doofus Brad. Lois? Too busy, period. Superman doesn’t even kiss Lois in this movie. Well, when she’s alive anyway. Spoiler alert.
Lois is funny. They searched everywhere for their Lois, went through some great possibilities—Deborah Raffin, Susan Blakely, Lesley Ann Warren—but Kidder has it all. Her Lois is silly, driven, in love. She’s a great career women. She’s also accident-prone. Superman saves her from death three times here: 1) he stops the mugger’s bullet; 2) he catches her in mid-air after she falls from the helicopter; 3) and he turns back time after she is buried alive in a California earthquake.One wonders how she managed before he came along.
Lois Lane: driven, silly, in love.
Superman from day one
But the movie flies or doesn’t on the title character’s back. Director Richard Donner’s catchword during production was “verisimilitude,” which begins and ends with Christopher Reeve. Signing Mario Puzo to write the first draft of the screenplay, then signing Marlon Brando to play Jor-El, were important points in getting the project off the ground; but it’s Reeve who matters. He’s the greatest superhero casting ever. He’s not only comic-book handsome, he’s an actor. He makes the worst secret identity ever—I’ll put on these glasses and no one will tell—believable. Imagine the disaster if one of the stars the project pushed for (Robert Redford, James Caan, Al Pacino), or one of the stars that pushed for the project (Sylvester Stallone), had gotten the role. Now, of course, everyone says they wanted an unknown. Producer Ilya Salkind blames DC Comics for pushing for a famous face, but casting director Lynn Stalmaster says Ilya and father Alexander kept putting Reeve’s portfolio on the bottom of the pile.
Here’s creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz on what happened when Reeve finally got his screen test:
He hopped off the balcony and said, “Good evening, Miss Lane.” And [cinematographer] Geoffrey Unsworth looked over at me and went [makes impressed face]. Because the tone was just right. He went through the test and we just knew we had him.
Donner: “He was Superman from day one.”
Reeve plays him straight. He plays him as the straight man in his own movie. He’s a boy scout in a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate world. “I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way,” he says, to which Lois Lane laughs in his face. “You're gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!” she says. He has a response to that, too. “I’m sure you don’t mean that, Lois.” Then he adds, “Lois, I never lie.” He is, as Miss Teschmacher says later in the film, too good to be true.
Superman: too good to be true.
Leaping over the ’60s in a single bound
His persona was actually viewed as one of the film’s biggest stumbling blocks. Here’s Christopher Reeve in the 1980 TV special, “The Making of Superman: The Movie”:
Making people believe that a man could fly wasn’t really the hardest part of making the film. I mean, we all know Superman can leap over tall buildings, but the question is: Could he leap over the generation gap into those early Siegel and Schuster days? We wanted to know if a man from the innocent ’30s could survive in the post-Watergate ’70s.
How do they do this? Follow the chronology. Clark was compelled north at 18 to create the Fortress of Solitude, where he spent 12 years listening to Jor-El drone on about the mysteries of the universe. What does this mean? It means he leapt over the ‘60s in a single bound. He missed LBJ and the Vietnam War, Nixon and Watergate. He missed the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the tragedies of My Lai and and Kent State, the mass murders of Richard Speck and Charles Manson. He missed the White Album. I’m sure Jor-El had a current-events class going (“My son … I believe ‘The walrus was Paul’ is misdirection on the part of Mr. Lennon”); but it’s one thing to study it and another thing to live through it. In the end, Superman is a product of both the planet Krypton and 1950s Smallville and he takes both with him to 1970s Metropolis, where crime is rampant, everyone moves fast, and no one says “Swell.” But rather than the city turning him cynical—he’s impervious in more ways than one—he helps the city turn innocent. He flies by and pulls the cynical masses in his wake. The tagline of the movie was, “You’ll believe a man can fly,” but for both Metropolis citizens and moviegoers around the world you could remove the last four words. Superman made us believe.
Yet the question keeps nagging: how does he remain so innocent? Surely he knows what’s going on in the world. Surely he can detect pulse-rates lying and hear crimes—public and private—being committed. Yet he remains who he is. He maintains his belief in the goodness of humanity who only lack the light to show them the way. Of course he’s got Pa Kent and his wisdom, and Jor-El and his wisdom, and maybe he doesn’t push beyond that. Or maybe he knows how dangerous it is to push beyond that. “Lois, I never lie.” Because if he did, where would he stop? If he gave in to one temptation, how many might he succumb to?
By the way: I never lie? Isn’t that what Clark Kent is—a lie? There’s nothing true about the persona. Quentin Tarantino has famously suggested that Clark Kent is Superman’s comment upon humanity—that he sees us as weak, cowardly and equivocating—but Christopher Reeve beat him to that analysis by 30 years. Back in 1978, Reeve told The New York Times: “I see Clark as a deliberate put-on by Superman. Clark’s a tongue-in-cheek impression of who we are.” But shouldn’t a secret identity be about fitting in? About blending into the background? Clark does not. He’s all aw-shucks and gee-whiz. He’s a young man wearing a fedora without irony in the 1970s. (Alert George W.S. Trow.) In his own way, Clark is as isolated as Superman.
“I never lie, Lois.” Right.
Kryptonian in its advancement
Five names share screenplay credit: Mario Puzo (“The Godfather”), David Newman (“Bonnie and Clyde”), Robert Benton (“Kramer vs. Kramer”), Leslie Newman (this) and Tom Mankiewicz (“Live and Let Die”). They give us so many good lines:
- “Why? You ask why? Why does the phone always ring when you’re in the bathtub?”
- “It’s amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving.”
- “Statistically speaking, of course, it’s still the safest way to travel.”
Apparently William Goldman, one of the biggest screenwriters of the day, turned down the gig. He told the Salkinds he didn’t see how it could be done. I don’t blame him. What was the greatest superhero adaptation before “Superman: The Movie”? The “Captain Marvel” serial from 1941? Max Fleischer’s Superman cartoons from the same year? The Adam West “Batman” of the 1960s?
“Superman” wiped them all away. It was years ahead of its time. It was Kryptonian in its advancement. It took another 11 years before we got Tim Burton’s “Batman” and another 11 years after that to get to Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Twenty-two years: an entire generation. Back in the mid-1970s, Hollywood, enamored of disaster and devil movies, didn’t think much of superhero movies. But it only lacked the light to show it the way.
Why is IMDb.com Spreading Lies About Stan Lee?
On IMDb's trivia page for “Superman” (1948) we get the following info:
In Chapter one of this classic serial, Ed Cassidy (Eben Kent) advises Clark that “With great power comes great responsibility,” the line which Stan Lee has always claimed as his own, and spoken by Uncle Ben Parker in the SpiderMan stories (including the first movie). Not saying he stole the line, but he didn't originate it either.
I'd just watched Chapter One again, and particularly this scene, because it's also the scene in which Eben (eventually Jonathan) Kent tells not-so-young Clark (Kirk Alyn) that he must use his powers “in the interest of truth, tolerance and justice.” It was this scene, in fact, with “tolerance” subbing for the eventual, Cold-War-era “... and the American way,” that led to my 2006 New York Times Op-Ed on the tangled history of the phrase: “Truth, Justice and (Fill in the Blank).”
But I hadn't heard Eben say “with great power comes great responsibility.” That would've leapt out at me.
So I watched it again. Here's how the conversation goes:
Pa Kent: Your unique abilities make you a kind of superman. And because of these great powers, your speed and strength, your x-ray vision and supersensitive hearing, you have a great responsibilty.
Clark: I know what you’re going to say, Dad. I must use my powers justly and wisely.
Pa Kent: Yes, you might use them all in the interest of truth, tolerance and justice.
It's hardly the same. I'm sorry. There's just no music to it the way there is with Stan's line. You can watch it here around the 6:00 mark:
Do major websites issue corrections? Apologies? Should they? How did the above bit of trivia get on IMDb anyway? And why was it written that way? “...the line which Stan Lee has always claimed was his own... Not saying he stole the line...”? [Emphasis mine.]
Justice is always hard to come by but we should be able to expect a little truth from our major online reference sources. IMDb?
The dialogue of the 1948 'Superman' serial is hardly Stan Lee material.
When Christopher Reeve Knew 'Superman' Would Work
“Once I had to appear on Fifty-seventh Street in New York in my costume. We were filming a scene in which Superman catches a burglar climbing up a building with suction cups and brings him down to the street. The burglar and I both hung from wires below a construction crane about ten stories above the sidewalk. ... As the crew prepared for the scene, I waited in a trailer on Fifty-eighth Street with a couple of enormous bodyguards. (I wondered who they worked for when they weren't needed on a movie set. And I thought it was sort of funny that Superman would need bodyguards, but [director Richard] Donner was worried about my safety.)
”Finally they were ready to shoot, and I came out of my trailer with my two guardians. There was nobody there—absolutely no one in sight. I thought: We're a flop. Nobody cares. We walked through a passageway to the front of the building on Fifty-seventh Street. As I came around the corner, I suddenly saw several thousand people jamming the sidewalks on both sides of the steet. When the crowd spotted me in my Superman costume, a huge cheer went up. I was stunned relieved, and suddenly quite nervous.
“The wires were lowered from the construction crane. I shook hands with the burglar and was hooked up to the harness underneath my costume. Donner called for a rehearsal. I double-checked that the hooks were closed and locked, then gave the thumbs-up to indicate I was ready. As I was hoisted up, the crowd roared their approval. They didn't care about the crane or the wires; they were willing to look past all of it. There was Superman, flying up the side of the building. That's when I knew the movie would work.”
--Christopher Reeve, “Still Me,” pp. 194-95
Quick Quiz: Who is This Baby?
And don't say Bert Lahr's kid.
First clue: It was a first on the silver screen.
Second clue: It's from a movie in the 1940s.
Third clue: The baby, in the movie, is looking up at his parents, who are about to die.
Fourth clue: The real name of the baby isn't famous. It isn't even known. It's who the baby is playing.
UPDATE: Longtime reader Reed got it below. It's the first, live-action, screen incarnation of Kal-El, or Superman, in the 1948 serial “Superman,” starring Kirk Alyn. If anyone knows who played the baby, let me know. IMDb.com doesn't have it.
I will now update the tags, etc.
A Good Sign for 'Man of Steel'
Here's a complaint I had about the movie “District 9” back in 2009:
Writer-director Neill Blomkamp wants the aliens to be a despised minority so that’s what they become. And that’s all they become. Despite the fact that they’re aliens and—I can’t stress this enough—the existence of aliens changes everything. It’s a Copernicus moment. ...
Does the aliens’ existence change the religions of the world, or our various views of God, in whose image we are supposedly made? Apparently not. Does it alter the U.N.? Foreign relations? Our planetary defense systems? Nope. The only thing that happens, apparently, is the ho-hum, the paperwork, the disgusted shake of the head that these creatures live in our midst.
Here's something I wrote in 2007 about the helicopter-rescue scene in “Superman: The Movie”:
The crowd below — prodding us, the theater audience — breaks into applause too easily. A flying man? Who can grab a helicopter effortlessly? They should be stunned into silence. Instead they react as if someone just hit an 8th inning homerun.
And here is David S. Goyer, who wrote the screenplay for the upcoming “Man of Steel,” in the March 2013 issue of Empire magazine:
It just struck me that if Superman really existed in the world, first of all this story would be a story about first contact. He's an alien. You can easily imagine a scenario in which we'd be doing a film like “E.T.” [hunting him down] as opposed to him running around in tights. If the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history.
That's a good sign, and it's borne out in the trailer and in the poster (below).
Apparently the first glimmer for this project began when Goyer was stuck on what became “The Dark Knight Rises,” which he then ignored for a week to indulge a fascination with Superman. And he came up with this concept.
Another good sign? “Intriguingly,” Ian Nathan of Empire writes, “the film's biggest secret seems to surround good-old Clark Kent—formerly Superman's befuddled, bespectacled alter-ego. Coud it be here where the mythos is getting its biggest shake-up?”
Could it? I hope this means he doesn't become a reporter at The Daily Planet. Because who in their right mind becomes a reporter in 2013?
Apparently an alien with superpowers won't be greeted with applause and huzzahs in “Man of Steel”
'Superman,' 'Man of Steel,' and the US/UK Switcheroo
In casting Zack Snyder's upcoming “Man of Steel,” they kept flying back-and-forth across the pond. The American becomes the Brit, and the Brit the American:
- Superman, Kal-El, who was played by an American (Christopher Reeve), is now being played by a Brit (Henry Cavill).
- Superman's father, Jor-El, who was played by an American (Marlon Brando), is now being played by a Brit/Kiwi (Russell Crowe).
- Superman's nemesis, Zod, who was played by a Brit (Terrence Stamp), is now being played by an American (Michael Shannon).
Back in '78, the villains were British—as they were in “Star Wars”—because, I suppose, the Brits, even at that late day, were shorthand for “Empire.” Is that the U.S. now?
As for the Brits, they're our superheroes. The lastest incarnations of Batman (Wales, UK), Spider-Man (Surrey, UK), Thor (Melbourne, Aus.), Mr. Fantastic (Wales, UK), Charles Xavier (Port Glasgow, Scotland), Magneto (Killarney, Ireland), the Beast (Berkshire, UK), the Wolverine (Sydney, Aus.), and now Superman (Jersey, UK), are all British.
I guess America still has Iron Man (NYC) and Captain America (Boston). Not to mention Ghost Rider (Long Beach, Calif.). Which most people don't want to mention.
Here's the “Man of Steel” rundown:
Kneel before Zod! Terrence Stamp (UK) in 1978 and Michael Shannon (US) in 2013.
Jor-El (US) and Lara (UK) with baby Kal-El in 1978's “Superman”
Jor-El (New Zealand) and Lara (Israel) with baby Kal-El in 2013's “Man of Steel”
Superman (US) looking at Lois in 1978's “Superman”
Superman (UK) looking at Lois in 2013's “Man of Steel”
Max Landis and 'the Death and Return of Superman'
A few weeks back, during music breaks on the “Karl Show (Starring Jason),” Karl and Jason talked up “Chronicle,” and screenwriter Max Winter, son of Jon, who apparently, recently, had a few scripts on “The Black List,” which are the great unmade (soon-to-be-made) scripts making the rounds in Hollywood. Karl said the dude had also done a video on “The Death and Return of Superman.” I asked for a link.
Turns out I'd watched a bit of it before but turned it off, or the web equivalent, because Landis' persona, his general pronouncements, and the scotch sloshing around his glass, all annoyed me too much. This time I watched the whole thing. Here it is:
Landis, who was born in 1985, is railing against “The Death and Return of Superman,” a comic-book storyline that began in 1992 with, yes, the death of the world's first superhero, continued into a storyline in which four super men vie for the now-open position of “Superman,” and ended with Superman's return, not from death, but from a Kryptonian-type “healing coma,” which is similar to our “human death.”
Right. Lame. And Landis rightly rails against it. But he begins so poorly. First words:
Nobody gives a fuck about Superman. You don't give a fuck about Superman even if you think you do. What's special about him? That he was the first superhero? That's it.
How untrue is this? It's not even true for Landis. Here he is in a more recent video:
Lastly, a quick note to people who have been saying 'I hate Superman.' If I hate Superman, would I have spent two months of my life and 16 minutes of yours talking about him? I LOVE Superman.
Landis' conclusion is that, rather than being about the death of Superman, the storyline was ultimately about the death of death, since, afterward, no character died, truly died, in comic books. I'd say that's the perspective of the young. When the “death of Superman” story broke into the mainstream media in 1992, I was 29 years old, 15 years removed from my comic-buying days, but even I knew they weren't talking about the real death of Superman. Did the Green Goblin die? Did Gwen Stacy? Everyone comes back. If there's money to be made, you come back. And there's nothing but money to be made from Superman.
In fact, rather than being about the death of death, you could argue that “The Death of Superman” began the birth of “the death of” storyline: Superman, Captain America, whomever. But they all come back. It's the industry that's dying.
Superman at the 1940 World's Fair: two years after his birth; 52 years before his “death.”
Look! On the Internet! It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Henry Cavill!
Here's the long shot:
And here's the close-up:
Jeff Wells talks a bit about the costume: the subdued reds, the criss-cross texture, the pleats of the cape. He's agin it. But he doesn't mention the most obvious deficiency:
Where's the curl?
This is a step back to George Reeves' Superman's hair. I'll gladly give up the red undies--which director Zack Snyder may in fact be doing. But the curl is as much part of Superman's coiffure as muttonchops are to Wolverine.
I'll say this, though. I don't know about Zack Snyder but at least Cavill looks like he means business.
Sun, Son and Superman
The morning after I watched “Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics,” I woke up thinking of that scene from Bryan Singer's “Superman Returns” (2006) where the yellow sun revives Superman, who's near death. It's almost pagan, I thought. He's like a sun god, I thought. Then I recalled the obvious Christ allusions in the film (“They only lack the light to show the way,“ his father, Jor-el, says. ”For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son”), and wondered if Singer wasn’t attempting to merge sun and son, pagan and Christian, into one. One man, one superman, to unite us all. Superman sacrificies for us, he shows us the light, even as his light, his power, comes from a less Judeo-Christian source.
Or has this conjoining of religious influences been there all along?
I know: sun/son. Give me 48-odd years and sometimes the other shoe drops.
Waiting for a Superman (Movie)
The other day on Facebook I mentioned that I've only bought eight new songs this year—and it's nearly the end of May. My friend Andy, recently of Hanoi, suggested the latest Iron & Wine collection, which I promptly bought, and which includes this cover of the Flaming Lips' song “Waiting for a Superman.” It's quite beautiful. You can listen to it here, but, as always, I recommend buying. Support your local artists. Even when they're not local.
Here are the lyrics:
I asked you a question
I didn't need you to reply
Is it getting heavy?
But then I realized
It's getting heavy
Well I thought it was already as heavy as can be
Is it overwhelming
To use a crane to crush a fly?
It's a good time for Superman
To lift the sun into the sky
Because it's getting heavy
Hell I thought it was already as heavy as can be
Waiting for Superman
That they should try to
Hold on the best they can
He hasn't dropped them, forgot them or anything
It's just too heavy for Superman to lift
The people working on the next Superman movie should listen to this song over and over. The question they need to answer, to make the movie work, is right here: What's too heavy for Superman to lift?
Answer that and you've got a story.
Oh, and I'm still taking suggestions for new music if anyone's got ideas.
Things Superman can lift: a car, a lion, Goebbels.
SUPERMAN! Starring Vass Anderson
I was thinking about buying Superman: The Movie (1978) yesterday and so checked it out at amazon.com. There are a couple of versions. The first DVD from 2001. The four-DVD set from 2006. And now the Blu-Ray version.
Looking over the choices, I got a sense of how much the great communication tool of our age — this thing here — is on autopilot. First, plugging in “Superman: The Movie” into amazon's search engine brought back the following options, in order:
- Superman: The Movie (Blu-Ray)
- Full Metal Jacket (Blu-Ray)
- Stir of Echoes (Blu-Ray)
- Superman: The Movie (Four-Disc)
- Superman: The Movie (2001)
- Superman: The Movie (HD-DVD)
- Swordfish (Blu-Ray)
- American Psycho (Blu-Ray)
- The Devil's Rejects (Blu-Ray)
- Superman: The Movie (soundtrack)
Stir of Echoes? American Psycho? Top results, indeed.
More bothersome, to me anyway, was the cast list for the 2001 version. The film apparently starred, in order, Vass Anderson, Harry Andrews, Ned Beatty and Marlon Brando. That's it. The four-disc set gave us more familiar names (Reeve, Kidder, Brando, Hackman) but the new Blu-Ray version goes alphabetical again: Kirk Alyn, Vass Anderson, Harry Andrews, etc. This list is even more problematic because Alyn did star as Superman, but in the 1948 serial, so the listing might confuse the few people actually searching for that one.
Both of these errors, by the way, are quality-control issues, but, because I'm cynical, I assume the search-engine mistake is intentional — a way of getting unwanted Blu-Ray discs before our bloodshot eyes — while the alphabetical listing is an unintentional, autopilot, no-one's-paying-attention error. Expect to see more of both.
Oh, and Vass Anderson? He played Third Elder.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard