I honestly think is where Superman’s popularity struggles. The more cynical we become about the “American Way” and what that is, the less likely we are to trust relivance/motives/desire to aspire to an altruistic character.
Yes, it’s no accident that Morrison explicitly framed All-Star Superman around his ‘12 labours’.
I think that makes Superman more relevant.
Yeah, this is a great point. Superman’s struggles to be heroic mirrors America’s own struggles to use power responsibly and, basically, live up to the hype of being “the greatest country in the world.”
Superman is without question a huge teaching character for kids, American and otherwise. He shouldn’t be written with moral ambiguity and I’d limit the stories where he struggles to do good. Speilbergian simplicity works best for him, he’s the anti Nolan character.
I think all the DC characters are best served with simple takes on the characters. They’re enough if they’re just good people doing the right thing for the sake of it.
This is why I see Cap as his Marvel counterpart. I know some see more of a Thor-Superman and Cap-Batman parallel, but for me it’s that inherent uncompromised goodness that’s so important, and is at the heart of the character.
Ronnie’s comment made me think immediately of Cap, too, and of how they didn’t have a problem with any of this stuff. They went the old-fashioned way in establishing the character, and then gave him enough to do in the other movies that the issue of a changing America just didn’t come up much
I really don’t think it’s all that hard to get Superman right. Snyder managed to do some of it well in the first movie.
The best idea for Warners would probably be a time jump - start the next movie with the JLA as by now well-established heroes.
For the family film audience, that is true. I don’t think it will play as well for people not taking their kids to see the movies (because they don’t have any). Wonder Woman balanced that really well. She obviously intends to do good and has absolutely no selfish objectives. However, she is woefully ignorant of the nature of conflict, violence and selfishness underlying the war she’s trying to stop. She simply thinks it’s one powerful villain behind it all.
Ironically, some of the better WB animated films adapt a few of the more sophisticated comics runs questioning the morality of Superman and superheroes in general. I think a few of the cartoons have been smarter than the films.
The take on the character and the take on the world they live in are not the same thing though.
Diana is a good person, but she lives in a world where bad things happen.
The BvS idea that she’d stopped helping people was an idea they inherited. It’s not one that her own film really wanted to go with, and it’s a bit of a millstone around it’s neck, and it’s sequels.
She should’ve faced the tragic death of the man she loved and resolved to do more good, not less. That’s her.
It’s also Superman.
My point is that you can tell very sophisticated and morally complex stories about these characters, but that doesn’t mean that you should.
Not for $200m a movie.
I think Superman is even more representative of American idealism than Captain America. Cap has the out of playing him as a “man out of time”. So it’s OK for a lot of his ideals to seem old fashioned.
Superman’s success seems to hinge on how confident its writer is in the American ideal. It’s why I think the character has struggled after the 70’s when cynicism about the US government caught up with him. I think American writers who struggle with some of the ambiguities of their country struggle with the character. It’s also why I think non-US writers like @Mark_Millar who tend to have a high opinion of the US have such a clear idea of the character.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to confusing the “American Way” with American foreign policy or the idea of “American Exceptionalism”.
That’s what (some) American politicians do a lot.
Agreed. I think it’s a mistake to confuse a country and its people with its politics.
My wife and I were in a cafe in NYC when on vacation once and came to share a table with a nice couple from South America (I’ve forgotten the exact country for some reason) who appeared to be a similar age. We chit chatted a bit and I asked them where they were from. They told me and immediately were apologetic about the politics of their country which kind of broke my heart. I told them exactly what I said above.
I believe that the American Way should shape American foreign policy and American politics not vice versa. It should be the guiding ideal to what we do as a country. I think there is still a lot of it present but there are times that we lose sight of it.
Except with America, that is not so clear. Being American is a political act, not an ethnic identity, and much of American history has been the argument of who is and is not an American.
Red Son definitively showed how nature and nurture interact to form what we hilariously call “personality”. It is not the core self. I really liked the old-Krypton spin of Man of Steel where Kal was natural-born in a world of restricted reproduction. The Codex thing turned into a throwaway (unless Snyder had ideas for the future) and while the raison d’etre for MoS it became one of those Amazing Vanishing Concepts. Aside from being a Kryptonian (which apparently everybody in the Galaxy has heard about, despite being isolationist for millennia) carrying all those job descriptions must make even his corpse valuable.
But once Kal discovers his roots, then what? Where I totally disagree with Mark’s story is what happened with Diana. Hogwash. Diana would have flown her invisible plane as point of the USAF. That’s right, she would have gone totally Super-American to the point folks would think the flag was designed after her typical outfit. She would have become, to that USSR, “the American threat”. A different story, I suppose.
Even when George Reeves was Superman he was civilian the vast majority of the time, whipping out the Superman identity like a Sheriff would whip out a six-gun. It did not have to be blatantly stated a guy who flies and dresses like a circus acrobat would probably have a hard time leading a “normal” life.
Which is a question Superman keeps asking. Who are we? Who are we in private? Who do we have to be in public? Are there even more alternatives?
Who am I? Why am I here?
That’s about as existential as it gets!
But that’s exactly why I’ve never been able to get behind All Star Superman, that mythic version of him that’s so far removed from his roots that it’s basically another character. And that’s why I infinitely prefer the Action Comics take, because it does ring true to the core of the character, more than any other version I’ve seen. But again, you can see where the popular image of him conflicts with this; All Star Superman is considered Morrison’s greatest mainstream achievement, and Action Comics might as well have not happened at all.
When his Action Comics goes for the outlandish, Morrison chooses Mxyzptlk to represent it, and to me, it’s perfect. Morrison’s Mxyzptlk is unlike any other version I’ve ever seen, which is typical for him. He suddenly seems less like a random chaos engine in a funny hat and more like a functional reality. Where the ‘90s Superman comics did their best work was making Superman’s world seem absolutely real. Even Electric Superman felt completely justified in the stories, and all the moving parts around it kept moving and evolving. You had this alien monster named Scorn wearing a Superman t-shirt, and to the blind girl who occupied most of his time, he was Superman. He filled all the necessary elements, including a relationship that grounded him. (Which itself is something few superheroes outside of Barry Allen and Wally West have; maybe I’m drawing a blank, but everyone else has other reasons to pursue relationships. Spider-Man, chiefly, to further torture him, for instance.)
And so, if Scorn can be Superman, completely unacknowledged in the stories but for all intents and purposes filling the role, you can begin to see what being Superman is. He’s not just powers or the shield or an alien, or a superhero, but someone who hunkers down and does the right thing regardless of the circumstances. To everyone else he’s a huge sensation, and he is the powers, the shield, an alien. He’s inescapable. So he continues life as Clark Kent, too, and he finds someone who grounds him. I think Man of Steel explains all this ridiculously well. By having Lois know more or less from the start his secret, we don’t really need to fixate on how Clark conducts himself, because the movie makes it clear Superman is Clark. It’s only when you try to separate them you get confused. When he says he’s taking a job that will help him keep an ear on the ground, that’s probably the flimsiest bit of storytelling in the movie for me. But because we spend the whole movie watching him walk around the edges of life rather than pursue what being Clark means and what being Superman means, that kind of shorthand becomes essential. What he’s really saying is that he saw what Lois did for a living and wanted to do that, because: Lois.
When someone like Quentin Tarantino, in Kill Bill Vol. 2, tries to explain that the traditional Clark is a mask, his critique of mankind… it makes for great dialogue, but it’s also kind of insulting. I love the idea of Clark Kent being an act, but realistically it’s not an act. The more he embraces being Superman, the less grounded in the real world he becomes. He’s not going to fit in very well. Lois will see him differently, eventually, whether it’s the Man of Steel scenario or otherwise, because suddenly she understands him, and that tends to be what we all need. This doesn’t mean he’ll then feel comfortable as Clark, but that, again, Lois has grounded him. This is also why there are a lot of stories where if she’s taken away from him he loses it.
Was being American a political act for you? I agree that who is and who is not “American” is contentious but it should not be. The ethnic identity of most Americans is so convoluted so as not to be relevant (unless for some reason you’re first or second generation). I think we’re best defined by the idea of the melting pot or mosaic of ethnic identities that come together under one umbrella. It’s another thing that makes an alien the prefect American.
I’m not sure that’s fair - I thought Winter Soldier in particular (and to a lesser extent Civil War) addressed that disconnect fairly well. Cap still stood up for the core ‘American values’ that we’re talking about here, even when that brought him into conflict with American politicians and military leaders.
It is odd with Superman that we talk about “what he means” first and his character, the stories, his villains, and all that stuff second. And it feels way more important to get whatever he “means” right than any of the other stuff, sometimes even more important than actual quality. This is the only character we do this with.
I find it very strange and interesting. It’s almost like he’s a mascot or a brand moreso than a character. Which may be true.
Yeah, I think that’s true. I think also partly because without getting that core of the character right nothing else really falls into place around him and works properly.
Incidentally, this is a timely conversation for me today as I’m rereading Superman for all Seasons for the first time in a couple of years, and it’s striking just how right they get that core goodness of the character, while still making his story dramatic and interesting, including lots of action and a good strong villain. It shows that it is possible to reconcile all these aspects and still make a good story out of it.
I can’t wait to see what Miller and Romita Jr bring to the character with their take.
I think the specifically American values is also a little off the point. The main thing is both Cap and Superman are idealistic characters. They basically have no faults, as compared to the 60s Marvel model from Stan that every character has at least one.
This is purely personal but I liked those stories for a while when they focused on that but in the last year or so the gushing Cap and Supes ‘tribute’ shorts have become their own cliche and quite boring.