Everyone in the know and not so much has blogged and posted and ranted and raved about Man of Steel. Within the comics’ community and serious fans it has reached the level of the battle between General Zod and Superman in the last part of the film. I had planned to do a somewhat casual version of my thoughts on the movie but along the way I got caught in the fervor.
I, too, have a passion for Superman that is personal. I grew up with the understanding that my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson had something to do with Superman. In my childish memory that translated to—my grandfather created Superman but it was somehow taken from him. Obviously the Major didn’t create Superman but there is much that he did create including founding DC Comics for which he has received little credit even among many in the comics community who should know better. The oral traditions of comics’ history have perpetuated a lot of myth that is constantly being repeated without solid research or scholarship. The irony of Superman is that he exists within a context of injustice and always will. That is a fact that cannot be ignored.
Archetypes exist within the natural world as forces of nature and become anthropomorphized by becoming gods and goddesses and in popular culture, super heroes and various stars of media. Thus the natural forces of sexuality and love translate to Aphrodite in the Greek world and later Venus in the Roman world. Today our Venuses are airbrushed, photoshopped and surgically altered perfections of stardom. Goddesses whose beauty, we mere mortals cannot attain. One of my mentors, a Jungian scholar, Alice O. Howell often said, that the archetype has an energy that is so strong that identifying with it from the ego is dangerous. In other words, it’s best to appreciate the archetype but don’t get caught up in it. You’re not Superman and never will be.
In late January I participated on a panel led by Larry Tye, author of Superman, which I have noted in an earlier blog post Superman Sunday. Jim Shooter stated succinctly that Superman is always good. That statement resonated with me and that is the essence of the archetype and the essence of the intense pros and cons of the film. The conflict surrounding Man of Steel that has caused so much comment is about the archetypal nature of Superman, his innate goodness and if we, in our culture still believe in the value of goodness. Whether or not your sense of the movie adhered to that theme is exactly the point.
I won’t repeat the various points of view but I’m providing links to some of the main contributors. Mark Waid, a well-respected writer for DC and a contributor to the Superman myth had a strong reaction to the film and came in for serious heat in the world of Twitter, Facebook, et al. Mark’s intimate creative involvement with Superman makes for a passionate opinion and it’s well worth a look here. Russ Burlingame has his take on the pros and cons of the movie including Mark Waid in his blog on ComicBook.com and gives a nice overview of some of the issues.
Michael Netzer, an artist for both DC and Marvel who has Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider Man in his credits also has a blog that lays out some of the thoughts and consensus of the comics’ community, which continues to be constellated around the corporate lack of giving credit to creators especially Siegel and Shuster. You can read it here and it’s worthwhile to take the time with some of the excellent links he has. Tony Isabella whom I consider a pal and for whom I have immense respect has one of his usual straight shooting posts about his thoughts on the subject, which you can find here on Tony’s Bloggy Thing.
Much of the passion about Man of Steel arises out of the need to express individual freedom as opposed to the corporate mentality that none of us can escape these days. Is there a remote spot on the planet with no media connections? Within the film the statement is made that in fact, there is no place we can escape the media as shown by a sequence of cuts of people watching the same images on television in various remote spots on the planet including a yurt in Mongolia.
We’re all providing free content for the machine and a few more dollars to the gazillionaires who own the machine every time we blog, tweet, post on Facebook and all the other places to which we provide information. I’d be willing to bet that many of the same fans that loudly proclaim their loyalty to Siegel and Shuster and rage against the machine also download free media content and don’t want to pay a dime for it. There’s a pervasive sense that devalues creativity in our culture and believes that media content should be free for everyone. Anyone who works creatively today must be in relationship to the corporate entities that control content. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to see Man of Steel. I wanted to see how the archetypal goodness of Superman would be presented through the lens of Time Warner, WB/DC Entertainment. Because of my grandfather’s initial vision of what popular culture could provide I always want DC to do the right thing. I want them to do good.
I went to the movie Friday morning with Pulpster Guy who loves action movies and is also in the know about comics and all kinds of film genres from French New Wave to old Norma Shearer movies. We were not disappointed by Man of Steel either in its spectacle as an action movie or its retelling of the myth. Both of us agreed that the script was especially good throughout the initial part of the movie and we liked the way it developed through flashbacks and revealed a solid mythic birthright and the conflict that Superman must always face. The actors were well cast and gave good performances all round. I especially liked the fact that it was an emotional film without being cheesy or corny. The alien world of Krypton was beautifully realized and yes it is a darker Superman who faces the contradiction of the nature of goodness in our modern world. How do we make the choice for goodness in the face of those who would destroy things on a massive scale? Is this a Superman for our time where we give up individual freedom in order to be safe? Where is the essence of pure goodness in those kinds of conflicts? Surely it didn’t escape anyone that the buildings in Metropolis collapsed in much the same way as the World Trade Center towers and that the ashes and people fleeing from the destruction were reminiscent of 9/11? I did not enjoy the last part of the film with the usual mind numbing blowing everything up loud bone crunching action film scenario. Much, much too long and too overwhelming for my taste. But I’m a woman and the film was not intended for my demographic, which is a whole other conversation.
So is Superman’s goodness compromised in Man of Steel? For me, there’s no definitive answer to that question because the film presents a much more complex character than the nostalgic Superman from the past. So much has changed in our world as a result of 9/11. I don’t think you can ever dismiss the dichotomy of the context of injustice that sits side by side with Superman’s goodness. Truth, Justice and the American Way. What exactly is the American Way? A democracy where racism, homophobia, and misogyny exist in ironic contrast to the ideals of who we say we are.
And that’s one of the reasons I liked the film. That ironic sense of injustice and Superman’s ability to conquer the injustice through his goodness is what I saw in the film. You have to see it for yourself because you’ll have your own point of view about that archetypal force. Why should we even care this much about a movie? Because Superman is iconic in his goodness and it’s important that the conversation about goodness has come about as a consequence. We live in a culture that exists instantaneously and somewhat anonymously so that there are those who feel they can say whatever they wish about others including vicious personal attacks. Threatening to punch someone because you don’t like their point of view about a movie seems a little over the top to me. I’m sure I’m not alone in having experienced online bullying. The violence in our society against women, the pervasiveness of guns, the threat of terrorists who wish to destroy anyone who does not adhere to their narrow view of the world are the reality in which we live. We do, indeed, need Super Heroes to remind us to go above the fray, keep to what is right and honorable and to do good.
For those of you interested in further reading, you know I have my favorite authors on the subject. Here’s my short list. And next week, I’ll have a special guest who will give us the feminine version of a super hero. Stay tuned.
For Comics History and the Creation of Superman:
Men of Tomorrow, Gerard Jones
Superman, Larry Tye
Super Boys, Brad Ricca
For Superman’s archetypal nature:
Our Hero: Superman on Earth, Tom De Haven