15 Jul 2013
Superman stories have no unified properties – not even Superman himself as protagonist1 – so it is somewhat ridiculous to claim that Man of Steel fails to live up to some ideal version of the hero that exists on the Wikipedia page and in Mark Waid’s mind.2 This movie explores the narrative of a Superman, just as Smallville did, just as Superman Returns did, just as Lois & Clark did. The question, as it always ends up being, is whether the film succeeds in crafting a character and story that you find appealing. Debates over absolutist versions of Superman are nonsense. While harder to argue about, it is actually worthwhile to have debates over whether Snyder and Goyer succeeded in meeting your own personal visions.
I have always seen Superman as a better version of ourselves. It may be that he is from some other planet but there was a time when the Americas were equally alien to my ancestors, when the people therein and their ways were just as strange. He is one of us, whatever that may mean and whoever we may be, and with that is the capacity for both kindness and harm, greatness and dread, good and ill. His heroics are a reminder of what we could be, if only we dared to reach. His powers fill us with fear, because great heights can come with equally great falls. We fear him because we fear each other. We fear him because we fear ourselves.
It is perfectly reasonable not to enjoy Man of Steel – it is, after all, a piece of art – but I think that some of the complaints about the lack of authenticity in the portrayal have more to do with our fear of ourselves than with a failure on the parts of Synder and Goyer. The problem with this Superman, to contradict Quentin Tarantino3, is that he is entirely too human, that he is is not super enough. He is, as the rest of us are, flawed. And that is a good thing, because perfection makes for a lousy narrative.
Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak… He’s unsure of himself… He’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.
See: World Without Superman, Luthor, Death of Superman, Last Days of Krypton. ↩
Not that I intend on belittling Mark’s thoughts on the matter. Birthright was great and he has had a number of other interesting runs; the cast he has collected to craft and maintain Thrillbent is impressive; and he also happens to be a fantastic writer outside of graphic novels. But he is also the first to admit that he is not an unbiased observer when it comes to Superman: “there are not rivers or coastlines on this planet long enough to measure just how much I wanted to love this movie”. ↩