The Dark Man Of Steel

With Superman apparently ready for anti-depressants and group therapy, is the US now incapable of believing in anything plain 'good' anymore?

Superman - a suitable candidate for therapy?

Kudos to Rope Of Silicon for expressing in one image what many Superman fans felt about Warners’ announcement last week that they intend to leverage their non-Batman DC comics characters as ‘dark’ – whether the franchise suits it or not.

Supie - he's not that nice.
Perhaps this isn’t the right time to attempt movie renditions of the straight ‘good guys’ (and gals). I’ve suggested before that the spirit of the Bush years is one of brooding internal dialogue, confessional and redemption –  this is not something that you can just graft onto a character as optimistic – and arguably simplistic – as Superman. Supie himself came about in a time of crisis in America, and was warmly welcomed. When Richard Donner incarnated him on the big screen in 1978, America was down the toilet economically and in the grip of confusion on many cultural issues. Nonetheless, on both occasions, the US was willing to cheer up a bit and accept the fantasy of a Man Of Steel that saw the latent good in it and believed that the American Way and the American Dream was worth fighting for. 

Now America, it seems, is inconsolable, and can only find credibility in heroes that are damaged, conflicted, shop-worn and very unsure of themselves. 

Superman in conflict with himself is a powerful image mostly because it is very much against the grain of the character. Many remember only the ‘junk yard fight’ sequence from the generally-poor Superman 3 (1983), where the man of steel literally divides himself in two in order to combat and defeat the ‘Evil Superman’ he has been forced to become. If such conflict is built into the core character the way it is – and always has been – with the Wayne/Batman character, then it isn’t Superman anymore. It’s Superloon.

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In the age of the ultra-flawed hero, many complain that nothing but Kryptonite can weaken Superman, but Donner proved otherwise in his 1978 film, where – as in many fairy stories – it was love that really brought the hero to his knees. Arguably then, Warners are just long-tongued to graft ‘dark’ onto any property they own in the wake of the Dark Knight moneygasm.

Bryan Singer’s 2006 reboot Superman Returns was admittedly far too reverential to Donner’s take, and Mark Miller is probably right to believe that the franchise needs a from-scratch approach to really have a chance. But a total change in tone…?

The long saga of the semi-abandoned Wonder Woman movie has extra hurdles to jump, complicated as it is by the polemics of the feminist feud in current culture as to what ‘female empowerment’ really means.

Personally I just wish someone would make a Superman movie where the man from Krypton gets to be noble, heroic and do lots of saving and arse-kicking courtesy of Weta or ILM or whoever. If you need Superman depressed, you’re sick.

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