Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Oh, Superman, What Have They Done to You?
I can't remember when I didn't like--okay, love--Superman. I don't know when I first read him in the comics, but I know that I can't remember anything before that. So from the dawn of my awareness to now (my fading awareness?), Superman has been flying along overhead, just out of sight, rarely out of mind.
My parents were not, uh, enthusiastic about comic books, so our house was not overflowing with
Some of my friends, however, living in more laissez-faire homes, had stacks of Superman comics, so to their houses I would repair on weekends (school year) and summer days to read the latest issues--sometimes over and over and over.
Later on, my parents despaired, I guess, because Clark Kent and friends become not exactly welcome guests but regular ones--like relatives you kind of have to see (they are relatives, after all) but don't really want to (they are relatives, after all). So in came the comics. I liked Superboy a lot, too--but never warmed to Supergirl--maybe because she came along (1972) after I'd quit reading comics, maybe because the thought of an all-powerful young woman just flat frightened me? Younger brother Davi and I scrapped over the Superman Annual each year (who would get to read it first? the rules were complicated: more prudent with his allowance, he usually bought it; on the other hand, I was bigger).
Jimmy Olsen (played by Jack Larson) I really liked, too--and Perry White (John Hamilton) was sufficiently gruff and even canine at times. They all became my other family. Superman was essentially a crime-fighter--stopping robberies and the like. Rescuing Lois or Jimmy. Though every now and then things would wax serious. He was also sort of like a grave older brother for young Jimmy, lecturing him from time to time not unlike the way Laertes warned Ophelia about you-know-what before he went back to school.
Later, I never watched Smallville, the TV show (2001-2010) about Superboy. Can't tell you why. Probably because I just wasn't watching much TV at all in that decade?
In 1978 (our son, Steve, had just turned six) we all went to see Superman (the day it opened!) with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder and Brando, et al. We loved it. Afterwards, Steve wanted a cape (I'd always wanted one)--maybe even a girlfriend like Kidder? It was a Superman story with a heart--as much a love story as an adventure (love is an adventure, of course)--and villain Gene Hackman was almost frisky in his evil. And that music by John Williams ...
I saw the subsequent Reeve films--none nearly so good as the first (isn't that the way with sequels, Godfather II excepted?). And then, a few years ago (2006) Joyce and I saw Superman Returns. It was in July, and we were on one of our literary trips. We had spent the day in the Chicago-Lake Forest area looking at sites involving F. Scott Fitzgerald--and were about to head to Sauk Centre, Minnesota, for some Sinclair Lewis. One evening we went to a local mall and saw the film, which we both liked a lot, despite the presence of a crying baby whose antics animated a number of patrons (not us) to ask for their money back. Throughout the crying jags, people were insisting the mother take the child outside; she refused--wanted to see Superman. I could relate, though I wondered at some particularly screechy moments what the punishment would be for punching both a mother and a newborn? (BTW: Checking my journal I note the coincidence: We saw Superman Returns on 1 July--exactly seven years to the day before Man of Steel.)
But what bothered me the most? The wanton destruction. In this post-9/11 era are we really so jaded that we are entertained by the sight of falling city buildings--buildings, by the way, that surely hold hundreds if not thousands of people, people whose lives no one seems even to notice? No one says anything, during or afterwards, about what surely was a vast loss of life. Both Smallville and Metropolis are devastated by General Zod and by the battles between Superman and Zod's minions. (Note: Three cheers for the municipal power companies of Smallville and Metropolis, though: From what I could tell, the lights stayed on in the buildings, right up to the moment of implosion.) Repeat: No one says squat about lives, about the destruction ...
I noticed something similar in the new Star Trek film, too. Khan's spacecraft crashes into a city, buildings collapse, no one says anything about it.
We seem to have reached the point in filmmaking where the directors and CGI folks no longer ask what they should do, only what they can do. As a result, many films look like computer games, characters like avatars. Plausibility and psychological verisimilitude are the missing guests at the dinner party. So it was in the early days of the first "talkies," too: The guys placing the microphones ruled all.
Leaving Man of Steel last night, I was aswirl with emotions--boredom (I soon wearied of the endless violence, from Krypton to Earth), disgust (see above), and, I guess, a feeling of loss. The caped friend I knew as a boy is gone--the truth-justice-and-American-way guy. In his place? A flying mannequin whose battles destroy communities. Superman wept last night--but not for the many who surely perished in the buildings and elsewhere. He wept for himself. He'd been forced to kill General Zod, you see. So let's have a Pity Party.