FUCK THIS MODERN SUPERMAN BULLSHIT

A while ago, I got really drunk and watched that film with the Cavill fella in it made by that other fella who hates women.

Then, a while after that, I spewed up some mind matter and composed a hasty thesis on the topic. I’m putting it up in raw ctrl+c here because:

a) Inept copy/paste is clearly punk as FUCK.

b) This has happened since, and that means that this is still a problem and that this still matters.

AND

c) A reminder that insomnia is not a good source of inspiration and that you can’t write yourself to sleep.

* * *

A Comparison: All-Star Superman and Authenticity

OR

Banishing the Pale Pretenders to the Phantom Zone

Caveat Lector: I’m yet to read Superman: Grounded and have very limited knowledge about it. I have my suspicions that the below might be equally applicable.

 ______________________________________________________________

Supes1

Many have examined Superman in a more nuanced and learned fashion. I’m not going to pretend that I have half the talent or background knowledge available to even passing fans.

I am not an expert, I do not necessarily now the history by heart. I have a familiarity with Nietzsche and Morrison. I’ve picked up what I can through cultural osmosis but won’t deceive anyone by claiming this is a diligent or studious thesis.

That said, while I’m not an authority on Superman as a character, I can certainly comprehend and admire all too well the shape or flavour of Superman as an idea.

Because that’s what he is. To use the word archetype would be a limiting scaffold, Superman is messianic in the way Jesus is messianic: not literally or tangibly, but as a parable.

He does not embody an ideal. He is an ideal.

Over the course of my meandering investigations, it seems to me that there is a common consensus that Superman lost his way somewhere along the line. Some people can pin-point precise moments, others can track its smear across a whole decade.

I submit Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. It is difficult to consider All-Star Superman as a work for critical analysis, in so far as any of his work circumvents and short-fuses critique by seeping beyond the fourth wall. It conveys the above argument in a manner that is succinct, superb and comprehensive.

It is not “canon”.

Its perfection; that of a completed product, is not because it exists independent of the canon. It is independent and that allows it to be perfect. This might seem like an obstinate and minute differentiation, but it serves.

All –Star Superman exists as a perfect piece without the amputations of a denuded limb, pruned the idea into the right shape. It is not the product of a messy divorce from established continuity. You could present it in its entirety to a hypothetical hermit or amnesiac and, upon finishing all twelve issues, they would then hold the sum total of the Superman “idea” in their mind. They would be able to speak authoritatively about the character, his ambitions and upbringing, his moral philosophy and naked fears.

When it does engage with its forebears, All-Star Superman is not comprised of back-breakingly weighty nostalgia, but speaks to it. Another differentiation which might seem microscopic but is absolutely vital.

That said, it is not a primer. It does not serve as “Cliff Notes”. It is Superman, in as pure and polished a form as any chunk of culture could be. It comes to use like a fragment of a forgotten planet whose elementary composition we can excitedly probe and analyse, estimating scientifically and speculating wildly about its former inhabitants and their environment.

That page up there is almost a throwaway example, a brief event in a hectic narrative. Except it isn’t. If there’s anything a fan of Morrison can appreciate, nothing is throw-away and everything is significant. Within the confines of the narrative, there is no “away”. It matters.[1]

That two-word sentence? That’s Superman.

Superman isn’t the “what if?” weekly periodical that most people imagine it to be. We are not extrapolating the adventures and tribulations of a man if he were incredibly strong, gifted with flight, impossibly fast. These are superhuman affairs and, as we’re made painfully aware, Superman is anything but human. His humanity is a learnt trait, his existence isn’t a yard-stick to hold ourselves up to: Kal-El’s personality, his whole psyche, is crafted to show what he imagines us to be.[2]

He is not transcendent. That is where the current trend of religiosity, reverence, and awkward aching metaphor ultimately falters, and why the most recent silver-screen incarnation didn’t work.

You can’t just frame him with Jesus and call it a day. I want to say that this would blasphemously demean Christ by dragging him to the level of the serialised “what if?” periodical: “what if there were a man who could walk on liquid? Expunge illness and evil? Even return from mortal injury?”

Except…

Well, that’s what the Son of God has always been: we enjoy his heroic adventures brought to you through a blend of four vivid gospels, one episode after another that would influence entire armies of caped crusaders. And talk about authors who make up new powers to get out of a narrative corner!

The Son of Krypton, though, who comes to you in four-colour blend? To get back to the case in point, Superman is not the result of a hypothesis into the existence of the Perfect Man taken to its most extreme breaking point.

From his socialistic infancy, leaping tall over ivory towers in a single bound to smash in the faces of oligarchs and society’s most corrupt citizens in the name of the average working joe, Superman is born of this one enquiry:

“Do you have a problem that you feel only affects you? That no-one else can imagine, let alone comprehend? Is there something that makes your existence a struggle, something that seems like burden even though you know it shouldn’t? Well, what if there were a man to whom it mattered?”

If there’s one thing that All-Star tries to make us aware of, it is that Superman actually seldom sees fit to use his powers except as leverage. They’re just tools that fit the job at hand, minimal force applied as a fulcrum to the most effect.

Superman’s power, the hypothetical gift we’ve bestowed upon his philosophically theoretic shoulders, is that he listens.[3]

He seldom moralises, and his most memorable speeches (particularly in All-Star) are almost laconic in their brevity. Words applied to the greatest effect.

We do not stumble or falter following in his magnificent strides, like awkward infants thrilled by the chance to ride on Daddy’s boots. We do not aspire to his position, we do not envy his responsibilities. We will not follow him into the sun.

Superman listens. Superman thinks. Superman imagines.

It is Superman’s imagination that means he will always be victorious. Of all his quantifiably limitless powers, in the end Superman is always our hero because he is always creative enough to envisage a solution.[4]

Let us pervert the message of The Dark Knight, let us taint its ever so quotable final platitudes that previously served as a stirring excuse to indulge the power trip and revenge fantasies of a sexually frustrated teetotal straight-edge billionaire whose character motivation reduces down to “anger management issues”.

In true psychoanalytic fashion, Superman is the hero we need because he is all too aware that we do not truly know what we want.[5]

In the face of this inevitable impulse that can never be indulged, Superman’s existence is a wholesome desire made manifest by the imagination of the masses. He is a solution to the conundrum.

This is Superman the therapist, Superman the anti-depressant, Superman the panacea. This means that Superman is as real as you or I. He is as indestructible as an idea can be, and we have built ourselves an idea that never loses and never, ever gives up on us.

Superman is an idea that gives back, a feedback loop of faith.

Jesus might wait for us to find him, constantly drifting in and out of our lives like a bad penny. Superman is pro-active. He puts himself out there, he gets about.

When you’re at your lowest ebb, you don’t turn to him. He turns to you.

So when I see another kiss-curl kid sneer and hurl spy satellites to the ground, as if he were a latter-day Russell Crowe dealing the paparazzi in his own inimitable manner, I don’t get upset.

When that same character follows this up with a snide remark with a level of concealed violent threat akin to the kind of evidence one might encounter in a particularly lurid domestic violence trial, I simply shrug.

When this blue and red pretender resorts to snapping his nemesis’ neck[6] because he can’t imagine a better solution, I roll my eyes.

Because as a man of steel, that character has more in common with Stalin than our big ol’ Boy Scout. Because the actions of the film would be incomprehensible, even to infants.

Because that isn’t Superman.

Supes detail

This is.


[1] This may be why DC feels it so necessary to reboot their entire universe so often, if only as a pale imitation of the creative freedom to create something resolved and perfect, to let something die for the sake of completeness.

[2] Not Clark Kent, as expounded in a lengthy expository monologue through Tarantino’s mouthpiece in Kill Bill. Clark and Superman are not schizoid dichotomies, neither one is an act. People endlessly fixate on those glasses and the image of a costume concealed by a button down shirt, which is a testament to the genius of Superman’s public face.

Neither aspect is a disguise. Clark Kent is just Superman when he wear his underpants under the trousers.

[3] Even in a Jimmy Olsen centric issue when Superman’s temperament is monstrously inverted by black kryptonite, his vicious comments are made all the more painful by their honesty. His evil counterpart’s complaints do not solely stem from a conviction of superiority, but from the final dissolution of any tolerance for the incessant pestering of a supplicant species that are in turns grateful and pleading.

This is the Old Testament, this is the changeable, senile, hungover God of creation indiscriminately hurling his cane and voiding his bowels, a patriarch whose temper we must appease and whose anger can be incurred by the most trivial and casual of activities.

There’s a reason why Jimmy Olsen pleads with witnesses to the affair, begging them not to let anyone see him like this. Unlike a myopic Abrahamic deity, it isn’t that Superman can’t be fallible. Its the inevitable rage of Caliban as he sees or fails to see his own reflection, to steal shamelessly from Mr. Wilde.

Olsen is all too aware that Superman mustn’t see and be seen to be the worst in us. Whether this is denial or hope is purely a matter of perspective.

[4] But of course he is: I mean, he’s a writer.

[5] This confusion, this perpetually unfulfilled drive is manifest as Lex Luthor, who would own the world as a bauble but cannot imagine a life without the pursuit of conquest. Alexander might have apocryphally wept, Ozymandias might have ran out of plots from old episodes to the Twilight Zone to plunder for inspiration. Luthor, though, being just as much an idea (and one whose corresponding texture and shape I hope to investigate further) would just wink out of existence.

[6] A cynical act that I suspect may have been meant to inspire the same gasps of shock and guilty delight at the novelty of this narrative transgression a la the reaction Tarantino elicited by anachronistically saturating Hitler’s deserving body with bullets in Inglourious Basterds.

In that way, it may have existed to defuse a certain type of anticipated “high-brow” critique by being edgy/ gritty/banal. Since it fails so utterly, we will never be certain

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2 thoughts on “FUCK THIS MODERN SUPERMAN BULLSHIT

  1. Bravo. Were my hat at hand and head it’d be taken down in silent admiration of words so wonderfully written and ideas so poignantly delivered.

    And if nothing else is said and done, you’ve sold me on reading the “All-Star Superman” books.

    • I hope they do not disappoint: I try not to be a standard-bearer for Mr. Morrison, but All-Star really does excel at encapsulating Superman as an “idea”. There’s imperfection, and a little flab, but generally they make for twelve lean issues conveying a concept.

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