So I kind of got into it a little with Max Landis on Twitter last night over my cheap shot based on a half-quote from Friday’s Superman panel. It seems I took a context free, half-quote from the Superman panel and used it to preemptively bash his new comic. His quote, about his book being the “opposite of All-Star Superman,” was taken out of context in the press release and run with by me and on Twitter. It turns out the quote was incomplete, as he pointed out quite thoroughly, and I turned that into an excuse to impugn a series I haven’t read yet. Despite having it pointed out to me that I was being closed minded and a bit of a jerk, I was pretty happy with the whole exchange.
Landis and I have pretty similar ideas about Big Blue. He’s approaching his story by focusing on Clark Kent, on the human side that works on the ground and tries to help individual people instead of pushing planets out of the way of meteors. And I love that! I told him online that I’d read the shit out of Clark Kent: Investigative Reporter. That’s the side that makes Superman interesting.
Everybody complains about Superman being overpowered, about there not being any enemies powerful enough for him to regularly go toe to toe with. That’s a valid-ish point: don’t tell me you didn’t bounce up and down in your seat the first time you saw the Darkseid/Superman “I live in a world made of cardboard” scene in JLU. But these are stories. Finding an enemy powerful enough to trade blows with Superman is as easy as imagining an enemy powerful enough to trade blows with Superman. If you can’t figure out how to make bad guys who challenge him and then put them into a Dragonball Z canyon full of nothing for a little consequence-free punching, then you shouldn’t be writing comics. The real reason why Superman becomes uninteresting from time to time is because the people telling his stories forget that he’s not just a collection of vital stats from the back of a trading card. He’s also the most human person in the world.
That’s why Man of Steel was so bad. Because despite all the bullshit shoehorning in of religious themes, it was more important that mashing the action figures together looked just a certain way, and they didn’t care that everyone in the movie, the writer and director included, was telling Superman “fuck it. Take the easy way out.” Jesus Christ, even his fucking father was telling him to do that.
Pa Kent in Man of Steel is a fucking prick. There’s no equivocating when he tells Clark he should have let those kids on the school bus die, and he spends his entire time on screen telling Clark to think of himself first. In fact, that’s the primary way he inspires Clark to help people in the movie – by giving him an example of what not to do. One thing the movie is very clear on is when his father dies telling Clark not to help him, that’s the exact moment when he decides to be a hero. He struggles with it for a little bit, but he’s inspired not to be like his father, but to ignore him.
And now in the BvS trailer, his mother (who was an undeniable highlight of the first film) is telling him “you don’t owe this planet anything.” That’s wrong on a thousand different levels, but most egregiously here it’s wrong as philosophical core for Superman. This planet quite literally saved his life. He’s the last son of a race that died, and if his father hadn’t found this planet to send him to, he would have exploded in a puff of vaporized rock with his birth parents. He owes this planet everything, and a Kent family not so wound up in paranoia about their boy being taken from them would be out there showing him how to give back instead of telling him to hide and giving him another obstacle to overcome.
Maybe separating him from a traditional family influence is expanding the character, reflecting the fractured relationship with their parents that so many people have. I guess that’s one way of modernizing him. But to me, that’s not Superman. Superman isn’t a mirror held up to society showing us the good and the bad. He’s a mirror held up to what we want society to be, reflecting the giving, caring, loving, generous people we can all be.
The Kents are a fundamental aspect to understanding Superman’s character. They’re the everypeople, the common man that Superman is protecting when he fights for this planet. They instilled his morals and his values in him. Everyone on DC Earth, when they’re trying to figure out what the right thing to do is, asks herself “What would Superman do?” Everyone but the man himself. He asks himself “What would my parents do?”
I have an image of the Trinity in my head as three different aspects of leadership – Superman leads through inspiration: he’s the person that everyone wants to be and they try to make themselves better because of it. Batman leads through fear and intimidation. He gets people to do what he wants through brute force. Wonder Woman leads through politics, a fusion of the two – cajoling, dealing, inspiring, threatening. (She’s an entirely different rant, btw). It’s pretty clear that Zack Snyder has an image of them in his head too. Unfortunately, it’s got as much depth as the shoebox he set up his DC diorama in.
So in conclusion: Max, I’m sorry took a cheap shot at your comic to score points against a movie I didn’t like and one I’m fairly sure I won’t. It sounds like, from what you were saying online, we have similar opinions on the Man of Steel. I look forward to checking out your series and judging it on its merits. And Batman v Superman, you can fuck right off.