More like Yawn of Steel

As should be clear by now, when I am interested in something, I go all in. For that reason, I have been trying to work my way through every podcast on the topic of Superman that I can find online. I’ve listened to hundreds of episodes of such by this point. There’s a lot of hours of people talking about Superman out there. It’s a lot to get through. I’m not gonna stop, but it is a struggle.

One thing that comes up so often is the movie Man of Steel that came out back in some year that starts with a 20-. It’s pretty damned divisive and everyone gets so worked up about it. I’ve only watched it only once, when it was in theatres, and I don’t remember liking it much. But I don’t feel nearly as strongly about it as the internet people do. My primary memory of the thing was that is was pretty boring except for action scenes that were too shaky for me to tell what was going on. I also hated (and continue to hate) the stylized bleakness represented by a dimming of colours which apparently people think is “realistic” even though just looking at the real world for a moment will show that it isn’t. I absolutely did not the film’s take on Pa Kent. But mostly it was a forgettable and overlong action movie, I thought.

But you know what everyone who rants about the movie cares about that I don’t? Superman killing Zod. This is the single biggest point of debate, and I’ve yet to hear anyone come at it from an angle I agree with.

First, there’s the people who argue against it because Superman should never kill anyone. Okay, sure. I prefer my Superman as a non-killer myself, but that isn’t a debate that came up in the movie before that point (or after, really, except that he screamed in anguish for a second). Again, it’s been years since I watched it, but whether he should kill or not wasn’t a theme of the movie. It was more concerned with whether he should do anything at all, which had basically been decided by that point. So the kill is sort of unearned drama at worst, but it doesn’t go against Clark’s character as portrayed within the film. If you’re against it because of your opinion of the character based on portrayals outside the film, sure, but that’s not the film’s fault. And this isn’t even the only depiction of Superman specifically killing Zod. There’s a million takes on Superman out there and I’m certainly not going to say this one is “wrong” based on this one aspect.

But also, I don’t agree with the people defending Superman’s murder choice often frame it as Superman doing what needed to be done to save people. I didn’t see that when I watched the movie. Zod was already defeated in that moment and he wanted to die.

Look, if Zod wanted to kill this family, he could easily have done so by moving his eyes slightly to his right, but he held off for moments without doing it. He was just threatening to do it. It wasn’t as if he’s straining to reach them with his laservision and just couldn’t do it because Clark held him out of reach. He was taunting Clark into killing him, as if saying “I’ll do it! Kill me, or I’ll do it!” And so Clark killed him. Superman fell for Zod’s “Suicide by Superhero” ploy.

At the time, my biggest complaint regarding the Zod’s death was that they always kill the villains in superhero movies. It felt that way to me then at least. Back then I’d seen a higher percentage of existing superhero films that were released, whereas now I see maybe a quarter of them. But I thought of how many times I’d seen Green Goblin or Joker* or Doctor Octopus or Two-Face or whomever else get killed off, and wanted something different. (* I specifically remember citing the time when they didn’t kill off the Joker and then the actor died.)

One of the best things in superhero comics is how long-running relationships between characters, including heroes and villains, grow over time. Back in those days I wanted to see more of that on film. I think they may do more of that these days, but I’ve mostly tapped out. Either way, Man of Steel just did what those movies did, I thought. And that just made it a boring choice. I can’t believe people still spend so much time arguing about it.

Anyway, my most controversial belief now: Superman’s never had a movie that goes above mediocre and yes I’m including the Christopher Reeve stuff. Good night!

Darkseid Is Not A Superman Villain

You will often find Darkseid on lists of the best Superman enemies. As I always seem to be doing here, I’m going to go contrary to the popular opinion and say, no he ain’t. And by that I don’t mean that he’s not a good villain, but that’s he not a Superman villain.

Regarding the quality of Darkseid’s villainy, it’s fine. He’s okay. He’s nothing special in my opinion, but I can see the reasons people like him. But he’s at most a “DC Universe” villain, to be dealt with by teams like the Justice League and in my ideal world, he’d be recognized as a New Gods villain, because that’s what he was actually created to be.

Sure, Darkseid first appeared in Jimmy Olsen’s book, a Superman Family title, but I am unconvinced that Jack Kirby did that for any reason other than that was the book he was writing. He wanted to establish his Fourth World stuff, so he did it there. If he’d been writing the Flash or something, he’d have done it there. I strongly feel that Darkseid, and Apokalyps and related story elements, belong in the Fourth World stories. The fact they show up in Superman all the time feels to me as it would feel if Loki showed up as Spider-Man’s biggest enemy every few months, or if the Red Lanterns set up their base in Gotham so they could appear in Batman’s books all the time. Crossing elements can be one of the funnest parts of shared universes, but certain story elements still belong where they belong. And any time Darkseid is a villain to anyone other than the New Gods, I feel like the whole Fourth World concept is being mined and left as a husk of what it should be.

It’s similar to how I don’t want Batman and Superman in stories together. I will admit that good stories have been done with those crossovers, but the ideas are being cheapened by constant exposure.

There are other elements from Kirby’s run on Jimmy that I welcome a lot more. Intergang is nice as a simplification of organized crime and it doesn’t need to be tied to Darkseid (and in several other media, they are not). The DNA Project with the Hairies and especially Dubbilex work well for me because they are a sort of attempt to create literal “Men of Tomorrow” through science, who can contrast and compare with Clark. The Habitat as a wild space outside Metropolis is a great addition, and Dabney Donovan is in keeping with the super-scientists that Superman deals with all the time. I’ve already mentioned that I like Morgan Edge, and even there I cut Darkseid out of what I want from the character. But the Fourth World is a story of its own, and trying to make it a part of Superman’s story weakens the Fourth World and distracts from the Superman elements I want.

Anyway, if you just want a big alien warlord for Superman to punch, use Mongul. If you just want an alien to be providing alien technology to Earth mobsters, use Grax. If you want a cosmic boss with soldiers and minions, use Rava and the Superman Revenge Squad. Use Drang the Destroyer, aka Dr. Supernatural. Use Amalak the Kryptonian Killer. Use the Galactic Golem. Use Intellex the Brain Bandit. Just stop using Darkseid.

And most importantly, use Clawster.

Morgan Edge Can Just Be Some Jerk

Morgan Edge was introduced in the 70s as the new boss of Superman and friends but then after a while it was revealed he was a servant of Darkseid, a big bad alien supervillain. But here’s the thing: After that reveal, they did a further reveal in which we learned that that Morgan Edge had been a clone and there was a real Morgan Edge who could come back and be the new boss of Superman and friends and who stuck around for the better part of a decade in that role. But why, one might ask, did they bother with that second reveal?

That question is most likely to be posed by people who are only familiar with other iterations of Edge. For example, in the “post-Crisis” era the story was almost identical: Edge was a businessman who had ties to Darkseid, Superman stopped him and the even went further into supervillainy. On shows like Smallville and Supergirl, he’s just a generic businessman with ties to the mob. To people who know Morgan only from these depictions, he’s bound to seem like a boring character.

And I want to be clear, I like it when Superman opposes criminal businessmen. That’s my ideal setup. The list of villains I’d use in a Superman run easily has a dozen of them. But Morgan Edge isn’t one of them, because in the 70s and 80s, after the clone reveal, Morgan Edge stopped being a villain and became a supporting cast member. Someone on the creative staff realized that Edge added an element to the setup. He was a capitalist jerk, but he could also have some depth. We got to learn about his life, and he could present viewpoints that weren’t the same as everyone else, but which didn’t need to end in a fight scene. They did the clone thing so that they could have him around again.

So what’s my point? I guess it’s just that I wish they’d bring him back for that purpose. I’ve said that journalism would play a bigger role in the Superman books if I were in charge and I think it’d be great to have the WGBS news team out there as supporting cast members outside of the main Planet cast, and Edge would be a part of that. That’s it.

I suppose that really this is just me continuing my exclamation that superhero comics need to put more effort into their supporting casts. Is that so much to ask?

Oh yeah, there was that Superman/Batman movie…

I just realized that back when I first watched the Superman/Batman movie (The 7th of April 2016), I sent my thoughts to Marq as I was watching. I have now copied them and paste them below, typos and all, devoid of any context. Just rest assured that Marq didn’t know what I was talking about either. I went in fully knowing the movie’s reputation and about the Martha scene and stuff. I may refer back to these thoughts in a future Superman Thoughts post, but mostly this is just for posterity:

Is there any reason that Bruce’s employee “Jack” who gets blown up isn’t a version of Lucious Fox? I’m not saying that woud be better necessarily, but it seems like it might have been an easier way to play up the importance of the death to the audience of the last few Batman movies.

18 Months Later. One of those time skips that are always ruining comics from what I hear.

There’s no way this archaeologist or whatever is going to be Lana’s father is there?

I’m going to assume Lois is in the bathtub because it shows us how close she and Clark are. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Okay, this is where I’m starting to feel old already. I already don’t know what’s going on. Lois says the people at the hearing are saying something, Clark cuts her off saying he doesn’t care what they’re saying. I genuinely don’t know what they’re saying. Are they unhappy because Superman saved her? Because the terrorists got killed by those motorcycle guys? I’m not sure who is unhappy or why.

Batman brands people? Wasn’t that the schtick of one of the old pulp heroes? Nightraven or something?

Alfred’s really drilling the hatred of Superman into Bruce. Is this movie actually Alfred vs Superman?

So Lex Sr. grew up in East Germany?

At least the movie seems to be okay with using the name Superman, unlike Man of Steel with that damn cough joke I still don’t understand.

Wait, it’s only 18 months from the last movie and there’s already a statue of Superman? He really must have stepped up his game between movies.

Why did Lex just put a candy in a guy’s mouth? I tried to give him a chance, but I’m going to agree with the others who said this version of Lex is not great.

“Superman acted like some rogue combatant to rescue her” is the official problem the government has with Superman? I still don’t get it. Are they just upset that he doesn’t work for them, or are they saying Superman shot all those people? They do know that guns would be pretty unnecessary for him to use, right?

Affleck is one of the three actors I am most frequently compared to, and probably the handsomest of the three.

Gotham and Metropolis are across a harbour from one another? I think there are some Silver Age comics with that setup. But why, then, are they so acting like the heroes are so attached to their particular cities, then? Batman doesn’t fight crime if running water gets in his way? Superman won’t fly across the harbour to put out a fire?

I’m sure if wheelchair guy were being set up to be Metallo, I would have heard of it alredy, so I am sure he is not.

The action scene where Batman fights Superman soldiers and bug guys is absolutely free of quick cuts and shaky cam. I almost feel like someone listened after my opinion of the first movie.

The superheroes acting like jerks and the frequent dreams are more similarities to the Silver Age.

“He is not our enemy,” Alfred says. So, did I misunderstand what Alfred was saying earlier? Going back to check, Earlier Alfred said “Everything’s changed. Men fall from the sky. The gods hurl thunderbolts. Innocents die. That’s how it starts, sir. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness. That turns good men cruel.” All said while showing images of Superman. I dunno.

Wilhelm Scream. Maybe they are willing to try to have fun? I mean, Wilhelm Screams are lame, but they’re also not super serious.

This car chase scene is pretty coherent as well. Are my memories of how bad the action was in Man of Steel flawed?

Oh, nobody told me the fight was over the fact Superman busted up the Batmobile. He deserves what he gets.

Seems like making a tracking device that blinks on the end that you’re trying to track is just begging for it to get noticed by the person you’re tracking.

“Does he act by our will, or his alone?” Okay, so I guess the whole problem is their uncertainty about his motives.

“The desert was a set-up. Someone wanted Superman to look guilty.” Oh, so they do think Superman shot all those people? Surely Lex could faked heat vision or something?

Ah, Lex’s skinny assistant is Mercy. Nice touch, I guess.

Well, at least they can’t say the movie doesn’t foreshadow its jars of urine.

Also, I guess Mercy is dead.

“All this time, I’ve been living my life the way my father saw it.” “Superman was never real. Just the dream of a farmer from Kansas” No! Jonathan Kent specifically told you to not help people because it would put you at risk! That’s the thing I most hated about the first movie!

So Pa Kent is in the movie after all (dream, I assume). Okay, scene over and he has not offended me. I’ll accept this Pa Kent appearance without complaint.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Lois Lane falling from a great height it one of the least suspensful things ever, so I am glad this one didn’t drag it out. He was there almost instantly.

And then the movie takes a break while Wonder Woman browses commercials for upcoming DC movies.

“If I wanted it, you’d be dead already.” The truest fact about Batman/Superman fights.

Luckily, we flash back to Bruce’s origin again. I had forgotten what had happened there.

Is there a reason that Kryptonian/Human mix is stronger than both instead of somewhere in between?

I hope that the R-rated version of the movie just gives Doomsday some junk.

Okay, Doomsday does get some bony protusions. I’m not big on him flying and heat-visioning, but it does fit this origin.

Bruce to Clark regarding Wonder Woman: “I thought she was with you.” You literally emailed her Bruce. Like two hours ago.

I think Wonder Woman just smiled! I don’t think superheroes are allowed to do that here!

See, if I were Clark, I might have, like, thrown the spear, or maybe even given it to Wonder Woman. I’ll just blame it on being a heat of the moment thing, though.

And here’s my problem with these movies, I don’t care that Clark is dead right now. I have no attachment to him. This version of Superman has barely had a consisteny personality for me to attach myself to. I guess I’m supposed to just transpose my existing feelings for the character onto this version, but I can’t do that. This Clark was never got past the cipher stage for me. This would probably have been helped if there had been a second movie, one that showed Superman becoming the beacon of virtue Lex claimed he was. One that showed why people were willing to build a statue to him. One that had ANY scenes of his relationship with Lois at all. One with Bibbo. Just because.

They shave Lex’s head. That’s something, I guess.

One thing this funeral is missing is mobsters attacking Jimmy Olsen while about three dozen superheroes are about ten feet away. Those were truly the smarted mobsters ever.”

Bill Henderson: Superman’s Cop in Black and White

I don’t have any big point to this one, it’s just something I find mildly interesting: Of all the recurring characters in the canon of Superman, none has been reinterpreted as either black or white more often than Bill Henderson.

Why is that? I suppose it starts with a noble effort to add diversity to the franchise. The cast that dates back to the 40s and 50s is very white, but the characters are also very iconic. While we’ve recently had movies where Perry is black and Jimmy has been black on Supergirl’s show and in at least one comics miniseries I can think of. But Bill here has consistently all over the place and that has got to be because he’s the least iconic of that cast. As you can see from how jerks on the internet reacted to the Perry and Jimmy iterations I just mentioned, it can be considered a risk to make a traditionally white character black. But nobody cares about Bill Henderson.

He’s just Clark’s police officer friend. The franchise in general has drifted away from stories in which Clark would consult with a police officer, and even when he gets them there are others, like Maggie Sawyer, who can fill the role. So if you’re back in the 90s and you’re making a show about Superman and want a good role for a black character, you can do it with Bill! Of course, in the case of the cartoon he occurred very rarely. And in Lois and Clark he had two appearances played by different black actors before being replaced by Richard Belzer. (For the record, I am ignoring appearances that Henderson has made in Black Lightning’s comics and shows, but I believe he’s been black and white in those as well. Just because some other superhero is going to steal Superman’s cast doesn’t mean I need to pay attention.)

It’s also interesting (to me) to note that there was a period in the comics in which we had TWO Hendersons. Bill Henderson was the traditional white one and he’d been promoted to Commissioner. But then there was a new inspector, Mike Henderson, who was black. The two even spoke to one another in at least one issue. Honestly, as someone who would scale Superman’s adventures such that interacting with people in the city would come back, I’d take two Hendersons without complaint.

But the bottom line is this: There’s only yet been one time that I’ve seen Henderson’s ethnic makeup matter to a story, and that was in Superman Smashes the Klan. That was a very good book.