My father’s a bit of a Superman fan. As long as I know him, which is, I suppose, all my life, he’s been reading and collecting Superman comics in all it’s incarnations and variations. So, when Man of Steel came out this week, there was no doubt when and with who I would go to the screening. When, as in asap. And with my father.
And I have to say, it’s been a very weird experience. The movie still depicts Superman, but not exactly as we know him. They took the familiar mythology, broke it apart, and put it back together with the same building blocks, but in a slightly different configuration and omitting some important pieces. The movie felt like giving my nephew two Lego sets, and ultimately seeing him playing with the sets combined, some pieces lost underneath furniture or in the vacuum machine, and otherwise combined into one big play-set. It works, but it’s not as flawless and perfect as the original.
I still find the original take on Superman best described by Bill in Kill Bill 2:
As you know, I’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique.
Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man.
And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone.
Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S” – that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us.
Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak… He’s unsure of himself… He’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.
In a sense, the Superman character is a blend of three characters:
- Clark Kent/Kal-El, the kid who grow up in Smallville with a Kryptonian Legacy. He needs to hide who he is from everyone except for those closest to him, and he carries with him a burden. He has two fathers, one who want him to be human, to use his powers for good. And one who raises him with Kryptonian beliefs, that he is better than us, and should use it powers to good use.
- Superman, the Superhero character Kal-El uses to express his Kryptonian side. Visible and known to the world.
- Clark Kent, his alter ego, his fake facade he wears to blend in in the real world. It’s a creation, and nothing about the character his real.
What’s fascinating about Man of Steel is that instead of letting Superman be three characters shifting from one to the other depending on where he is and what he’s doing, is that in this movie the Clark Kent character doesn’t exist. In this Superman universe they took the character of Superman, teared him into his three building blocks, and they lost the Clark Kent piece. It’s only at the end of the movie that that piece is found and used.
This results in a mythology where we find all the familiar pieces, Lois, Krypton, Jor-El, Metropolis, but due to the lack of Clark Kent, everything connects slightly different. Without the human alter-ego, there’s no reason why Lois shouldn’t know who Superman is from the get go. Without Clark Kent, Superman doesn’t need to show a human side or hide and he can just show up, introduce himself to the military and start doing what he does, that is protecting the world and those he loves.
In the classic universe Superman is 50% human and 50% Kryptonian. By taking away his human alter ego, the character only exists out of Clark Kent/Kal-El, and Superman. Which means he’s now 2/3 Kryptonian.
Starting from that basis, we see a character who reacts and acts differently from the Superman we know. He still protects Earth, but lacks the moral compass to take the battle away from Metropolis. Which results in destruction all around.
It’s only when he finally kills Zod, that we see him break down. He reacts very emotionally to this brutal murder, and at the end of the movie we see him finally appearing as the Superman we now, with his Clark Kent alter-ego. And possibly, a human side.
In an interview I read yesterday after watching the movie this phrase stood out:
You can do Superman.” I actually said to him, “Look, when you walked in and said, ‘I have an idea for Superman’, you walked in with an idea. That puts you at an unfair advantage for saying this to me.” Quite honestly – Chris Nolan
I found Man of Steel a very interesting take on the character. I don’t know whither my interpretation is true in any way, but it felt logical to me, and maybe, jsut maybe, that Idea for Superman maybe is, removing the human alter-ego, and starting from there.
Do you believe a man can fly?