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Monday, September 01, 2008

On a Dark Superman Movie

It's occurred to me that while I blogged enthusiastically for a reboot of the Superman movies, I never blogged on the idea of a "darker" Superman movie.

The thing is, ultimately, I think I really want to know what their idea of "darker" is before I can really make a decision about whether I like the idea or not.

Obviously, Superman is not suited to be "dark" in the same sense as Batman is "dark". Superman is a hopeful and inspiring character at heart. He's not particularly tortured or angsty. And honestly, I've never even liked the killing off Jonathan Kent thing that a lot of the mediums have going on. I think that kind of tragedy is entirely unnecessary.

But I do think it's possible to make a good and somewhat dark-toned movie about a reasonably light, moral, upstanding, and inspiring character.

I mean, I wouldn't call Luke Skywalker a dark character at all, but Empire Strikes Back is highly regarded as the best Star Wars film. (I actually liked Return of the Jedi better as I think it shows the pinnacle of Luke's character growth from whiny but sympathetic kid to quiet badass. :-))

The crew of Star Trek the Next Generation can never REALLY be dark (Not in the same sense as say, DS9) but First Contact was, and that was my favorite TNG themed movie.

Heck, I think Brubaker's run of Captain America is another good example of a fairly dark storyline involving an inspiring character. Well, before they killed him off at least. :-)

Really though, that's why I'm not reacting with disgust at the news of a "darker" movie. Because there are Superman stories that can be written that are still "dark" without tarnishing the character with the same brush. There are ways to balance idealism with a serious or dramatic tone without turning the character into a Batman who can fly.

The key is, of course, to get producers/directors/writers that have a very clear vision of the character and what they want the movie to do. But so far, I think Warner Bros has done a fairly good job of that with the Batman properties. If they find someone who suits Superman like Nolan suits Batman, then I don't have any qualms about a "darker" Superman movie.

As long as Superman doesn't gratuitously kill henchmen with falling chunk of rock. That STILL bothers me about the much "lighter" Superman Returns.

Anyway, there are so many ways to screw it up of course. But I don't necessarily think that saying they're making a "dark" Superman movie indicates they learned the wrong lesson from Batman.

They might be thinking of the adage/cliche that a light shines brightest in the dark. And I'm really looking forward to a Superman that shines.


  • At September 01, 2008 8:54 AM, Blogger tavella said…

    What you say is true, but I think a great deal of the alarm is that Warner has been so damn *clumsy* in dealing with their DC properties that people expect the worst.

    This is the company that left Superman in the hands of "no flying! no capes! I want a giant spider!" man for *years*.

    Thus the suspicion that instead of 'a light that shines brightest in the dark' we'll get gothic Superman.

  • At September 01, 2008 9:21 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I can't deny that some bad decisions have been made overall.

    But I'm something of a deluded optimist. :-) The recent successes make me hopeful that they're finally interested in doing the properties well again.

    I might be setting myself up for disappointment, but that's what I've got a blog for. So I can bitch about it later. :-)

  • At September 01, 2008 10:36 AM, Blogger Diabolu Frank said…

    Tragedy is at the heart of the character, and a lack of tragedy has hurt him since the Byrne reboot. Both of his parents are still alive, ferchrissakes! Where is the pathos of a man repeatedly orphaned? A Superman who can move planets, but makes his home in a Fortress of Solitude? By making Superman's life idyllic, they've made him an oversized Superboy. I can't relate to this guy and his lack of problems, which is why I don't care about him one way or another. Actually, his marriage to Lois is the only point of interest for me.

  • At September 01, 2008 3:24 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    That's where we're opposite, Frank. I've found Superman infinitely more appealing and identifiable since the Crisis.

    I don't think Superman (post-Crisis Superman anyway) is SUPPOSED to be an outsider. He's supposed to be an ordinary fellow at heart, a bit better than most in spirit, with some powers that the average joe doesn't have.

    Actually it may well work for the Golden Age Superman too, as I've always found the George Reeves Superman to be similar in that sense. The focus of Superman in those serials wasn't the alien nature or the orphaned aspect (even if Mr. Kent had died back then) but on being a mild-mannered guy who was secretly someone quite spectacular. The "tragedy" was never addressed beyond the first episode and never addressed in the radio serials at all.

    Actually that's one part of the Superman movies that never worked for me: the emphasis on his orphaned heritage and his alien nature. The whole point of Superman, even in his most goofy Silver Age incarnations, is his relationships to other characters: Lois, Lana, Jimmy, Perry.

    Lois and Clark, the tv show, did it phenomenally well, I thought. As did the animated Superman series. Hell, even Smallville, which I hate managed to kill off Jonathan Kent, but I don't think the Clark there is inherently tragic either.

    Personally I LIKE Jonathan. And I think he and Martha bring Clark down to Earth and emphasize the more human elements of his character.

  • At September 01, 2008 6:57 PM, Blogger Sleestak said…

    Superman himself being Dark is a bad idea. The events in the story are what should be Dark and what make shim Superman is the manner in which he deals with it.

  • At September 01, 2008 8:23 PM, Blogger Diabolu Frank said…

    Kalinara, I agree with you that Post-Crisis Superman isn't meant to be an outsider. I dislike him because he's now such an insider. How ordinary can you be with a great job, gorgeous wife, the perfect friends, a supportive boss, more power than virtually any other hero, weak villains, and the adoration of millions? He's extraordinarily cush. Aw shucks bashfulness aside, he's set on every level.

    The Golden Age Superman was an entirely different animal-- a social reformer with a righteous indignation that was terrifying to behold. Just explaining that drive gives him more depth than the Post-Crisis incarnation, and recent revelations about Jerry Siegel's biography bear that out. It's true there wasn't much pathos, but the very existence of Clark Kent and the Lois love "triangle" spoke to an intriguing neurosis Post-C lacks. Subtext filled the vacuum.

    To me, Christopher Reeve mostly just updated George Reeves' television persona with a younger, sexier vibe. The most interesting twists came from the script's deepening of the relationship to Lois and allowing Pa Kent to sub for the 50's Superman's sense of loss regarding Krypton. In both instances, the drama was milked to marvelous effect. A shame Singer was so tin-eared when he tried to extend that to "Superman Returns."

    Speaking of which, the Biblical weight given to Krypton in the movies never worked for me, either. We differ in that I think it should have, but Donner's direction and Glen Ford sold the Kansas sequence so well, Brando and icy Krypton could never compare. The sense I always got from the old comics was that the Kents were simple folk, where Pre-Crisis Superboy was a massively intelligent demi-god. I'm sure Superboy loved the Kents, but he was probably physically and mentally their superior from early on, fueling his longing for his true family in the stars. Singer tried to go there somewhat, but since he took on the baggage of Donner's continuity, he couldn't make it work.

    That also gets to why Jimmy Olsen used to be Superman's pal, but now sucks: gumption. I think Superman loved this hairless ape with the spots who doggedly attempted to rise above his station. "Oh, its so adorable! It's trying to be a Kryptonian!" That might apply to Lois as well. The relationships with Pete and Lana were different, possibly because Superboy was still maturing.

    Lois and Clark did capture the Post-Crisis dynamic well, I agree. It works better in television than comics, to my mind. One of these days though, I'd love there to be a bit more spark, like the more antagonistic quality of old screwball comedies. Cary Grant vs. Rosalind Russell. That kind of thing.

    I liked the Timm/Dini cartoon, but a lot of the reason that worked was because their Superman was so much more vulnerable than the DC model. His villains were a true threat, his reputation could be called into question, and the banter with Lois was snappier.

    I can't speak for "Smallville." Every time I've seen that show, it's made my brain shift around painfully in my skull as it tried to escape contact.

    I do like the Kents. They're the salt of the Earth. I just think that having mommy and daddy around makes Superman that much less interesting by comparison. I like everyone in Superman comics better than the lead. It's Superman himself, who's so propped up and thoroughly coddled that makes me ill. I would never advocate killing off the Kents in this continuity for that reason. It's too late in the game to "fix" Superman when he's 35 years old with a wife and adopted kid of his own. I'm just taking notes for the reboot...

  • At September 01, 2008 8:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'll make this real simple.

    Hire Joe Kelly. Get him to rework "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice And The American Way" into a two-hour screenplay.

    Emphasize Superman fighting not criminals, but the very idea that we have to lower ourselves as people to fight evil.

    That is what Superman should be about more than anything else: the idea that we can all be something better.

  • At September 02, 2008 12:53 AM, Blogger Evan Waters said…

    By SUPERMAN standards, RETURNS was about as dark as I think the series should get- it may need more *action* for mainstream appeal, but that's another dimension there. In any case, it dealt with his outsider status pretty extensively, so it wouldn't hurt to move to something else as the central dramatic conflict.

    As I've said, I hope somehow Singer is kept on and not totally muzzled. Failing that, someone with a strong vision will do- I'm sort of drawing a blank when it comes to established filmmakers, mind you, but I'm sure there's someone.

  • At June 28, 2011 9:20 AM, Anonymous cowboy boot said…

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