Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Man of (Dark & Edgy) Steel

Allow me to just point out I'm a huge Superman fan, despite my constant proclaims that "I'm Batman"... which I should add is not just a claim but fact, I am the knight... I am... not the point... anyway... Superman is and always has been my favourite hero, super or otherwise. I grew up watching the Christopher Reeve movies to the point that I'd credit the morals instilled in me by Superman to be partially responsible for what I'd say is often a high moral standard I set for myself. I watched the animated series as a kid and later Justice League when I was an adult, I watched Lois & Clark and I watched all ten seasons of Smallville.

People have often said the problem with Superman is that he's too powerful, so he's not relateable. I've never had that problem, not because I can fly or shoot fireballs from my eyes but because I don't relate to him, that's never been the point; I look up to him. Fictional character or no, Superman represents three things, Truth, Justice and the American Way. I'm a Greek-Cypriot born and raised in Britain so the whole "American Way" thing might sound stupid. But what that saying means it believe in freedom, liberty, choice, love and respect for each other. It doesn't mean "whoever can grab the most money they can" or "every man for himself", it doesn't mean "God is great" and it doesn't mean "our way or the highway" as the term American way has come to be twisted to be looked at. The "American Way" just simply represents the human way of life, the ideal that human beings are slowly working toward, something that's been around since before America, before Britain and even before my ancestors in Greece were creating the first democratic government.

So, what does this have to do with the upcoming blockbuster produced by Christopher Nolan, written by David S. Goyer and directed by Zack Snyder, "Man of Steel"?

Man of Steel is being produced and touted as a "Dark Superman". Now therein lies the problem, Superman as a character is not dark. What he represents is not "dark". The Dark Knight was a great film, and because it was "dark and edgy" it seems like everybody wants to jump on the "dark and edgy" bandwagon since it's success. As though making a film darker is the key to success, well sure for Batman that's part of the success, because Batman is a character who operates during the night, wears black, has a tragic back story of the death of his parents right in front of his face and deals with the constant idea of did he create half is own rogues gallery himself? Hell, he's even nicknamed "The DARK Knight". He is a dark character, he's also quite literally powerless, to the point that many debate if he's even a real superhero. (He is, but that's for another discussion all together).

Superman, is not dark. He wears the three primary colours brightly on his body, doesn't wear a mask and shows himself off to the world as a symbol to be looked up to. He proclaims that he stands for "Truth, Justice and the American Way" not "Crushing the criminal scum" like Batman does. Does this make Batman an evil character, no, of course not. But let's say for a minute you gave that eight year old year old Bruce Wayne the Super powers of Superman... He would have ripped Joe Chills arms off and beaten him to death with them before incinerating the body with heat vision and probably a few innocent bystanders by accident too. Batman despite his dark persona is only human and spent twenty odd years mastering to control his rage and aggression to the point that he had to swear to himself that in his vengeful crusade he would "never kill". Batman is a vengeful character, an aggressive dark knight who channels that aggression into crime fighting so that he can try and prevent others from ever having to endure what he did as a child.

Bruce Wayne constantly feels guilty for his inactions of the day of the death of his parents, he swears a vengeful crusade and as we've seen for example in "Batman Begins". He even attempts to shoot Joe Chill until someone else takes away that chance. He then swears that killing is not the option, he won't learn to kill, he'll learn to kick some major ass sure, but never to kill. He does believe in justice, the same way Superman does. But it took him ten of those twenty years to realise this and once again later in that movie, Bruce is given the choice by Liam Neeson's Henri Ducard/Ra's Al Ghul to kill a murderer and exact "justice". He denies this chance and burns the mountain-top fortress to the ground. His dark and tragic past is a part of who he is, he wears black, he's a dark character. But that's all part of The Batman; that's who he is.

But Petros, Superman has a tragic back story too, his parents died when a whole planet blew up... True. But baby Kal-El first of all doesn't even remember them. Hell, in some versions he wasn't even born yet when he was sent to Earth (don't ask it's kinda icky). In most versions, Superman doesn't even learn he's from another planet until he's in his teenage years, hell there was a whole ten year television series about the journey from Clark Kent the boy who knew nothing about his ancestry to becoming Superman in Smallville. Superman was raised a human, he never refers to himself as Kal-El, he is Clark Kent, born and raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent, two farmers living in Smallville, Kansas. He was instilled by good-natured if a little naiive foster parents, to be truthful, respectful and to respect the human way. He grew up with those ideals, those ideals of being a good person, and he became a shining beacon of light known as "Superman". No-where is this better illustrated than at the end of John Byrne's 1985 Comic book series that rebooted the character (correctly), the probably at this point ironically named "Man of Steel". As seen on the right here...

"It was Krypton that made me Superman, but it is the Earth that makes me human!!"

That is Superman's declarative statement, that despite all his powers, he thinks of himself as one of us. And even though he has been raised as a human being he is not one of us. But he does represent that human ideal to look up to. He's got some tragedy in his life but it doesn't consume him, it's not what drives him to be a hero. In fact Superman isn't just a superhero, he's THE superhero, the original; he's the man that stands out first, who stands up as a beacon of hope that big S on his chest is as much as symbol of hope as the Batman-Signal in the sky. But the Bat-Signal is a symbol of fear and dread, a warning to criminals that the Dark Knight is out on patrol; and you'd better play nice or he's gonna get you. There's no Superman symbol to make criminals afraid because he's not a symbol of fear, he's as symbol of hope. He flies into the sky and makes people look up at him and say "everything is going to be alright" and "when I grow up I wanna be just like him".

Superman is not Dark, leave that to Batman. And y'know what, even Bats himself says that he's glad Superman is as goody-two-shoes as he is. To Superman it doesn't even occur to him that he is a God, he sees himself as one of us, as stated before. To quote Batman himself...

"It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then... he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to him..."

He is good and decent, and he doesn't lose control. He'll fight, he'll kick ass and he controls his abilities to much that you'd better not get on his bad side or he could lose control and then you'll see what happens...

...Yeah that was pretty awesome. But it wasn't Dark Superman. It was good Superman pushed to the edge and only beating Darkseid to a pulp because he knew that Darkseid could take it. He doesn't kill, he still stands for all he normally stands for. This is the Superman we all know, this is what Superman represents. To turn Superman "dark" for the sake of it flies in the face of the character. You make Superman dark and he's not Superman any more, go and do a new original character. Can his stories be dark, sure but is the character dark, absolutely not.

This all being said, will Man of Steel suck as it seems I am predicting. Maybe, maybe not, maybe the "dark superman" thing is just a way to get people into the theatres. Everything I've been shown indicates that are making the Big Blue Boy Scout the Big Midnight-Blue Boy Scout. I more than anyone will be happy if it's a great film, believe me and I am not going into the film intending to hate it but I just hope it does not fly in the face of what Superman is. It'd be like making James Bond an American (has been done once by the way... ugh) he's British, that's who the character is, it flies in the face of who Bond is, what he represents. Superman is good natured, he's a good person, he's not dark or else the character makes no sense for starters and wouldn't even be Superman any more. He's truth, justice and the american way, not truth, justice and VENGNEAAANCCEEE!!!

Point is: Superman is not dark, don't make him so as that's not who the character is; that's someone else.

Anyway... rant over...