Monday, July 23, 2012

Look Up

I don’t think it’s a big secret that tastes change with age.  Experience tempers us into a different person given enough time; sure, the basics stay the same, but the details will shift and shape according to the things that have come along to stunt or enhance us. 

There was a time I was very much a “strike back” kind of guy.  If someone did wrong, they needed justice, they needed revenge visited upon them; they needed to pay for what they had done.  Then I spent some time seeing the results of that first hand with My Firm and I realized that cycle was pretty useless.  All it did was self-perpetuate and solve pretty much nothing.

As I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate an older point of view and the idea that people can be better.  The people can do the right thing when properly inspired.  At times, I do have moments of nihilistic pessimism, but I know what we are capable of when we look up instead of crawling through the shadows. 

I read a lot of comic books, and often my tastes are driven by what’s going on around me.  Something I will tell you though, as much as I do enjoy characters like Spider-man and Hulk, I’m a DC guy.  I’ve written elsewhere about why I prefer one to the other, and how I think DC characters are fictions to whom people could aspire rather than commiserate with.  For years, my go to for comics has been The Batman.  As a child it was likely Adam West that drug me that way, as he showed up re-run on Arizona TV the most.  Then, as happened to any geeky adolescent in the 80s, my perceptions of Batman and comics in general were forever changed.  DC published and collected Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” and “Batman: Year One.”  I won’t get into Miller’s later Batman work and how it should or could be interpreted, but DKR and YO had a profound effect on comics and geeks, and that’s been discussed at length elsewhere, so I won’t rehash that either.  Suffice it to say, Batman has been my favorite superhero for a long time. 

The internet has done something interesting though.  In the form of newsgroups, or email lists, or later blogs, or tweets, or Facebook posts, my thoughts and ramblings are recorded for all time. (So much for running for public office.)  Going back over my writings and musings, I started noticing something.  I’ve been talking about someone else a bit more.

Since 2008, my blog entries on this very site have run neck and neck regarding Batman, and DC’s—and the world’s—first superhero, the aptly named Superman.  Some of those posts cross-over; but, from a defense of “Superman Returns,” to some worship of“All-Star Superman” to the fact I was unable to bring myself to drink beer whilewearing a Superman costume in a bar—IN A BAR—I find myself seeking out old silver age Superman stories, and watching the cartoons repeatedly.  And I realized, I was commiserating more with Superman than I was with Batman.

I mean, it’s not like I didn’t always like Superman.  I saw both Christopher Reeve films in the theater.  I had (have) the Mego figure.  Whenever I do something particularly… less than safe… with my Firm, I wear a Superman T-shirt under my gear.  When I fly, I wear Superman underwear.   One time, about 18 or so years ago, Jen and I stopped on the side of I-10 to help two old ladies and a couple of kids fix a flat.  We had parked a ways up and I left Jen in the car, and ran back to see what the problem was.  When I got there a state trooper was pulling over and was going to help.  Just as I was about to run back to my car to leave, the little girl in the back of the car asked where I came from.  Now, again, 18 years ago, so a lot more hair and a lot less gut was wearing a certain emblem, and I couldn’t resist saying, “I’m Superman,” before running off to disappear into the night.  I just kind of realized recently I was reading more about the Man of Steel, and less about The Dark Knight. 

Speaking of my Firm, I spent the last three years teaching my students the difference between our Nation’s abilities and the abilities of our sneakier enemies by explaining how Batman would beat Superman in a fight.  Sure, Batman distinguishes himself by not being a killer, but in the end he’s a scared little boy lashing out.  His anger drives him, but it’s sad because what would that brilliant mind be if it were working for the betterment of mankind rather than just the miniaturization of cable filament so his bat-grappler works better.   When turned on the farmboy who never crosses his own lines, Batman’s inherent darkness will win.  Superman is a little sappy.

“Oh,” I hear you say, “That means someone sappy like Superman isn’t relevant anymore.”  Yeah, that comes out every few years, and what happens?  Someone kills him, or makes him renouncecitizenship, or gives him a mullet, and people are up in arms: if this character is irrelevant, why do we care?  Because in the end all superheroes exist because of Superman.  In the end, everything a Superhero should be is Superman.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this is a breaking point in my initial writing; during the time this was on pause, The “Man of Steel” teaser hit, and a man with a lot of guns shot up a theater showing “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Neither of these events change my intent here, but I can’t say they won’t influence how I say it.)

It’s not just comics though, is it?  Look at this symbol:

I’ve been all over the world, and no matter where I go, this symbol means something: as much as any corporate logo, and in some cases as much as any religious emblem. Those kids 18 years ago knew that symbol. (And I will never forget the look in their eyes as they wondered if it were true…) When people see that symbol, they know it means more than ‘S.’  Sure, some people interpret it differently, but there’s one thing that symbol has meant to whomever I have talked to about it.

Look up.

With no irony, with no condescension, when you look up, Superman might be there, might just be a blue/red blur who will help us when we need it most.  More than that, Superman stands for all we have the potential to be: Superman saved a kitten from a tree.  I don’t need to be an invulnerable alien from Krypton to save a kitten.  Maybe I should save kittens, or help feed the poor, or help defend the helpless, or a million other things we CAN do without flying or being bullet-proof.

Look up.  A sensibility like that can lead to us not only looking up to see Superman, but to see ourselves up there, making this world a better place.  I know Superman is a fictional character, but he has come to symbolize an idea of something better, a light we so desperately need in our darkness.  I have many times said (and I know now incorrectly) that we want Superman; we need Batman.  No, we need a light shining in the darkness, we need an example of good with no sense of irony for our kids, for us, for our world.  The ‘S’ means that cross-culturally, an icon that instantly conveys rightness and hope for a better tomorrow.

Look up.  If you are writing Superman for page or screen, look up when you idealize him in media.  He’s important, and with the power of your written word comes great responsibility.  The essential nature of Superman is eternal and unchanging.  He is not a dark character and can never be.  His circumstances may be, but he is that light, that example.  I think the new teaser (though I am wary how good an interpretation the film will be) for the 2013 film Man of Steel does manage to capture this in Jor-El’s voice over:

"You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time you will help them accomplish wonders". 
Look up.

I have great appreciation for the Batman, and will always.  What a great character, subject of great story and film.  Unlike any other fictional character I know of though, Superman means something; something that as I get older I realize I would rather find in my fiction than just the good guy beating up the bad guy.  Something better something calling us to action.  I want to answer that call, I want to make the world around me a better place with whatever powers and abilities I as mortal man have.  And so my tastes have changed.  With this blog, I declare my favorite hero to be Superman…

…though Batman would still take him in a fight.  And indeed, perhaps the fact Batman would take the Kryptonian in a fight is validation for my thoughts.  Superman would not compromise what he stands for to do what it takes to end Batman, and therefore lose to the Man who must do anything to win.  Superman’s ends do not justify his means, and finally in my life, neither do mine.  I’ve decided to try something.

I’m looking up.

All images property of Warner Bros, no infringement intended, no profit made

1 comment:

Eric said...

Nice post sir! I myself have only ever dabbled in comics. While Batman DKR and YO are faves (I have a particular fetish for Y100 as well), I never really got into any other versions until the first two Nolan flicks. I tried some individual issues here and there, but serials were never my thing. Sure, I consumed all the films. The first Burton flick even held a very special place in my teen heart.

Superman never did it for me until this very moment. Your piece has swayed me. Before I found him a bit too good to be real, so I fell more for Logan and the X-Men in the eighties. When I rebooted my own comic consumption in the early oughts, it was The Authority's complex weirdness that drew me most in the superhero world. Powers had a similar vibe as well for me. The immensely flawed and ultimately human heroes that struggled as much against themselves as they did against their foes. I actually spent more time with horror comics and films at that time too, as well as sci-fi rather than supernatural material (think Firefly for visual storytelling and the Night Watch series for novels). Supernatural powers became all about bad guys with those, while the good guys tended to be more limited (until the end of Twilight Watch at least that mostly held true even in that series). Supernatural was actually another great example of that.

I know I am crossing genres and media like mad here, but bear with me. I think all of these various formats and mediums share a thread: heroes. They are all about heroes and the many forms they come in.

So, to take my rambling back to the new-found appreciation of Superman your post has brought me. The Chris Reeves Superman flicks suffered badly from the cheese factor and I never even bothered to consume the reboot more than half a decade ago now. Again, serial comics haven't been my thing since I was a preteen really and I never got a good recommendation for a solid Superman graphic novel. As a preteen X-Men, Spidey, Daredevil, Captain America, Iron Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers dominated my comic world, so I was a pretty-die hard Marvel boy, save the two aforementioned Batman graphic novels.

The only serial comics I read in the nineties were Sandman and Cerebus, oddly. Superman completely fell off my radar for more than a decade.

Now, I am a very old man in my heart, mind, and soul. My body remains just a badly abused middle-aged man's though. However, I see the importance of the bright shining bastion of hope. I finally get why we need Superman. I think we still need Logan and Bruce Wayne/The Batman, but they cannot exist in a world without Superman. I guess technically Logan does exist in a world without Superman. My comic knowledge is so weak, I'm not sure what the Marvel universe equivalent is actually, maybe Cap? I did always love the Cap, even in serial form. Ayway, I digress often and with aplomb.

You have brought forth the bright shining light of the S to me like never before. I plan to seek out trade collections and graphic novels with Kal-El/Mr. Clark Kent/Superman. I anxiously await Man of Steel now. We all need hope so very badly in this world. While it sometimes needs tempering to be able to be swallowed, let's leave that to the Logan's and Batmen. Superman should continue to shine bright and true.