Look, Up In The Sky!

Superman: The Movie is a motion picture that was released in 1978. Despite there being attempts at making comic book movies in the past, whether it be low budget movie serials or comedic films like Batman: The Movie from 1966, this was the first attempt at making a serious big budget motion picture that appealed to the masses. The choices made by the cast and crew of Superman: The Movie not only ensured that the movie itself would be entertaining for fans, it helped shaped the character of Superman and the world he inhabited in comics as a whole.

            The first lasting change starts with the opening location in the movie, Krypton. Before the movie, Krypton had routinely been portrayed as a typical 50’s sci-fi wonderland, similar to settings you would see in works like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. Richard Donner decided to take a different tact. Working with production designer John Barry, they envisioned Krypton as a cold, alien planet covered in crystals. This allowed the filmmakers to give the film a more modern look.

            The comics quickly took cues from the movie. After the landmark comic event Crisis On Infinite Earths, an event series intended to streamline the DC universe continuity, DC Comics commissioned noted comic creator John Byrne to reimagine the origins of Superman in his limited series Man Of Steel. The purpose of Man Of Steel was to essentially start over with the character. Mr. Byrne, taking cues from Superman: The Movie, took Krypton from the 50’s sci-fi wonderland it had been for over 50 plus years into an alien landscape that resembled the locations established in the movies. There were some changes, to be fair. Mr. Byrne presented Krypton as more of a desert planet, but the design of the buildings on Krypton closely resembled the world of Krypton in the films.

            The next big change had to do with Lois Lane. While she was never the typical damsel in distress, during the height of the Comic Code Authority of the 50’s and 60’s, Lois’s character became more focused on getting a man, not on being the best reporter at The Daily Planet. In fact, while she did have a comic book of her own during this era, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, that book typically featured her being boy crazy of some sort.

            Enter Margot Kidder. Margot took Lois Lane from a two-dimensional caricature into a fully fleshed out character. In the movie, Lois Lane is a tough, no nonsense woman who is good at her job and has no qualms letting you know about that. Sure, she loves Superman in the movie, yet her worth as a character is not defined by that love. She becomes the adult Wendy to Superman’s Peter Pan.

            How did that affect Lois in the comics? When John Byrne created Man Of Steel, his version of Lois Lane was influenced by the movie. She wasn’t portrayed as boy crazy anymore. The layers that Margot Kidder added to Lois Lane translated well to the comics. By giving Lois realistic motivations as a character, we the readers were able to connect with her in ways we simply couldn’t before. After the movie, Lois in the comics simply became more relatable because she was no longer a caricature.

            Another character that benefited by changes in the movie was Lex Luthor, greatest criminal mind of our time. In the comics, it was established that Lex and a young Clark Kent grew up together in Smallville. Thanks to a science experiment that went bad, Lex lost his hair, which caused him to seek vengeance on Superman. What greater motivation does a super villain need for world domination than male pattern baldness?

            The movie took a different path. Instead of presenting Lex as an evil scientist, Richard Donner took cues from the James Bond franchise and turned Lex into an evil capitalist with no moral compass. (Interestingly, the final script was written by Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote a number of early Bond films.) In the film, he desires land and will go to any length to get what he wants. For an audience in the 70’s, this was much more relatable than a mad scientist. A person could switch on the news and watch plenty of real-world Lex Luthor’s walking among them.

            The comics took note. Starting with John Byrne’s Man Of Steel, Lex Luthor was an evil industrialist that was head of LexCo. He used his resources as an industrialist to achieve his goals. By updating the character of Lex Luthor, making him resemble the character as portrayed in the movie, the comics took an outdated trope, the evil scientist, and updated the character into someone the average reader would think is real.

            Superman: The Movie is a landmark film. Similar to how the creation of Superman in the comics launched the superhero craze, the movie helped open the eyes of Hollywood as to what comic book stories can offer audiences. No longer are comic book characters marketed specifically to children. The movie, made 50 or so years after the creation of the comic, understood that generations of people grew up with these characters. By adapting them for modern times, by giving the characters more to do than the standard two-dimensional tropes you would come to expect from these stories, the movie opened the door for comic book creators to offer more depth to the world of Superman for which we the readers continue to benefit.

The Death of Superman

The Death of Superman

As promised, I said I would take a day a month or so to review a graphic novel. This month I’ve decided to talk about one of the greatest stories in comics history, The Death of Superman. What follows is not so much a review as it is just my thoughts about the character and my reaction to the story when it came out. While I could quibble and find something wrong with the story (you can find something objectively wrong with any story from any author), when something like this story is created that packs such a wallop in terms of pure emotion, you just have to sit back and enjoy it.

In 1992 I was a sophomore in high school. I was never a huge Superman fan growing up. Like most kids I’d watched Saturday morning cartoons and when Superman from Christopher Reeve played on television I would watch but Superman just never interested me. So when it was announced that Superman was going to be killed off I was shocked at how angry I was at the decision.

Why was I angry? I couldn’t really explain it at the time. What was it about the character that caused such a reaction?

As the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. The world is a better place with Superman in it, even it it’s just in a comic book.

The comic is not so much a story but a study of what Superman would do if he had to face the most vicious beast he ever had to face. A beast who could take down a near invulnerable person in Superman is a fearsome creature to deal with indeed.

doomsday1

Having a simply image of a fist hitting a wall was a brilliant way to introduce the character. In the wrong hands they would have had Doomsday do something overly complicated to show how dangerous he was, with the end result being that you don’t believe in the character despite the best efforts of the writer and artist. The opening images of the comic is the work of genius.

The ending. What more can be said about the ending? The artwork is great.

Superman dead

That is a haunting image. A figure we’ve taken for granted since the late 1930’s met his match. You can’t but feel stunned at seeing someone who you held in high regard for so many years lying dead, battered and bruised almost beyond recognition.

After the comic came out I made more of an effort to follow the character. It wasn’t too long after this came out that Christopher Reeve, the man who embodied Superman for my generation, had his tragic accident which left him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Being an ignorant douchebag at the time I made my fair share of jokes immediately after the accident. But his courage, strength, and just pure good nature changed my opinion over the years to the point that when he passed away I shed tears like he was a member of my family.

I also gained a new appreciation for the films. The soundtrack alone was John William’s best work.

The music. My god, the theme song alone makes you think YOU are Superman. You want to rip your shirt off and hope your costume is underneath so you can fly around your living room.

Having grown up a James Bond fan I am not one who feels that another actor cannot bring more to a character simply because I associate one actor with that character. But you’d be hard pressed to find many folks who don’t think that Christopher Reeve embodied everything that was good about the character.

“Easy Miss. I’ve got you.”

“You’ve got me…who’s got you?”

This scene has to be one of my favorite scenes in movie history, up there with the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Any other actor could have screwed this scene up by simply not taking it seriously. The genius of Christopher Reeve’s portrayal was that he truly believed in the character and everything it stood for. While the character could be a little innocent at times, a little corny, his intentions were pure and meant for the good of mankind.

I think it was that line of thought that brought about DC to consider killing off the character even temporarily. Sometimes you don’t realize what something means to you until it’s taken from you. The absolute beauty of this comic is that in his death, you appreciate everything that is good about the character of Superman. His place in our culture is well deserved. The world is a better place for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation. Superman’s death in this comic makes you appreciate everything that character represents. This is why comics are made. If you only read one comic in your life, make it The Death of Superman.