With the premiere of Superman Returns looming — tomorrow night at some theaters — newspapers unleashed a tidal wave of related coverage. Insane amounts of stories about the history of Superman, his cultural significance, the different incarnations. It’s … Supermania. There, I said it.
Now where to begin for this roundup?
‘A cultural legacy is on the scales’
Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Gerard Jones, author of Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, considers the Man of Steel’s place in a landscape populated by superheroes:
Our mass entertainment today is mostly based on irresolution, on cliffhangers and endlessly unfolding mysteries whose apparent answers are undermined by new questions. And that’s not surprising these days, when life is distinguished by war against untraceable opponents, slowly manifesting global disasters and a growing premonition of national decline.
The superheroes who currently rule the cineplexes are living embodiments of that irresolution. Batman will never get over his rage at the thug who killed his parents. Spider-Man will never get over the guilt of letting his Uncle Ben die. The X-Men will never get the world to accept them (and, as true adolescents, don’t really want it to). Superman, on the other hand, was all about resolution. He resolved to use his powers for the good of mankind because his dear old dad wanted him to. When his dad passed away, he left the farm for the city, took on bad guys, beat them, and that was that.
Now director Bryan Singer faces the challenge of returning this longest-lived, best-loved and most-scorned hero to the ultimate arena of pop-culture validation, the big screen. I can’t help feeling that they’ve taken on responsibility for more than Warner Bros.’ several-hundred-million-dollar investment. A cultural legacy is on the scales.
Will young audiences flock to Superman?
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, meanwhile, wonders whether young moviegoers, “having grown up with the darker, more brooding cinematic evocations of comic-book heroes Batman, Spider-Man and X-Men,” might find Superman’s Boy Scout image a bit … dull.
Among those weighing in are Scott Hinze of Fanboy Radio and Matt Brady of Newsarama.
“This generation is more familiar with who [The Matrix's] Neo and Trinity are than Clark and Lois,” Brady says. “That’s going to be the question: Can Superman be relevant and connect with a younger audience? With kids, sure, they will like it because of the special effects and the action. But as for the [young adult] audience, can he be hip? Can he attract that younger audience or will they like it better when Neo took off and flew?”
Ageless, but not unchanging
As if in response to the Star-Telegram piece, the San Jose Mercury News offers an article titled, “Times change, but Superman endures as a cultural icon,” chronicling the evolution of the Man of Steel, and efforts to update him for new generations:
By the time the turmoil of the 1960s arrived, Superman had taken on the feel of a cultural relic. Attempts to make him look hip only made him look silly. Green Lantern and Green Arrow could hit the road in search of America like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, but Supes could not. He had lost the coolness war to Batman and, even more so, to such rival Marvel Comics creations as Spiderman and the X-Men, who were very much of the era.
And his very superpowers and invincibility were making him harder and harder to write.
Denny O’Neil, the skilled comic writer who tried his hand at Superman in the early 1970s, said recently that “at one point, he blew out a star like you would blow out a candle. Well, if a guy can do that, how are you going to get conflict into the story?”
Many, many more links: