Tag Archives: superman

Panels and Screens

This Friday, Iron Man 2 will begin showing in thousands of movie theaters across the U.S. and will continue its run abroad. This installment may be the 2nd of this specific series, but it actually the 3rd in what will be a 6 film Marvel Universe series by 2013. These plans have existed since the early stages of Iron Man’s development and are part of Disney/Marvel’s plan to dominate the genre in film. Though it is yet unconfirmed, recent reports also indicate that the upcoming Batman, Green Lantern and Superman films (all of which to also be released by 2013) may follow suit, creating a film DC Universe as well. There are two questions that must be addressed. First, is it possible to create such a universe and have it be cohesive enough to function and second, is it a good idea to create such a universe. I admit, this won’t be based on much information, just speculation, but if there is any type of story I have a firm grasp on, it’s these. That said, LET THE SPECULATIOOOOON BEGIN!

So, in the first 2 films in the Marvel Universe series (Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk), the following seeds of this film universe were planted:

  1. Both films made heavy references to the existence of “super” tech in World War II, in the Hulk film, they even acknowledge the super-soldier program which Captain America would have come out of.
  2. Both films acknowledge the existence of S.H.I.E.L.D., who, in this universe, are seeking out super heroes for an “Avengers Initiative” which is named specifically in Iron Man.
  3. Nick Fury briefly acknowledges that there are other superheroes in the world in Iron Man.
  4. The military uses Stark technology to fight the Hulk.

Though it does not seem like much, points 1 and 2 will serve to unify both the existing and future stories, and admit to a world that is not our own. This hopefully will reach the audience as this admittance is essential to any expansion of these ideas, the expansion that will likely happen in The Avengers film scheduled for 2012.

DC is a lot rougher, the 2 Batman films which would potentially be part of this continuity were not written with other films in mind. That said, there are some thematic elements that a writer could exploit. The aforementioned super tech exists in the Batman films, and has been used by hero and villain alike. You could always say that Luthor had been competing with Wayne or that Batman got his new Bat-Wing from Ferris aircraft. It’s not much, but it is something. Additionally, the transition from traditional crime to “super crime” has already occurred, Gotham has at least 2, though some claim 3, super villains alive and active. A writer could easily make Batman the first public superhero and therefore spin the occurrences in Gotham into a global phenomenon.

While both of these universes seem feasible, there seems to be one character in each that will be a challenge. Marvel’s basic continuity at this time revolves almost exclusively around military technology. This has already worked for Iron Man and Hulk, and is tailor-made for the upcoming Captain America film. With Thor…not so much. It should be very interesting to see how they intend to present a story of hammers and sorcery, and then ask the general public to accept him fighting along side a human jet and a super soldier. DC’s problem is Batman. As acknowledged before, the first 2 films were not written with any acknowledgement of a bigger universe. More importantly, it is going to be very hard to convince the audience that Batman can exist with Superman across the country, not to mention The Green Lantern, The Flash and Ambush Bug…nobody? It might even take a direct explanation, like Batman being all angry and not wanting Superman in HIS city. Regardless of method, it has to be addressed.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten obsessed with thinking if we could, let’s slow down and think about if we should. Movies are very restrictive for comic book characters. Not only does the origin need to be told before moving on, but time restrictions have a huge impact on the stories that can be told. The best example of this is The Dark Knight. Even at a running time of just over 2 and a half hours, the film barely squeezes in what would be a standard comic book story arc. This has a lot to do with how comic book stories are structured. Instead of a standard 3 acts, comics have multiple, escalating climaxes. This forced the writers of The Dark Knight to give the film a frantic pace, one that I am sure would not work with a lesser director. Not only this, but as my friend Bob has pointed out, the story they are able to tell is pretty mundane as far as most comics are concerned. The reason I explained this structure is because when you are creating a film universe, you are implying that the types of stories executed in comics will now be executed in film. The problem I see with this is that comic books allow for the character to develop on there own over long periods of time. Rushing them into encounters with other leads may not allow for this development and ultimately leave the character in a sort of weakened state (yeah, I just called Hollywood a bunch supervillans who steal powers). Part of the reason the comic book Batman can stand next to the comic book Superman is because he is such a strong, well developed character. The powers of Superman do not detract from what that media’s audience already knows about Batman. Though there are plenty of people who do not need justification, either out of indifference or knowledge of the source material, it may not be responsible story telling to throw Captain America in with Thor the second time you see either of them.

Regardless of how this all ends up, I have faith the journey will be fun. A lot of very talented people are working on all of these films and I will certainly get to see some moments I have been imagining in my head since I was 8. Please share your thoughts on this topic. This entry was originally intended to be much shorter, but I didn’t realize how much thought I had already put into it. Oh well.

I am Iron Man,

Vinny

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America’s Finest

While writing my last entry (‘til deathrays do us part), I began to ruminate on the popularity of Batman over that of Superman, specifically in the United States. In most ways, Superman seems as if he should be the absolute king of all superheroes. He is the prototype for the entire genre and as far as the stories go, he is acknowledged as such. Not only that, but he is often cited as the ultimate immigrant, the only true pillar of virtue in the universe and the embodiment of the “American Dream”. If this is truly the case, than why do Americans prefer The Dark Knight to The Man of Steel? I believe it is (in part) because Batman embodies the American Dream in a far more accessible manner.

As I mentioned before, the journey of The Last Son of Krypton is often presented as the ultimate immigrant success story. Not only does he successfully assimilate into American culture, but adds his own knowledge and strength to the tapestry that is this great nation. I don’t think that this point is disputable, but it isn’t inherently relatable. Yes, the majority of the population finds its roots in other countries, but many of us were born within U.S. borders. Our ancestors gave us their traditions, but we cannot all empathize with their hardships. Additionally, even immigrants aren’t necessarily prone to reject an American born figure especially if they buy into the other aspects of the story. Basically, Superman is the ultimate immigrant story, but that positions him no better than the American born Batman.

Another aspect of this American Dream is living up to ones potential. In normal circumstances, triumph in this area typically garners economic success stories. Within the largely symbolic genre of superhero fiction it is perhaps better represented by the literal triumph over the evils of the world and the characters own condition. This is where Batman begins to gain ground on Superman. Yes, Superman does fight a never-ending battle, and one that he is often winning in, but his starting point is a bit more advanced. Superman is essentially never threatened physically; in turn, all of his real problems are philosophical. Superman can do anything; the hard part is figuring WHAT to do. In theory, this should be no less interesting than other stories. The problem is this type of narrative is very difficult to write and suffers from being done very badly over and over again. On the other hand, Batman starts where any of us would. Not only does he triumph over the tragic death of his parents, but he brings himself to such a high level of perfection (both mentally and physically) that he can stand side-by-side with men and women who can travel faster than light and punch through mountains. Yes, The Caped Crusader is blessed with the benefits of being able to afford anything he needs to achieve these goals, but I think the majority of the audience accepts this as a necessary resource to bring oneself to the pinnacle of human potential.

The American Dream also calls for the creation of a positive family legacy. The pioneer of the group is always credited with this and it is a very important part of the realization of an American Dream. Both Batman and Superman’s biological families are already portrayed as men and women who have already accomplished this. Jor-El is a respected scientist and member of the ruling class on Krypton. Thomas & Martha Wayne are respected philanthropists in Gotham before their tragic deaths. There have even been some apocryphal writings on the history of the Kents. However, it is their deaths that start the new dreams. New families start when people begin to wear symbols on their chests. To be clear, anyone who is around for the beginnings of the superhero can be included in this family. For Batman this is Alfred and for Superman, the Kents. However, it is now the burden of the hero to create the new family legacy. Superman does create a legacy, but it is an odd one. The Legion of Superheroes, teenage superheroes from the future who see Superman as a legend and recruit Superboy (Superman’s adventures when he was a boy!) serve as the philosophical children of Superman. Once again, this is a concept that should work but is haunted by writers’ difficulty to grasp the philosophical side of the story. Once again, Batman gets an advantage because of this. I would say one of the big differences between Batman and any superhero is public awareness of his supporting cast. Anyone who is aware of Batman will most likely be aware of Alfred, Gordon and Robin if nothing else. These characters, both literally and potentially, provide infinite extension of the bat-family legacy. Not only that, but many of these characters have or have had their own solo books. The Bat-Family is always in action, Superman doesn’t have that.

This isn’t written with the intent of bashing Superman; in fact he’s one of my favorite characters and there isn’t much I would change about him or his supporting cast. I just think it’s important to analyze why the public perceives characters as they do. Batman is a far more functional in a traditional sense and more writers are able to write him effectively (especially when they actually know the material they are working with.) I’m also not claiming that there is no fan base for Superman, it just needs to be recognized that it may take a bit more care to bring him back into the spotlight. We can believe a man can fly again.

Vinny’s unrelated Video Pick of The Week!

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’til deathrays do us part

Last night a friend of mine told a story concerning a panel at this past weekend’s New York Comic Con in which fans had argued over the merits of a certain web slinger’s married and single states. Essentially, no conclusion could be met since the room was filled with both single and romantically attached fans. A desire to connect with the protagonist exists within all of literature but is heightened within the superhero genre. This is in part caused by the breadth of choices one has in selecting a superhero tale to read (or watch for that matter). In a sense, there is a superhero for everyone and this often causes the reader to select a character that they feel represents their own situation. Threaten to change that relationship and you will meet fervent opposition. This is not to say that all superhero weddings have been met with disdain. Multiple Flashes, X-People and Emerald Archers have made their vows without much controversy. However, there are certain unions which still come into question with support on both sides of the argument. For time’s (and my own sanity’s) sake, I will address only one of these, the one that is perhaps the most important.

Lois and Clark. No matter how you slice it, this is THE relationship in superhero history. The struggle of the secret identity against the desire to live a normal life was an absolute in Superman comics over many decades. In 1996, DC Comics finally bit the bullet and married the two characters in regular DCU continuity. Since then, two arguments have been made. The dissenters call for the return to the pseudo love triangle between the brash and beautiful Lois, the meek and kindly Clark Kent and his messianic alter ego. The supporters tend to embrace the idea that this marriage can lead to new, exciting stories taking the last son of Krypton to new heights.

I’ll start with the dissenters because they have a strong argument for a number of reasons. One is that the un-wed Superman is the most familiar version of the story to the public.  Lois’ constant belittling of Clark juxtaposed with her worship of Superman is simply iconic and it should be no surprise that much of the audience would wish to sustain this. Another argument is that the removal of Clark’s longing to have a meaningful relationship with Lois makes the already god-like Kal-El that much more difficult to relate to. In the unmarried state, Superman can be portrayed as the man who seems to have everything but, in truth, is lacking in the one thing he really wants.

The counter argument to this is typically pretty simple, but has its value. If we all know that Lois and Clark are in love, why not let them get married. It opens up opportunity for new stories and new concerns for The Man of Steel. Additionally, Superman’s villains (especially the more powerful types) have a new target that actually bleeds. Superman becomes more relatable in this scenario because it forces him to expand his mortal family. Superman now has more than just his human parents to worry about when Braniac takes over the internet. This also opens the door for little half-Kryptonians, a topic covered in many of the 60’s “imaginary stories”, but let’s save that argument for another day.

I suppose that you are looking for my opinion by this point and the truth is I don’t really have one. I have read amazing stories using both scenarios and I feel that if the writer has something valid to say under either condition it will work out fine. The idea of Superman is bigger than the scenarios he exists in. A great Superman story is a great Superman story forever, whether Lois and Clark remain married until the end of time or if the marriage is ret-conned next year. This is not to say terrible decisions cannot be made *cough* mullet Superman *cough* but these modern myths always seem to correct themselves somehow. Superman was here before most of us, and will outlast all of us. The same can be said for characters like Spider-Man, who in recent years didn’t have too many great stories in either situation. It just takes one writer to put things back on track. At their best, these characters come from a very honest place and should never be limited unless the change will violate the character’s essential traits. Superman can’t kill, but maybe he can get married.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Keep reading! -Vinny

and now, my completely unrelated video pick of the week

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