Man of Steel – The Non-Review

This is Superman

As a long-time DC fan, who has been known to read Superman from time to time, I’d been looking forward to the new film, Man of Steel for several months.

I have good memories of seeing the first Christopher Reeve film in the kind of old-fashioned big screen cinema that was perfect for the scale of the film, and which just doesn’t exist any longer. I have good memories of Superman II, a poor opinion of Superman III and I can console myself with the fact that I was on a date when I went to see Superman IV – The Quest for Peace and can at least look back on several long periods of snogging instead of following the film.

Superman Returns was better than that one, but we are still drawing a veil over it.

Following the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and the increasing darkening of DC’s comics that has beaten any residual interest in superheroes out of me, I admit to misgivings about what direction Man of Steel would take. It’s a cliche to say this, and like all cliches it might not represent the whole of the story but it gets close enough to the core of things to stick, but Superman is Light where Batman is Dark. Superman works in the open, in the daylight, he appears in primary colours, he is dedicated to Truth and Justice (we’ll forget the outmoded part of that line, thank you). Superman saves, Superman is Good. He’s the Big Blue Boy Scout and just as he is unreal and impossible, so he can be purer of heart than the rest of us. Batman is his opposite, in every aspect.

Don’t forget, this year, Superman will have been around for 75 years. And no cultural icon, no matter how low the culture, gets to stick around for that length of time whilst being only one thing to everyone all the time. But some things, some parts of the concept have to remain inviolate, no matter what else responds to the changing world, or how else do we know who we are speaking of?

That Man of Steel would try to drag Superman as far over into Batman’s psychological territory as possible was a given. That a large part of the audience would not just applaud this but would regard it as the only thing that makes Kal-El interesting to them, was only to be expected. So I wasn’t exactly expecting my kind of Superman film to begin with.

The early reviews were fairly equivocal, focussing mainly on the apparant absence of any chemistry between Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. I don’t let reviews influence me – the Guardian ordered, commanded and screamed at me to hate the Tintin film The Secret of the Unicorn seven or eight times over, but I still enjoyed it immensely – not unless they come from someone with an unimpeachable record of being on my wavelength, so I wasn’t bothered even when my Team Leader at work warned us all off it because his lodger had gone to see it first night, and said it was absolute crap.

But I still read some comics sites, even if I don’t read the comics, and so I learned of Mark Waid’s blog on his visit to the cinema. Now Waid, if you don’t know him, is a lifelong Superman fan who’s also written the character (his version of Superman’s origins, Birthright, was the authorised version in the pre-New 52 universe, and some of the material in Man of Steel is based on his work). He’s also one of the most consistently entertaining, thoughtful and fresh comics writers of the past two decades, so his is a voice I’m prepared to listen to.

And when he explained how the film broke his heart, how it portrayed a Superman that he couldn’t believe in, that wasn’t Superman in any incarnation that he could recognise, I realised that my own thoughts of Superman, of who and what he was, and what he could do and be in order for me to be able to recognise him as Superman meshed in this respect. I won’t relate what Waid was talking about, for the benefit of those who do intend to watch the film, and who are entitled to allow the story to present itself, but it is as much a breach of what i can accept as the character as if Jeeves were to extricate Master Wooster from another of those unsought entanglements, not by the ingenuity of his superior brain but by having the girl kidnapped and sold into white slavery.

Here’s a link to Waid’s piece, and here’s a link to a very interesting piece by Greg Hatcher on the process of identifying what is ‘your’ Superman, your core image of what the character cannot abandon or forego or ignore and still be the Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, the Big Blue Boy Scout.

The Man of Steel of Man of Steel goes beyond what I, like Mark Waid, and many others, can concieve of in Superman. So I won’t be going to see the film after all, and I won’t be blogging what I think of it. Although I seem to have done that, after all.

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