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Grumpy Old Fan | The Big Blue Boy Scout and the Giant Blue Head

Megamind and Metro Man

Megamind and Metro Man

On this holiday, let’s talk about one way to take the occasional vacation.

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This space is reserved normally for my opinions about DC Comics’ superhero characters, but I don’t think the movie Megamind is too far out of bounds. Of course, Megamind tells a Superman story from the eponymous villain’s point of view, specifically featuring Megamind’s ultimate triumph over his lifelong rival.

The movie’s familiar analogues include the nigh-omnipotent Metro Man, tenacious reporter Roxanne Ritchi, and her red-haired cameraman Hal Stewart (himself perhaps named for a pair of Green Lanterns). Megamind isn’t so easy to pigeonhole. He shares an origin with Superman (infant rocketed from a dying world), and he’s a blue-skinned extraterrestrial with a giant bald head, but apart from his fantastic intellect he has no powers. Therefore, not quite Luthor, not quite Brainiac.

However, screenwriters Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons don’t seem particularly interested in exploring Luthor’s or Brainiac’s particular nuances. Instead, they set up Megamind generally as a good kid steered bad. Virtually from birth, Megamind has been overshadowed by, and even subordinated to, Metro Man. The latter’s spacecraft deflects Megamind’s capsule away from a friendly family and straight into the Metro City prison yard. When the two wind up at the same one-room schoolhouse, Metro Man proves more popular. Eventually, Megamind realizes that his purpose in life is to oppose Metro Man, and that becomes the movie’s central theme. Again, not quite Luthor, but that’s not the point.

In fact, my first reaction to Megamind was that it had missed one major point of the Superman mythology — and then I realized the same was true for the current Superman books. Neither Megamind nor Superman seem to have much use for Clark Kent.

SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR MEGAMIND

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[... although to be fair, the movie’s big twist was -- as you might expect -- spoiled by one of the trailers....]

As mentioned above, Megamind’s chief conceit is that the villain would lose direction and purpose without the hero to oppose him. This is nothing new to superhero fans, since it has become part of the Batman/Joker relationship. Indeed, the Luthor/Superman relationship is almost the opposite: to the current Luthor, Superman is an obstacle (if not an outright fraud), keeping him from realizing his full potential at the top of the pecking order. The Earth-1 Luthor of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s was marginally more sympathetic, because the stories suggested that he could actually use his intellect for good if he weren’t constantly redirecting it against Superman. Megamind combines that perspective with the “Joker needs the Batman/Joker deserves the Batman” element to produce a character who just needs to work through some issues.

Megamind also fills the Metro Man-sized hole in his life by romancing Roxanne, the hero’s putative girlfriend. Said romance is facilitated by the movie’s main “secret identity” subplot, where Megamind steals the identity of Bernard, a hipster-type who works at the Metro Man Museum. Behind Bernard’s glasses, Megamind can open up to Roxanne not just about Metro Man, but about the person he would be but for Metro Man. This leads to the inevitable (and predictable) public unmasking, followed by a rain-drenched dumping. However, the two reunite to stop the menace of Titan, the hero-gone-bad Megamind created as a Metro Man replacement.

And that, in turn, leads us to what could have been a really meaningful secret-ID subplot for the movie’s actual superhero. It seems that Metro Man faked his own death after realizing his heroic career would never leave him a moment’s peace. He then retreated to his “solitary fortress” (I think that was the movie’s phrase) in order to spend more time developing a musical career. Megamind and Roxanne try to convince him to come back, and for a while they seem to have succeeded; but no, it’s just another holographic trick designed to throw Titan off guard.

This is not to say that Megamind’s climactic battle isn’t entertaining. I’d sure love to see Megamind’s sort of classic-rock-infused “presentation” in the next Superman-movie villain. Instead, the problem is with me: when I see Superman, or a reasonable facsimile, I’d like him to be heroic. It doesn’t take too long for Megamind to reveal Metro Man as a preening pretty-boy — capable, nigh-omnipotent, and true, but ultimately lacking the balance a secret identity would have provided. When Metro Man realizes that he doesn’t have to be a superhero all the time, he stops being a superhero entirely. It’s a false choice, and it means Metro Man doesn’t grow or change as a result of the movie’s events. I realize the movie isn’t called Metro Man, but it wouldn’t have taken much, and it would have left Metro Man (and by extension Superman) looking better in moviegoers’ eyes.

Indeed, Superman seems to have acquired a perpetual image problem. As we all know, the common knock on Superman is that he’s “hard to relate to,” not just because he’s so powerful, but because no one could have all that power and still be such a paragon of virtue. Mark Waid may have said it best in a 2003 interview with CBR:

Originally … Clark Kent was unique among super-heroes in that he was the “mask” and Superman was the “real” person…. That was a huge part of the genius of the character and a huge part of what contributed to his longevity. Before about 1985, no one ever whined that they “couldn’t relate to Superman.” You weren’t supposed to relate to Superman. That’s what Clark was for. He was our touchstone. The half of Superman which readers can actually relate to because we all (Jesus, especially comics fans) want to believe that even though we may be put upon and bullied by the world from time to time, we know what those who pick on us or look down at us don’t — that if they could see behind our glasses, they’d see a Superman.

Megamind turns that inside-out. Metro Man is the bullying “jock,” so Megamind the “nerd” takes revenge by becoming a supervillain. Again, this isn’t really a Superman movie, so Metro Man doesn’t need to be especially sympathetic — but the “real” Superman isn’t helped at all by an analogue who thinks retirement is his only hope for sanity. Furthermore, thanks to the “New Krypton” and “Grounded” storylines, Clark Kent has been (and may well be) out of the spotlight for the better part of two years. If Waid is correct — and I have no complaints with his theory — then that necessarily makes Superman less relatable. Clark has the job, the apartment, the love life, and the underwear on the inside. Superman (at least in “New Krypton” and “Grounded”) has a series of ethical questions.

Of course, the movie does play with the idea of a secret identity — a couple of them, actually, since Megamind adopts an hilarious Brando-esque persona to pose as Titan’s trainer/mentor — but it doesn’t present either as anything sustainable. (I suppose the mountain-man beard and Ben-Grimm-style trenchcoat we see Metro Man in at the end of the movie could be the beginnings of an alter ego, but I would really have liked him wearing a suit and glasses.) Instead, Bernard and “Brando” are part of Megamind’s character arc, and their eventual reveals help him work through those issues to become a more complete person. Naturally, this also includes the general public accepting him in all his macrocephalic glam-rock glory. Eventually Megamind replaces Metro Man as Metro City’s beloved hero; but I’m still not sure Megamind understands what drove Metro Man away.

Accordingly, my main criticism of Megamind comes from its reliance on an either/or philosophy. It starts from the jock/nerd antagonism which fuels Megamind’s hatred of Metro Man, and is personified in the nerd-turned-jock Titan (who is entirely selfish with his powers). The movie concludes with Megamind on top and Metro Man moved willingly into the background, like there’s no room to share.

Honestly, it may work best for the movie for Metro Man to stay out of sight, considering all the work Megamind has to do to replace him fully in the public’s eyes. At the risk of sounding like a bad self-help guru, Megamind must accept himself as a complete person as much as the public must accept him as a hero; and he can’t really do that if Metro Man’s still a distraction.

Nevertheless, I don’t think the movie did right by Metro Man. Sure he’s a self-satisfied, square-jawed caricature, but much of his value as a character comes from the archetype he’s representing. Superman isn’t “the hero who could be you,” he’s the hero you want to be — the hero you imagine you are. When “Metro Man” makes his dramatic entrance in the movie’s final battle, saving Roxanne with some well-aimed laser vision, it’s a cliché; but it works. You want to believe that Metro Man has found a way to reconcile his inner life with his public responsibilities — or at least you want to believe he hasn’t stopped being a hero. Superman would have found a way to get out of Megamind’s spotlight without going into hiding, probably while using his own good reputation to bolster Megamind’s. I liked Megamind the movie and Megamind the character quite a bit, but I was disappointed I didn’t like Metro Man as much.

Clark’s life not only lets Superman take a break, it allows Clark to focus on what Superman can and cannot do. Conversely, losing sight of Clark draws more attention to the more impossible aspects of Superman: “if he can do X, why couldn’t he have done Y?” After all, Clark can do things Superman can’t; including putting a practical face on Superman’s limitless abilities. Take away Clark, and Superman becomes a lot like Metro Man: a spitcurled collection of special effects, spouting empty platitudes and subject to existential angst.

Superman’s depths and dimensions have been explored so exhaustively that it’s a shame Metro Man didn’t benefit from them. It would be a bigger shame if future Superman stories continued to downplay his more humble alter ego.

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I too was annoyed that they revealed Metro Man was alive in the trailer. It robbed the movie of its only really unexpected twist. I was also disappointed that Metro Man didn’t really return, because it means that he was so selfish that he decided having a normal life was more important that protecting innocents; he was not a true hero.

Of course, that may have been precisely *because* he never had a secret identity- all his life people expected him to be their protector so he was, possibly without truly understanding what it meant, just as Megamind was a villain only because that seemed to be his only choice in life.

I agree with Waid re: Clark and Superman, but only partially. Having powers like Superman’s would make most people become heroes simply because the knowledge of how many deaths they could prevent would weight in minds. That would not necessarily make him or her a paragon of virtue, though- true crimefighting requires more than catching crooks, and certain crises -wars for example- cannot always be solved easily by force. More likely, a “real” Superman would mainly help rescue people but would definitely also take time for his or her own life instead of being a hero 24/7. The Clark identity is there not just to “protect his loved ones” but also to simply allow him to live without going crazy from the stress.

I recently re-read the last issue of the JSA arc with the Kingdom Come Superman, and there’s a scene where Wonder Woman presents Superman with something to “help him see more clearly”: Clark Kent’s glasses!

I don’t agree that Clark is the “mask”, but I do agree that Clark is who we relate to. He’s the regular person who rises to the occasion, when it’s “a job for Superman”.

I think this is fair take on the film and it echoes some questions that occurred to me as well.

But, I do tend to stick with another perspective on the story – that for all his power, Metro Man was never /supposed/ to be a selfless hero because that wasn’t his personality. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s far too narcissistic to be a good Superman. Megamind, meanwhile, is forced into the villain role because he feels that this is supposed to be his destiny, yes. However, during his own awakening, the crucial point is that MM comes to realize that /he cares/ about people. He cares about ideals. He cares about keeping streets clean. He has rather wholesome values, in fact. These are values Metro Man, as a person and superpowers aside, doesn’t fully share.

Put another way, if we stripped Megamind and Metro Man of their powers (super brains and super strength respectively) and asked “which of these guys should be a public servant, and which should be a career oriented entertainer” the answer would definitely be Megamind for office, and Metro Man for Las Vegas.

In this sense the story seems to explore the expectations and projected obligations that society places on people due to what seem to be their superficial or stereotypical attributes. (Note that one question Megamind as Bernard poses is whether some “normal” would find a person with unusual skin color and facial structure attractive. MM doesn’t just represent nerds with his intelligence, but also being at odds with society’s obsession with appearance.)

While I’m not putting this film on the same level as The Incredibles, it does seem to echo a theme in Pixar’s superhero deconstruction: that people tend to assume that abilities and powers and inborn attributes are what makes someone a hero or a villain, important or unimportant. Oddly, this is a theme that a lot of people who saw The Incredibles seemed to miss. As weird as it may sound, I once found a critic going on about how The Incredibles story promoted elitism because the villain, Syndrome, was quite right that he was the victim of prejudice being born with no super powers. That critic didn’t seem to notice that the whole point was that it wasn’t powers that made a hero, but the make-up of one’s character. Powers are useless without the right attitude.

That is of course presented with blazing obviousness in Megaman’s Titan (who also may be a bit of a satire of a certain kind of geek or comic book fan who projects themselves onto fantastic ideas, but in reality would make a terrible person given real power because they’re immature and selfish.)

But in the end, I guess I gotta give much of it a pass as it is after all, Megamind’s story, and about the nerd and the “freak” realizing that there’s nothing wrong with himself, and that what he should do with his life is what actually suits himself best; not what he’s expected to do because of his superficial attributes.

(Somewhere in here, there is a great comic story waiting to be written – unless it already has been – about whether or not people who have extraordinary abilities or powers are obligated to do a stereotypically “great” thing with them, and for the service of society or a greater good. With great power comes great responsibility… but is the responsibility to *use* that power actively, or merely to not *misuse* it?)

I always saw Clark as the man and Kal-El as the mask. He was raised as Clark. He received all his morals and humility as a son of Johnathan and Martha. Being Superman lets him be anything but plain-old-”Smallville”. But at the end of the day, when he goes closes his eyes, it’s Clark that he thinks himself as.

As for Megamind and MetroMan. Yea, I do agree it was a cop-out to allow MetroEmo out. I mean a really serious life-threatening event took place and he LET it happen. It COULD have gone horribly wrong and he still stood by. He takes no moral high ground, he takes no greater-good view, he doesn’t even take a common-sense look at what happens without him.

Why couldn’t they have teamed up? Split the responsibilities and then allow each other to have that oh-so-valuable time off?

I’m more confused as to why everyone has to compare Metro Man and Superman so critically.
Yes, it’s more obvious then a Train Wreck that this movie is based of the Superman mythos. But, it is a Dreamworks animated movie, therefore while we as mature adults can find enough meat to chew on, that doesn’t stop parents from bringing children into it.

And why wouldn’t they? A superhero movie without a Wolverine/Punisher/Roarshach/Kick-Ass character is what many parents have been begging for.

So when we argue over whether Metro Man behaved rightly/wrongly in terms of Superman mythos, we have to remember that the last Superman movie came out years ago, and it was WAY to philosophical for children.

Yes, Metro Man has a lot in common with Superman. But if you keep asking ‘why didn’t he do what superman would do?’ why keep talking about his death/rebirth and the final battle? Would Superman/Clark Kent have shown off so vividly at school? No. Not at all. In fact, he did/does the OPPOSITE. If the Big Blue Boy Scout was in that school, he’d have been right there with young Megamind, sitting in the corner because he was clumsy and no-one liked his glasses.

So in short, I disagree with your comments that he ruined the Superman mythos. I personally think that is like accusing Captain Kirk of being a mediocre Jedi Knight

I completely agree with Mark Waid’s take and the trajectory of this piece.

What I disagree with is this notion that Clark Kent was raised on a farm, therefore his bespectacled identity is necessarily the real him.

My feeling is that Clark was never quite raised as Clark. He was raised as Superman. All his life, everything he was taught, it built him up until the moment he had his coming out party. So Superman’s the real identity — not only that, he’s the complete expression of his real identity. Reporter Clark Kent — even though he shares the name of the boy who grew up on the farm until his mid-20s — is the mask.

I liked and enjoyed the movie itself. It was a good family movie and my 5 year old enjoyed it and I enjoyed watching it with her.

However, what I didn’t like is the fact that there was absolutly no reason for it to be in 3-D. No parts poping out for the audeince to enjoy in 3D (like DESPICABLE ME had in it for example). They just made it into 3-D just to cash in on the gimmick and increase the ticket cost.

I’ve been a fan of the “triple identity” theory of Superman for quite some time.

In brief:

Superman is as much a mask as Clark Kent. As Superman, he’s flashy, extroverted, and the center of attention. His “Clark” persona, OTOH, is quiet & easy to miss. But these qualities are exaggerated, so that nobody thinks of equating the two.

The real personality lies somewhere between those extremes.

i agree.it reminds me of the incredibles.which i loved,waiting for the sequel.but will give this a try.love any form of super hero comedy tweakings.so can’t wait

In the current post-Crisis history, Kal-El was raised as Clark Kent. While the Kents know he is somewhat different, NOBODY knows just how different Clark is until he begins to exhibit powers during high school.

Consider what would have happened if Clark DID NOT develop any superpowers, but instead was just shown the rocket and had the Kryptonian brain blast.

Or consider if Kal-El had been a bug-eyed-monster. Or African-American. Or a blue-skinned baby with a big head.

Metro Man is not the hero of this movie. He is Megamind’s opposite. We’re not supposed to care about Metro Man. Sure, the audience can imprint their preconceptions and turn Metro Man into Superman, just like readers thought Nite Owl was Batman. It’s easy to do, since Superman is the FIRST superhero. But Metro Man is no more Superman than Mr. Incredible is. He’s “based on”, not “adapted”.

As for altruism and super powers… consider the very first issue of Astro City, where The Samaritan wishes he had more time to enjoy flying. Consider Love and Capes #10. Some would say, “Why is it my responsibility to save this person?” Because if you do start down that slope, pretty soon you’re a benevolent dictator. Or someone is nailing you to a tree for telling the truth and making people feel uncomfortable.

Finally… no comparison to “Despicable Me”?

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