Robot 6

Is it OK to claim ‘your’ Superman?


“This old version of To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus kills a rabid dog isn’t *my* Atticus”

Max Robinson, commenting on fan complaints about Man of Steel

I’ll try to keep this as non-spoilery for Man of Steel as possible, but if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to know anything about it, you may want to skip this.

There’s been a lot of discussion the past week about certain choices Superman makes in Man of Steel and whether those are things that character would/should do. Mark Waid describes being so upset by Superman’s actions that he stood up and yelled in the theater. In that review, the writer talks about “the essential part of Superman that got lost in Man of Steel.” And while I agree with what Waid describes as essential, not everyone does. In fact, some folks – like Robinson – question whether readers have the right to make those kinds of statements about someone else’s characters.

Tom Spurgeon has expressed distrust about that point of view. “I don’t know that there exists a right way to do a character that is divorced from its original creators like that,” he wrote recently. “Assumed fan ownership of someone else’s characters freaks me out a little bit.” He elaborated on that later in a series of tweets:

Have to admit, when something like the new Superman movie comes out I always feel a little bit like a monster wearing human skin on his face. I just sort of don’t relate to the whole idea of Superman as this sort of aspirational idea, let alone a character in which I have ownership. I mean, I may not end up liking the Superman movie if I get to see it, but I’m confident it won’t be [because] my idea of Superman wasn’t used. I don’t have a conception of Superman, I don’t know what Star Treks are supposed to be like, I can’t get worked up about the Lone Ranger. I guess I usually say that these characters are whatever their creators say they are, like Jaime H decided Maggie Chascarillo, not me. But these corporate characters are just empty suits, right? They’ll say or be whatever the person that owns them says they’ll say they’ll be. Maybe I’m just dead inside, I don’t know; I mean, I get “bad” but I don’t get “wrong.”

Although I tend to think in terms of a right way and a wrong way to write Superman, Spurgeon does have a point. Waid is a respected authority on Superman, but he didn’t create the character. And when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster made Superman stories, they were very often about a guy who did things differently from what I think of as “my” Superman.

Superman destroys a populated slum, knowing that the government will pay to rebuild it

Superman destroys a populated slum, knowing that the government will pay to rebuild it

Clark gives up an whistle-blower to protect his secret identity

Clark gives up a whistle-blower to protect his secret identity

At some point, Superman grew away from Siegel and Shuster’s original vision. Like Spurgeon says, that’s what happens when characters are owned by a corporation. They can be — and usually are — revised an infinite number of times to reflect the always-changing culture.

But that’s exactly why I defend the “my Superman” concept. Or “my Star Trek” or “my Hulk,” or whatever it is we’re talking about. It’s a defense mechanism against the whims of the characters’ corporate owners. If I’m going to enjoy stories about Superman, I have to be able to identify what it is I’m looking for so I can make choices about which I’m going to support. When a comic book or film (or even a statue) demonstrates it has a perspective on the character I don’t agree with, saying “That’s not my Superman” is just shorthand for “I don’t like that approach and I’m not going to support it.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Where it would be wrong is if — like in Robinson’s joke — we were to tell the character’s creator that she’s doing it wrong. That’s why I still can’t dismiss Spurgeon’s point. If “my Superman” is different from Siegel and Shuster’s, I don’t have any grounds whatsoever to tout mine as the “correct” one. It’s good to be able to discern what kind of Superman story I’m going to be able to enjoy, but that doesn’t give me permission to make my version a rule and insist that everyone else follow it.



You can do a James Bond film where he just sits and does his taxes for ninety minutes but it wouldn’t really be James Bond. He behaves in a certain way and you can play around with that as long as you keep coming back to the basics. There’s only so far you can take Superman before he stops being Superman and is just a guy in a tight suit and cape. Characters change over time but get rid of the foundations and it’s not that character anymore no matter what you call him.

Based on your comment, Ian, the question remains, what are Superman’s foundational traits? Is he the righteous bully of Siegel and Shuster’s strips, or the heroic diplomat we’ve established over the years? If “foundation” means what comes first, then the former is true, but if it means what transpires over a majority of time, it’s a latter.

I would like to see some blend of the two, and I think we got it in scenes like the end, where Supes confronts the General with the satellite. The chellenge of authority is similar to the slum-smaching MoS, but hsi desire to help for the greater good is the Supes we prop up as Hero #1. One trait needn’t negate the other.

you cant translate a comic into a movie. its science.

so all this “man of steel” talk is not really about Superman.

I don’t think “foundationalism” is necessarily a good perspective, because even among the founders, perspectives of what’s “right” can change. Even when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were working on characters, they didn’t remain exactlyt the same from their first appearances. In his early issues, Spider-Man wore red and black, not blue. The Hulk was grey and moderately intelligent. Thor wasn’t a god, just a guy who turned into one. Iron Man was grey. Daredevil was happy and wore yellow. Some of these characteristics changed over time, as some aspects were thrown out and others refined. Do we absolutely WANT things to go back to their first appearances, or do we accept that all fiction is a work in progress, even to the authors?

I’ve come to accept that within all popular fiction, there tends to be no “correct” version. There is a core set of concepts that make up the character, but no “right” way of doing it (though there are plenty of “wrong” ways of doing it). There is only the version that “I” grew up with and came to love.

I recently sold off much of my Incredible Hulk collection, pretty much limiting myself to what I grew up with: from the Bill Mantlo run to the end of Peter David’s. Most other versions, both before and after those runs, feel “wrong” to me. Stan Lee and Len Wein’s Hulk feel too cornball and unrefined to my tastes. Paul Jenkins’ and Bruce Jones’ Hulk runs feel to contradictory to what Peter David did. Intellectually, I realize that there is nothing “wrong” with the Lee, Wein, Jenkins, or Jones runs. However, they don’t comport with what I grew up with or how I came to know the character. To somebody else, I’m sure they’re great. As a matter of personal taste vis a vis me, they’re not. Make sense?

To give a more universal example: what’s the “correct” version of Dracula? Bram Stoker’s? Bela Lugosi’s? Francis Ford Coppola’s? Or somebody else’s? I think that once a character gains a legendary status that’s endlessly reinterpreted for various audiences, you lose the ability to claim that any version, even the original, is “correct.” There are only degrees of quality and personal taste arguments at that point.

I implied this before. What we have here is a Cultural Composite Superman problem. We have this notion of what Superman is from so many different sources throughout it’s 70+ years of existence. The problem is that Superman cannot live up to our selective cherry-picking.
Superman does not kill…..until he does.
Superman’s best friend is Jimmy Olsen..except when he isn’t.
Superman loves Lois only…..until he doesn’t.
Superman is Clark Kent…unless it’s Clark Kent is Superman.
So is there even an “essential” Superman? I think most people would say that his noble spirit and his humanity are essential aspects of him but even our concept of these concepts change. Recently on here, they revisted a comic where Superman fell in love with Lomaris (sp?) who came from Atlantis. When Clark first meets her she is in a wheelchair. He wants to impress her somehow and comes up with the idea to use his heat vision to melt her wheels on her chair and make her fall out. Of course he saves her. What’s noble about that? I guess it makes him more human because how many guys would stage something to impress a girl but is that “our” Superman? This story came decades after the Shuster/Siegal era.

I think Superman does represent certain positive qualities but they don’t exist in a bubble. They are a culturally driven perspective that changes through time. Remember last year when Superman gave up his citizenship? Some might realize the whys to that choice but could you imagine that in the 50’s/60’s? Or even as late at the 9/11 timeframe?

I will do, say, and think whatever I want.

The character I care about has very little to do with the original creators’ conception of Superman. It’s mainly the Roger Stern version, who followed what Byrne did. that’s the character I’d want to see a movie about. It’s not the Donner version. It’s not the current version and it’s not the 40s-50s version. That’s what resonates with me personally. I think personal response to art is not just important but perfectly fine, so long as you’re self aware about it. This is especially so if you see superheroes as part of the mythology of today. My interpretation of a certain version of the character (humanist, secular, not sent to save us but the best of us, Clark first – Superman the disguise, etc) is what I personally WANT to see.

That said, I can judge an artist workon merits that aren’t just what I want to see. I’m an adult. How I judge something and whether I like it are two separate, though interconnected things. So long as we’re self-aware about all that, I don’t see any problem with it. Everyone has biases. The trick is to admit them and try to be as aware of possible of them.

My Superman has a mullet.

I liked the Stern-Mullet era Supes but I hate that mullet.

Man, speaking of that era, I remember being younger and rooting for the Eradicator Superman to be the real one. (Screw the comic characters who put more trust in the Cyborg Superman. He was clearly evil, and he looked it.) He turned out to be an imposter, but at least he didn’t have a friggin’ mullet. He was sorta like Batman with Superman powers, which I liked.

Which I guess is why I can sympathize with the audience that likes Man of Steel. Young me had been wanting a Supes that was more like Eradicator, and while I can’t say that Henry Cavill is exactly that, he did have a slight Batman edge to him that general audiences embraced.

I think fan ownership is a perfectly valid concept. Once someone creates something that strikes a chord with the public, it really belongs to the people who fell in love with it, not necessarily the creator. A good example of this is Star Wars; Star Wars belongs to everyone, not George Lucas. Everyone fell in love with the original trilogy. When Lucas directed the prequels, he wasn’t making any more of “my” Star Wars. Those movies weren’t really made for filmgoers; they were made for George Lucas. I think that also gets into the issue of “correctness.” Saying that “this isn’t ‘my’ so-and-so” doesn’t mean that it wasn’t “correct,” it just wasn’t made for me. Man of Steel is not MY Superman because it was made for people who haven’t read hundreds of Superman comics; that doesn’t make it bad or incorrect, it just means it wasn’t aimed at me. This concept of fan ownership is also unrelated to like or dislike, I feel; it has more to do with the version of something that a fan first fell in love with. The first version of All Along the Watchtower that I ever heard was Jimi Hendrix’s version; that’s the song I grew up with. I love Bob Dylan’s original version, but it’s not “my” version simply because I didn’t hear it until I was older. Similarly, I really like XTC’s cover, but it’s just not “mine” – I neither grew up with it, nor was it aimed toward me, and that’s ok.

…I think that, up until this year, George Lucas would have disagreed with you on that.

I basically stopped feeling so attached to Star Wars because I realized it wasn’t made for me anymore. I stopped reading monthlies from DC for basically the same reason. I basically shrugged and moved on. It’s kinda weird to watch things you loved turn in to something else, but such is life.

I said basically three times in three sentences. I’m basically the worst person ever.

PETER said: “I think fan ownership is a perfectly valid concept. Once someone creates something that strikes a chord with the public, it really belongs to the people who fell in love with it, not necessarily the creator. A good example of this is Star Wars; Star Wars belongs to everyone, not George Lucas.”

Nope. You’re wrong. It belongs to Lucas (or I guess Disney, now). You can hate that Han doesn’t shoot first anymore, but you don’t have a right to get it changed back. I don’t like that change, but it is what it is. I still love the movies so I make a choice to keep supporting them; nobody HAS to do so though.

Superman belongs to WB. What makes Mark Waid’s take on “his Superman” any more valid than David Goyer/Zack Snyder/Chris Nolan’s? Nothing. You can enjoy one more than the other. You can even detest one. That doesn’t mean either take is wrong or right. Work-for-hire characters are handled differently by different creators, they evolve. Whether this new take on Superman lasts and becomes an accepted part of his mythos remains to be seen . . . but if it’s popular enough, it WILL become part of the mythos.

People need to actually read those Golden Age stories instead of just skimming them. Superman is neither a “righteous bully” nor some kind of socialist revolutionary. He uses clever trickery as much as his super-powers to either protect someone, make a corrupt person reform their ways, or to get a criminal locked away. Those Chronicles reprints are pretty cheap. Read them.

Also you guys need to change the picture comment under that scan where Clark gives away the guy’s location. If you actually read that story you’d know he did that to set the bad guy up because he knew he’d believe Clark Kent was a coward and easily intimidated, not to protect his own secret identity.

I just want Warners to make a superhero movie where I don’t get the impression that the people involved are ashamed to be making a superhero movie.

Red Comet, I have them and I’ve read them. Multiple times. I stand by the description under that picture too. There were other ways Superman could have handled that situation, but he chose to reveal his source and get the guy sent back to prison.

Just saying, Terrence Stamp OWNED the role. Shanahan was dull and not very authoritative. Supes should have cracked his neck before he murdered who know how many. Brainiac would have been a better villain for this film.

“What makes Mark Waid’s take on “his Superman” any more valid than David Goyer/Zack Snyder/Chris Nolan’s? Nothing.”
Other than Waid’s version being well-written, well-paced and the actual source for Goyer/Snyder/Nolan’s version, nothing I guess. I mean why listen to the original author of the material you’re swiping, right? He’s just a lowly funnybook writer. What valid input could he possibly have for the SCHOLAR behind Blade III, The Crow: City of Angels, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Death Warrant and the craptastic Dark Knight Rises? That’s as silly as consulting an expert on the technology that is maguffin of your plot.

There’s a version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” that leaves out the part where Atticus shoots the rabid dog? That is patently ridiculous. That scene adds an entirely new facet to Atticus’s character, and illustrates perfectly how someone can be a pacifist and still have the strength to do what is necessary. Max Robinson is an absolute fool if he thinks deleting that scene improves the work.

Thanks for the censorship on my second post which contained no durogatory or provocative language at all. I guess you can’t defend Mark Waid here too often.

I’m not completely sure how comments get flagged for review, but yeah, I didn’t see anything especially objectionable about that one either. It’s back up.

Jezzer, either I don’t get your joke or you don’t get Robinson’s. Could be me.

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