Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rebooting Superman

I was disappointed with 2006's Superman Returns.

It was basically a refilming of Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie and Richard Lester's Superman II, but all sort of mushed up together with better CGI and a better Lex Luthor. There just didn't seem to be any point to it. Why retell a story the same way it was told before?

Back in August I read a story on that scared the shit out of me.

According to the article,

"Warner Bros. Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov told the Wall Street Journal that the Superman movie the WB is envisioning will be cut from the same dark and gritty cape as Dark Knight. He wants to explore the darker recesses of Superman's soul explaining that "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it."

Now that's just fucking stupid. Superman doesn't have a dark and gritty side. He is the eternal, uncorruptable Boy Scout. Trying to turn Superman into some, dark, brooding, conflicted, reluctant hero would just blow chunks! It would be such obvious pandering.

Then I read an artice last month over at Ain't It Cool News by contributer Moriarty (Drew McWeeny) where he discussed the possibility of basing the next Superman movie on a novel by Tom De Haven that Warner Brothers already owns. The novel is "It's Superman!".

Intrigued and curious, I read some reviews on to see what was up. Here are some samples:

"De Haven now undertakes an authorized re-imagining of the early years of Superman. De Haven convincingly and touchingly depicts the young Clark Kent's apprehensions and insecurities as he comes to terms with his extraordinary abilities in 1930s rural Kansas. Concurrently, he tracks Lois Lane's beginnings in journalism and the plotting for power of New York City political boss Lex Luthor (no "Metropolis" masquerade here). While hewing to the basic outline of the venerable Superman mythos--his intergalactic background, his straight-arrow upbringing in Smallville, and his blue-and-red costume--De Haven finds ways to make even its more outlandish elements work.

Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved"

"De Haven skillfully juggles parallel narratives, shifting among Clark's attention-getting early heroics (e.g., catching a speeding bullet in midair), Lois Lane's rapid climb up the big-city journalism ladder (interrupted by romantic friendships, one with Polish-American photographer Willi Berg, whose path also crosses Clark's) and criminal mastermind (A)lex(ander) Luthor's ascent to prominence as NYC alderman and evil genius whose plans to control the world involve deploying a fleet of semi-indestructible robots. Shades of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," then, as well as the comics' world of cartoonish overkill. De Haven gradually brings Clark out of Kansas, as he rides the rails across America, discovers his humanity (and vulnerability) along with his ability to fly, encounters perpetually endangered Lois (later his reluctant colleague at the Daily Planet) and resists the criminal blandishments of Lex Luthor (who, in a wicked biblical parody, attempts to seduce our hero by promising, "I'll give you the world").


That was enough for me to check it out from the library.

I really enjoyed this book and think McWeeny was right. Turning this story into the next big Superman movie would shake off all of the Donner/Lister/Reeve baggage and truly reinvent the character.

In the book, there is no Krypton, Kal-El, Red Sun/Yellow Sun, Kryptonite, indestructible costume or even an invulnerable Superman. This Superman at least gets little welts when a bullet bounces off his noggin. He even bleeds. Now, he was bleeding, just a little bit, because he was in a house that was completely blown up and destroyed and he came away with an owie on his tummy. So he's still mostly indestructible.

In this book there is just a fireball from the sky, the Kents, and an infant wandering the road. No Jor-El, no Fortress of Solitude. Just a stranger in a strange land with slowly revealed capabilities that scare him and make him feel different, awkward and isolated.

Because it is set in the 1930's there is a lot of atmosphere. A bit of a noir feel. You have a young Clark Kent riding the rails like a hobo with a ne'er do well acquaintance who isn't really a criminal, just a depression era joe who couldn't catch a break, with a penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and making bad decisions. He is on a Kerouacesque journey of discovery.

It even has him working as a stuntman in early Hollywood movies. That is so perfect. Think about it. That's also where he gets his first costume. It was a cheap and gaudy outfit from a cheap B-Movie called "The Saucer Men from Saturn". Hence the "S" shield on the chest. But this isn't the shield and costume most of you are used to. This is the Superman from the Fleischer cartoons of the 1930's.

If Warner Brothers goes this route, I think they should seriously consider bringing in Alex Ross as a part of the production design team.

When he finally makes it to New York, The Daily Planet, Lois Lane, Perry White and Lex Luthor, it all feels very authentic.

Think Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow meets The Hudsucker Proxy.

I really think this approach could make Superman new and fresh by taking him back to his pre-WWII, depression era roots. Back to the time when America was having a hard time of it. The economy was in the crapper, people were out of work, and the people had no hope. When we needed and yearned for a Superman who would fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

1 comment:

Nuke said...

Thanks for the info, I will have to check out this book.

I didn't hate the last Superman movie but it certainly was hit and miss. And I do agree grim and gritty does NOT a Superman story make.