What makes Superman super? the “man”

Once again, via Mark – possibly the best essay on Superman I’ve ever read.

Superman isn’t a Jesus analogue because, unlike Jesus, his moral vision is not imposed. The word of Jesus is the word of God and therefore what he says goes, dictation straight from the Almighty. Superman is the exact opposite: a man whose moral vision comes not from a source exterior to humanity but from humanity itself, via Ma and Pa Kent, who are themselves immensely decent people. He ultimately isn’t a received savior, regardless of the origin of his powers; he’s Superman, the apotheosis of what human virtue can be. He’s an aspirational figure first and foremost.

(…) Superman isn’t Superman because of some tragedy which informed his growth. Pa Kent does not die because of a failure on Clark’s part – indeed in most versions of the story, Pa dies when Clark is already Superman. Clark’s knowledge of Krypton doesn’t make him a superhero either; again, this is something he finds out later, too late to traumatize him. Clark is Superman because he decides to be Superman without being prompted. That’s more complex and nuanced a story than “somebody did something to me.” Superman’s story, which informs his entire character, is one of someone who chooses to be good of his own free will and agency, with no influence other than moral upbringing.

This complements my own observation that the best Superman is where Clark Kent is the person and Superman the persona, rather than the way around. I love the moral paragon argument above, but I take a more cynical view that the most interesting Superman stories are ones in which, just like the rest of us, he lapses. Fundamentally, Superman is not Jesus, he’s the opposite as MGK points out. That should also extend to the question of his infallibility. Free will and reason itself are subjective processes, and Superman is Superrational. Which for mankind, isn’t super at all.

An interesting corollary is the question of whether Superman’s goodness is the yin that drives the yang of Luthor’s badness. Read MGK’s essay on Luthor – great analysis of the character, and I fully agree that there’s no villain his equal, because other villains are just… villains.

I’ve enjoyed Batman as a character but he just doesn’t have the same depth of fascination for me – and I’ve long understood that no one could ever “become” Batman.

The Inception of the Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan is doing the third Batman film, and some plot spoilers are starting to leak around the web. What intrigued me however was how Nolan has tapped Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in supporting (and antagonistic, if not villainous) roles. The rivalry between their characters in Inception was one of that film’s strengths and I am interested to see them both on screen together again.

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” Indeed!

Iron Man and Batman

incredibly insightful observation from Massawyrm about Batman and Iron Man:

How do you take a comic steeped in cold war ideology, fixated upon a Vietnam war vet who becomes a philandering tycoon that rubs elbows with gods, monsters and superheroes and translate that into a viable franchise for a post-9/11 world? Favreau’s answer was to focus on the character, surrounding him with a terrific supporting cast whose primary objective is to wrangle Tony, while peppering the landscape with robots, power suits and plenty of explosive mayhem. He is played as the very antithesis of Batman: while Batman is the brooding hero pretending to be a rich socialite, Stark is the rich socialite moonlighting as a brooding hero. And Stark has better toys.

I really didn’t find the first Iron Man movie that interesting, and have never really been a fan. I might have to check IM2 out, though, on the basis of this alone.

Superman vs Batman

Steven links to a “rock solid” argument that Batman would beat Superman in a fight, with caveats about “winning”. I find it highly circular, however (aren’t all tautologies “rock solid” by definition?).

The premises – that Supes is dumber, that Batman is more canny, that Supes is more moral – create a very restricted scenario. I can provide a much more compelling argument about the outcome of any hypothetical match, without any axioms whatsoever. All we need to do are make the following observations:

* Superman can fly, has super strength, and heat and xray vision
* Batman has access to Kryptonite, money, and technology

So, the scenario:

1. Batman prepares complex, expensive scheme involving technology and kryptonite
2. Superman arrives on scene, and from aerial position uses xray vision to locate threat, and thus maintain sufficient distance to avoid effect of Kryptonite
3. Superman melts Batman’s technology using heat vision

There’s no scenario in which Batman can deliver the kryptonite to a threatening distance to disable Superman. The fact that Lex Luthor routinely achieved this in the comics, however, is more a failure of imagination on the part of Superman’s writers than Superman’s abilities.

In fact, I will postulate that Superman’s powers effectively render him invincible even to kryptonite since there is no scenario in which kryptonite’s radius of influence can exceed Superman’s area of influence via heat vision and xray vision, or ability to escape via flight and super strength.

This is the problem with Superman, in a nutshell: he’s super. Essentially, he is a god, something barely ever hinted at in the TV and movies and rarely addressed in the comics. There’s really only one ending to the story of Superman, no matter what universe or storyline or timeline you are in: Superman decides to rule the Earth. The tyranny will come, it must come, inexorably. The logic of this is quite simple:

– Superman routinely uses his powers to intervene in human affairs
– Superman routinely makes choices, therefore, about what human affairs to intervene in
– People close to Superman benefit disproportionately from Superman’s intervention

Therefore, Superman is already making decisions about life and death on behalf of the human race. And doing so with no more omniscient wisdom than the most erratic Greek gods – namely, none. He’s ruled by human impulses and acts on them with godlike power. That means that for all his alien-ness, he is still susceptible to the basic law of human civilization: absolute power corrupts absolutely.

review: “Batmanime” – Batman Gotham Knight

Briefly, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I’d hoped. The general idea is that it bridges Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, providing some backstory to the second film, and does so with a series of shorts done in artistic style inspired by various anime.

I seem to be going against the grain in my general disappointment with this. The best episode of the disc was the first one, because it plays to the image of Batman in the mind of the ordinary criminal as something supernatural or inhuman. Except, instead of criminals, it’s children, who are in a way just as susceptible to Batman’s mystique as the criminals are (though obviously in awe rather than fear). My only gripe was that the animation style was the same as Tekkon Kinkreet, with richly detailed cityscapes that take your breath away, but with bizarrely distorted character art, misshapen limbs and torsos and minimalist faces. Still, it was a good story.

Gotham City looks gorgeous. Still, a bit too NYC and not Chicago enough for my tastes.
Gotham City looks gorgeous. Still, a bit too NYC and not Chicago enough for my tastes.

The rest of the installments were largely forgettable, though seeing Bruce Wayne realized in Oyamada Masumi style (episode 3, Field Test) was a bit of a treat. Also, a supporting character from The Dark Knight gets some character development in episode 2 (Crossfire), and the recurring villain Sandman makes an appearance, as do Batman-universe minor villains like Croc and Deadshot. There’s a few tidbits about Bruce’s attitude towards guns, pain, and gadgetry, but nothing about Batman’s detective skills.

The animated sequel/prequel is not unique as a concept – the Riddick series has a anime-style bridge installment between Pitch Black and Chronicles, (Dark Fury) and that was far superior an effort both in terms of general art as well as advancing inter-movie plot and character backstory. Still, if you’re really a big fan of the Batman movie franchise reboot (as I am), it’s definitely worth watching.

why so serious?

Dark Knight was a triumph. We haven’t seen any movies in the theater since the baby was born but we made a major effort for this one, and it was worth it. It was a brilliant, layered, intelligent, and genuinely original interpretation of the Batman mythos, which paid due homage to the best of Batman in print but also broke new ground. For example, the Trinity of Dent, Batman and Gordon was perfect – three men with the same aim, to save a city they love, each bound by their own constraints and rules but acknowledging that together they have genuinely transformative power. That’s straight out of the best of the graphic novels like The Long Halloween.

However, the concept of Wayne Enterprises as an active partner in Batman’s strategy was also fresh. In most tellings, Bruce Wayne’s playboy image serves to distract people from his identity alone, but here it’s essential to distract people from the more critical question of where the Batman gets his stuff. With Lucius Fox as CEO, and Wayne the frivolous trust fund brat who snores trough critical board meetings, connecting the dots is truly beyond the realm of even informed speculation, as the blackmail scene with Coleman Reese and Fox amply demonstrates.

The best part of course was Heath Ledger’s Joker. In a nod to Ledger’s most famous recent film role, Joker tells Batman, “you complete me” – but the meaning of that statement is perhaps better told here than even in Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. The novel edge of Joker as anarchist rather than just evil for its own sake, a man driven to watch the world burn, seems more fitting, and more menacing. The Joker believes that the veneer of civilization is superficial and that at the heart of things, the world is as morally empty as he is – he fancies himself the only one willing to rip the facade off and embrace the true nature underneath. From his perspective, everyone else is lying and he is the truth-teller.

These movies have totally erased the nonsensical Tim Burton versions that were as cartoonish in their own way as Adam West’s portrayal. Brian Tiemann says this better than I; for me, this IS the Batman movie franchise, not a reboot like the Bond films with Daniel Craig.

The question though of course is, what next. I can’t discuss that without straying from Vagueland to Spoiler Field, so follow me after the jump… Continue reading “why so serious?”

the mask of Batman

I’d mused earlier that Clark Kent, not Superman, is the more interesting character (and unfortunately, the various incarnations of Superman on the movie screen have seen fit to ignore my opinion).

Kevin D agreed with me, but made an offhand comment that the dynamic is inverted for Bruce Wayne/Batman. I have to disagree. Bruce Wayne as the mask, rather than Batman, makes the character much more shallow. The genius of the Batman movie reboot with Christian Bale was that they made Wayne the focus, with Batman being a mere persona, just another tool in his arsenal (a psychological one).

I am more interested in Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent as characters than in Superman and Batman. A Wayne/Kent story would be ideal. A Batman/Superman story would be 2-dimensional and dull. Both these men are more alike than the differences in their costumed personas indicate.

I’ve no doubt this has been explored in the comics at some point but frankly these characters are more interesting to me on a screen than on a page.