Now that you've seen Man of Steel, writer Larry Tye, author of Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero, now out in paperback, contributes this essay exclusively to Hollywood.com on the ways in which Zack Snyder's film differs from established Superman lore.
Now we know. The Man of Steel who for 75 years has emblemized the American way really is a Brit – a native of the Channel Islands and a product of a Buckinghamshire boarding school. Gone, too, are the red underpants our hero has worn outside his leotards for so long they became as central to his identity as the "S" on his chest. Then there is this: Superman is a born-again Christian, one so hell-bent on saving his adopted humanity that he might as well be Jesus himself.
Oy vey. Thankfully Jerry Siegel isn't around to watch Hollywood's latest take on the Jewish-American hero he dreamed up in the spring 1938.
This isn't the first time a live-action Superman has embraced Christ as his role model. In Christopher Reeve's first movie in 1978, a Godlike Marlon Brando dispensed to his son advice straight out of the Book of John – to "show the way" to the Earthlings who "lack the light." On stage in Godspell, Jesus wore a Superman shirt. And in the opening episode of the Smallville television show, a young Clark was hung on a crucifix by a gang of football players. Never before, however, has Superman-as-Christ been as unambiguous as in the new Man of Steel film, where he poses in postures of crucifixion in the air and water, then consults with a priest before a stained-glass portrait of the savior. In case anyone misses the hints, Warner Bros. has commissioned "sermon notes" to help ministers connect the dots for congregants.
Was that what Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had in mind for the muscle-bound hero they dreamed up in the 1930s? Not by half. Evidence of Superman’s actual ethnicity starts with the name his creators gave him on his home planet Krypton: Kal-El. El, in Hebrew, means God, while Kal connotes a voice or vessel. Together they suggest the alien superbaby was not just a Jew, but a very special one. Like Moses. Much as the baby prophet was floated in a reed basket by a mother desperate to spare him from an Egyptian Pharaoh's death decree, so moments before Kal-El's planet blew up, his doomed parents tucked him into a spaceship that rocketed him to the safety of Earth. Both babies were rescued by non-Jews and raised in foreign cultures – Kal-El by Kansas farmers named Kent – and all the adoptive parents quickly learned how exceptional their foundlings were. The narratives of Krypton's birth and death borrow the language of Genesis. Kal-El's escape to Earth is the story of Exodus.
Clues mount from there. The three legs of the Superman myth – truth, justice, and the American way – are straight out of the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish oral traditions. "The world," it reads, "endures on three things: justice, truth, and peace." The destruction of Kal-El's planet rings of the Nazi Holocaust that was brewing when Jerry and Joe were publishing their first comics, and it summons up the effort to save Jewish children through Kindertransports. A last rule of thumb: when a name ends in "man," the bearer is a Jew, a superhero, or in this case, both.
What about Superman's trademark costume – red briefs over blue full-body tights? The bold primary colors and unforgettable uniform made him look every bit the circus acrobat, only stronger, more agile, ready for action. A sure sign of his innocence and confidence was that he didn't mind appearing in public with his underpants showing, much as he chose an alter ego who kept pursuing the prettiest girl even though he seldom got her. All that is flipped on its head in this latest movie, as Superman-Clark lands the alluring Lois with hardly an ounce of effort and with no sign of any underwear he has on.
But Man of Steel's most dramatic departures from script are its choices of story and storyteller. The former is a fusion of origin epic and slam-bang action that it hopes will draw in a new generation to the Superman saga, reel back aging devotees, and set up the sequels that fans embraced, albeit with diminishing enthusiasm, in the Christopher Reeve four-pack. The storyteller, meanwhile, disguises his English brogue but his British roots make clear that the Man from Metropolis now has a global reach.
All of which begs these questions: Will the changes fly, and should they?
The truth is that change is central to the Superman mythos, as over the decades he has evolved more than the fruit fly. In the 1930s he was just the crime fighter we needed to take on Al Capone and the robber barons. In the forties he defended the home front while brave GIs battled overseas. Early in the Cold War he stood up taller than ever for his adopted country, while in its waning days he tried singlehandedly to eliminate nuclear stockpiles. For each era he zeroed in on the threats that scared us most, using powers that grew or diminished depending on the need. So did his spectacles, hair style, even his job title. Each generation got the Superman it needed and deserved. Each change offered a Rorschach test of the pulse of that time and its dreams. Superman, always a beacon of light, was a work in progress.
Superman also always has been a citizen of the world. As early as the 1960s, forty-two countries from Brazil to Lebanon were translating every issue of his American comic book into their native tongues, which gave the Swedes a hero called Stalmannen, the Mexicans a caped cousin named Supernina, the Dutch an intrepid lady reporter whose byline read Louise Laan, and the Arabic world an undercover male reporter named Nabil Fawzi who worked for the newspaper Al-Kawkab Al Yawmi. By now this flying Uncle Sam has written himself into the national folklore from Beirut to Buenos Aires.
Even mixed reviews like those critics gave Man of Steel are part of the Superman tradition. Christopher Reeve’s first film, which set the standard for both Superman and superhero movies, was in the words of Roger Ebert "a wondrous combination of all the old-fashioned things we never really get tired of: adventure and romance, heroes and villains, earthshaking special effects, and – you know what else? Wit." But Vincent Canby of The New York Times seemed to be writing about an entirely different movie, saying that "to enjoy this movie as much as one has a right to expect, one has either to be a Superman nut, the sort of trivia expert who has absorbed all there is to know about the planet Krypton, or to check one's wits at the door."
The real lesson of Superman's long history in radio and movie serials, TV and feature films, is that the only critics who count are ticket buyers, especially pint-sized ones, who helped Man of Steel nearly cover its huge production tab in just its first weekend and set a record for a June opening. For them, the formula is straightforward and starts with the intrinsic simplicity of his story. Little Orphan Annie and Oliver Twist reminded us how compelling a foundling's tale can be, and Superman, the sole survivor of a doomed planet, is a super-foundling. His secret identity might be annoying if we weren't let in on the joke and we didn't have a hero hidden within each of us. He was not just any hero, but one with the very powers we would have: the strength to lift boulders and planets, the speed to outrun a locomotive or a demonic General Zod, and, coolest on anyone's fantasy list, the gift of flight.
Superpowers, however, are just half the equation. More essential is knowing what to do with them, and nobody has a more instinctual sense than Superman of right and wrong. He is an archetype of mankind at its pinnacle. Like John Wayne, he sweeps in to solve our problems. No thank-you needed. He is neither cynical like Batman nor fraught like Spider-Man. For the religious, he can reinforce whatever faith they profess; for nonbelievers he is a secular messiah. The more jaded the era, the more we have been suckered back to his clunky familiarity. So what if the upshot of his adventures is as predictable as with Sherlock Holmes: the good guy never loses. That is reassuring.
Larry Tye was an award-winning journalist at The Boston Globe and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. A lifelong Superman fan, Tye now runs a Boston-based training program for medical journalists. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Satchel, as well as The Father of Spin, Home Lands, and Rising from the Rails, and co-author, with Kitty Dukakis, of Shock. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, and is currently writing a biography of Robert F. Kennedy.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt | Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter @Hollywood_com
More: Larry Tye on How Each Superman Actor Has Helped Keep the Man of Steel Alive for 75 Years ‘Man of Steel’ Burning Questions: Superman Kills? Jimmy Olsen’s Awol? And More! Watch Our Post ‘Man of Steel’ Discussion Google Hangout
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Supernatural is one extremely unique show. Even during a fast-paced and high stakes mythology arc like the one currently taking place in Season 8, it found time and a clever way to tie in a minor character from Season 7. Remember Krissy Chambers, from “Adventures in Babysitting?” She was back in last night’s episode, “Freaks and Geeks,” but she had grown up and changed a lot more than just a regular year’s worth.
The last time we saw Krissy, Sam and Dean had convinced her father to give up the hunting life so she could lead a normal, safe life. But when Sam and Dean found her and two other teens hunting a nest of vamps during one of their cases, they realized she wasn’t as safe in suburbia as they thought.
It seems that another hunter from Sam and Dean’s past created a school for young hunters: Victor believed that with the right upbringing and training, he could create the next generation of hunters, but better. He recruited three teens (Krissy, Aiden, and Josephine) whose families had been murdered by vampires and helped them get revenge for the promise to keep hunting for Victor after they achieved their personal goals. That’s right: Krissy’s father was killed during their “normal” life, and she was back in the game for revenge. Welcome to Hunter University!
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While on the surface, Hunter University actually seems like a great set up with its homely atmosphere, normal schooling and chores mixed in with highly trained hunting, but this is Supernatural. If something seems too good to be true, there is something insidious brewing beneath the shiny veneer on the surface. Victor was so desperate to build his family back up (his wife and kids were murdered by supernatural creatures) that he actually ordered a vampire to kill the teens’ families, and set up other vampires to take the fall. Once he helped the teens orchestrate their revenge, they would be fully committed to Victor’s schooling and his makeshift family.
Dean and Sam obviously figured out the truth behind Victor’s nefarious plans – because they truly are the best damn hunters out there – and helped reveal the truth to Krissy, Aiden, and Josephine. Dean even imparted his wisdom to the kids that hunting isn’t always about killing and there are shades of grey to good/evil when he taught them how to cure a vampire who hadn’t fed yet. Sometimes, you can save people instead of just killing them. And his teachings caught on: instead of shooting Victor for revenge, Krissy left him alive to live with his pain and regret. She took the high road, but Victor took the low road and he shot himself in the head. Intense.
It was interesting to see Dean’s new attitude spelled out, since he hadn’t yet vocalized it ever since he changed in Purgatory and throughout his bond with Benny. He truly has evolved from his bloodthirsty, shoot ‘em up attitude from earlier seasons, and it was great to see him pass along this more reasonable and human way of hunting, especially since this is the next generation of hunters. Krissy, Aiden, and Josephine have seen too much to leave the life, but they did promise not to go out looking for evil. If it wandered into their town, it was fair game.
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It always hits me during episodes like "Freaks and Geeks" that Supernatural is a truly loyal show, both to its fans and its history. Last night demonstrated how nothing in the past is forgotten. Rather, everything the Winchester brothers have been through adds up and is always in play. From the reemergence of Krissy and Victor (both separate occurrences in Sam and Dean’s past hunting days), as well as vampire lore from previous seasons, including the cure for the condition that came about when soulless Sam let Dean get turned into a vamp, Supernatural is committed to everything it has served up over the past 8 seasons, and is constantly proving that no detail goes unnoticed and no plot line unresolved. It even tied it all into the current issue with a neat little bow that never felt forced.
This week’s lesson reinforced Sam and Dean’s desire to close the gates of hell now more than ever, since they’ve seen the newest generation of hunters already too entrenched in the life to ever leave it voluntarily. Sam and Dean know the only way out of the hunting life is to die early, and bloody. These three teens may be good hunters, but there’s no guarantee in this life. The only way to make sure everyone’s safe and no one has to live like the Winchesters have is if there is nothing out there to hunt in the first place.
Dean was renewed with purpose to save Krissy and all the others like her out there whose lives have been turned upside down by hunting, while Sam was renewed with purpose to find a way to have a cookie-cutter, suburbia-loving, white picket fence with kids and a wife lifestyle. The only way both brothers could achieve their goals is to finish the trials and close the gates of hell. And from next week’s promos, it seems like we are going to continue that process with the next trial... let's hope Sam lets Dean help him live through it!
Follow Sydney on Twitter: @SydneyBucksbaum
[Photo Credit: Liane Hentscher]
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I’m sure you’ve seen the trailers for all the big summer movies by now, which means you’ve definitely seen the trailers for the comic book-inspired superhero flicks too and if you’re anything like me, you may be a little confused. What is that metal coffin thing and why does it make that scrawny guy so buff? When did Magneto get so young and become such a babe? What’s the big deal with Thor’s hammer? It just looks like a heavy-duty tool from my dad’s shed. Well, get ready to understand all-err…most of it. We don’t want to spoil the movies for you!
To help on our quest for knowledge, I’ve enlisted the help of our resident comic book nerd/expert/knowledge bank, Daniel Hubschman, so he can answer some of these questions. Then, we can join in the excitement and anticipation for a few movies that seem a wee bit complicated and confusing to the untrained eye.
Thor, May 6
Full Name: Thor Odinson (alias: Dr. Donald Blake)
Place of Origin: Born in Norway, raised in Asgard
Special Power or Weapon: Thor's strength, endurance and resistance to injury are greater than the vast majority of his superhuman race. A superbly skilled warrior, highly proficient in hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship and, of course hammer throwing. His greatest asset is Mjolnir, a mythic hammer forged from uru metal which can summon the powers of the storm – namely lightening, thunder and rain. He can also use it to fly and travel to other dimensions and times.
Tragedy or hardship faced: The biggest tragedy is Thor’s life was being exiled from his home by his father for disobeying his orders. This relocation changes the Thunder God in many ways, chief amongst giving him human insight thanks to his time on Earth.
What’s so special about this hammer? What’s the big deal?
Well Kelsea, Thor's hammer isn't just any old, around-the-Kingdom tool. Believe it or not, it has a name: Mjolnir. It's actually one of the most powerful weapons in the Marvel multiverse, forged from Asgardian magic and might. In addition to being handy in close-combat, it allows its wielder to harness the power of Thunder which is a major offensive asset. It can also help its handler fly (something that every superhero would like to be able to do) and is a personalized item: ONLY Thor can pick it up, not because of its weight, but because it is quite literally made for the God of Thunder. So yeah, it's kind of a big deal.
Wait, so why was his hammer at the end of Iron Man 2? What does this have to do with Tony Stark?
Ha ha. That's a good question. To be frank, Thor and Iron Man don't have much to do with one another apart from being founding members of the comic book collective known as The Avengers. Though they've crossed paths many times before in the funny pages, my guess is that since Thor was the next Marvel movie in line after Iron Man 2, the producers of these films felt it was necessary to get audiences amped for the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Just another way to whet our appetites for what the studio was cooking up...
Captain America: The First Avenger, July 22
Full Name: Steven (Steve) Rogers
Place of Origin: New York, NY
Special Power or Weapon: Aside from having the maximum amount of strength, speed, endurance and agility that a human can possess, Cap wields an invulnerable shield made from Vibranium, an unbreakable metal that allows it to be thrown like a Frisbee for offensive maneuvers while protecting its user from nearly any attack it deflects.
Tragedy or hardship faced: Aside from losing his parents at a relatively early age (thankfully, not because of a car accident or crime) Rogers was physically unfit to join the Marines when he enlisted at the beginning of the US’s involvement in WWII, which upset him greatly.
What’s going on here? He jumps into a metal sarcophagus and comes out all buff and shiny? What’s going on in there?
I admit that the trailers for the film have been a bit misleading in that sense. That chamber you're talking about isn't some alien healing pod or superhero microwave. It's actually a radiation containment contraption that works in conjunction with the Super Solider Serum, which was developed by Tony Stark's father Howard at the request of the US government. The elixir is actually the catalyst for Steve Rogers' remarkable change. It genetically enhances its user's body, pushing it to its maximum potential, but doesn't work on its own. That's where the chamber comes in, bombarding the subject with highly concentrated "Vita-Rays" that trigger the metamorphosis. I tried ordering one, but S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't been returning my phone calls these days...
He’s called the “First Avenger,” is that as in the Avengers?
Yes, though calling him the "First Avenger" is a bit misleading, because Captain America was around long before the rest of the team (well, not Thor. He's been around since long before Stan Lee). But it was his success that inspired S.H.I.E.L.D. to help create The Avengers in the first place, so I guess the moniker is fitting, especially since Cap quickly becomes the leader of the team thanks to his military strategy skills and superhuman abilities.
Who is this red-faced Nazi guy? Is he a Nazi or some weird alien? I don’t remember anything like him in my history books.
That's probably because the Red Skull wasn't really fighting the allies in the early '40s. That is his name, by the way, The Red Skull, though he was born Johann Schmidt, son of an abusive father who blamed him for the death of his wife while she gave birth to the boy. Years later he'd join the Nazis and become one of Hilter's most trusted -- and deadly -- soldiers. The Fuhrer even gave him a special uniform unlike any in The Third Reich...and it came with a horrific mask...a Red Skull mask. He is to the Nazis what Cap is to the American military...the embodiment of national morale and a universal symbol of patriotism, making him the arch-enemy of our heroic Captain.
Green Lantern, June 17
Full Name: Hal Jordan
Place of Origin: Coast City, USA
Special Power or Weapon: The Green Lantern’s power ring allows him to conjure virtually anything; a baseball bat, pair of boxing gloves, bazooka, etc. His only limit is the confines of his own imagination and will.
Tragedy or hardship faced: Hal lost his father Martin at a young age in a freak accident during a test flight of an experimental aircraft. That gave him the devil-may-care attitude that you’ll see Ryan Reynolds sport in the first act of the film.
So wait, he has a green lantern or he is the green lantern? How does that work?
This is going to get a bit confusing, so bear with me here. You're right on both counts: Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is a Green Lantern, one of many intergalactic police officers patrolling the universe. But he also has a green lantern, which is like a battery charger that replenishes the cosmic energy of the power ring which gives him the ability to do virtually anything he can think of. Got it?
But he’s not the only one?
Heavens no. You see, long ago the Guardians of the Universe (who founded the Green Lantern Corps) divided the known universe into about 3600 sectors. Each sector is assigned a Green Lantern to defend it against extraterrestrial or domestic threats. And since the life expectancy of a Green Lantern is unfortunately short, after one expires their ring is given to another worthy candidate who takes up the mantle. Earth is located in Sector 2814 and believe it or not, HJ isn't even the first GL in our world's history. Nor will he be the last...
Why do his eyes turn blue when he’s in the suit?
Well, why does Clark Kent wear those glasses? Chew on that one for a while...
Magneto and Professor X
X-Men: First Class, June 3
Magneto's Full Name: Max Eisenhardt (later changed to Erik Lensherr)
Place of Origin: Unknown
Special Power or Weapon: Magneto can manipulate the magnetic fields that exist naturally or artificially in the world, and control all forms of magnetism. Also, his helmet prevents those with psychic abilities, like Professor X, from getting inside his head.
Tragedy or hardship faced: So much…His parents were brutally murdered by the Nazis before he was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp where he served as a Sonderkommando, one who operated the machinery in the gas chambers and ovens, and fire pits of the camp. Later, his first daughter was killed in a blaze he was unable to rescue her from and, after slaughtering a fearful mob at the scene, his wife left him, only to die giving birth to their mutant twins months later.
Professor X's Full Name: Charles Francis Xavier
Place of Origin: New York, NY
Special Power or Weapon: He’s the world’s most powerful psionic, possessing unquantifiable telepathic and telekinetic abilities.
Tragedy or hardship faced: Like so many superheroes, Charles lost his scientist father in a lab accident while his mother, who remarried an abusive colleague of her late husband, died sometime later. While studying in Oxford, Charles became engaged to Moira Kinross only to have the lady break off the relationship after he returned from the army.
Why is this one set in the 60s?
There are two reasons for First Class going back in time. The main reason is that the film, as the title suggests, focuses on Professor X's earliest group of mutant recruits, whom he assembled as a younger man with his then-friend Erik Lensherr. This film is an origin story; not only for Charles Xavier and Magneto, but for the mutant dream team known as the X-Men as well. The second, slightly more meta justification for the setting is that it's going back to the period in which the X-Men were created, an era in American history marked by cultural upheaval and the civil rights movement. Just as the mutants fight for their right to co-exist with humans in the new millennium, in this tumultuous decade African Americans, homosexuals and other outsiders on the fringe of society fight for their right to live without being berated by the bigots of the world.
I don’t recognize some of these mutants. Why aren’t we seeing people like Cyclops or Wolverine?
Quite simply, because Cyclops would've been a young boy at the time of these events. Remember, if the film is set in the sixties, characters like Rogue, Iceman and Colossus wouldn't even be a twinkle in their parents' eyes yet. As for Wolverine, well, he was probably out there somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam during this time.
I thought Xavier and Magneto were enemies? When were they friends?
Again, right on both counts. In comics lore, Xavier and Erik met while working in a psychiatric hospital in Israel sometime after WWII. They immediately struck up a friendship because they were constantly engaging in debates about what would happen to the world if it were facing a superhero uprising. Later, they revealed to one another their mutant abilities and decided to pool their powers to help forge a better future for all mankind. But Lensherr grew tired of the war mongering ways of Homo sapiens, eventually adopting the mentality that mutants were superior and that they would one day be the dominant species on Earth. This fundamental philosophical disagreement led Lensherr to create the Brotherhood of Mutants to wage his own war, while Xavier, knowing full well the power his old friend possessed, formed the X-Men.
It looks like we may have a Lex Luthor-less Superman movie on the horizon. We've already seen the official word that the screenplay for The Man of Steel is heavily influenced by the Superman: Secret Origin which follows Clark Kent from the time he's a young teen to the time he gets his job at The Daily Planet, but the latest product from the rumor mill is that instead of relying on the bald villain we all know so well, Zack Snyder's reboot will take on Lois Lane's father, General Sam Lane, and Metallo.
Metallo's affront on Superman is simple -- his heart is made of Kryptonite. The substance keeps him alive and of course, renders Superman completely helpless. As for General Lane, the rumor is that he leads a military initiative against Superman (part of which is the creation of Metallo) because like many modern film versions of superheros these days, the public greets Superman's alien powers with apprehension rather than open arms. This seems to be a common theme nowadays; both Christopher Nolan's Batman and Sam Raimi's Spiderman face public ire in their adventures. Perhaps this is a symptom of modern audiences? Maybe we've all begun to question why people would blindly accept a hero in spandex when most of us would roll our eyes at that kind of crazy in the real world? Snyder has said he hopes for this reboot to be grounded in a little more reality than past versions and this story could really take it in that direction, however, how Snyder of all directors plans to tackle a more realistic story is beyond me. His style is all about the other-worldly and outlandish elements. (Hello, Sucker Punch.)
If this is in fact the direction the screenplay takes, then it seems that the film will be more than just inspired by Secret Origin. While the original story does account for Luthor, the other plot points are very similar. Now, we still must take this latest rumor with a grain of salt. It could be that the confirmed "inspiration" material spawned the rumor amongst those well-versed in Superman lore, but if it's correct it wouldn't be the worst outcome. In fact, using this story may just be the reboot the material needs.
What other villains would you like to see in the Superman reboot? Let us know in the comments!