A new logo I made for my friend Brian Black’s Twitter game, The Follower Games, which is a mash up of The Hunger Games and his followers on Twitter.
Few drawings to go with my last article about Inframan. Hope you enjoy.
Forty-five years ago this year, something almost indescribable would be birthed into existence that would have a profound impact on my life. A piece of magic that still continues to fuel my imagination.
But before we start there, let’s step back a little further and see how it came to be.
Okay, well a lot further.
The universal act that dates back to all our ancestors is storytelling, a profession I am proud to have. From cave paintings to spoken word to literature, storytelling is what has kept us together. Naturally, these beginnings would coalesce and evolve into theater, where stories would be given life.
In 1603, a shrine maiden by the name of Izumo no Okuni formed an all female dance troupe from the outcasts of society and taught them to sing, dance, and perform sketches.
This style of entertainment, “kabuki“, would quickly grow popular in Japan, eventually becoming more grand in presentation with the use of elaborate costumes and make-up.
As the theater scene continued, just a little over 80 years later, another element would be introduced. Puppets.
Playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon and a chanter named Takemoto Gidayū collaborated to form the Takemoto Puppet Theater, popularizing the art of Bunraku (Japanese Puppet Theater).
Over the top action. Costumes. Special effects. Intense drama. The theatrical styles of both became deeply rooted in Japan’s stories.
Cut to 1954 when Japan released a film that starred a giant monster serving as a metaphor for the social commentary on nuclear warfare.
Godzilla would not only birth the giant monster genre (Kaiju), it would also serve as the birth of another genre, one that encapsulates everything Japan had been building towards since the 17th century. Tokusatsu.
Fantastic stories with horror and sci-fi elements became extremely popular in Japan, eventually leading to the first live action superhero, Super Giant, or Starman here in the States.
From there grew Planet Prince, Ultraman, Kamen Rider, Moonlight Mask, and eventually the most well known, Super Sentai, still growing strong today both in Japan and here in the US as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
But let’s go back to the term Kaiju… and 4th Century BC.
While a popular Japanese term, Kaiju was derived from an ancient Chinese work of literature entitled “Classic of Mountains and Seas“, a book full of mythological information, notably a compilation of fictional locales and strange beasts. But why bring this up? Why mention any of this? What does this have to do with 1975? What the f**k is this article about? WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME DAD?!
Well, I bring up the relation between Japan and China because Tokusatsu soon spread in popularity to the rest of Asia, eventually reaching Hong Kong in the 70’s, where Kung Fu movies were all the rage. And who were the Kings of Kung Fu? Just ask Quentin Tarantino or The Wu-Tang Clan.
The Shaw Bros. were four magical siblings (Runje, Runme, Run Run, and Runde) who built a film studio that produced over one THOUSAND films (including Blade Runner!!!) and made Kung Fu its own genre with classics like The Five (Deadly) Venoms, Legendary Weapons of China, Five Elements Ninjas…
Superheroes were becoming a tradition by now, and every country wanted one. The US had Superman. Japan’s first superhero (and possibly the first superhero ever) was Golden Bat (who did eventually get a Tokusatsu treatment). Naturally China wanted to play too, especially after Kamen Rider and Ultraman had grown super popular there.
Cue Run Run Shaw to leap in and begin the assembly of a new, action packed superhero film. One that would need a story driven by that unyielding spirit of truth, justice, and freedom that beats at the heart of the most recognizable superheroes.
With that, I want to tell you the story of Ni Cong.
Ni Cong was living in Shanghai during the 1950’s. Another time jump, yes, but this one has the most significance to this article in my opinion. Ni was a public security officer under the Chinese Communist Party, who was tasked with the unfortunate job of writing death sentences.
One day, he questioned his superiors as to why the listed offence for a man’s upcoming execution was simply “being a landlord”. The chief immediately threatened Ni with death if he asked any more questions, and Ni complied out of fear. His conscience soon weighed heavy from his work, and he decided to escape to Hong Kong in 1957, just three years after Godzilla released in Japan and birthed Tokusatsu.
Ni, regretful of his actions, has since stated he is an anti-communist, fearful of his people suffering until the communist regime still present in China is stopped. He also has said that individual freedom is the most important value in the world, including the inherit respect for others’ personal freedoms as well.
Ni Cong became a writer. Besides penning a popular series of works called The Wisely Series, he also created a character called Chen Zhen.
Oh, did I mention Ni was working for the Shaw Bros., writing some of their hits?
Ni had turned his power of writing into something good, and he was now working alongside the masters of action films in China. Together with Run Run and cinematographer newly turned director Hua Shan, Ni would combine elements inspired by not only sentai heroes like Kamen Rider and Ultraman, but American heroes like Superman as well.
It would be called 中國超人(ZhōngGuóChāoRén) which translates directly to “The Chinese Superman”, and it would tell the story of a fearless officer Lei Ma in the distant future of 2015 (Taking that “in the year 2000” and turning it up to 11) who would eventually volunteer himself (and “go through the sufferings of hell”) to be transformed into Earth’s only protection from the newly arisen Demon Princess Elzebub and her minions, hell-bent on destroying all of humanity.
Sleek outfit, cool helmet, bikes, awesome “henshin” transformations, stylish poses, martial arts. Growing into a 60ft killing machine.
“The Chinese Superman” would become China’s first superhero and essentially the first Chinese Sci-Fi film. That meant many visuals would be needed, thus becoming the first Shaw Bros. production to use storyboards.
So in December of 1974, Run Run began the two month pre-production process of–
F**K!!! We gotta go back to the past again. Just a couple decades.
August 6, 1952. The year of the motherf**king dragon. The 771th anniversary of the day both China AND Japan first observed a supernova (SN-1181). Coincidence?!
A young boy was born, a baby even, named Li Hsiu Hsien. A few years later, he and his family would move from Shanghai to Hong Kong.
Growing up, he didn’t do well in school, but not from a lack of trying. He would often skip school to work, supporting his family, and he dreamed of becoming a police officer, holding the highest regard for them and their duty to protect.
And he almost became a police officer, enrolling after high school but never completing the courses. Why?
(Takes a deep breath)
Li Hsiu Hsien, a man born from the energy of a supernova dragon, obsessed with the noble heroics of being a police officer, decided at 17 to enroll in the Shaw Bros. Studios Acting School, just shortly before a certain writer with a passion for freedom, would create a character that was an officer turned superhero!
(Takes another deep breath)
Everything seemed to align. By now, he was known by his stage name, Danny Lee. Danny had a few films under his belt at the studio, ones notable for being experimental.
Come 1974, “The Chinese Superman” would need to cast a heroic lead. Perhaps one with a black belt in both Judo and Karate. Plus it wouldn’t hurt to have some motorcycle experience.
Danny Lee was the perfect choice to cast as Lei Ma, the man who would become our titular hero. Oh, don’t feel bad about Li dropping from the academy. Later in his career, he got to be a cop after all. He played so many honest, hardworking cops in popular movies, he’s widely respected by police, referred to as Inspector/Officer (seriously take a moment and look at the names of his characters during the 80s), and is considered an honorary officer.
The studios have the script. The sets are being designed. Next would be what every decent Tokusatsu production requires. The costumes. But who would build them?
One superhero costume…
…uniforms for everyone working at Science Headquarters…
…one evil Princess…
…her dragonoid form…
…her evil servant…
…a buttload of skeleton henchman…
…and not one, not two, but SEVEN monsters for our hero to do battle with throughout the course of the film.
Authenticity, if such a weird, magical thing exists in this genre, was wanted, and the Shaw Bros. didn’t skimp. So they went directly to the source. Or should I say, “Kamen Rode” to the source.
Members from both Ekisu Productions and Yagi Brothers Ekisu Productions, the Japanese teams known for their work with Toei…
…were hired to design and construct the costumes. And Godzilladamn, did they pull it off.
But the borrowing didn’t stop there. Aside from all the familiar tropes present in the Tokusatsu hits from Japan, they even made sure it sounded like the real thing by using selected music from both Ultra Seven and Mirrorman.
Over a 100 days later, the actors, artists, production crew, writer, and director remixed Asian/American Sci-Fi, Pop Culture into a Tokusatsu so pitch perfect, it’s considered as such, despite the technicality of being from China and not Japan. It even helped spawn a new sub-genre to accommodate everything in China that followed. China-Toku.
Though everyone themselves had “gone through the sufferings of hell”, the excitement for the project was palpable. Everyone involved knew they were pioneering something radical and spectacular, and that enthusiasm spilled over into marketing.
There were comic strips released in the papers:
Contests for children, including a coloring competition:
The even had a huge public celebration in a park where kids showed up to find Danny Lee himself IN COSTUME:
There, it would also be the first movie in Hong Kong to use hot air balloons to advertise the movie:
“The Chinese Superman” was revolutionary. It was full of action, adventure, excitement, and magic. The kids in China were already enthralled with its superhero. It was the Star Wars of China a whole two years before Star Wars.
And it barely made it’s money back when it was released in August of 1975.
Why? Lots of potential reasons, but when all is said and done…
Wait. All isn’t said and done.
All the talk of how revolutionary the film was in both special effects and design drew international attention, and the foreign markets were very interested, even accepting the film into Cannes. This, of course, put eyes on it from worldwide distributors.
One such man was Joseph Brenner, a producer who bought the North American rights and distributed it theatrically under a shortened version of its US title.
Infra-Man (The Super Inframan) became a success in the US the following year, even with a limited release. Armed with a new opening, a classically cheesy English dub, and new character names (Lei Ma became Ray Ma and Elzebub became… Princess Dragon Mom. Bitchin’.), the reviews were mostly positive, including one that carries some serious credence:
“It’s a classy, slick production by the Shaw Brothers, the Hong Kong Kung Fu kings. When they stop making movies like INFRA-MAN, a tiny light will go out of the world.” – ROGER EBERT
Run Run was so happy with the success in the States, he ALMOST made a sequel called Infrawoman. But by then, the scene had changed in Hong Kong, and interests in monsters and sci-fi had fallen back to more traditional fantasy and folklore martial arts.
But Inframan still had some energy left in his nuclear reactor. The movie became a syndicated mainstay on American television alongside the occasional re-release in local movie theaters, garnering enough popularity to earn a home video release in 1985 through Prism, smack dab in the middle of the golden age of VHS.
I cannot stress how vital this moment was to me. Seeing this on the shelf at a local video store in its fatass, clamshell box, bigger than any other film on the shelf both physically and metaphorically changed me. I rented it so much, I practically owned it. And this spread to other video stores, constantly searching for it time and time again as I grew until the tragic day it was lost in the demise of closing video stores. I dug and dug through the most mediocre of releases being sold off in massive piles of a dying format.
And I always came up empty, having to relinquish hope the day the stores closed their doors for good.
Little did I know that a series of tubes called “The Interweb” was becoming more accessible, and movies like Hackers were no longer fantasy.
So I vowed two things:
- My internet handle would be infrafan.
2. I would find a copy of Inframan somehow.
And those days would eventually arrive. I found a bootleg DVD of the ol’ Prism release and not the odd re-release Goodtimes Entertainment did where they altered the opening credits (already having been altered once for the US release) for no f**king reason.
Seriously, they even re-renamed all the monsters, and then had the “brilliant” idea to show the Princess’ dragon form and label it as a separate monster! Those F**KING IDIOTS!!!
Ok. So let’s make our last jump back to the early 2000’s…
Likely around 2004, my friend Liam Gilliam is on leave in Chicago, walking through Chinatown when he spotted a couple choice items and sent them back to me as gifts.
One was a figure of Sesshomaru, my favorite character from the anime Inuyasha.
The other was this:
I never expected this film would ever see an official release, much less be in widescreen (which I had never seen before at that time) and have both the american dub AND the original Cantonese audio, music and all.
There is not a lot of merch for this film. I know because I was so desperate for some during those days, I sculpted and painted a mini-bust.
What little there is now can be very pricey and/or so rare, you never see them for sale.
But a high end vinyl figure was distributed by Unbox Industries here in the US, which I promptly pre-ordered… then reluctantly cancelled because I realized I was, in fact, poor and being a lil’ too optimistic that I’d have a spare $100 to spend.
When they came out, I got a package at my doorstep and was shocked to find said figure lying inside. One I hadn’t paid for receiving.
And I immediately contacted Unbox Industries to let them know of their mistake. I couldn’t in good conscience keep it. Even offered to send it to someone who did order one.
I get an email back from one of the main guys from Unbox; he told me it must have been meant for me, so keep it.
I did eventually become infrafan online as well (Spoiler, I guess if you didn’t find this article through my social media.). Search and ye shall find me. It even serves as my artist name.
Look. I know I’m not the only fan of this movie. I’m not the first. I won’t be the last.
So what is the point of all this? What am I trying to accomplish here?
I know this article has been all over the place and certainly too long, but Inframan is that important to me. It’s one of the base elements of my love for storytelling, systemically branching out and showing me who I am by exposing the things I love.
And in the process of trying to share that love with you during the film’s 45th anniversary, during this crazy, CRAZY year, I discovered something unexpected myself. It wasn’t just the action, the designs, the special effects, or even the story that made Inframan so important.
It was the people and their stories. Ones of hardship, oppression, and overcoming it all to give their explosive passion over to a singularity. That type of love for both life and art only serve to remind us that, with all our differences and distances, we are all the same. We love a good story where… you know what? I think the director of The Super Inframan said it best.
“Society as a whole has a vivid imagination. People like to dream. People want to lose themselves in a fantasy realm where they gain extraordinary strength to overcome natural disasters and eradicate great evils in the name of peace. The purpose of making this movie is to capture the audiences’ imagination; to make them believe the unbelievable.” – Director HUA SHAN
And I do.
Now if only they’d let me write that sequel…
The Super Inframan is currently available on Amazon Prime.
And if you’re interested in an extensive look behind the scenes of how the film was produced, including some of the info and photos I used, I strongly urge you to read this fantastic article over at Cool Ass Cinema called Celluloid Trails: The Making of The Super Inframan.
I’ll try to do some Halloween artwork all month long. But let’s at least kick off October with some Green Goblin fanart.
I originally intended to have another piece to show today, but I underestimated how long it would take with all the detail going into it. So I decided to post this one instead for the moment.
Inspired by an obsessed member of Romero’s Indie Brigade, Lance Wagner.
…you’d watch the hell out of this, right?
I mean, if Nic Cage is gonna play Joe Exotic, I can dream of a third Ventura movie where he battles Ace, portrayed by his old friend Jim Carrey.
“First off, I would like to state this alternate ending of RISE OF SKYWALKER is more of a writing exercise than a commentary on the film. I myself still do not know where I stand in terms of my overall verdict of the newest trilogy, and I think it may take some time before I find find a firm opinion.
That said, this is strictly for fun, and you’re free to talk about this in any way you see fit, as long as it is NOT argumentative. Discuss, enjoy, but keep it civil.
Oh, and MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. I mean, while this is an alternate take, it does play on major established threads from the finale of the film, so do be mindful of both this and the possible comments below.
– Bo Chappell
INT. DEATH STAR WRECKAGE – CONT’D
The Emperor bombards Rey with electricity from his decayed fingers, the blade of Leia’s lightsaber absorbing as much of the sinister energy as it can withstand.
Kylo was right about you. You are nothing. A vessel nearly unworthy of my presence if not for the blood coursing through your veins. My blood.
(struggling to hold back The Emperor’s attack)
No! I can hear their voices; the Force speaks to me!
A CACOPHONY of Jedi Master VOICES from the past SPEAK to Rey.
Oh? And what do the dead say to you youngling?
As Rey courageously holds the powerful Sith energy back, a HAND EMERGES from the pit in the rear of the room.
Rey PRESSES FORWARD.
That this is the Sith’s end!
The Emperor, angered, UNLEASHES nearly all of his power upon Rey, forcing her to take a knee and rest upon the remains of her tenacity and faith.
I AM THE SITH!
KYLO REN rises from his near demise and leaps through the air, using the Force to pull his grandfather’s nearby lightsaber to his hand and land triumphantly beside Rey.
His lightsaber IGNITES, crossing with Rey’s blade and fortifying their shield. Rey STANDS and, together, they push against the unruly stream of electricity.
Kylo begins to HEAR the VOICES too. Empowering words of encouragement from the fallen heroes before. Eerily familiar voices that speak directly to Rey and Kylo, giving them strength to overpower The Emperor’s deadly force.
REY & KYLO REN
(in unison, countless voices joining them)
AND WE ARE THE JEDI!
The Emperor’s energy is fed back to him, OBLITERATING his body and the body of his followers into nothingness. A BLINDING LIGHT of goodness.
The returning silence in the chamber fades to the nearby SOUNDS of the rebellion above Exegol, defeating the remaining Star Destroyers, now unprotected by The Emperor’s dark magic.
Kylo, winded, turns to Rey, only then able to look at her without feeling guilt. But to his horror, she is collapsed on the floor.
Kylo DROPS his lightsaber and races to find Rey has been MORTALLY WOUNDED from The Emperor’s final attack. An almost viral burn traveling up her left side, her neck, and to her chest.
Kylo PLACES HIS HAND over the center of her heavily burned chest, ready to return the favor she gave on Kef Bir and surrender his life force to save her.
But she SHAKES HER HEAD with tears in her eyes.
They speak to us. Even now.
(holding back tears)
I hear them.
Then you know what they are saying.
But why you? I…so much darkness…it should be me.
I must move forward in the light, just as you must.
His hand hovers over her badly burned side, down her arm, and to her expectant hand.
Their hands clasp together.
Welcome home, Ben.
Rey’s eyes glass over, her breathing slows to a standstill, and her grip on Ben’s hand releases, all before her body goes limp in his arms.
Kylo…Ben, holds her body to his chest and CRIES silently for the one who brought Ben home.
EXT. REBEL BASE – SIMULTANEOUSLY
Leia’s body dissipates from underneath her death shroud. Maz Kanata’s lowers her head in respect before returning her gaze to the skies above.
EXT. EXEGOL – CONT’D
The final Star Destroyers fall from the darkened skies, the resistance victorious against the final threat from a ghost. The surviving pilots joyous..
INT. MILLENIUM FALCON – CONT’D
All but one who senses heartache. Loss.
EXT. REBEL BASE – LATER
As the resistance returns to base in celebration, a troubled Finn searches for Rey amongst the heroes.
Poe, I can’t find Rey.
We still haven’t received communication from her, Finn, it doesn’t mean…
An Oubliette-class transport ship lands nearby. The Night Buzzard. The former ship of the Knights of Ren.
Why hasn’t that ship been shot down? Who gave clearance?
Maz Kanata walks up next to Poe and Finn, joined by Chewbacca.
Finn’s feelings grow faint, Poe and Chewie ready their weapons.
You won’t need those here.
The CARGO DOOR of the ship OPENS. Steam SPRAYS outward, and from the fog emerges Ben, carrying the body of Rey wrapped up in his cloak. Ben’s sadness cannot be masked.
Finn knows, and his heart breaks, crying and collapsing to the ground in devastation.
Chewie RUSHES to Ben, feeling Ben’s familiar presence instead of Kylo’s. Ben looks into the eyes of his childhood friend, now filled with tears, and PLACES Rey into Chewie’s arms.
The celebration evaporates to the fallen. The price for victory revealed.
Poe, lost, helps Finn up to join Chewbacca’s side as they look to Rey’s peaceful face being unveiled. Chewie WHIMPERS softly and NUZZLES her head.
Poe DRAWS his BLASTER and AIMS it directly at Ben. Ben closes his eyes.
What do you mean, no?!
This is what she died for. She…
Saved you? From what?
From the darkness. She saved us all.
Poe LOWERS his WEAPON, the truth apparent in Finn’s words and Ben’s eyes.
Chewie WHIMPERS LOUDER, and all who surround Rey share their grief for the fallen Jedi who lead them all to peace in the galaxy.
EXT. REBEL BASE – DUSK
As the galaxy rejoices to word of the New Order’s defeat, so too does the word of the Jedi named Rey and her passing, her story destined to become legend.
Finn STEPS FORWARD from a crowd of those who knew Ray, torch in hand. Rey’s body, wrapped up and adorned with trinkets, rests atop a pyre, SET ABLAZE by the torch.
Finn returns to the group made up of Poe, Chewie, Maz, C-3P0, R2-D2, Rose, Zorri, Babu, Lando, Jannah, BB-8, and in the distance, Ben, who watches with great sadness but also great affection.
Ben gives a knowing NOD to Chewie, who NODS back before watching Ben WALK AWAY.
Poe and Finn CHASE him down as he is about to leave in the Night Buzzard.
Ben stops on the cargo door.
Leia…Rey…they would have… I want you to stay with us.
Help us rebuild.
I will return, in time.
Space wizard stuff, right?
Something like that. Yes.
What about the Falcon?
I trust you to take good care of her. I also trust Chewie will have your arms ripped off otherwise. Oh, and don’t let Lando play either of you in Sabacc. I heard stories.
(to himself as he walks away)
I’m pretty good at Sabacc.
Finn shares one last exchange with Ben as the cargo door closes.
Ben pauses, looking to Finn.
May the Force be with you.
The door seals with a HISS, the engines POWER ON, and Ben FLIES AWAY, his thoughts on his mother, his father, his uncle, and Rey.
EXT. TATOOINE – DUSK – SOME TIME LATER
Ben Solo walks the dunes of the desert planet, arriving at the former home of Beru and Owen Lars.
Ben stops near the home and lies down a cloth. On top, he places Leia’s Lightsaber. Beside it, Luke’s. Wrapping then up neatly together, Ben uses the Force to bury the pair of Jedi weapons deep into the sand beside his Uncle’s childhood home.
Before Ben can leave, a PASSERBY, old in her years, SPEAKS to him.
No one has been in that house for ages now. Did you know them before?
I would have liked to.
The passerby notices Ben’s newly constructed Lightsaber hanging from his belt beneath his robes.
Are you a Jedi Master?
Ben pauses, thoughtful of his answer.
No. I’m a Skywalker
The old woman continues on as Ben steps up to the hill overlooking the vast dunes just as the two suns set in the horizon. Ben’s silhouette rests in the lower sun, and a ghost from the past materializes beside him, encapsulating the other.
I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.
Ben is taken aback, knowing that the spirit standing beside him is his true grandfather, ANAKIN SKYWALKER.
Before Ben can speak, Anakin asks him a question.
Would you like to finish what you have started?
Anakin MOTIONS behind him, and in the distance, the spirit of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda appear.
Ben feels the pride and love swell inside him and gives a NOD with tears of joy held back. Solo WALKS with his grandfather and JOINS the others, ready to begin again.
2020 is almost upon us, and as we soar into the future, there’s one notable person who seems to be having trouble keeping up when he should be leading us.
In a recent Forbes article making the rounds (which it itself lacks the understanding of the character if read), it’s being said DC and Warner Bros. are up in arms about what to do with Superman in the Golden Age of Superhero Cinema.
“IS HE A BIRD? IS HE A PLANE? SOMEONE FIGURE THIS SHIT OUT!”
Somehow, the original superhero, one of the most beloved and recognizable characters of, well, EVER, is having trouble being represented in modern media. It certainly isn’t from a lack of trying. Brandon Routh’s performance in the soft reboot of the franchise SUPERMAN RETURNS was generally loved while the movie was…not. He’ll be getting a much anticipated second go, but on the small screen during the CW’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS event.
The latest big screen actor, Henry Cavill, has had an uneven start himself, playing the big man in three films thus far (MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and JUSTICE LEAGUE) and still not finding a steady spotlight. Cavill himself has even gone on record recently and expressed his own wishes to portray Superman in a fitting story. So why is it so hard for WB to make a solid Superman film? And why does fucking Aquaman have a better foothold?
Back when live action superheroes were still being treated as kid stuff, the miracle that was SUPERMAN:THE MOVIE was released in 1978 and, for many today, is still the version many point to when they talk about Supes. For good reason too. Christopher Reeve, while apprehensive of being attached to the character at first, grew to accept, embrace, and love being synonymous with the alter ego, later going on to tell future Superman voice actor George Newbern that it was the best thing to ever happen to him. Reeve would go on to play him on the big screen four times in total, but by the last go, audiences and screenwriters alike had left the Man of Tomorrow in the past.
SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE is an interesting place to start though. Say what you want about the film (and my God, people do), but even here there are examples of Superman’s character being understood. The key one to me is Superman’s reaction to the world’s increasing violence. In the 1987 sequel, Superman is put on the spot when asked by an elementary student “Why doesn’t he just step in and rid the world of war?” It’s a question often asked, even answered in the early animated shorts.
There was quite a line to punch Hitler back then, but I digress.
Kal-El is forced to evaluate his powers, his ancestry, his moral code, everything he had learned and meditated upon up to that point in his life, and try to decide whether or not he should step in and essentially better the planet by force.
To which, after much soul searching, he responds by showing up to the United Nations and states he will rid the world of Nuclear Weapons, and THAT is exactly what his greatest enemy, Lex Luthor, expected him to do.
YOU BEAUTIFUL, BALD BASTARD.
Long story short, Supes nearly dies and puts the entire world in greater danger by doing what he thought was right, and only by undoing that damage and severing his last lifeline with Krypton (his home world now long gone) does he come to terms with his role on his adoptive planet.
Superman realizes he cannot lead by force, but by example. He tells the people of the world that, well, I’ll just let him speak for himself:
So why am I talking about this? That was over 30 years ago in one of the more poorly received Superman films, and it still BOOMS with relevancy, but more importantly, inspiration.
Superman made a mistake in a misguided attempt to better the world because he is still learning to be a human, not a God. That, to me, is Superman’s true power. His greatest strength and weakness. His goodness. Christopher Reeve got that because when asked about playing Superman, he, well, again, I’ll let him tell you:
He’s a friend. Kal-El was orphaned, (mostly but that’s ThunderNerd talk) his entire planet was destroyed, and he was raised by another that, more often than not, feared outsiders. He was grateful, and had the vision to see the world not as divided groups, but as human beings. A singularity. One that had the greatest potential to be just as good, noble, honest, and helpful as he was because he learned it from them. Superman always sees the good in people, and strives to be just that. Good.
I asked the people of Twitter specifically what it is about Superman they love, and I got some great answers:
The Grey Rooms Podcast even posted a link to an excerpt from the comics.
And going back to that out of touch Forbes article about making Superman relevant? The most beautiful thing happened. Retweet after retweet, fans came to the defense of Superman, still wanting his return to the big screen.
And one in particular caught my eye:
Being good is the most difficult thing to be sometimes because selflessness is needed in abundance, and reward never expected. Plus people have one of two reactions when confronted with genuine, sincere goodness in people. Either they’re inspired to better themselves and those around them, or they doubt and ridicule because they themselves lack in character, only to inevitably stress test that very thing they are missing. Skepticism in its most dangerous form.
So what happened then to the point the general public view Superman this way:
It’s easy really. This is how Superman is inevitably written. In fact, this is one of writer Alan Moore’s (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) biggest pet peeves with the genre. In a 2016 interview with Variety, Moore had this to say:
To Moore, comic book heroes represented the best of a childhood. Imaginative stories to keep our brains curious and filled with wonder. But Moore also thinks that where they should stay, and his time with working on these classic characters was just a job in the industry. One he never sought. With this mindset, it’s easy to see how he would want to break down the ideas and perceptions we have for superheroes in works like WATCHMEN, but that’s another article.
One Alan Moore is dying to read, I’m sure.
So let’s say, much like the toy and video game industry, that comic book audiences have shifted to the older crowd, thus changing how Superman is written. This very much carries with it a couple of problems that have been seen in recent attempts on the silver screen.
First off, because Superman’s powers have changed so much from inception (seriously. He couldn’t even fly at first.), unless you do the research and have an understanding of his powers, it’s VERY easy for them to reach obscene levels. And they often do, as another tweet pointed out:
Superman’s powers solved the problems. Not Superman. Again, the Max Fleischer shorts and Timmverse series understood Superman was powerful, but had limits. To compare, while most movies have Superman breathing in space fine, The Animated Series had him wearing a space suit.
Even in the comics, Green Lantern would have to pop a dome over his head. Superman, even with his powers, has to have limits, and kryptonite shouldn’t always be the excuse. If we can’t achieve the work of Superman on some level, as a group, then what is he truly inspiring? Worship? Nah man. He wouldn’t want that, so don’t make him out to be a God that can do anything.
Like, I dunno, this.
Another thing most screenwriters and executives have failed to notice is Superman’s rogue gallery is basically individualized tests against his character. Brainiac challenges his ancestry and logic. Parasite threatens his powers. Metallio defies the humanity he loves, his heart replaced by kyrptonite. Darkseid flat out stands against everything Clark does by ushering in war and death.
And yet NONE of these have made it to the big screen yet. And look, I get it. Lex Luthor IS Superman’s biggest threat because he thinks:
- Kal-El is both undeserving of and selfish with his powers
- An alien capable of ruling shouldn’t be allowed to exist, even as a do-gooder
- He’s better simply because he’s an American citizen who rose to power sans superhuman abilities
- Goodness and hope is a falsity to exploit for money and power
He is the anti-Superman. The worst of America. The other side of his coin, and he should be the main villain dealt with because Lex hides amongst us with more deception than Clark ever did.
But every. Fucking. Movie?
Literally. From 1978, there have been 8 films starring Superman. Lex has been a featured villain in 6 of those.
SUPERMAN III took the bold choice of going with a rich, white entrepreneur as its villain.
But the biggest belief that seems to be the problem as of late is that, to make a superhero believable, he must be “dark and gritty.”
Again, SUPERMAN III. Bold.
To argue this point quickly, all I ask is that you compare Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man to Tom Holland’s.
No. Damn it. Wait a second.
What I mean is Maguire’s portrayal relied heavily on the pressure to be a superhero. (I’m sure there’s some way to sum up that feeling he had.) Because of that, his Spidey was more emotional, stressed out, and it constantly drove him to want to be rid of it.
Holland experiences the same pressure of responsibility, but not once does it occur to him to quit. In fact, he loves being Spider-Man. It’s who he really is inside.
Now I dare to ask. Which Spider-Man is more popular in the general consensus?
I stand corrected, but this only proves my point more.
While the pros and cons of responsibility play heavily in any superhero’s life, Superman never strays from the path his parents set him on, though he knew his life was his own.
To me, Superman isn’t dark. He can have darkness in his life, but his life isn’t darkness. That’s The Batman’s territory. Superman is the light of hope. He is someone who chooses to walk among us as an equal, despite being a literal superman and adopted as an American icon. You telling me you can’t write a character who has to wrestle with his powers, his responsibilities, his ancestry, and his obligations to ideals laid upon him, all while staying true to who he is at his core? Fighting for truth, justice, and the pursuit of happiness in a melting pot?
I know this article has got out of hand, so let me wrap it up by saying this.
I love Superman. I dream of him, being him often. To be able to travel the world and bring it together by showing everyone all it takes is believing one another long enough to help.
Superman will be immortal as long as goodness is sought, and it’s nice to have someone to point to, fictional or not, and say be like that guy. To wear a symbol and show your beliefs in all that is good.
Ok. He was a decent guy too.
Yeah, Superman hasn’t had much luck on the big screen, but he has been soaring triumphantly on TV. Though there are many to name, for me it’s Superman The Animated Series, and then later Justice League & Justice League Unlimited. It’s no coincidence that’s where you’ll find a top notch Lois as well.
Tim Daly and George Newbern both had their time voicing the character (Newbern would take over during the JL years), and from the very beginning, the writers embraced the sci-fi of Superman’s lore, the incredibly epic but equally underrated rogues gallery, the understanding that kryptonite wasn’t his only weakness, that Superman’s powers had limits AS LONG AS YOU WROTE THEM. They understood, above all, that character dictates story, and not the other way round. They knew Superman.
So when Alan Moore, who unapologetically dislikes superheroes, can write some of the singular best Superman stories of all time (For the Man Who Has Everything, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?), there really isn’t an excuse.
And that ultimately brings me to the point of this article. Superman is the story of an alien survivor of a world, jettisoned into the galaxy by his parents like a space Moses and lands on Earth where he was raised by humans, learns our sun gives him powers and radioactive pieces of his homeworld weaken him.
And what does he do in response?
He decides to repay the debt by protecting the planet, no, the UNIVERSE, from alien gods, evil sentient computers, cyborgs, robots, mutants, and evil men of power. Oh, and he does all this while trying to have a normal, human life with the woman he loves and stay humble, and not once does he reject who he is and what he must do.
I don’t know if I’ve ever said this publicly, but I mean it. ANY writer who complains Superman is “too hard” to write for is fucking lazy.
I want to leave you with a piece of music that, when I close my eyes, I can be Superman too. I hope it lets you fly as well.
I wanna thank all the people on Twitter who contributed to this article, and of course to Jerry Siegal, Joe Shuster, and all the other talented individuals who keep Superman alive.
If you happen to like what you read, I have written stories myself. Links to all my work can be found in the Menu. Thank you for reading this. Have an awesome holiday season, and I hope to see you next year.
Isn’t it like me to be gone a while without updating you on what’s been going on?
If you’re still hanging with me, I wanted to share something.
Together with Jason Wilson (Co-Creator of The Grey Rooms Podcast), Alistair Mackey (Voice Actor), and JM Scherf (Composer), we produced the opening chapter of Year 47, presented here. All the links are in the video description.
Hopefully you can enjoy this until I return with more.