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If you care about superheroes at all-- whether that's seeing the biggest super-powered movie of a given summer or obsessively collecting comic books-- you've probably got a favorite superhero. Some people are just naturally Batman people, draw to dark tales and gadgets, and some people are just naturally X-Men people, wanting the home for the people who just didn't fit in.
And if there's anything close to a default beloved superhero for all of us, it's Superman. People who don't know a single thing about comic books recognize the "S" shield symbol, and everybody can tell you that Lex Luthor is a bad guy without necessarily even knowing why. The ultimate American immigrant, the alien orphan from a planet that no longer exists who commits himself to protecting his adopted home, Superman is a million national symbols rolled into one, and the kind of always-right figure who we really wish was protecting it-- way more than Batman or even Spider-Man, you can trust Superman to do the right thing.
But does all that correctness and love of country make him… boring? For Kristy, at least, it does, and going into Man of Steel she was hoping to finally find a reason to care about America's big blue boy scout. Find out if it worked, and why she feels so disconnected from the guy anyway, in her conversation with Katey below.
KATEY: Before we get into Man of Steel, I want to get into the main reason we decided to have this conversation. Despite not being huge comics fans or experts on any of the movies, you and I both have strong feelings on Superman himself: I think he's great, and you couldn't care less about him. As the skeptic I want to hear from you first-- what keeps you away from Supes?
KRISTY: I've never been into him, but with Man of Steel coming up, I've been thinking a lot about why. I mean to be perfectly frank he bores me. His dilemma is that he's just too damn awesome and better than everyone around him. It gives me nothing to empathize with. Like, there was a girl in my high school who was pretty, athletic, popular, smart--she was good at everything she tried. She was lovely, a totally great person. But I wouldn't want to watch a movie about her.
KATEY: But I think that ignores what's really at the heart of Superman-- yes, he's great at everything, but that comes at the cost of never actually belonging. He's an alien whose home planet no longer exists, and even worse-- in most versions of the story-- he can never tell anyone who he really is. He's the ultimate immigrant, but without a community of like-minded people to take refuge in.
KRISTY: But he can hide. It's not like everyone knows he's a freak. That's a conflict I find more interesting.
Like--I know this may seem off point, but stay with me--look at Megamind. That movie presents the typical Superman narrative with MetroMan. He's handsome, hunky, human looking, has superpowers and can fly. But it's Megamind whose more interesting. He's also an alien orphan thrust to Earth. Alone, uniquely powerful, but he looks weird so he's assumed to be a bad guy/
That movie sets up for me why Superman never grabs me. His struggle is so internal, but his exterior is so steely. There's no place for me to get emotionally involved.
KATEY: But you just said his struggle is internal! If you know that beneath the steely interior, there's an orphan longing to belong and for people to understand his true nature, how can you think he's not involving?
KRISTY: Because he doesn't express any of that. It's all intellectual. It's all inference. His strength is so deeply ingrained that he can't even share his pain with the audience. It makes for a dull experience.
KATEY: I've always thought there was power in watching him make his choices, and to loop around to Man of Steel, that's something I think this movie does really well (to a certain point). You see Pa Kent teaching him to be responsible with his powers, and you see Jor-El telling him just how powerful he can be. To steal from another comics universe, with great power comes great responsibility-- and I always liked that Superman seemed constantly aware of how difficult that responsibility can be.
KRISTY: The theme of responsibility is always there, especially with in Man of Steel with its running Jesus comparison. But we never get the human moment of Clark feeling fear or remorse. He's just a strong-chinned hero the whole time. Where's his vulnerability?
They reference in the movie Jesus's Gethsemane moment, where Jesus begs for God to allow him to walk away from self-sacrifice. But Clark never has this breakdown. He just calmly talks to a priest for a bit.
KATEY: I don't think his level-headedness means there's not that remorse, or pain, or anything else. There's a spoilery moment near the very end of Man of Steel where I think we see that quite clearly.
But let's talk more specifically about Man of Steel. A lot of people are really, really passionate about this movie-- but it apparently did nothing to further you convince you this guy is a hero worth following.
KRISTY: I was hoping it would. I like superhero stories. My husband reads comics, and I pick his up here and there. But Superman always just seemed to lifeless to me. And Man of Steel did nothing to change that for me. I like a hero who I can relate to. Someone whose arrogant like Iron Man, or deeply hates bullies like Captain America, or feels the need to prove he's more than a nerd like Spider-Man. But Superman is just destined to be a hero and so he is. He's so stiff! I just don't get the appeal.
KATEY: I think I've got a thing about heroes who have a destiny, who try to fight it, but who wind up doing it anyway. And I like that Man of Steel allowed us to see a lot of Clark's tough childhood, and really feel what it's like to be a kid and know you have all these powers and not be able to use them. And when it came time for him to wear the suit, they had struck this nice balance of giving him a bit of that square-jawed bravado when he's just Clark Kent, and then watching him puff up a bit when wearing the big S suit.
KRISTY: But based on the trailers I thought we'd progress through Clark growing up, not be jerked around from past to present in slapdash flashbacks. Kid Clark was interesting, but we get so little time with him. It's mostly grown and stern Henry Cavill, who is handsome but doesn't radiate charm like Marvel's movie stars.
KATEY: I liked Cavill a lot, and not only because of his big shirtless rescue sequence. I thought he bore the weight of what we saw little kid Clark go through, which is not an easy thing to do. I agree that I would pretty much watch an entire movie about kid Clark learning lessons from Kevin Costner, but that balance of the back story worked for me. That is, until the action really kicked in around the middle of the movie and all the character stuff kind of vanished entirely-- but that's another debate.
One last question for you. You're a firm Superman skeptic, you're clearly entitled to your opinion-- but is Superman enough of a big American icon that you feel obligated to see his movies anyway? Like, I care pretty much not at all about Star Wars, but it's unthinkable that I wouldn't go see a new Star Wars movie-- it's just part of the deal. is Superman the same for you?
KRISTY: Yes. That's part of the reason I was most frustrated after seeing this movie last night, because a sequel is in the works and then there's Justice League's movie, and it's just going to keep coming. It's not one movie that wasn't my bag, it's the first in a string of new ones. Again, this is why I was hoping Man of Steel would win me over and give me that insight into Clark/Kal-El that would allow me to cheer and be stoked along with just about everyone else. It's no fun being the outsider....Did we just have a breakthrough?
But all kidding aside, I would like to like Superman. I'm hoping I just haven't found my entrypoint yet.
KATEY: This is the point where we call on the comic expert readers to give you some starting points, and where I acknowledge that while the New Adventures of Lois and Clark was great to get me into Superman when I was a child, it probably doesn't hold up.