Superman: Triumphant (Part 1)
This week’s post was going to be about shipping and how understanding it can help writing. However, the reviews are coming in for the new Superman movie, Man of Steel and the things I’ve been hearing prompted me to post about that instead.
Now, seeing as it will have only been in theaters a week by the time I write this, there will be no spoilers. What I will say is, based on the buzz, I will be waiting to catch this film on DVD instead of paying to see it on the big screen because… it doesn’t seem to be an actual Superman movie to me. Instead, it seems to be made in the spirit of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies; gritty, more realistic and cynical in the hip modern fashion.
That’s fine for Batman, but that’s not what I feel Superman is about. Superman is the embodiment of hope and inspiration. Cynicism is as anathema to him as sweetness and light are to John Constantine and it is an annoying habit of comic book writers to try and inject him with it anyway.
Despite being probably the most basic superhero there is, Superman seems to be a concept a lot of writers fail to grasp, as evidenced by pretty much ever attempt to put the man on the big screen since the first major motion picture. Seeing how many impassioned treatises have sprung up about the nature of Superman in the past week, it seems statistically impossible that the character’s movies scripts all fail on such basic levels.
I would suspect that nostalgia defilement thing I talked about in regard to Sean McKeever’s Teen Titans run, but Occam’s Razor would suggest that it’s more a case of the originality trap. Think about it: Superman is so basic and he is so iconic that just writing him probably feels inherently cliché, resulting in writers doing weird things to prove to themselves that they’re not trite.
This is unfortunate, because I feel that there is a lot to admire and enjoy about Superman, Big Blue Boyscout and all. In fact, because he’s a Big Blue Boyscout. For example, when you think on his core origin story and add in good Elseworlds stories like Superman: Red Son (speaking of which, how did Mark Millar manage to write a good comic?), it starts to become clear that the fate of the DCU, possible the entire universe hinges on the fact that the Kents were good parents. Good parenting saves the world: that’s an Aesop we don’t get enough.
But this is the internet and if you care about the movie or Superman, you’ve heard all these arguments already. You’ve also heard one of the most numerous arguments (that don’t call people that dislike ‘gritty’ and cynical applied to Superman ‘childish’ while calling people who like explosions ‘mature’): ‘let’s see you do better’.
Well, I am a writer of superhero stories… what the hell.
What follows is a synopsis of the superhero movie I want to see, along with notes on why I’m doing these things (set off by asterisks [***]). It is literally based on a few days of thought and rumination on the character and will certainly need polish if I were even going to make it into a fanfiction. Nonetheless, I hope it entertains you:
We open on a Star Wars-style crawl describing Superman’s classic origin. Krypton in crisis, a single ship carrying the Last Son of Krypton launched just before utter destruction, found by the Kents, raised to be a good man, found work at the Daily Planet. Boom. Done.
There is not a single person in the free world that does not know Superman’s origin story. No, we do not need it rehashed, no we do not need the revamp or updates it, and for the love of god, we do not need tweaks to explain/make it more interesting. Krypton exploded, Kal-El was launched toward Earth. This is ALL WE NEED TO KNOW. I wouldn’t even have the crawl if I wasn’t sure a studio wouldn’t demand the origin shoehorned into the reboot.
After a pan through the stars, into the Sol system, to Earth, down into Metropolis, and finally onto the street, we center on Clark Kent as he flashes his press pass to enter a building.
Clark Kent is the real person, Superman is the alter ego. We should never forget that and we should spend a good amount of time with Clark.
He travels to the penthouse garden where a crowd of reporters and investigators is already gathered, trying to get the scoop on the death of a prominent corporate lawyer who has been murdered. Clark asks some questions, then uses X-ray vision to look through the body-bag. Inside, he sees that the body has a hole burned through it about as thick as his thumb. He frowns at this, but is distracted when a dog that animal control has been trying to corral jumps on him.
After playing with the dog and an exchange of questions with the officers, he discovers that the dog is the dead man’s and as he had no family, it’s going to the shelter. He looks down at the dog’s sad eyes…
And we cut to the dog sitting beside him in his apartment. Clark scratches his ears while on the phone with Lois. “You wouldn’t believe how many homeless animals there are in Metropolis. The shelters are way over capacity… maybe I should do a story on that, convince more people to adopt…”
Something I really want to do is show that Superman is all about good deeds, no matter how small. Also how he’s more concerned with doing good than, you know, his job. Speaking of which…
Lois teases ‘Smallville’ for his soft heart and then notes that she doubts he called her to tell her he got a dog. He gets all charmingly flustered and admits that he wanted to ask her to put him in touch with one of her military contacts because the lawyer was killed by some sort of laser weapon. Lois passes on her information, a man from Star Labs, but tells him she can’t stay on the line because she’s following up on the collapse of a building the week before.
They say their goodbyes, then, Clark makes another call: his mother. End scene.
The next day, Clark Kent meet with Silas Stone at Star Labs, Stone explains that he’s out of luck if he thinks he can track the laser down because ALL the big labs are working on those and there’s heavy competition and lots of contracts up for bid from the government. Not only that, but they’ve mostly abandoned the idea of a man-portable one for the time being. While Silas is trying to talk up some other projects, Clark hears something and makes a lame excuse to leave…
The next scene opens with sirens and blaring klaxons. We get voice over by LexNews on another building collapse (a technology firm) over the views of a frantic emergency scene. Still in voice-over, there hear speculation that this and the previous attacks were actually bombings and that the government is covering up a terror attack or worse, a mad bomber.
Cut to Superman flying over the rubble, scanning with X-ray vision. He spots something and calls out to the crews as he lands and starts to shift a massive pillar. We then get a POV shot from the trapped person: light flooding in, filtering through the dust as Superman lifts the pillar over his head and paramedics rush into the hole to care for the office workers trapped inside.
A bit later, the lead firefighter on scene thanks Superman who points out that it was a team effort, then notices body-bags being pulled out of the ground and comments that he wishes he sensed the collapse sooner. Morose, he starts to leave when Lois stops him for comment. They flirt, but Lois is using this to get more information, asking among other things if Superman thinks it was a bomb. Superman says he would be able to detect the explosives.
This gets him wondering, and he then flies off to the site of the first collapse, He notes that this is also a tech company and once again, there’s no sign of a bomb. The camera pans over a steel strut that’s been cut at an angle, but perfectly straight and Superman glowers.
As he flies off, he tries to call Lois as Clark, trying to find out everything she’s collected on the ‘collapses’ so far, but she interrupts him: Perry White has been looking for him all day and he doesn’t sound happy.
Back at the Planet, Perry chews Clark out over going missing again, especially after Silas Stone called and said he bugged out earlier. Clark makes the usual lame excuses, but Perry says that won’t cut it this time because that’s not the real reason he’s upset. Clark’s initial report on the lawyer’s death mentioned the mysterious burn while the coroner’s report says it was a 9mm gunshot—and the Planet’s competition, Metropolis Today is making them a laughing stock for posting such a ridiculous conspiracy theory!
Clark tries to defend himself, but Perry isn’t having it. To him, Clark has been flighty and never has good excuses. The insane sounding laser theory and the embarrassment that followed at the straw that broke the camel’s back. He suspects stress is getting to him and places Clark on unpaid (because the paper is barely turning a profit as it is) leave to ‘get himself back together’.
Here we have both a mystery (which should happen more often when both the main character and his love interest are investigative journalists) and a touch of reality. The fact is, in many continuities, Clark… isn’t that good of an employee because of Superman (while being a damn good reporter because of his powers) and Perry’s good nature is all that lets him keep the job.
Having the shoe actually drop on him is a nice nod to this and Clark not going all Peter Parker over it is a nice character moment.
We next have Clark eating apple pie at the Kent Farm and telling his parents what happened. He’s less concerned about his job than the fact that someone is cutting buildings (and lawyers) in half with lasers that shouldn’t exist.
When pressed about what he’ll do for work, given that his rent will be due soon, Clark points out that he’s immune to the elements, and so he isn’t that worried. Pa Kent then asks if he didn’t just tell them he got a dog and points out that it’s no longer just himself that he’s responsible for in his personal life.
Clark realizes he’s right, then realizes there’s only one place where he’ll have both the autonomy to be Superman, and the credentials to get the position. He comments that Perry is not going to like this.
Again, Superman doing good and taking responsibility with his parents being there to give him nudges when he needs them. This is what the character deserves.
On his way back to Metropolis, Lois calls, having just heard what happened from Jimmy. Feeling sorry for ‘Smallville’, she offers to buy him dinner and give him someone to vent to. Clark heartily agrees. The two hang out at Lois’s place over take-out Chinese and Lois tries to offer her assurances. They have a moment, only for it to be interrupted by Clark hearing sirens.
As he’s awkwardly breaking the moment and trying to escape to go help, Lois gets a call from Perry: There has been a collapse at Star Labs and she needs to go do her reporter thing. She apologies and they’re both adorably awkward. As soon as she’s out of sight…
Cue Superman theme!
Superman and Lois are another one of those couples I love. DC editorial seems to want to couple Supes with Wonder Woman (over and over), but the dynamic just isn’t the same. Lois and Clark having some moments is necessary for a good Superman movie because… well movies apparently need tacked on romances, so why not make it a good one?
Superman arrives at Star Labs and proceeds to do that day-saving thing he does. Two of the people he saves are Silas and his son, Victor. He then follows the destruction to its source and finds that the entire particle weapons laboratory was destroyed, perfectly straight cuts everywhere, but masked by debris.
The next day, Clark is looking frustrated as he reads a copy of Metropolis Today, which is not only running with the bomb story, but implicating Superman in being part of the cover-up. He notes that that’s the same kind of conspiracy theory they lambasted the Planet for.
He then looks up at where he’s going: The Metropolis Today building. Feeling dirty, he goes in and finds that he’s welcomed happily. The staff all seem to know him and think he’s pretty great—especially his Superman exposes. His interview is even being conducted by the owner of the paper: Mercy Graves.
Graves is also overly friendly and excited about Clark’s Superman articles. She always refers to Supes as ‘The Superman’. When Clark points out his recent mistakes, Graves mitigates it and says that mostly, they’re very happy to poach him from the Planet, once more mentioning the Superman articles.
Uncomfortable, Clark points out that it was Lois’s interview that won an award, but Grave says that his articles are always more descriptive and grant better insight into Superman’s motivations and processes. She then asks him when he can start.
Still uncomfortable, Clark says he needs the rest of the week to straighten things out and leaves. On the way out, he does a search and discovers that Metropolis Today is a subsidiary of a larger company: LexCorp.
You know something else that’s bothered me about Superman movies? Lex Luthor is never afforded the respect he deserves. Sure, Gene Hackman was entertaining, but both mad scientist Lex and evil industrialist Lex are interesting characterizations that deserve a shot at the silver screen too. So this Lex is evil industrialist Lex.
And…well look at that. Five pages. I guess you’re just going to have to tune in next week, dear reader, for the second half of my little imaginary movie.
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You can check in on what Vaal’s working on or just what’s on his mind by following @ParadoxOmni on Twitter, or using the hashtags #TheDescendants or #RuneBreaker. You can also browse books by Vaal by visiting his Author Page on Amazon.com.
Vaal’s latest book, The Path of Destruction (Rune Breaker, #3) is now available on Amazon.com.
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