Truth, Justice... and all that stuff
We saw the new Superman movie over the weekend. It was... okay. Maybe not even that good.
Now, the disclaimer here, should probably be that I've never really been a fan of Superman, or Batman, for that matter. I have fond, childhood-tinged memories of the Superfriends, sure, but DC's comics have - with the exception of Alan Moore's work - never really resonated with me. I suppose it's an identification thing: I could be bitten by a radioactive spider any day now but I'm not an orphan dedicated to fighting crime, and I certainly feel more like a mutant freak than a farm-raised alien. On some level, I've always felt the "drama" of a Superman story rings hollow: he can't fail, he can't lose, and except for a little Krypto-MacGuffin, he can't even be harmed.
But, watching the new movie, I couldn't help feeling how out of touch the whole "mythology" of Superman seemed to be with the modern American myth. Liz and I, talking about the movie after, remarked on the number of "nods" to modernity - not quite fully updated, but an approach at modernity: Luthor's court technicalities, Superman having a kid, that kind of thing. I thought it telling that Superman's signature catch-phrase (as uttered by Perry White this time) left off the "the American way". Maybe it was just a nod to the international marketplace, but maybe it's hard to contemplate the "American-ness" of Superman these days? I mean, our political image of ourselves (arguably) seems more divided than we've ever been. Are we the world's big bully or savior?
When Superman uses his X-Ray Vision to spy on Lois, I immediately think of NSA wire-tapping scandals - doesn't he need a warrant to do that?
I guess I've had this problem with superheroes, in general, for a few years now - I can no longer imagine the world's problems being solved so easily. Maybe in the 30's the "evils of the city" loomed larger than they do today. Maybe the idea of Lex Luthor robbing a bank was really the worst thing they could imagine. (Or, maybe Chabon got it right, and this was all WWII escapism at its finest?)
Maybe I just can't imagine the world's problems being solved with a fist fight anymore? Sure, in the 30's you could beat up the mobsters, even punch Hitler in the nose, but can you "beat up" Al-Qaeda? Would it help? How would Superman make peace in the middle east? How would Superman have halted Enron, or the Savings & Loan scandal?
Are today's problems bigger, more diffuse - or am I just worried about all the wrong things?
Maybe I've been spoiled by more realistic answers to these questions that have been poised elsewhere. Watchmen probably did more to damage my ability to read superhero comics than anything. I've long felt that The Shield's Vic Mackey covers the same dramatic ground as Batman - and a more realistic, more believable Batman than I've ever seen. When Superman shows up in other media (Scrubs' theme song, throw-away lines in Buffy, a nod or two in The Incredibles ) - it's a lament, an admission that one simply can't really be that kind of Super.
Maybe I'm just too old; maybe I finally outgrew this stuff. He still works on the kids: at one of Liz's planetarium shows, a young audience member asked her, "Can Superman really turn back time by flying around the earth backwards?"
How do you even answer that?