Sunday, July 23, 2006

why the world needs superman

I have never been a big comic book person, though in some ways I have really appreciated the genre. I wasn't a comic reader as a girl, but as a I grew older some of the men in my life shared some of their favorites with me, such as the Doom Patrol series (in particular the issues with Grant Morrison writing) and Elfquest (one of my kids' favorites).

I must make the disclaimer that as a woman, and furthermore as a feminist and a pacifist, I have definitely objected to the strongly sexist treatment of women characters (or complete lack thereof) and the focus on intense violence in the bulk of the genre. I have also read an analysis of the structure of comics that suggests that the format of comic books, a series of frames of graphics with a speech bubble or box included for each frame, is actually more difficult for most women to process than for men due to some subtle differences in the way our brains process information and deal with spatial schematics. This could possibly be why the genre has been so strongly patriarchal in nature if it is so much more easily processed and therefore utlilised by men. (I wish I had an article to reference for you, but this was years ago, and I cannot remember the source.)

However, I have seen wonderful stories come from comics and brilliant, creative ideas and characters. I love the wide and wild variety in styles of artwork and have seen everything from the sublime to the minimal work wonders for a tale. And because the genre is so accepting of different styles of art, that makes it accessible to everyone despite their artistic limitations. I also appreciate comic books as the genre of "the other" often dealing in themes of alienation and discrimination, despite its own internal prejudices. Plus, since its inception there has been a reclaiming of the comic genre by women and some awesome and fun work has come from that movement that I have really enjoyed. (Check out Strong Women In Comics and Wimmin's Comix and Friends of Lulu.)

The recent trend toward turning comic books into movies has proved interesting; I like to see the way those characters and that otherworldly action is interpreted on the big screen. I am a big fan of the X-Men stories and the movies. (Plus, I have a burning crush on Wolverine.) I haven't delved too deeply into too many other of the comic to movie trend, but yesterday the kids and I went to see Superman Returns.

Personally, I didn't even know Superman had gone anywhere, but as the story line goes, he had to travel far into another part of the universe to explore the remains of his home planet and the journey took him quite a while. I have never been much of a Superman fan. Though he certainly is an alien and must wrestle with his own demons of alienation and otherness, he always had such a good American boy feel to him: his dashing good looks, his constant quest to do good that overshadows any internal struggle, his silly, silly outfit, and his bumbly alias, Clark Kent. And it has always really bothered me that Lois Lane was so daft that she couldn't figure out that the man she loved was the same man that she worked right next to every single day. I am sorry, but anyone that is that deeply in love with someone is simply NOT going to be fooled into mistaking them for someone else by the mere presence of some spectacles on their nose.

But here we have a Superman that HAS been grappling with his darker side, the pain of the loss of his family and his entire culture, the realization that he is the ONLY one of his species left in the universe. Talk about feeling alone. Furthermore, he fucked up. He took off and left Earth and all of our human woes and frailty behind, and to top it off he didn't even tell Lois he was going. Oops. Now he needs to figure out how to re-enter his old life, and one gets the sense that it is all taking its toll on him. Yeah, so now is when I would start to dig Superman, right? When he is in pain, when he is fucking up, when he feels isolated and hurt. I am sick. (please see previous post on my codependency)

So Lois Lane has written a Pulitzer Prize winning article in Superman's absence, and amidst her own suffering from his abandonment of her in particular, an article titled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Interesting concept. The article is not much expanded upon in the movie, but Lois goes so far to say that the world doesn't need a savior. By the end of the movie, of course, she feels differently.

And frankly, so did I.

How good would it feel to know that when you are in the most dangerous and bizarre of circumstances, that their just might be hope? Who or what else could you possibly conceive of to rescue you if you were about to be in a plane wreck, crushed under a toppling building, drowning deep at sea? Anything to give anyone more hope in those circumstances works for me.

But beyond that I am deeply enamored with a character who rests above the skyline utilizing his superhuman hearing to tune into the happenings below so that he may appear on the scene anywhere, anytime there is a need for help. That is truly generous. If only we were all able to offer our assistance to the world so effectively, we would each experience far fewer crises.

And you know, here is a man who could choose to fuck anyone in the world he so desired. He is 6'4," charmingly handsome with crystal blue eyes, and he can do anything. He is solar-powered for god's sake; how hip is that? Just about anybody would cast aside their derision as to how queer his super-suit is and take him to bed if he asked, if for no other reason than he's just so nice, and not particularly conceited despite his grandiose repertoire of skills. But he is devoted to the one woman he loves, he never takes advantage of her, and he fucking ADMITTED HE WAS WRONG TO HER for leaving without saying goodbye. That quality, the ability to go ahead and apologize and eat crow if it's your turn to do so, is precious and endearing coming from any man, and I laud Superman for his humility and his honesty. That in and of itself, his example of a strong, good looking, highly accomplished man admitting his own mistake to a woman makes me feel like the world needs a Superman around.

I also think that Superman would be very beneficial to the anti-globalization movement. Here's a man who has experienced genocide first hand, and I think he's pretty smart, I believe he'd be able to see the connection between the global economy and the ongoing oppression and destruction of third world culture for the profit of huge industries benefiting few people. He has already demonstrated that he absolutely opposes any one man's quest for power if it interferes with the will or well-being of others, I mean check out his track record keeping down Lex Luthor. Furthermore, he grew up in a midwestern farm town, and he's got a righteous reputation with the average, mainstream American. The people are going to follow his lead if he starts supporting rallies and protests. Just imagine the edge his powers would give to international peace and economic justice activist planning. No need to worry about big government infiltration of your affinity groups' plans to shut down the G-8 summit or the big WTO talks if he is on our side, and he can see and hear through walls, can transmit important organizing information without risk of interception by flying our messages anywhere in the world, and can keep armed police forces safely at bay with some well targeted cooling breath or laser beam eye shots, while we circle the city, any city! Yay!

With Superman's powers and his penchant for salvaging humankind I think he'd make a welcome ally to our struggle. I don't think he'd stand for large scale terrorist attacks (whether Islamic fundamentalists or the American government were the terroists in question) or nuclear holocaust. I think he'd take the School of Americas and uproot it at its foundation and send it orbiting out in space, never again to produce a graduating class of war-mongering, mass murdering militia leaders. He is apprised of excellent, advanced technology that could likely save us from our own destruction of ourselves by eliminating the need for a fossil fuel dependent economy of pollution and waste. The possibilities are endless.

So Lois, take the night off. I've gone ahead and finished your next article for you. The world does need Superman, in fact the world needs all of us to respond to our own plight as though we were bred of the same steel and sunshine composition as Kal-El, Krypton's native son. Superman sets an example for us all encouraging us to do the best we can with whatever we've got to take care of each other and to be honest and kind. He demonstrates that it's OK if we make mistakes, we just have to be willing to admit that we have and learn and move on from there. We really need us all to be saviors, and I would be really grateful if we had his help, 'cause man, our asses are nearly up against the wall.

1 comment:

Peyton said...

*Spoiler Warning* for those who don't want to see it, don't read til you do.

I have gratefully been a Superman fan since I was a little boy. And mostly because I lost a parent in childhood, and was adopted, I can relate with Clark Kent's deep seated need to "just be one of us", even when he most certainly isn't. His humanity, more than his powers, is his greatest defining trait.

I will gleefully say that I wept openly for the 2 hours and 40 minutes that the film was showing, and that the scene with him and what turns out to be his son was heartwrenching. All the hopes and dreams of a father, combined with the fact that the boy may never truly know who is father is was powerful.

But in the end, Superman gives us the same gift that Pandora left our souls when she opened the box for the last time... hope.