Look, I’m not going to act like Joe and Anthony Russo are the first people to make the claims you’re going to read in this article. Far from it. What they say here about my favorite character of all time has been stated in many different ways by all kinds of creative types over the years. But whenever I read this stuff, all I can think of is, “You just don’t get Superman.”
Let’s get their remarks out of the way, and then discuss the folly of this viewpoint on Superman.
In a new chat with Business Insider, the directors of Avengers: Infinity War and its upcoming sequel Endgame were asked about which superheroes they would find most challenging to adapt. After all, they’ve now demonstrated that they’re quite adept at bringing outsized superheroes to the big screen in a way that is both captivating and exhilarating (Civil War notwithstanding).
And, well, they singled out my boy Supes.
Joe Russo: “He’s a very difficult character. You have to find an emotional flaw or weakness in the character in order to make them vulnerable.“
Anthony Russo: “The more powerful a character is, the more difficult to deal with that character on a narrative level. As storytellers, and the way we explore characters, we always look for vulnerabilities in characters because that’s where characters become interesting. They’re superficially interesting in their strength, but they get much more depth when you find where they don’t have that kind of strength. In general, the more powerful a character is, the more tricky that is.“
Long time Superman fans are used to this rhetoric though, aren’t we? “Oh, he’s too perfect. Such a Boy Scout. Way too powerful. Hard to make him interesting.” Yadda yadda yadda.
But here’s the problem with that: It misses the fundamental elements of what makes Superman special, and that have made him an enduring pop culture icon around the world for 80 years!
What makes Kal-El special isn’t his powers, or his optimistic outlook. Just like his only weakness isn’t just Kryptonite. These are all just basic bullet-points. They’re the superficial exterior of the character; A base, over-simplification of what makes him the one true King of Superheroes.
Superman is a beautiful character with a story heaped in tragedy, isolation, and moral obligations. He’s an orphan from a dead planet, who discovers as a teen that he’ll never be “just one of the guys.” While he’d rather just be Jonathan and Martha Kent’s son and not some alien from an extinct civilization, and play football, and get the girl, and live a normal life…he is reminded time and time again that he has some higher purpose to serve, meaning he’ll never have that ordinary life.
It’s tremendously bittersweet.
And that’s what makes his decision to be a friend to mankind and earth’s greatest protector so powerful. He could just as easily rule the world, but through his own personal journey of self-discovery he decides he’d rather be a beacon of hope for all of humanity- Despite the fact that our species seems to constantly seek ways to destroy itself.
These are deep, gorgeous, heady ideas. And, as a writer, there’s so much space to explore as you tell stories about Superman trying to find his place in a world that doesn’t seem to want him.
All you have to do is dig a little deeper, and you see all of the fascinating themes and threads you could explore with Superman as your protagonist.
Heck, even Zack Snyder went on his own journey with the character and ultimately discovered what makes him so special to so many people- even if his attempt to demonstrate it all didn’t quite hit the mark in the eyes of many. I’ll never forget reading an interview with Snyder back around the time he was promoting Watchmen where he was asked about potentially taking the vacancy in the director’s chair for a Superman reboot.
At that time, back in 2009, he said something along the lines of not being able to relate to Superman. He essentially said something strikingly similar to what the Russos told Business Insider. And yet he eventually came around.
He signed on for Man of Steel a few short years later and, thanks to a dynamite script from David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan, he created a film that encapsulated what a modern Superman film could (and should) be. Snyder seemingly developed a whole new respect for Kal-El while working on MOS, and he came incredibly close to nailing it.
I’m a firm believer that there was very little wrong with Superman’s depiction in Man of Steel and that, had the third act been structured differently, many would look at that film as Superman’s The Dark Knight.
But I digress, it behooves creative types to dig a little deeper with Superman. I’m sick of hearing this “He’s too perfect” nonsense. He’s an orphan like Bruce Wayne, he wrestles with the same weight of great responsibility that burdens Peter Parker, and he faces ideological battles similar to those Steve Rogers must contend with as the relic of a bygone era.
If all those heroes can get great, compelling movies made about them, then so can Superman.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of chatting with the writer of beloved books Superman: Birthright and Kingdome Come, Mr. Mark Waid on my weekly show, The Fanboy Podcast. It was a breath of fresh air to hear him laugh at how preposterous the claims that “Superman is hard to write for” are. He said that if he could he’d write Superman stories every day (and even has an idea for a movie, which you can read about HERE).
I got similarly emphatic responses about Superman when I spoke to comic writer Mark Millar, and author Mark O’Connell about the Man of Steel. (Jeez, I apparently really like interviewing guys named Mark. Hey, Mark Hamill, are you reading this? Free on Friday?)
That’s why I’m ready to drop to my knees and beg Warner Bros. to find someone who sees what a truly special character Superman is to bring him back to the big screen. Don’t hire anyone who needs convincing, or who doesn’t inherently understand the true power(s) of Kal-El. Heck, pick up the phone and call Christopher McQuarrie, who seems awfully inspired by Krypton’s last son!
Superman deserves better than the superficial broad strokes that so many think keep him from being “interesting.”
SOURCE: Business Insider