Monday, March 15, 2010

Strange Horizons

Well, folks, today marks the publication of my article "Superman as Science Fiction" on the website Strange Horizons. Horizons is a speculative fiction magazine. Each Monday, they publish a short story, a poem, book reviews, and some nonfiction--a column, an interview, an aritcle, or something of the kind. They also publish art. It's really a great website. I had an article published there a while back, as well.

This is the first time I've had anything about Superman published. I have delivered three papers on the subject at varous conferences, and have a fourth that I'm going to submit soon as part of a panel on fans and fan cultures. They've all been very well-received, and I've been approached in different ways to publish them. But I'm still deep in research mode, so nothing is eady yet.

"Superman as Science Fiction" is a little essay that wouldn't fit in the book I'm writing. Some of the ideas may show up again, but it's very much its own thing. And now that it's published, I see about a million things wrong with the prose that I'd very much like to change. Why oh why didn't I catch some of those when I read over the galley they sent me to check? Nothing major, mind you, but annoying to me in my quest for perfection.

Edit: I've been looking over the article, and I noticed that there are a couple of errors. Sorry. 1) Leo Qunitum is not the only character Grant Morrison invented for All Star Superman. I took someone's word for that, and should really have looked it up (or not included it at all, since it's not necessary information at all). 2) "What's So Funny about Truth...?" does not appear in Greatest Superman Stories Volume 2. Weird.

Friday, March 12, 2010


At first, I didn't think the announcement of Christopher Nolan's involvement (which has now evidently gone from rumor to fact) in a new Superman film would be all that relevant for my project here. But seeing the responses people are posting to the Internets, I have changed my mind. For example, one fan has put up a list of what he thinks the producer should be reading to prepare himself for producing the film. Really, it's just an opportunity for the columnist to write about his favorite Superman stories, which is no bad thing at all. Still, the gist of my point here is that people really want a good Superman movie. How profound of me.

Speaking of writing about favorite Superman stories, Sean Collins of the Savage Critics wrote an essay about All Star Superman. Here's a nice quotation from it:

Batman's the guy you wanna be; Superman's the guy you know you ought to be, if only you could.

I don't have much more to say today. Writing about hero myths is taking up all my energy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Casting Call

It seems to me that there's a genre I've been largely ignoring. Let's call it the 'cast list' or something like that. It's simply where somebody imagines who would play whom in a movie made about their favorite characters. This happened before the internet, but the ease with which anybody with access can put together their ideas with pictures, etc., has made the internet the prime medium for this genre.

Superman gets this treatment a lot. There's comic book movie. comic book movie again. there's mtv. comic book movie again.

People feel entitled to a good Superman movie. They put their demands up on the internet. Because of the recent rumor that Christopher Nolan is to be involved in the new film, they write long, long letters and debates about how or why he should be involved.

Religious Interpretation

Superman may or may not be Christ, depending on who you ask.
There are perhaps more books and articles concerning Superman's connection to Christ than there are on any other Superman topic. It all seems to have begun with John T. Galloway, jr.'s The Gospel According to Superman, fixing a title that has probably frustrated other authors since it's 1968 publication. This book set out to prove once and for all that Superman is certainly not Christ, and that claiming him to be so is damaging. It explores the character's actions and history and ultimately concluding that Superman is in no way like Christ.

This was before the 1978 movie.

After that movie, articles began springing up proclaiming Superman's Christ-like-ness. It was all very deliberate on the part of director Richard Donner and one of the writers, Tom Mankiewicz. They saw the parallels in the stories and made them explicit, most famously during Jor-El's speech to Superman as the baby travels to Earth:

"They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I send them you, my only son."

As a kid of 1 when this movie came out, I completely ignored the subtext there.

So soon after you've got Sarah R. Kozloff's "Superman as Saviour: Christian Allegory in the Superman Movies" (from the Journal of Popular Film and Television, 1981). People saw the parallel, and it either made them happy or mad. Apparently the director got death threats.

Then there's The Man from Krypton: The Gospel According to Superman, by John Wesley White. I haven't read it yet, but it's on its way to me even as we speak.

More recently, there have been lots of these. I suspect the more obvious Christian imagery in Superman Returns and the widened audience for it provided by the internet has sparked the books and articles.

Anton Karl koslovic's "Superman as Christ-Figure: The American Pop Culture Movie Messiah" came ahead of the rush in 2002 in the Journal of Religion and Film. He's all for the subtext, as it points toward Christ.

There's Stephen Skelton's The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero. There's Ken Schenck's "Superman: A Popular Culture Messiah" in the book The Gospel According to Superheroes, edited by B.J. Oropeza. There are chapters in books such as Holy Superheroes by Greg Garrett, and H. Michael Brewer's Who Needs a Superhero? about this sort of thing.

Sort of Related are books such as Christopher Knowles Our Gods Wear Spandex and Don LoCicero's Superheroes and Gods. Both of these books look for early parallels (which they see as forerunners) to superheroes in myths and legends, not specifically in Christ. They both devote some pages to Superman. Also in this category I'd put Josepha Sherman's Once Upon a Galaxy, which does the same thing with various films and has a chapter on Superman.

Aside from a score of newspaper articles and hundreds of blogs and other websites, that's about it. People like to point out how similar Superman is to Christ, and then they like to argue about it.
I actually have a lot more to say about this, as you may expect. I sat down to take what I thought would be a page of notes and found myself with eight pages of a chapter, and I hadn't even gotten to Christ yet. So, no real commentary or analysis here, but there will be a bit in the book someday, I hope.

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Origin

All right. J. Michael Straczinsky is writing a new series of "graphic novel" Superman stories, to be drawn by Shane Davis. It's a retelling of the origin story, which will lead into subsequent "graphic novels" in the future. These are free from the other Superman stories published by DC. I put "graphic novel" in quotes because it's really just a long comic book, on perhaps better quality paper, and probably between hard covers.

Straczynski was interviewed by Newsarama recently. He talks about his love for the character and how excited he is by the job. Here's a section relevant to my own project:

I come from a hardscrabble, difficult and often brutal childhood. I come from the streets, I came from nowhere with nothing, and when as a kid I started to tell people I was going to be a writer someday, the reaction was laughter. was a period when I was about 13 that I literally got beat up every day, because no matter how badly I got beat, I would refuse to give in, so they'd try again the next day....So the idea of someone who could fly away, someone who could be anything he wanted, who couldn't be hurt...all of that had tremendous appeal for me. As a kid, it was pretty much all that sustained me.

That part about being able to fly away sounds sort of like run away from the people beating him up, but that's not how I think he meant it. He connected to the character as an escapist fantasy, as a lot of people do.

Interestingly, his interview draws a lot of ire from people in the comments section. I won't go into it here.

Even more interestingly, a part of the interview where Straczysky discusses altering the destruction of Krypton incites one reader to write a reply called "Leave Krypton Alone, JMS." Here Graeme McMillan discusses the origin and how he thinks it's wrong to make the destruction of Superman's homeworld "a hit job on a planetary scale." He's got his reasons, and he does a good job of explaining how it would affect the character.

The interesting thing to me is that people are invested in the origin story. They consider it on very deep levels, both in terms of the character and in terms of their own lives. It's important. And because it's important, it gets retold a lot, always from a perspective, always for a purpose. Always as somebody new wants it to be retold, which isn't always how the readers want to read it.

Edit: I have to add this link, to Newsarama. Today they posted an essay by Straczynski where he writes about the meaning of Superman, and Wonderwoman, two comics he will soon be writing.

The (auto)biography

People involved in Superman productions seem to want to tell their stories. Probably the earliest is Kirk Aly's A Job For Superman. Alyn starred in the Superman serials of the late forties. He was the first man to play Superman in front of the camera. As with several of these books, I haven't read this one. It's sitting in IU's Lilly Library, which means I'd have to devote several hours to sitting in the library and reading it. It's a special rare book library, and you can't check out its contents.

Next is Noel Neill's Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Neill toured the country speaking to colleges and whatnot a few decades ago. She was one of two actors to play Lois Lane on The Adventures of Superman television show in the fifties. She's still known as Lois. Last year, during the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Il, the local dignitaries, Neill, and Superman ceremonially broke ground on the site of a new statue, one that will depict Lois Lane as played by Neill. It's right up the road from the famous Superman statue at the Metropolis courthouse. Haven't read it.

I've actually got pictures of the groundbreaking, but not with me. Darnit.

Then there's Superman on Broadway, by Bob Holiday and Chuck Harter. Holiday starred as Superman in the short lived It's a Bird, it's a Plane, It's Superman broadway show. Evidently this has been revived periodically, and was filmed for television, resulting in what's considered the worst of all Superman productions. Haven't read this one, either. Three strikes.

Then there are two books by Christopher Reeve: Still Me and Nothing Is Impossible. I have read these, mostly because the local library has them. They're less about Superman than I assume the others must be. Reeve tried to distance himself from the role somewhat, though he can't avoid it in these books. The second is more interesting since it essentially gives Reeve's interpretation of the character. The first gives Reeve's perspective on the films' production.

Since I've read two out of five of these books, I don't have a genre description or contents breakdown. They're sort of memoirs, sort of autobiographies. There are biographies of Reeve out there, which I am trying to convince myself I don't have to track down. The production histories operate as a kind of biographies of the shows and movies, so they complement these books since they delve deeper into the actors' lives than production histories can.

Then there's George Reeves. He's got a small industry going in the book publishing world. There's Speeding Bullet: The Life and Bizarre Death of George Reeves. There's Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, the Lady, and the Death of Superman. There's Behind the Crimson Cape: the cinema of George Reeves. There are entries on him in The Hollywood Book of Death and others of that kind. The only one I've read is Hollywood Kryptonite, which is more or less a conspiracy theory kind of book.

In Other News:

Here's an interesting article explaining why the author, Robert Cargill, thinks Christopher Nolan should not be involved in producing a new Superman movie. Nolan, as you may know, recently directed two Batman movies, the second of which became one of the most profitable movies of all time. The author's reasons for wanting Nolan off the project are five in number, but are really just one: Nolan's previous films are all very different and darker than Superman should be, in his opinion. He's right in that they are all quite dark and different from Superman in genre, theme, and mood. This, of course, doesn't guarantee that Nolan's involvement in a Superman film would make it like his other projects. What's even more interesting is this statement:

2) Superman isn't a detective. Nolan thrives telling noir-ish detective stories. Superman isn't a detective. He's a reporter. He hits things. Hard. And flies fast. And burns holes in things. And blows cold air that freezes things. Thinking? That ain't his style. He's not dumb, but a good Superman story isn't about him tracking down criminals; it is about a world in peril with only one man who can save it.


He is Mom, baseball, and apple pie, and he stands for "truth, justice, and the American way." There's NOTHING dark about him or his story, only a sadness that drives his overtly boy scout tendencies.

These areCargill's idea of Superman. Not too different from others', I'd guess, but interesting. Sure, he hits things, but so does Batman. And sure, Batman's the detective, but Superman's a reporter, which means he's a writer. And writers think about things an awful lot. There's also a lot of comics pages devoted to Superman doing experiments and whatnot in the Fortress of Solitude. It's partly how he fills his downtime and how he tries to solve various problems on earth. Still, Cargill's right about the Superman of the movies.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Production Histories

Over the next few posts, I'll be writing about the sorts of books other people write about Superman. There are several genres, each of which includes four or five books. Today, I'm looking at the "production histories." These aren't about comics, so much. They're about cartoons, radio, tv, theater, and movies. They're behind-the-scenes looks at the shows.

First up is Gary Grossman's Superman: Serial to Cereal. The title reflects the early film serials and the fact that Kelloggs sponsored the radio and television "Adventures of Superman" shows. His book mostly deals with tv and serials; there's a bit about the Fleischer cartoons from the early forties and the radio show starring Bud Collyer, but not much more. It was published in 1976, part of a series on popular culture edited by film critic Leonard Maltin.

It's got all the conventions of the production history genre: short biographies of the stars and producers (both before and after the show), descriptions of the episodes and the author's appraisal of them, some of the controversies and difficulties. I'm going to assume these are fairly standard for production histories of any show, though I must admit that I don't make a habit of reading these sorts of books. I'm racking my brain for any I've read, and come up with nothing.

Specific to Superman, though, are details of the extent to which the actor becomes typecast. In the case of Superman, however, typecasting seems almost the wrong term. If you're cast as a type, you can at least play that type in lots of different shows. If you're a thug, or an ingenue, there are all sorts of shows that have that type of character. If you're Superman or Jimmy Olsen or Lois Lane, then apparently you're done for. It's more specific than typecasting--it's character casting. Also, I'm guessing that few other shows' production histories go into so much detail about the technology required to make a man fly onscreen. All of these books do, and every one of them details the accidents that happened because of it.

Grossman's is pretty good, though dated. He includes lots and lots of pictures. However, it's also sometimes really boring. Do we really need that much information about an actor who played a villain in one episode of The Adventures of Superman? I suppose some people would say yes.

Next up is The Making of Superman: The Movie by David Michael Petrouare, which I haven't read. No offense to Petrou; it's largely because I can't bear to absorb any more information about the production of Superman: The Movie and its sequels.

I did read Bruce Scivally's Superman on Film, Television, Radio, and Broadway. Not bad. It tries to be more comprehensive that Grossman's. It's more recent, so it's got lists of websites and whatnot. All the components of the genre are there, and it gets all the way to 2006's Superman Returns.

There's Superman vs. Hollywood, by Jake Rossen. This is the most sensationalistic of all the production histories. It revels in the controversies and the rumors/legends that have grown up around the actors and shows. It has its villains and heroes. Again, all the biographies, the behind-the-scenes, the flight technology, etc.

Then there's Flights of Fantasy, by Michael J. Hayde. This one focuses almost entirely on The Adventures of Superman, which was the title of both radio and television shows. It's exhaustively thorough, and does the most debunking of the legends. As such, it was interesting to have read this one prior to reading Rossen's Superman vs. Hollywood, which doesn't even attempt to debunk, say, the story that a kid pointed a loaded gun at George Reeves during an appearance as Superman because the kid wanted a bullet that had bounced off Superman for a souvenir. Rossen reports it as fact; Hayde does a bit of digging and concludes that the story was concocted by Reeves as an excuse for limiting his appearance in costume. Hayde cites interviews with Reeves and concludes that this was a fear the actor developed (justifiable, I think, since both he and Collyer and others had been kicked and hit by kids attempting to test their invulnerability).
I found these interesting at first, but I must admit I'm surprised that there are even this many of them. At most, they deal with comics in a superficial manner. Hayde states that the comics may be great, but that Superman owes his popularity to the producers and actors of Adventures on radio and tv. The information is virtually the same in all of them, though each has its own spin. Some, such as Hayde, deal more with Reeves' death than others (Grossman, for example, barely discusses it at all). In all, the genre caters to fans more than a general audience, which is exactly appropriate.