Monday, April 29, 2013

Superman and Philosophy

So this collection includes 20 essays written about Superman by philosophers. I'm not a philosopher, I'm a folklorist, so I don't consider myself adequately trained to comment on a lot of what they're discussing. There are lots of essays on morality, ethics, and the like, of course. There are some that explore themes brought up in Superman stories, such as whether or not Superman should use his powers to stop crime, etc. The first half of the book, and a bit more than that, feels repetitive because the writers are all discussing these themes, using the ideas of Nietzsche, Kant, utilitarianism, and the like. In the latter half, the topics broaden a bit (well, once they're past Nietzsche). There are discussions about the secret identity, the meaning of The American Way, the nature of an alien being trying to be human, stuff like that.

I don't know. I really don't have a lot to say about it. Most of the essays just ran together in my head. They're kind of bland. There are some analyses of Kingdom Come, All-Star, Red Son, and the other big stories, but I never felt like I was reading anything particularly new or innovative. And there sure were some sloppy comics references.  And there are some summaries of stories that don't seem too worried about getting things right, either. (There's also some sloppy scholarship in general, such as when one writer tells us that he's sure Siegel and Shuster created Superman as a direct refutation of Nietzsche's ubermensch, which just seems silly to assert without even trying to find evidence).

I think what I was looking for was a more thorough exploration of one theme that I've found compelling: Should Superman just take over? Since he's so good, morally and physically, why wouldn't we want him to make laws instead of just being a vigilante? This has been explored in comics, both in Superman stories and those of his analogues (Miracle Man is a good example), and with Plato being referenced a couple of times, I just expected the notion of a sovereign Superman to come up more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Promethean Luthor

Cover to Superman 891 by David Finch

Man, I love that cover. I've become obsessed with mad scientists lately.

So, this comic (which I've just gotten around to reading) begins with Luthor fantasizing about being Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and providing it to an impoverished humanity.

His next fantasy (he's being influenced by a huge caterpilarcalled Mister Mind, who's allowing him to indulge all his wildest dreams, mentally anyway) is of being Dr. Frankenstein. He tears the sheet of his creation to find that he has created not Superman, but...himself.

Then he becomes an Old West Sheriff, which isn't so relevant.

Moving on, in Superman Returns, Kevin Spacey's Luthor has following conversation with Parker Posey's Kitty:

“Do you know the story of Prometheus?  No, of course you don’t.  Prometheus was a god who stole the power of fire from the other gods and gave control of it to mortals.  In essence, he gave us technology.  He gave us power.” 
 “So we’re stealing fire? In the arctic?” 
“Actually, sort of.  You see, whoever controls technology controls the world.  The Roman empire ruled the world because they built roads.  The British empire ruled the world because they built ships.  America, the atom bomb, and so on and so forth.  I just want what Prometheus wanted.”
“Sounds great, Lex, but you’re not a god.” 
“Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don’t share their power with mankind.  No.  I don’t want to be a god.  I just want to bring fire to the people.  And I want my cut.”
The novel Frankenstein is subtitled "The Modern Prometheus." It's probably the first mad scientist story.

Prometheus formed the subject of my dissertation. It's one of the things that prompted me to write about Superman. I spent three years of my life studying that story, and it hasn't let me quit yet.

The interesting thing about Prometheus is that he fits into both the hero and villain category nicely. If you like Zeus, he's the villainous trickster. If you don't like Zeus, he's a benevolent culture hero.

Or, as in the case of Luthor, a villain who thinks of himself as a hero.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Post-Birthday Blues

This picture, of Siegel and Shuster looking up at a drawing by Neil Adams, seems the most appropriate for today.
After combing through twitter to see what all sorts of people are saying about Superman on the 75th anniversary of Action #1, I've decided that this tweet, from today, is my favorite:

There are all sorts of articles to link to, so I'll do it simply:

From IGN.
From the fantastically-named Ars Technica.
From the ComicsGrid.
And from the New Republic.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Superman Day

The place where Joe Shuster lived for a while in Cleveland.

Today, the 18th of April, marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Action Comics #1. Superman had been created some years earlier (circa 1933), but today's the day that people first saw him on the stands.

I had really hoped my book would be published at this point, but it's still stuck in the quagmire of peer review. For the moment at least, it's out of my hands.

Still, there's no shortage of books on Superman and the various stories behind the stories. I discussed Weldon's book recently; there's also Superman and Philosophy, which I'm working my way through (my first impression, being about half way to the end, is that it's ok but not great); there's The Ages of Superman, released last year. And coming in June is Super Boys, which is about Siegel and Shuster.

Commemorating the date, there are some events in Cleveland (I'm curious about the birthday cake at the airport) and lots of online and print articles such as this one in the New York Times

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Glen Weldon's Superman

Glen Weldon has a weird fixation on Superman's mullet.

His new book, an Unauthorized Biography of Superman, contains a lot of plot summaries. There's some behind the scenes stuff, lots of evaluations of what works and what doesn't work for the character, things like that. He starts at the beginning--no substantial references to influences until later on--and moves right on up to 2013.

Weldon writes a blog for NPR, and his writing style reflects that occupation. His wordplay is often clever, sometimes grating, but always fluid and clear. There's nothing new to his book, nothing that you can't get in others, but Weldon's focus on release dates, on some contextualization, and on some minor aspects of Superman trivia, is good t read. Of course, there's a lot he's left out. There's not a way around that when you're writing about Superman.

Still, he can't seem to get over that mullet.

There are other oddities, such as Weldon's inclusion of the odd detail that Jerry Siegel happened to die on a day when a Superbowl was played. But this is exactly the type of book I expected to see this year, Superman's 75 year in publication. No pictures, though, which is a shame.

There's another new book, called Superman in Philosophy. Haven't read that yet.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reasons to Love the 1001 Nights

Sentences such as this one:

"In the hall was a well of Roman workmanship, in which lived a jinniya, of the stock of Iblis the damned, whose name was Maimuna and who was the daughter of al-Dimriyat, one of the famous kings of the jinn."

Paintings such as this one:

Aladdin by Frank Godwin