Thursday, January 26, 2017

Batman v. Superman v. Prometheus

Finally got around to watching Dawn of Justice. I probably should have been right there on opening night to see it, since my own book on Superman is coming out in November or December, but I have to admit that I'm not on board with these movies. But I do think that I made the experience not as hard on myself as it might have been. I read all the spoiler reviews, so nothing in the movie was a surprise to me except Luthor telling the story of Prometheus right in the middle there (more on that below). Knowing what was to come made me not hate it as much as I might have if, say, I hadn't known that Batman kills a bunch of dudes, or that Luthor has files on everybody that will be in the Justice League film, or that Superman kills some dude, or the whole peach tea thing.

I don't have anything to add to the criticisms that abound on the Internet. Yes, the film doesn't work tonally, thematically, or logically. Yes, Wonder Woman was great.

What I thought was interesting was Luthor's retelling of the Prometheus story. Fragmented as it was, I was wondering if it was intentionally reflecting on Luthor's retelling of the same story, with different emphasis, in Superman Returns.  Here's the transcript of Luthor in Batman v. Superman, which is a speech given at a fundraiser for a library:

The word philanthropist comes from the Greek, meaning a lover of humanity. It was coined about twenty-five hundred years ago...between gods and men. Prometheus went with us, and he ruined Zeus's plan to destroy mankind, and for that he was given a thunderbolt. Choo. Hm, that seems unfair. On a serious note, the Library of Metropolis.. But at one time, dad could not buy them. No, my father could not afford books growing up. He had to root through the garbage...Books are knowledge, and knowledge is power. And I', what am I?...I...what was I saying? No. The bittersweet pain among men is having knowledge with no power, because that is paraDOXical, and.... Thank you for coming.

And here's Luthor in Superman Returns, talking to his girlfriend (?) Kitty Kowalski:

Luthor: “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.” 
Kitty: "So we’re stealing fire? In the arctic?” 
Luthor: "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.” 
Kitty: “Sounds great, Lex, but you’re not a god.”   
Luthor: “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.”

Different directors, producers, and screenwriters. Different context, too. In BvS, Luthor is delivering a public address on the value of books and learning. Since we only hear snippets, the equation of a character and Prometheus isn't clear. In Returns, Luthor sets himself up as Prometheus against Superman as Zeus. Yet the specific resonance of Luthor as Prometheus is made explicit later on in BvS. When Luthor enacts his plan to get Batman or Zod/Doomsday to kill Superman. Standing on a skyscraper, he says to Superman:

Boy do we have problems up here. The problem of evil in the world. The problem of absolute virtue. The problem of you on top of everything else. You above all. Cause that's what god is. Horus, Apollo, Jehova, Kal-el. Clark Joseph Kent. See, what we call god depends upon our tribe, Clark Joe. Cause god is tribal. God takes sides. No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from daddy's fist and abominations. I figured out way back, if god is all powerful, he cannot be all good. If he is all good, he cannot be all powerful. And neither can you be.  They need to see the fraud you are, with their eyes, the blood on your hands. And tonight they will.

Yeah, this post is mostly just a place to put these transcriptions so I've got easy access to them when it comes time to revise my dissertation. I wasn't surprised that Zeus wasn't among the list of gods there. But the interesting thing is that the earliest versions of the Prometheus story, those told by Hesiod in His Theogony and Works and Days, portray Prometheus as the villain. Hesiod liked Zeus a whole lot. Prometheus's tricks lead to nothing but misery for humanity. It wasn't until later, a couple of hundred years later, that the extant literature portrays Prometheus in a positive light. We learn with Aeschylus that Prometheus gave people more than just fire: arts and navigation, and things like that. Later still there's evidence of people actively worshipping Prometheus. Pausanias reports races being run in his honor. Potters wore rings made of iron and rock to resemble the chains that bound him.

It's an interesting transformation, taking place over centuries (as far as anybody today knows, that is; it's possible that people during Hesiod's time liked Prometheus a lot, too, but that their records are lost). It's also the opposite of what happens in some versions of the Superman/Luthor story. In Waid and Yu's Birthright, as with Smallville, Luthor and Clark are friends when they're younger. It's only later on that the antagonism begins. Of course it fits that Luthor sees Prometheus--and himself--as the hero in many of these versions, though not in Returns, where he's pure selfish villany.

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