Supping the barbeque of freedom

I’m heading out of town and possibly away from the Internet for a few days to celebrate the Fourth of July with my family. Happy Independence Day!


Why the World Needs (Another) Superman (Movie)

Lots and lots of spoilers below:

Saw Superman Returns last night and liked it a lot more than I expected to. I went into it kind of wondering what the point is. If you’re going to use the same designs as the Christopher Reeve movies, and the same music, and hire an actor who looks and acts like Christopher Reeve… well, as much as I miss Christopher Reeve, I’ve already seen four of his Superman movies. Why not do something different?

Now that I’ve seen it, I appreciated the homages: Clark’s clumsy and geekish uneasiness; Lois’ smoking and inability to spell; Lex’s delicate balance between legitimate menace and dramatic ham; the tension between Lois’ overt sexual attraction to Superman and his hesitant reaction to it. Roger Ebert claims that Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth lack the chemistry that Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder had. I’m not sure I agree with him, but my not noticing a lack of chemistry may be because I was superimposing Reeve and Kidder’s performances over Routh and Bosworth’s. That may be cheating on the filmmakers’ part, but it worked on me. Besides, I disagree with the premise of Ebert’s review.

Ebert asks, “When the hero, his alter ego, his girlfriend and the villain all seem to lack any joy in being themselves, why should we feel joy at watching them?” He’s right about the fact that this is a gloomier Superman movie than we’re used to, but who said it had to be joyful? Actually, I can probably answer that. It would be the same folks who think that superhero comics are only for kids and shouldn’t be allowed to tell stories with dark subject matter. But that’s not me.

Superman Returns isn’t a dark movie, but it’s contemplative. We get a profound sense of how lonely Superman must be. People worship him (more about the “Superman-is-Jesus” theme below), but he has no close friends. I got the feeling that his clumsy Clark Kent persona was a chore for him to put on. The only person who really knows him and loves him completely is an old woman on a farm in Kansas, and everyone knows that it’s wonderful to be loved by your mother, but it doesn’t take the place of being accepted by your peers. The closest friend he has as Superman is Lois, but she’s moved on while he was away. It’s a tragic story and it’s no wonder that Superman flew into near-orbit several times throughout the film for no other reason than to get above everything and renew his perspective on what he was supposed to be doing. As Ebert says, “It’s no fun being Superman. Your life is a lie, there’s nobody you can confide in, you’re in love but can’t express it, and you’re on call 24 hours a day.” The difference between Ebert and I is that I respect that take on him. It’s not the Christopher Reeve take. There were elements of it in Reeve’s movies, but you always got the feeling that deep down he was having fun with it.

Something else that Superman Returns does differently from Reeve’s movies is that it adds something to the overall mythos. Assuming that everything you see and hear in the movie can be taken at face value, Superman now has a son. I didn’t initially like the idea of Lois’ having a kid, but for some reason, I like it better knowing that the boy is Superman’s. That probably says something horrible about me as a person, but there it is. Time will tell if the “Son of Superman” is a good idea or bad, but it could be good, so I’m not going to be upset about it. The only thing I don’t like about it is the feeling that they threw it in there so that they could have a line about Superman being both the Father and the Son — another Jesus reference.

I didn’t much care for the Jesus comparisons, mainly because I don’t see the point. Superman saves the world by giving up his own life and falls to Earth with arms spread wide. Then he lays in the hospital with a flatline for what I imagine must’ve been about three days before a nurse comes in and discovers the empty bed. I expected two Kryptonians to be sitting at the foot of the bed explaining, “He is not here.” It’s a clever analogy, but again, I don’t see the point of making it beyond showing that someone was clever for coming up with it. What does it say about Superman? Or Jesus?

Back to the Son of Superman, though. I don’t really think they threw that plot element in for the Father/Son line. The Jesus/Superman analogy had already been good and beat into the ground by that point. Without Lois’ son, she doesn’t have an excuse to dump her current boyfriend at the end of the movie and run into Superman’s arms. The relationships are a lot more complex this way and I like that.

So, as much as Superman Returns may look like a fifth Christopher Reeve movie on the surface, it’s not. They did something different. There was a point to making it after all.

We thank you for your help, Baltar. Your time is at an end.

Cross-posted from Comic World News:

Newsarama’s got an interview with Rick Remender about the upcoming comic based on the classic version of Battlestar Galactica. Two interesting things come out of it.

One, Remender’s been purposely not watching the new version of the show on the SciFi channel in order to keep himself untainted. He’s heard good things and is curious, but he’s suffering for his art. Good man.

Second, the comic series will be placed “between existing episodes of the show” and will “fit perfectly into continuity.” That’s also pretty cool.

Remender’s the right man for this job. Anyone who’s heard him talk about the reason he created Fear Agent knows that. What I’m obsessively curious about — and can’t believe Newsarama dropped the ball and didn’t ask — is whether or not Remender’s going to explain how Baltar the Betrayer (for whom Remender’s got “big plans”) was beheaded in the two-hour pilot and inexplicably re-appeared with his head in the regular series.

Manga to movie

The first manga I ever read wasn’t actually manga at all because it’s Korean (making it technically manwha). It was Min-Woo-Hyung’s Priest about a monster hunter in the Old West who turns out to be something of a monster himself. It’s good, spooky stuff with a ton of atmosphere.

Variety reports that Screen Gems is making a live-action adaptation of it directed by Andrew (The Amityville Horror) Douglas and possibly starring Gerard (300) Butler. Douglas and I have different ideas about what constitutes scary, but I’m holding onto some hope that it could be good. At least it’s not Stephen Sommers.

No more Rose

The BBC has announced that Billie Piper is leaving Doctor Who at the end of the second season, which is currently running in the UK. Writer and Executive Producer Russell T. Davies says that “the Doctor Who team have had a whole year to plan this final scene and have created a stunning exit for Rose Tyler.” He adds, “The Doctor lives a dangerous life and when Rose joined him on his adventures she was aware of this. With a series climax called ‘Doomsday’ on its way, I can’t guarantee who will survive and who won’t, but I can assure you the TARDIS is going on its scariest journey yet!”

That sucks. Her final episode airs on the BBC on July 8th.

Freema Agyeman from a British soap called Crossroads is reportedly going to be in the last couple of Billie’s episodes, so rumor has it that she’ll replace Billie as the Doctor’s next companion.

Writing is Hard: Hassle Your Heroes

One of the best pieces of storytelling advice I ever got was from an unlikely source: a role-playing game. I think the game was Fading Suns, but regardless, one of the tips it gave for running an effective campaign was to really put the players’ characters through the ringer. Do everything short of kill them and they’ll love you for it.

Players think they want to breeze through a gaming session just collecting rewards without having to risk anything, but they don’t. You give them that and you’ll bore the crap out of them. Storytelling is all about risk and excitement.

The indispensable Gail Simone applies this principle to fiction writing in her blog: “How many stories have you read, where in the end, you felt that the writer was pandering to you, giving you exactly what the message boarders say they want, giving you the empty calories of, ‘Here, this is what you asked for. I’ve written it just as requested.’

“…I’m a writer. It’s my job to lie and cheat and deceive you. To trick you, to upset you, to make you feel bad at times, to make you dislike the characters we both care about so much. Anyone can give you an X-men issue full of 22 pages of fastball specials and Wolverine killing robots. It takes a writer to have Wolverine do something stupid or awful, and let you feel a little bit of that, and still (hopefully) bring you back.”

Return of the Shadow

And Doc Savage. And others.

My buddy Joe sent me this press release from the Coming Attractions web site (which is a really cool site for pulp-related news, by the way):

The Shadow and Doc Savage are returning to thrill fans old and new. Anthony Tollin has acquired the license to reprint the original Shadow and Doc Savage pulp novels, and will be publishing trade paperback reprints in partnership with Nostalgia Ventures, Inc., a leader in the field of radio and television nostalgia. These Shadow and Doc Savage volumes are officially licensed by Condé Nast, the owner of the famous properties.

“This is a dream come true for me,” proclaims Anthony Tollin, the former DC Comics professional who is also a leading pulp and radio historian. Tollin co-authored Walter B. Gibson’s The Shadow Scrapbook in 1979, and has long desired to get Gibson’s Shadow novels back in print. “We’re reissuing the classic pulp stories with the original covers and interior art, with the type reset for clarity. We’re initially releasing the stories in a double-novel format. Our first volume, already at the printers, reprints Walter Gibson’s ‘Crime, Insured’ and ‘The Golden Vulture,’ a Shadow novel that Lester Dent wrote in 1932 that was later revised by Gibson and published in 1938.

This is the Shadow novel that won Lester Dent the Doc Savage contract. Our first story, ‘Crime, Insured’ is recognized as Walt Gibson’s greatest action thriller, in which a criminal organization penetrates The Shadow’s operation and captures his major agents, and The Shadow is trapped as the entire New York underworld invades his sanctum.”

This series of trade paperbacks is the first licensed publication of The Shadow novels in 22 years, and the first authorized reprinting of the original Doc Savage pulp novels in 15 years. The Shadow Magazine debuted in 1931 and launched the 1930s hero-pulp boom, inspiring dozens of characters including the Phantom Detective, the Spider, the Avenger and the Green Lama. Bob Kane and Bill Finger cited The Shadow as a major influence on the creation of Batman, while Clark Savage Jr., the Man of Bronze, was a major influence on the creation and development of Clark Kent, the Man of Steel.

“If Street & Smith had not published The Shadow and Doc Savage, there might never have been any Superman or Batman,” observes popular-culture historian Will Murray, who collaborated with Lester Dent on seven posthumous Doc Savage novels. “Between them, Walter Gibson and Lester Dent created the archetype of the superhero, and most of the fiction formulas and trappings of the eternal battle between superhero and supervillain that has come to dominate popular culture in the last 75 years. I like to call Lester Dent ‘the Father of the Superhero’ because, while Superman and Batman had other influences, both borrowed liberally from Doc Savage, the original owner of the Fortress of Solitude.”

The first volume of The Shadow is at the printers and will be at selected specialty stores in mid-July, and shipping from Diamond Distributors in October. Each paperback will retail for $12.95 and contain two complete, unabridged pulp adventures of The Shadow, with covers by George Rozen and interior illustrations by Edd Cartier. The reprints can also be ordered directly from: Anthony Tollin; P.O. Box 761474; San Antonio; TX 78245-1474 (Add $3.00 for postage and packaging) or from Nostalgia Ventures.

The first volume of Doc Savage will follow in November and will contain “Fortress of Solitude” and “The Devil Genghis.” These are the two pulp adventures that pitted the Man of Bronze against master-villain John Sunlight. Rounding out each volume are historical articles by pulp historians including Tollin and Murray. A second volume of The Shadow, reprinting “The Chinese Disks” and “Malmordo,” will also also be released in November. “And that’s only the beginning,” Tollin adds. “The Shadow and Doc Savage aren’t the only classic pulp characters I’ve been licensed to reprint. I think fans of classic adventure heroes are going to be very excited by some of our future projects.”