Thursday, August 18, 2011

What's so difficult about writing Superman?

I just read the synopsis of the upcoming Zack Snyder epic Superman: The Man of Steel. It goes something like this:

“In the pantheon of superheroes, Superman is the most recognized and revered character of all time. Clark Kent/Kal-El (Cavill) is a young twentysomething journalist who feels alienated by powers beyond anyone's imagination. Transported to Earth years ago from Krypton, an advanced alien planet, Clark struggles with the ultimate question - Why am I here? Shaped by the values of his adoptive parents Martha (Lane) and Jonathan Kent (Costner), Clark soon discovers that having super abilities means making very difficult decisions. But when the world needs stability the most, it comes under attack. Will his abilities be used to maintain peace or ultimately used to divide and conquer? Clark must become the hero known as "Superman," not only to shine as the world's last beacon of hope but to protect the ones he loves.”

It sounds like an origin story for today’s “if it’s too fantastical, I can’t relate” audience. It also sounds suspiciously like we’ll be treated to a full hour of Clark moping around trying to figure out if he should or shouldn’t become Superman. I shake my head. This synopsis reminds me of the oft quoted anonymous “WB insider” during the 90’s and the early part of the last decade when they’re quoted as saying something to the effect of “do you think it’s easy to write Superman? It’s not!”. Of course, this proclamaition would often be made through years of debacles like the failed Superman Reborn (where Superman dies and Lois absorbs his life essence and literally gives birth to a new Superman, placenta and all!), Superman Lives (in which Superman runs around in a black, capeless costume devoid of powers for most of the film so Kenner can sell toy versions of the resulting gadgets and devices that Superman would use to duplicate his powers) and after the much maligned Superman Returns (where Superman is a dead-beat dad, whiney bitch that wants undeserved attention from everyone, and creepy stalker of Lois Lane). Is it really that hard to write Superman? Really? No. No it’s not. In addition to the countless comics that were produced during the time between Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and Superman Returns, there were many live action and animated Superman productions successfully mounted by everyone but WB's film division. They could do it, why couldn't the film guys? I give you Exhibit A:

List of Superman productions between Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987) and Superman Returns (2006):

Superman (Ruby Spears animated series) (1988)

Superboy (1988-1992)

Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)

Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000)

Smallville (2001-2011)

Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006)

Significant appearances/starring episodes:

Justice League (2001-2004)

Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006)

After Superman Returns, the colossal brains at WB film wondered why that movie underwhelmed at the box office. They still struggled with what stories to tell with Superman and nearly declared the Superman property to be unworkable. Meanwhile, the comics still turned out story after story and Warner Animation still chugged along, producing a Superman movie almost every year since. Is it difficult to write Superman? No. I give you Exhibit B:

List of Superman productions since Superman Returns:

Superman: Doomsday (2007)

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)

All-Star Superman (2011)

Superman vs. The Elite (coming in 2012)

Significant appearances:

Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)

Justice League: Doom (coming in 2012)

Um, these guys can do it. So, what’s the problem?


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