Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hope is a Hero

From the time I could read, I've loved comic books. Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes peopled my universe, along with Phantom, Ghost who walks, and the hundreds of other literary, fictional or real characters that danced in my head stuck in a book. It didn't matter to me whether they were from DC or Marvel, Enid Blyton, or any of the classic writers, say Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, or myths and legends of the Greeks and Romans. I would say that comic book tales and heroes are part of the bedrock of my appreciation of literature. But because comic books hardly ranked as "literature", we had to hide to be able to enjoy a new comic book right through. Superman and Wonder Woman were right up there in the pantheon of a young girl's archetypes.

When the super-hero tales were re-told in movies, they were instant hits. They are natural cinematic subjects, fit for larger than life celluloid screens. There was never a debate whether the movie was better than the comic. We never worried whether it was "true" or too fantastical. Super-heroes fly beyond the predictable and expected. And so it continues. When you enter the comic book, or movie,  you suspend belief.

This is not an S, it's the Kryptonite symbol for Hope.
Still, there are a few things in the 2013 Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) movie that provoke questions, even as others are answered. Throughout the unravelling of his life story - which begins with his "natural birth" to enlightened parents on Krypton and his fostering on Earth by caring Kansan farmers - we are fascinated by what is made real (and believable). How advanced Krypton is in technology and science; but at the same time, how like Earth whose humans seem equally hellbent on a self-consuming path to the destruction of their planet.

It's also hard to believe, even in country-bookie Kansas, that Clark Kent spends over 30 years living so innocently - albeit in obscurity - and without being found out. Still, Man of Steel holds interest precisely because we already know the story, and want to believe in the goodness of the guy. We are curious about the spin on the Lois Lane character. Yup, she's a hotshot journalist with the Daily Planet. She already knows his secret. As it turns out, everybody knows his story. His secret is no secret.

This anti-catharsis makes the final showdown between Kal and Zod anti-climactic. How is a fight between two men with almost equal super powers expected to end? When Kal and Zod battle over Metropolis, destroying the city in the process, it does not move you. We know what the end will be, just not the how.

Fortunately, the film does more than let good triumph over evil. It resolves the duality of the man from Krypton and the man from Earth. There's no need to look deep in order to consider the debate: what accounts for who you are,  environment or genes. In the end, Kal inherits both the superior scientific and technological knowledge of his birth parents - through the clever holographic tutoring by his father Jor-el (Russell Crowe) - and the compassion of his Kansan caregivers. He loves all his parents unrestrainedly. He is the child of two worlds.

In Lois Lane, he meets a clever girl who finds out his secret before she knows him, and she is ready to help protect him. All the people who love him are stronger than the man he has shown himself to be, or the man he is destined to become. Perhaps what is attractive about this version of the (now 80-year old hero) character is his vulnerability, his tabula rasa openness. We have Superman recast as a millennial (as defined by the Time feature, May 9, 2013) - taken care of, protected, loved by those who intuit what he is yet to become.

The old tale begins where this re-telling ends. Alter ego Clark Kent comes to the Daily Planet to be taught his craft by people who already know who he is.

Superman was created in 1933 by teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Man of Steel proves he can be re-interpreted as a hero for any age. Again and always, we come face to face with what it is to be human, what it means to meet destiny made mainfest.

The hero still wears a red cape!

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