Monthly Archives: September 2021

Superman 1.19: Left Behind

At the end of football practice, a pretty girl walks up to Clark and says, “Listen, a whole bunch of us are going up to Mary Ellen’s, to play some records. Would you like to come?”

And he says oh, I’d love to, but I’m not supposed to interfere with human history. You have no idea how big of a crimp it puts in a guy’s social schedule, having a rule like that.

Continue reading Superman 1.19: Left Behind

Superman 1.17: For Unto Us

“Once, there was a civilization,” says the announcer in the Superman: The Movie trailer, over a shot of Jor-El doing science stuff with crystals, “much like ours, but with greater intelligence, greater powers, and a greater capacity for good.”

Jor-El touches the machine, and the starship rises to the ceiling, and then everything goes to hell. We see people fall into the red pit of their doomed civilization, and then: BLAM! the whole planet explodes.

“In one tragic moment,” the announcer resumes, “that world was destroyed. But there was one survivor.” We see Kal-El in the star bubble, a brief clip of the crash landing, and then Pa Kent is kicking at his tire. Ma taps him on the shoulder, and they look at the wreck of the spaceship.

As they gaze in wonder, the announcer says, “Because of the wisdom and compassion of Jor-El — because he knew the human race had the capacity for goodness — he sent us his only son.”

The music swells, and we see little K, standing up with his arms outstretched, and we wonder: if Jor-El was so all-fired wise and compassionate, maybe he could also have sent some pants?

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Superman 1.16: Passing Motorists

Sure, Superman was popular in 1938, but a lot of things were popular back then, like Mickey Rooney and Betty Boop and the Spanish Civil War. Being popular in the late 1930s does not guarantee that your story will still be told in the 2020s. Pop culture is a competitive environment, and for any popular idea, there are a dozen copycats trying to get their own share of the audience’s attention and affection.

It’s a process of natural selection, and the characters and stories that survive for decades in the popular imagination are the strongest and most adaptable. Sherlock Holmes, the Wizard of Oz, Mickey Mouse, Dracula and Superman — all of the long-lasting pop culture icons have overcome dozens of challengers, continually finding a niche in the changing cultural landscape that keeps them alive for another generation.

One thing that these pop culture champions have in common is that they managed to jump out of their original medium, and often out of the reach of their original creator, inspiring plays and parodies and sequels and pastiches and comic strips and films that strengthened the concept by passing on the story-productive details, and removing the parts that didn’t work as well.

Superman is the perfect example: a story that started in comic books, but very quickly expanded into a comic strip and a radio show, then a cartoon, a movie serial and a TV series. Each version of the story is an opportunity to tweak and expand, and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Over time, Superman ended up with a core set of characters and ideas that are practically bulletproof. The concept “Superman and Lois” was there in the first issue of Action Comics in 1938, and it worked so well that 83 years later, there’s a TV show called Superman & Lois.

The concept “Ma and Pa Kent”, on the other hand, took a while to find its place in the cultural conception of Superman. The details that worked, like running a farm, stick around forever. But sometimes a concept’s evolution takes a weird turn, and you end up drugging a crowd of elderly people at a lemonade party. Here, I’ll show you what I mean.

Continue reading Superman 1.16: Passing Motorists

Superman 1.15: Journey Across the Gulf of Space!

Well, if little Kal-El thought he could stretch out and relax during the journey from there to here, then he was mistaken; his dad has prepared a three-year-long audiobook for him to listen to on the trip. We see the boy traveling through clouds of space plankton in his star bubble, and above the sound of a passing scherzo, we hear extracts from Jor-Audible.

The first fragment that we hear is “… which Einstein called his theory of relativity.” I don’t know if that’s chapter one or not; I would hope they’d ease the kid in a bit before jumping straight to Einstein. This is a weird belief that science-fiction writers have, that you can learn things more efficiently if you’re being brainwashed by a computer, because education is basically a data download, and actual engagement with the material just gets in the way.

So I want to take a look at what kind of schooling is going on here, and try, for at least a couple minutes, not to talk about Beppo.

Continue reading Superman 1.15: Journey Across the Gulf of Space!

Superman 1.14: Music from the Hearts of Space

All right, here’s the situation: we are currently three weeks in on this new format that I’ve invented for myself, where I try to comment on every element of Superman: The Movie that I can think of, and today is one of those “face the music” posts, both literally and figuratively. At some point, I have to write about John Williams’ orchestral score, because it’s an important part of the movie and people who like movie scores are entirely obsessed with it, but I don’t know much about music and I am utterly hopeless on the subject.

I mean, I have this booklet that came with the Superman: The Music box set, and here’s what it says about the score during the “space capsule flying across the galaxy” sequence:

“Scherzo for the starship’s three-year journey. A swirling woodwind line suggests the speed at which the spacecraft is traveling while high-register violins sing a lofty melody exclusive to this cue; statements of the Fanfare are overlaid skillfully.”

My issue, obviously, is that I don’t know what scherzo means; I even went and read the Wikipedia article on scherzo, and I still don’t know what scherzo means.

Continue reading Superman 1.14: Music from the Hearts of Space

Superman 1.13: … Except for Star Wars

A planet explodes into fragments, and boils away into the void. A tiny space capsule streaks across the stars, heading for a crash landing on a seemingly unimportant planet. An orphan with a destiny grows up on a farm, unaware that he’s the latest in a line of noble heroes.

With a blend of space opera, high-stakes action, romance, danger and comic relief on an epic scale, Superman: The Movie was the biggest, most exciting cinema spectacle of its time… except for Star Wars, which did the same stuff but bigger, better, and eighteen months earlier.

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Superman 1.12: Glass Houses

Everything is crystals, for some reason, so it’s honestly difficult to tell how much of this is the computer and how much is interior design. The way that you activate it is to take one of the crystals, and put it into one of the glass tubes, and then you take it out again, and put it down in a big stack of identical crystals. Every once in a while, one of the crystals turns green, if that helps. You know, they say that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, but there’s still such a thing as a user interface.

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Superman 1.10: Crazy Little Thing Called Love

So Plan B, as I understand it, was to get everybody in the science council to sign off on constructing a fleet of massive space arks, which would carry the entire population of Krypton to a planet that’s not scheduled to blow up within the next thirty days.

I imagine that Plan C was for Jor-El to just take his own wife and baby in a family-sized rocket ride to elsewhere, but then the stupid science council said that would create a climate of fear and panic, so he had to promise that he and Lara wouldn’t leave the planet.

They’re currently working on Plan D, which is to at least get the kid somewhere with a supply of passing motorists and farm families, and even that’s getting the science council all worked up, so they’re going to have to work fast. Meanwhile, Lara is advocating for some unspecified Plan E. It would have been easier if they could have stuck with Plan A, which was for the planet just not to blow up in the first place.

Continue reading Superman 1.10: Crazy Little Thing Called Love