Chapters

Introduction: The American Way
My history of superhero movies begins in the obvious place: with singing cowboys.

Superman: The Movie

1.1: Jesus Saves But Mostly He Saves Lois Lane
The first superhero movie starts out in an old-timey June 1938… but the Superman of ’38 was entirely out of his mind.

1.2: It Was Ilya’s Idea
Introducing executive producer Ilya Salkind and his crime syndicate family, through the medium of his lunatic DVD commentary. This is a long one, but there’s an ejaculation metaphor at the end, if that helps to sweeten the pot.

1.3: Brando and the Money
In the behind-the-scenes mythology of Superman: The Movie, the most important tale is the legend of Marlon Brando’s salary.

1.4: The Kojak Moment
From lollipops to Kleenex, or: why it took five writers to make a decent Superman script.

1.5: The Discovery of Fire
It’s the end of the credits! The Salkinds leave Rome and get a new director because everyone they know is under investigation, and the director of The Omen gets an omen of his own.

1.6: We Built This City
It’s Jor-El vs the anti-roxxers in a battle to save Krypton, an objectively terrible planet.

1.7: Jor-El and the Magic Wand
In which Jor-El glides around a dark set, reading cue cards and carrying an inexplicable lucite rod.

1.8: See You Later
Presenting the secret origin of the Phantom Zone, a spooky ghost dimension of numbskulls and failures, which was originally created so that Superboy could talk to an electric typewriter.

1.9: Staff Meeting in Space
Jor-El and the science council get together to talk things over, with catastrophic results.

1.10: Crazy Little Thing Called Love
A sci-fi society remembers what “feelings” are, and we learn why they needed four writers to turn the Superman: The Movie script into a good movie.

1.11: A Misuse of Energy
Doomed investigator Jiffy Pop the Science Cop heads for Jor-El’s laboratory, in the several unhelpful alternate versions of Superman: The Movie.

1.12: Glass Houses
And that’s a wrap on the home planet, as Kal-El becomes the first Kryptonian infant to break the glass ceiling.

1.13: … Except for Star Wars
Superman was the most exciting spectacle of its time… except for Star Wars, which did the same stuff but bigger and eighteen months earlier. Why did a sci-fi serial overshadow the first superhero movie?

1.14: Music from the Hearts of Space
I attempt to write about John Williams’ music, which I am absolutely not qualified to do.

1.15: Journey Across the Gulf of Space!
Little Kal-El travels through the trackless depths of the cosmos, listening to audiobooks, and accompanied by a stowaway super-monkey.

1.16: Passing Motorists
Presenting the true and actually canonical story of how Ma and Pa Kent changed their names, opened up a general store, drank spiked lemonade, and died of a pirate fever after opening a treasure chest during their Caribbean vacation.

1.17: For Unto Us
Okay, so Jor-El sent to Earth his only son. Does that mean that Superman is retelling the story of Jesus?

1.18: Opening the Box
Childless couple Jonathan and Martha Kent pick up an unearthly creature that looks like a human baby, and take it home with them… just like the parents in Richard Donner’s previous film, The Omen.

1.19: Left Behind
Young Clark Kent arrives from the uncanny valley, as the origin story enters yet another phase.

1.20: Contest of Champions
Meanwhile, at the newsstand, the American child is tested to the limits of their knowledge, patience and fiscal capacity, in a head-to-head competition that is not for the weak.

91.1: The Murderability of Crowds
We interrupt the story of Superman to look at another movie about a powerful, dangerous space monster in the guise of a newspaper reporter, who beats people up and wrecks their homes in the service of fighting crime — Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

1.21: Strangers on a Train
Clark dashes by a passenger train, which carries a reminder of his black-and-white past.

1.22: The Death of Uncle Ben
As Jonathan Kent grabs his left arm and sinks slowly in the west, we ask the question: Is his death really necessary?

1.23: The Myth of the Monomyth
It’s time for us to ask whether Superman: The Movie follows Joseph Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey, as an example of the universal monomyth. The answer, obviously, is of course it fucking doesn’t.

1.24: A Balanced Breakfast
As the grieving widow pours her son a bowl of great-tasting, heart-healthy Cheerios, we take a look at some vintage Superman product placement from 1941.

1.25: Syd Field Forever
We finally shake the dust of Smallville off our shoes, and talk about why the film’s three-act structure isn’t what everybody says it is.

1.26: Let It Go
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, as young Clark Kent walks out into the wilderness and summons an ice castle.

1.27: House of Wax
The true story of how Superman got his creepy private exploding wax museum and super-gymnasium, in his extremely pregnable Fortress of Solitude.

1.28: Grad School
Clark Kent attends a twelve-year standing-room-only seminar on the subject of nothing in particular, led by his father, who’s been dead for many thousands of our years.

1.29: Fear of Flying
Everybody knows that Superman can fly; it’s what we love most about him. So why did it take five years for Siegel and Shuster to understand that?

1.30: After Brando
The fall of Krypton was the easy part; now they have to film five people flying on three sets of wires, and the producers think there’s such a thing as a schedule.

1.31: Metropolis Now
It should be simple — Metropolis is New York, end of story — but, as always, Batman ruins everything.

1.32: Murder, With a Smile
Arriving at the Daily Planet, we find out what the tone of Superman: The Movie is going to be — and it turns out to be screwball comedy.