Tag Archives: history

Superman 1.83: Superman’s Pal

And we take you now to scenic Hoover Dam, where perpetual cub reporter Jimmy Olsen is taking photographs of Hoover Dam, which you’d figure has already been pretty comprehensively photographed. It’s not much of a scoop, for a young man trying to make his way in the photojournalism racket, but he got a free airplane ride, and it’s just nice to get out in the fresh air.

Storywise, there isn’t a lot of justification for depositing Jimmy on top of this particular explodable landmark, but this is the part of the movie where they want to get as many peril monkeys on the board as they can. We’ve also got Lois having a scenic conversation with a scenic Native American gentleman, en route to the explodable gas station.

The real question is why we even have a Jimmy Olsen in this movie in the first place, if he’s not going to be involved in the plot in any way. This question also applies to Superman II, Superman III, Supergirl and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. In fact, Jimmy Olsen is the only character to appear in all five of the Salkind Superman films, and he doesn’t have a single discernible plot point in any of them.

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Superman 1.79: K-Rock

“Wish I could explain my strange reaction to that meteor!” Clark Kent wonders aloud. “Why do I get weak every time I come within five feet of it? And Krypton… Why did I keep repeating that word, over and over again? Krypton… What has the word Krypton to do with me? Sounds familiar, but I… just can’t place it! I must find out, because unless I’m very much mistaken… Krypton is the key to this whole strange business!”

You see, back in the old days, little Kal-El didn’t arrive on the planet Earth with a crystal library full of ancient knowledge and a hologram of his dad to explain how to use it; the kid just crashed, and it was up to the passing motorists to figure everything out from scratch.

So in 1943, when the Adventures of Superman radio show decided that they wanted Superman to know where he came from, they invented a meteor and called it Kryptonite, and then they put it in a drawer and forgot about it for another two years.

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Superman 1.69: The Chief

“Now, look!” Perry shouts, slamming down a copy of somebody else’s newspaper on his desk. “The Post: It Flies!” He drops another: “The News: Look Ma, No Wires!” And another: The Times: Blue Bomb Buzzes Metropolis!” I don’t know how he has time to do all this extra reading; doesn’t he have a paper of his own to put out?

Then he picks up today’s Daily Planet, with the long-admired banner: Caped Wonder Stuns City. This headline is way better than the other three, so I’m not sure why he’s upset about it.

“We’re sitting on top of the story of the century here!” he barks. “I want the name of this flying whatchamacallit to go with the Daily Planet like bacon and eggs, franks and beans, death and taxes, politics and corruption!” And then he keeps on snapping at his terrified reporters, in a scene that’s supposed to be funny but isn’t, because Jackie Cooper is terrible.

Part of the problem here is that this isn’t really Perry’s job. In all of the previous versions of Superman, he hardly needs to ask; Superman stories just start piling up on the editor’s desk before he even knows that Superman exists.

Really, this behavior is more the purview of J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle, who’s always demanding that camera-clicker Peter Parker bring him more photos of Spider-Man. Those are the two heroes that get the most press coverage in comic books, Superman and Spider-Man, because they have secret identities that work for the paper.

I wonder what all the other superheroes do, when they want some earned media? I don’t think DC’s Metropolis is as chock full of caped wonders as Marvel’s New York City is, but still, there must be dozens of masked vigilantes who never make the front page at all. I guess it’s who you know.

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Superman 1.45: Hair Today

Rick didn’t say “Play it again, Sam,” and Kirk never said “Beam me up, Scotty.” Darth Vader said “No, I am your father,” and Brody said “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Do you feel lucky, punk? Houston, we have a problem. I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille. Top of the world, Ma! Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?

A lot of the phrases that we pick up from pop culture as famous movie quotes are actually slight misquotes, often making them a little shorter and simpler, because on the whole people are not that good at remembering dialogue. Exact wording fades quickly, and so do plot points and character relationships.

But we’re great at remembering a striking visual, and most of the things that we consider “iconic” are compelling images, like Claudette Colbert showing her legs in It Happened One Night, or Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct, or a steam vent blowing up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt to reveal her legs in The Seven Year Itch. A lot of them involve women’s legs, for some reason.

So when Superman: The Movie introduces the new version of Lex Luthor that we talked about yesterday, there are a lot of alterations to the comic book character that for the most part audiences don’t notice. The movie version of Luthor has sidekicks and a sense of humor, which has never really happened before, and he presents himself as an eccentric businessman, rather than a mad scientist — but for movie audiences, those are details that they don’t know about.

The one thing that people do notice is that Lex Luthor is supposed to be bald, because we remember interesting visuals. The details of his characterization don’t really stick in the mind, but even people who’ve never read a Superman comic in their life know that Luthor doesn’t have any hair.

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Superman 1.37: The Invention of Lois Lane

Okay, listen up, everybody, because we’ve got a lot to do today, and we don’t have time for side chatter.

We’ve reached the Metropolis section of Superman: The Movie, so that means we’ve got a live Lois Lane on our hands, and for the rest of this week, we’re going to drill down into who this captivating and terrifying woman is, how she works, and what we’re going to do about her.

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Superman 1.31: Metropolis Now

Metropolis, at last! After forty-seven minutes and six weeks of blog posts, we are finally making landfall on the scene of an actual Superman movie.

Metropolis is the big time, where an up-and-coming newshound and secret frequent flyer from the Midwest can find his true calling — scoops to break, women to fall helplessly in love with, and super-villains to discourage. Complex and thrilling, the City of Tomorrow has all of the promise, danger and heartbreak that a newbie superhero needs, to discover what he’s truly capable of. Also, it’s New York.

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Superman 1.27: House of Wax

It was bound to happen; it’s how these tall tales work. When you’re telling stories about the strongest man in the world, there’s a natural narrative pressure to make him even bigger and stronger and more unbeatable, over time.

Paul Bunyan, the mighty fabled lumberjack of the Northwoods, started out as seven feet tall, able to chop down tree after tree without stopping for rest. As the legend grew, Paul soared to forty feet tall. In the later tales, Paul could fell a tree just by shouting at it, and his bootprints created the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota.

The same thing happened to Superman. In 1938, he could pick up an automobile; in 1940, he demolished a house with a single blow of his fist; in 1943, he hit a baseball so hard that it circled the globe; and by 1949, he could crash a couple of moons together to make a sun for a distant planet that didn’t already have one.

So when it’s time for him to relax, he can’t sit around and watch TV. He needs to do something spectacular, and if that means creating a creepy private exploding wax museum, then the rest of us are going to have to come along for the ride.

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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.

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Superman 1.8: See You Later

And in the other corner: General Zod and his Kryptonian dance crew, appearing temporarily in their standing-room-only farewell stadium show.

Now, I think it’s fair to say that there were mistakes on both sides. Yes, Non is a mindless aberration whose only means of expression are wanton violence and destruction. True, the woman Ursa’s perversions and unreasoning hatred of all mankind have threatened even the children of the planet Krypton. Admittedly, General Zod — once trusted by this council, charged with maintaining the defense of the planet Krypton itself — was chief architect of this intended revolution and author of this insidious plot to establish a new order amongst us, with himself as absolute ruler.

I think the important thing is that we come together as a bipartisan coalition, put the past behind us, and start working on the issues that really matter to the average Kryptonian.

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Superman 1.6: We Built This City

Tracking across the limitless void, we zero in on a mighty red sun, which soon fills our view. An ancient blue planet orbits this commanding star, home to a noble civilization of powerful beings who live in a domed city carved into the mountains of pure white crystalline rock. As the music builds to a fanfare so emphatic you’d think the orchestra would explode, the camera lingers on this frozen, glittering landscape.

So here’s my question: If Krypton is so great, why is it all indoors?

I mean, I’m not an expert on civilizations that are a million years more advanced than our own, but I’m pretty sure that good planets have furniture; from what I can see, everybody on Krypton just stands around and glows.

You can tell that Krypton is a terrible planet because it blows up fifteen minutes after we get there, which is the exact thing that planets aren’t supposed to do. You had one job.

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