Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is it Time for a Superman Reboot?

I read a poll recently (which I can no longer find) that asked you to vote for your favorite Superman actor. Christopher Reeve was the runaway favorite, as you might expect. Despite (or maybe because of) Brandon Routh's portrayal of the Man of Steel in the 2006 film Superman Returns, Reeve's series of films as the Last Son of Krypton, starting with Superman (1978) have set the cinematic standard for how the man in the big, red cape is supposed to be done.

On the other hand, Tom Welling's Clark Kent on the popular CW TV series Smallville is extremely compelling as evidenced by the fact that the show is on the cusp of its 10th season. Welling's Clark (and not yet Superman) is a very different portrayal in a very different universe, despite the fact that it's based on the same basic canon as Reeve's Superman, complete with the "crystal palace" Fortress at the North Pole (and if the polar icecaps melt due to global warming, will it sink?).

For most people born in 1970 and beyond, Reeve is the costumed Superman and Welling is the heir apparent still waiting to don the cape (and really, really needing to learn how to fly). Yet, if you've seen or taken any of the "Who is your favorite Superman" polls, you know that there have been many more versions of Kal-El, both on the big and small screens.

Fear not. I'm not going to go through an exhaustive inventory of Superman: Serial to Cereal, but rather, I want to compare, at least in general, the comic book version of Superman vs. the live action version. They aren't as close as you might imagine. Should they be closer?

If or when Superman ever appears in the cape on the silver screen again (probably in 3D since the techology is blossoming), it should be a reboot. Frankly (and in my own humble opinion), the canon on which both the Reeve and Welling Supermen are built is over 30 years old and needs some serious reconsideration. The reason the JJ Abrams Star Trek film needed to be a reboot was because the Star Trek franchise was sinking under the weight of its own history, much of it internally inconsistent. I think we may have reached critical mass with the current Superman "official" CW history as well.

Regardless of the ultimate fate of the Smallville series (and no TV show lasts forever), Superman will continue as an, if not the iconic superhero of our times. Like Batman, he will not fade away, but will keep reappearing in somewhat different guises over the course of time. That being the case, who should the next Superman be?

I don't think that the folks who own the TV and film rights to the Man of Steel have taken enough of a look at the comic book version and the fact that DC Comics did their own Superman reboot back in 1985 (after Reeve first established his Superman role). The Silver Age Superman of the 1960s was almost all powerful. He could time travel just be flying real fast, could fly into the core of the sun, move planets just by pushing them, and see light years across space. Even for fantasy, he was completely unbelievable, especially as audiences matured.

The Superman character in the comic book reboot, by comparison, wasn't nearly that powerful. He needed air to breathe, and so couldn't exist indefinitely in space or underwater. He was strong, but not nearly strong enough to change the spin of the earth or to move the moon in its orbit with his bare hands. The costume was ordinary cloth and the little invulnerable force field that surrounded Clark's body managed to cover anything skin tight as well, keeping Clark modestly dressed throughout his many adventures (though the cape was frequently shredded).

One of the high points for me is that both Mom and Dad Kent got to stay alive and in one piece. Both the film and TV versions found it necessary to kill off Jonathan Kent and the Silver Age comics thought that Superman needed to be an orphan right after high school.

The current comic book incarnation of Superman has managed to bulk up considerably over the years with its own history, canon, and Kryptonian mystique. It also contains some of the finest moments in the Superman saga, including the classic Death and Return of Superman up to the current War of the Supermen (and the story's prologue, which includes Zod and a knife which cuts Superman seems to have made its way into Smallville's season 9 finale Salvation).

Only a fraction of the comic book history could ever comfortably fit inside a film series or TV show, but bringing Clark and his story back down to basics and starting to build it again a piece at a time makes a lot of sense (and I suppose I'm about to be burned at the stake for saying such a thing).

I like Tom Welling's "Superman" but he either needs to put on the cape or not stand in the way of a Superman who can and will. The Smallville story has deviated significantly from most of the other Superman stories, which is a good thing, but as mentioned before, Superman is iconic. There are just some things that have to remain always the same for there to be a Superman. Flying is one of them. The costume is another. I think the story can be more "relatable" if a reboot brings him closer to earth and makes him less of a "god" than the films did, but at the same time, lets him truly be "super" unlike the Smallville Clark.

Who is THE Superman? That answer depends on the point of view of the fans, but we can't be afraid to break from what we have now and starting over again. Even in TV years, Smallville's Clark is about 25 years old and actor Tom Welling turned 33 last month. No, he's not ready to start coloring his hair, but he is, or should be, ready to really be Superman. If not him and not in Smallville, then someone else and in another, probably big screen, venue.

Epilogue: Of course, there's always this:



  1. Joe Jonas should be the new big-screen Man of Steel in 2013! 'NUFF SAID.

  2. How about Joe Jonas as the next Man of Steel in 2013? Huh? With Demi Lovato as Lois Lane and Bruce Willis as Lex Luthor and Anthony Hopkins as Jor- El. 'Nuff said!

  3. How about Joe Jonas as the Man of Steel, Demi Lovato as Lois Lane, Bruce Willis as Lex Luthor and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Jor-El. 'Nuff said!