What Would Superman Do About Batman v Superman?

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Spurious versions, fundamentally wrongheaded premises, can, and often do, prevail from time to time, but eventually the character, Superman himself, Tulpa Superman, will–somehow, somehow–resist and reverse that meddling, reconstituting himself in the world as he means to be. ~Alvin Schwartz (paraphrased by Tom deHaven)

In my research, I divide superheroes into two archetypes from a mythological perspective. Some are aspirational, and some are cathartic/motivational. The aspirational heroes, the pure ones (think Captain America or the traditional Superman and Wonder Woman), exhibit an unrealistic standard of purity and goodness. They always do the right thing, and in their stories, there always exists a way to do that right thing, no matter what. The example they set is unrealistic, but that’s not the importance of their role in cultures. The aspirational heroes are essential. They cause us to believe in better versions of ourselves and in a better world, so that even if we can never achieve those versions, we’ll still come closer to that standard than if we didn’t have it at all or had only a lower standard to strive for.

We also need the cathartic/motivational characters. These heroes, like Spider-Man and Green Arrow, have some moral failings that show through at times, but they’re not consumed by their faults. They make mistakes, pick themselves up, and eventually do the right thing in the end. We need these characters to encourage us on our way to striving for the aspirational. In fact, the characters themselves really only work when there’s an aspirational one in their universe to inspire them. Spider-Man wants to be like Captain America. Green Arrow often bristles against Superman, the big blue boy scout, showing the archer what he lacks morally.

We need both types of characters, but we need both in context and balance. Some of the defenses I’ve read of Man of Steel or Batman v Superman have been in response to the novelty of placing Superman in moral catch 22s and asking what he would “really” do. They want to treat him as a cathartic/motivational character. The problem, though, is that we already have a plethora of flawed but overcoming, cathartic/motivational superheroes (that exist in better-told stories than Batman v Superman). By making Superman “more realistic,” we decrease the precious few aspirational heroes that don’t need a great moral failing to figure out life. Mythologically, that means we lower the standard our culture strives for.

Defending the iconic Superman drained the emotional energy of many of us this weekend. My impression is that those who try to defend BvS fall into two camps, the nihilists who enjoy moral uncertainty and the fans who found some cathartic/motivational merit in the portrayal but fail to understand the harm that alteration does to our culture. Cast as a cathartic/motivational hero in these films, who does Superman have to show him a better way? Who instills a belief in humanity and our potential in him, like Captain America does for Spider-Man? The answer is no one. The films even rob him of the Kents in that role. As a result, there is no hope in either of these films, no matter how much they throw around the word. And the rare claims of an uplifting experience by watching these films, come from an outside interpretation or knowledge of the character, sloppily overlaying the film’s message of moral uncertainty. It’s disheartening, to say the least, but the real Superman wouldn’t give up or stall out in self-pity.

The very existence of the debate disheartens traditional fans. In the past, the purity of Superman has solved such debates about heroes in general. Titles like Kingdom Come and What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way have corrected such wrongheaded approaches to hero stories. So what would our Superman do when confronted with the current slanderous interpretation of what he stands for? First and foremost, he wouldn’t devolve into the same hate-filled rhetoric thrown around by so many Batman v Superman defenders. The insults and mean-spirited comments directed toward dissent are the most damning evidence of how the film truly inspires people to behave. The real Superman would never devolve into such behavior, and his fans should keep that in mind when tempted to respond to bullying with insults in return.The real Superman wouldn’t give up on humanity, even when it’s showing its darkest side.

With the monumental box-office earnings, due to advanced ticket sales, curiosity, and good marketing, WB is unlikely to turn away from their dark path until the fad runs its course throughout a few more films. But Superman wouldn’t be silent. He would continue to exhibit his aspirational example until the world sees the light. So never tire of pointing out what the real Superman would do and what type of stories should be told about him in place of the current darkness. The rise in bullying and hate we’ve seen is a sign of fear and desperation to silence the truth. Don’t let them do it. Keep trending honest critiques of the films, recommending iconic Superman tales, and sharing the real Superman’s joy and inspiration. He’ll return to us, as Alvin Schwarts prophesied, soon enough in contemporary media, but it’s up to us to pave the way.

Bro, Do You Even Verb?

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Few people stop to consider the verbs they use. Many content themselves just knowing what a verb is, no mean feat in today’s fragment-tweeting climate. But strong, active verbs cause writing to stand out. They cause fiction authors to hook more readers, students to impress more professors (who will be less likely to scrutinize an essay’s content), and so on. The weakest verbs out there express the passive act of existence. To-be verbs, as they’re called, include the forms is, are, was, being, and been. They often hide in the contractions, I’m, we’re, and they’re. It’s impossible to avoid these verbs completely (I finally succumbed to one in this sentence). Avoiding them for too long sounds awkward, but the best writing shows moderation. If you remain unconvinced, consider this paragraph with nothing but to be verbs:

It is a fact that few people stop to consider the verbs they use. Many are simply proud to know what a verb is, which is no mean feat in today’s fragment-tweeting climate. But strong, active verbs are what cause writing to stand out. It is what causes fiction authors to hook more readers, students to impress more professors (who will be less likely to scrutinize an essay’s content), and so on. The weakest verbs out there are the ones that express the utterly passive act of existence. To-be verbs: is, are, was, being, and been, often hide in the contractions, I’m, we’re, and they’re. Only the novice uses these verbs all of the time (See what a breath of fresh air that was?). Using them for too long in succession is awkward, but moderation is the key. So now you’re convinced of the importance of strong verbs.

You’ll notice that the sentence structure had to be changed in places to accommodate the to-be verbs. Since the use of these verbs requires extra work, people naturally opt for more active ones, right? As a writing professor, I’m sad to say the opposite is true. For whatever reason, first drafts come in riddled with long, awkward to be structures. A forced sense of formality causes students to write differently than they speak or think. Don’t worry, though; the problem is easily remedied. After bringing verb choice to a student’s attention, the second draft shows vast improvement. So if you read this and think you’ll never get the hang of strong verbs, don’t despair! Start slow. Take time to read over what you write a second or third time. Whether it’s a story, a blog post, or even a tweet, you’ll notice a big difference in how your writing is received.

Icons Matter

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I’ve wanted to write about this for a while now, but I didn’t want to be reactionary. Recently Zack Snyder made some comments in an interview regarding his treatment of Superman in the upcoming Batman v Superman film.  He describes the universe of his films as a place where “There’s no winning anymore for Superman,” because of the public’s perception of the hero. Believe it or not, Snyder isn’t even trying to be ironic. Yet he’s inadvertently making a commentary on himself and the people who like his approach to these characters. Because they’re unwilling to believe in a Superman who sees the best in people, inspires hope in all but villains, and always does the right thing, they’re stripping the icon’s ability to be that pan-inspirational character in our culture at large. Arguments for the logic and integrity of such a story are irrelevant. It’s the wrong approach to take to the character of Superman and many other beloved, cultural icons in the DC universe. Unfortunately, there’s no discussing this issue anymore without stoking up passion over reason and enflaming old war wounds. So let me use a hypothetical example to illustrate my point.

But first, a disclaimer: I’m an avid fan of Disney entertainment and their company in general, and Mickey Mouse is one of my favorite folkloric characters. That said, imagine that Disney announced they were working on a new feature-length Mickey Mouse film. This one, though, was going to be rated PG13 and would explore the more realistic struggles of such an American icon. The director speaks out about how he wants to show the psychological strain of being a star for so many years. Mickey’s relationship with Minnie is tense from working together so long. Donald Duck is in negotiations for a film with Bugs Bunny to outshine Mickey at last. And at Micky’s public appearances, children now flock past him to Sponge Bob and the Minions. The director wants to explore the reality of a Mickey Mouse who isn’t sure what he wants to stand for anymore in a world that is jealous, jaded, and unreceptive.

Now, unless you see where I’m going and you’re busy digging your opposing trench even deeper, you should be rolling your eyes at this concept, or at least raising an eyebrow. “That’s not who Mickey Mouse is!” you might think. “Children should be overjoyed and learn from a movie about the world’s favorite mouse!” Now imagine that you encounter a group of fans looking forward to the new approach. They tell you at first that you’re not allowed to have or voice a negative opinion about the film since you haven’t seen it yet. They stand by this claim, even as trailers are released that show poor Mickey staring at an empty whiskey bottle and wondering about his place in the world. They even defend such scenes. After the film comes out, with Mickey confronting Donald in anger and Minnie starting an affair with Goofy, fans of the movie point out how much sense each and every scene makes to the plot of the film. They call you bitter and shout you down. They claim the film didn’t change the character of Mickey Mouse. It’s just a realistic and contemporary exploration of the character.

If you’ve been a fan of Mickey and the Disney’s “fab five” universe (sensational six, once Daisy comes along), you’re scratching your head at how anyone can be so blind to the tragedy this is for the character. And you wonder if anyone is bothering to listen to your critique before launching into their diatribes. You said “that’s not who Mickey Mouse is” and that his movies should be made for children, to bring them joy and inspire them to good behavior. How could the new movie not change the character of Mickey Mouse when it shows him throwing temper tantrums and unable to get along with his closest friends? That is not the type of story that should ever be told about Mickey Mouse. That’s not what his character is for. It’s not his genre, not his purpose, and not his role in our culture. If filmmakers want to tell a story about the realistic struggles of popular stars, then they should choose an appropriate character or create one for their purposes. Folklore, our culture’s mythology, is a reflection of the values and principles of our culture. It’s not malleable on a storyteller’s whim. If you take a beloved, safe, and moral character and corrupt his universe until he’s broken and morally ambiguous, you’ve not only corrupted the character, you’ve corrupted our culture and, through eventual repercussions, you’ve corrupted our future. You’ve taken away one of the few characters that made us reach higher just so you and audiences could feel better about not wanting to stretch.

Whether we’re talking about Mickey Mouse or Superman, these are not just fictional characters marketed to make money. They are cultural icons. They are characters from our mythology. And mythology reflects and affects culture. Whichever is the case regarding the budding DC cinematic universe, Superman fans and our culture in general is lessened by the existence of such a “reimagining” of mythic landmark characters.

Misreading the Success of Deadpool

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Deadpool is currently making a killing at the box office (pun intended). And good for Ryan Reynolds! After so many horrid miscastings, he deserves the perfect role of Wade Wilson. But critics and commentators are far too eager to jump the gun on what this success means. So let me state, as a lone voice of reason, that the success of R-rated Deadpool does not herald a dramatic change in how Hollywood should think of superhero films. The success of R-rated Deadpool just means the success of R-rated Deadpool.

To read some articles, one might think the days of family friendly superhero films are dead. Get ready for Captain America to start waterboarding and for Superman to shoot that porno with Big Barda (That’s a joke Zack Snyder. Don’t get any ideas!). This epic leap to conclusions, though, is an example of how Hollywood gets superheroes wrong and ends up with so many box office flops. They see what worked with one Superhero and decide to apply it to all superheroes. A love triangle worked for X-Men? Let’s bring it over to Superman! Dark and gritty worked for Batman? By all means, dirty up that big blue boy scout and Marvel’s First Family while we’re at it!

Do you want to know why Deadpool is smashing through records at the box office? Here it is, for once and for all, the secret formula for any studio to make a wildly successful superhero film: It’s because Deadpool remains true to the character of Deadpool! Nobody would have bothered to see a PG-rated Deadpool because that’s not who he is! This is why the PG-13 Avengers was such a landmark hit and the PG-13 Man of Steel is the most divisive film in fandom history. No, superheroes aren’t just for children, but they’re not just for adults either, or families, or adolescents, or geriatrics, or whatever. Superheroes fulfill a variety of roles in our cultural mythology. Instead of trying to shoehorn them all into one formula of storytelling, take the time to consider each character. Which type of their stories resonate with the most people? These archetypes have been functioning in our culture for ages. It’s time Hollywood stopped assuming they can redefine them with an “update” and expect to us to pay them for it.

Positive Force

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The recent release of The Force Awakens has split my Star Wars friends down the middle. Those who were disappointed are understandably downtrodden, given their previous excitement, but many who loved the film are annoyed by the sudden break in fan solidarity. I don’t understand why. Over and over again in my news feed I see laments by Awakens enthusiasts that some people just want to be “negative.” I see questions like, “why can’t we all just appreciate different takes on entertainment?” While I enjoy the Star Wars franchise, it isn’t my fandom like superheroes are. The debate resonates with me, though, because I see these critique-silencing tactics used regarding my superhero films as well. They betray a bizarre insecurity, display basic logical fallacies, and can hide behind a self-righteous pseudo claim to positivity.

Anger at someone for not agreeing with you on a film’s value, especially when the studio is moving ahead with sequels, is really rather silly. After the ticket sales of The Force Awakens, not even the threat of a Death Star attack would stop Disney from continuing the story. So why can’t people who have genuine critiques of the film voice them? Is your own fandom so fragile that you can no longer enjoy a film if people say mean things about it? If anyone has a right to be upset at critics, it’s the fans of aborted franchises like Superman Returns or The Lone Ranger. But you don’t hear us crying out for more “positivity” in the comments of every poor review. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe you’re actually afraid that such voiced evaluations will cause your film’s sequels to be abandoned. That’s the case I suspect with the indignant fans of movies like Man of Steel and Ninja Turtles, though it would take a special kind of insecurity indeed to fear such a fate for Star Wars.

Fear and logic don’t mix, which explains why fear perpetuates logical fallacies in a debate, specifically the ad hominem and straw man fallacies. The ad hominem fallacy attacks the one making the argument instead of the argument itself. It betrays one’s inability to refute a statement or stance. They instead resort to personal attacks. Irate genre film fans LOVE using the ad hominem fallacy. They say things like, “You just can’t accept change. You can’t let go of George Lucas, Christopher Reeve, Tobey Maguire” or whoever. These attacks not only betray an inability to refute a criticism, but they also reveal a child-like exasperation with opposition in their emotional lashing out. Isn’t learning to coexist with different opinions an elementary milestone?

The straw man fallacy often goes hand in hand with these attacks, as it involves falsely representing the opposition to be easily knocked down, like a man made out of straw. This one takes the same type of comments to an even more schoolyard- like mentality with comments like, “Wah! Wah! Wah! The movie isn’t like the original!” Even more insidious, though, is the combination of the two fallacies that crops up in phrases like, “You just want to complain. I’m so tired of all of this negativity! Stop trying to see the bad in everything.” Now suddenly any honest criticism is “negativity.” This ploy should come off as absurd (do the ones leveling it, then, also shake their pom poms for the Star Wars prequels, Superman IV, or Spider-Man 3?), but the words negativity and positivity have such weight today that we often respect them even in their misuse.

The desire to remain positive is admirable. With the amount of malicious intent on the internet today, we should strive to be more positive toward one another. Here’s the key, though: Being positive doesn’t mean abandoning our opinions or refraining from the use of our analytic skills. It means expressing our opinions and arguments respectfully. Avoiding any and all critique of a film is easy. It’s also lazy. Discernment in art appreciation requires energy for analysis and some debate, but it pays off! Learning how a film operates, understanding the choices made in its creation, and knowing specifically why you support or dislike the effect it has on you, enhances the enjoyment film as an art form.

Another thing that requires energy is the ability to agree to disagree. It’s practically nonexistent in online forums today. Respecting someone’s viewpoint doesn’t mean you share it or admit less of a hold on your own. When you agree to disagree, you simply respect another’s right to decide on their own viewpoint. Lashing out and attacking is intellectually and emotionally adolescent. And responding in kind makes you appear just as inept at understanding and expressing an argument. The oft chosen solution of carefully avoiding statements or views that might trigger such conflicts isn’t remaining positive. It’s intellectually sterile. Embrace your right to voice your taste and opinion, but embrace other’s right to do the same. Critique, analyze and debate! And take hold of true positivity by respectfully expressing yourself in the process.

Super Gratitude

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Today, Thanksgiving of 2015, my friend Scott Cranford released his Superman children’s book, Superman’s Book of Morals. It was my honor to edit the book for him. For those not up on Superman culture, Scott is a big name for us Supes fans. He’s been an extra and a double in superhero films. He was considered for the leading role in Lois and Clark. And served as the official Superman of Metropolis Illinois for eight years. Scott writes that he, “always thought Superman was the greatest character for teaching values to young children.” That’s exactly what Superman does in the Book of Morals book. In my opinion, the lessons of the book can be summed up in one overreaching value, gratitude. It’s fitting, then, that today the book meets the public.

Gratitude is the current vogue of self-help and religious texts. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I believe many adults have to learn gratitude because it’s not taught to them as children. Today’s culture pushes a sense of entitlement instead. Depending on the issue, entitlement doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Self-love and safety are important with the negativity in the world. But entitlement is a slippery slope that can replace gratitude in a heart before you know it.

Why is gratitude so important? Because all worthwhile values flow from being thankful. It results in happiness and a sense of responsibility, leading people to help others, instilling them with gratitude in turn. I constantly look for ways to teach my daughter the principle. I want her to recognize her amazing abilities and advantages and then her responsibility to use them to make the world a better place. I would never want her to settle into self-pity over her autism. I support education and awareness of special needs, but no one should simply feel entitled. While I want my daughter to advocate for herself, I want her to realize she’s been given an amazing opportunity. Her unique gifts allow her to teach others how to relate with more than just a narrow, neuro-typical world view. Gratitude is the key to this balance.

It’s one of the traits I admire most in Superman. He is grateful to his birth parents for the chance they gave him to survive his planet’s destruction. He is grateful for the wisdom, knowledge, and guidance they sent along with him. And as he grows and discovers his differences, he is grateful for his unique abilities and opportunities to help others (obviously we’re talking about the traditional, iconic Superman). Most of all, though, he is grateful for Jonathan and Martha Kent, who took the orphaned child into their family and raised and imbued him with their love and values.

Clark celebrated many Thanksgivings on the Kent farm. He learned the meaning of hard work and to be thankful for a good harvest. He learned those lessons on the metaphorical level too. Jonathan Kent tells him that he was sent here for a reason, and that reason is bigger than satisfying a desire for acceptance and recognition. Clark is thankful for the lesson. He dedicates his life to helping people and leading them by the example Jonathan and Martha set for him. As a result an entire city and world honors him with their gratitude in return.

If any of this resonates with you, then read Superman’s Book of Morals here. Share it with a child in your life or enjoy for yourself the simplicity of super-life tenets. Recognize your own gifts. Be thankful for what you have. And pass on the gratitude!

Heroes Matter

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(Art by Kerrith Johnson)

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been busy with a few time consuming projects. Some I’ll be able to announce soon, but one of the smaller ones has recently come to fruition. I was asked to give the first talk in James Madison University’s series entitled Mad Talks (a la Ted Talks). Mine was titled Superheroes and America: With Great Story Comes Great Responsibility. It seems to have been a huge success, if standing room only and compliments are any indication. I recorded the talk and will post it along with power point visuals to the Iconicast YouTube channel soon.

Reader/Audience responsibility appears to be a foreign concept to most when applied to pop culture. We are conditioned to passively receive entertainment. The thought of analyzing or actively watching/reading something is often met with groans, often because few so called teachers of the subject ever tap into the fun that can be had in the process. If done correctly, active reading/viewing isn’t about deconstructing the effect of a film or piece of literature, but about admiring its foundation and how it achieves its effect.  Reader participation amplifies the piece’s impact.

I’ll just let the talk speaks for itself when I upload the video. In the meantime I’ll tease another “coming soon” project with a smaller one that’s already out there. Those who haven’t checked out the Iconicast YouTube channel have most likely missed out on my heroic inspiration videos. Instead of a critical or academic look at superhero stories, these are meant to draw out more practical applications. As I said, a bigger project concerning these is on its way, but I hope some of you will check out these quick videos. Hopefully you’ll be able to take away something useful for everyday life.

Heroic Inspiration Videos

Surviving Bullies

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Almost a year ago, I created the Iconic Superman Facebook page. I designed it to be a place where fans like myself, who preferred a traditional Superman, could celebrate our hero and call for his return in comics and film. On social media at the time, voicing any displeasure over Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and to a lesser extent the New 52 in comics, was to invite a barrage of personal insults. So Iconic Superman drew a solid following of like-minded fans looking for a safe place to celebrate their superhero preference. Growth was slow as Facebook limits a page’s visibility in newsfeeds unless one pays for promotional tools. But I didn’t mind the small numbers. I was content to post and converse about my confident, capable, and inspirational Superman.

When the page was around 600 followers, it came to the attention of some fans of a DC Movie group. I had posted a meme, on my own page and for my own followers, stating that in the current films Captain America did a far greater job fulfilling the inspirational role of Superman. The notion enraged the DC Movie fans. They posted a call to arms in their group and spent the better part of a day attacking my page with insults directed at both myself and many of the page’s followers.

I’m not a confrontational person, so I attempted to diffuse the attack by turning it into a discussion over the artistic merit of different film adaptations. The cinema fans wouldn’t have it. Each one I answered called in three more to post over my response with mockery and jeers. I hadn’t seen such tactics since the four square court in middle school gym class. Then I realized why it as so familiar. They weren’t trying to debate the subject of Superman films. They were trying to silence me. They were trying to bully me and others on the page and bullying doesn’t refine itself with age.

I’ve written and spoken before on how various iconic Superman stories teach us to deal with bullies. You don’t engage them on their terms lest their terms start to define you. In fact, the truly strong try instead to help them—yes help the very person trying to bully you. Think about it. The act of bullying comes from an insecure place. It is the desperate need for confirmation about oneself or one’s views from the world around them, even at the threat of assault (physical or emotional). Why would DC cinema fans need to concern themselves with a page that sees Superman differently? Warner Bros moved ahead with Batman v Superman in spite of the enormous controversy and backlash regarding Man of Steel. Do they see my page as a threat to the future of DC’s cinematic universe? Or does the insecurity come from a deeper place that has little to do with me or the films? (In one post a DC cinema fan called for the death of another critical page’s administrator. Hyperbole or not, clearly serious issues reside behind such a post.)

But we’re not Superman, and there are times when we lack the power to save bullies from themselves. Superman himself faces this dilemma now and then. Such stories serve as metaphors for when we must cut those who would attack us out of our lives before the poison takes us down with them. My attempts to speak with the DC cinema fans in a civil manner obviously had no effect, so I had to ban the attackers and delete their comments. No damage was done save a few hours of frustration, but I had one more lesson to learn about the bully experience. Like Superman smiling for the camera before the credits roll, those who endure a bully’s attacks with integrity eventually come out the better for it.

The organic, unpaid growth of the Iconic Superman page recently blasted past 2,000 likes (in less than a year!). Periodically, I’ll look back over what topics or images earned the most attention and when, and in the week following the DC cinema attack, the page soared in views and likes. Facebook increases the visibility of a post when it receives more comments. The algorithm translates this as popularity and makes the post and page accessible to more would-be fans. So in their attempt to silence me, the bullies might as well have paid to advertise my page. Iconic Superman has led to Iconic Wonder Woman and Batman pages, and we’ve recently begun a successful podcast. I’ve now met authors, artists, and filmmakers who appreciate my promotion of traditional Superman values, some who want to work with me in one way or another, and in part I have common internet trolling to thank for it.

We can’t always control the stories of our lives, but we can control how we react to each new plot twist and lay the ground work for positive resolution in the end. Some may be content to fight their enemies to the death and ponder moral ambiguity in the destruction they’ve caused around them. But I and many on my page choose to live like the Iconic Superman–to do the right thing and find a way (and there’s always a way)–then soar off into a happy ending. Don’t forget to smile for the camera!

Heroic Standard

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Superman is not a pliable fictional character, existing only for our entertainment. He has been embraced by American and other cultures as a pillar of folklore. Since early man scrawled pictorial narratives on cave walls, we have been passing our values and ways of life down to future generations through the stories we tell. Superman is such a story. The character developed into this role, however, from the time of his creation, and that confuses some modern fans. They claim the darker and morally ambiguous Superman of today’s comics and film is just another version in a long line of valid re-imaginings.

Superman may have gone through changes since his inception, but the public has decided which of those changes become part of his mythology and which ones fade into obscurity. When you think “Superman,” you don’t think of a less powerful hero who is unaffected by Kryptonite, nor do you think of a being made entirely of energy in a blue and white containment suit. These were once attempted versions of the character. The public said no, and Superman returned to the way we like him. This is how mythology works. (When you think of the Greek hero Heracles, do you think of a man short in stature? No. But the ancient poet Pindar once described him as such in order to liken the hero to a patron.).

In comics, iconic supeheroes have been made to perform all sorts of deeds that fall short of our heroic standard. Editors are always eager for a controversy-sales bump. But those stories are unfailingly rejected from the canon of collective consciousness (Remember when Superman was almost manipulated into shooting a porno with Big Barda?). So when Zack Snyder says that his Man of Steel hasn’t done anything Superman hasn’t done in the comics and that people ignorantly “cling” to the Christopher Reeve portrayal, he’s mistaken in his choice of standard.

Core-altering changes to mythological characters may shake things up in the short-term—appeal to new crowds and cause a jump in ticket and comic sales, but the ultimate price is the character’s longevity. With the current attitude of Warner Bros filmmakers and DC’s intent to expand their new Superman beyond the pages of the New 52, longtime fans are looking elsewhere for characters to promote the values abandoned by current Superman stories.

Shock factors and stylistic fads wear off. History shows that Superman stories will one day return to the traditional character once embraced by the public as a whole. But if Warner Bros and DC wait too long, they may find the public has found their standards in other characters. As devastating as it may be, Superman could one day be resigned to the history of American folklore. The more fans that stand up and write or speak their mind for the character they believe in, the sooner we will see our Superman flying across pages and screens once more.

Film Appreciation

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Film analysis, seeing something deeper than surface-story in a movie, can be daunting to some who see it either as a natural talent or over-thinking that will ruin their enjoyment of the story. That talent is cultivated, though, and easy to begin. And the end result is a greater appreciation for the films you already love. An analysis starts with observations. Once you’ve made enough, look for connections that bring up recurring themes. Ask how those themes play into the events of the story, and you’re own your way to a deeper understanding of a film’s message and effect.

Consider Disney’s animated short, Paperman. The characters make for great surface observations. The paperman himself is far thinner than every other character, a mere toothpick of a man. The wind from a train blows him to the side in the opening scene, and a large mass of paper airplanes physically tosses him around in the end.

So wind is present both in the first and last scene. In fact, it’s blowing around paper all through the film. What does wind usually symbolize? We have sayings about it: winds of change, go wherever the wind takes you, etc. Wind is fate—destiny, and that makes sense for the story in Paperman, as our main character follows his own destiny throughout the film. More than any other character, he can be blown by the winds of fate because he is so thin. Other characters, especially his boss, appear as large trunks in their character design, planted and solid. They never even move all of their bodies at once. Of course the film isn’t suggesting that only thin people can find their destiny. But maybe being thin in this film is a metaphor for some other quality, like faith.

That brings us to the paperman’s eyes. They are wider than those of every other character except one. We also have a saying about big eyes: wide-eyed. Jaded people use it to mean naïve, but in fictional characters it can mean innocence and full of faith (see every Disney princess ever). Paper man doesn’t have the squinty eyes of other characters. His are open wide enough to see the young woman who walks into his life, to see her in the building across the street—to see his destiny calling. And what about the one character with bigger eyes than his, the girl? She only needs one paper airplane to lead her to their destiny in the end, while he requires many to forcibly maneuver him.

We’ve used the word paper over and over again. It’s even in the title. Paper comes from trees, and we’ve also used words like planted and toothpick that pertain to trees or wood. Isn’t the oppressive boss, the one who keeps pushing around paperman, chewing on a toothpick every time we see him? The symbolism begins to present itself. The film uses incarnations of wood as a metaphor for a young man who must choose whether or not he will remain a toothpick, chewed on by his boss and become hunched over and unmovable like his coworkers, unable to dream or see more to life around him. He chooses instead to become a paper airplane and sail on the winds of destiny to find true love. Even when he becomes discouraged, the destiny he’s had such faith in carries him there anyway.

Now that you know how, you could keep going (Look at the setting, for instance. The film begins and ends at a train station, a crossroads. How is that a significant contrast to the one way street between paperman’s building and the one in which he sees the young woman?) but you get the gist. By analyzing the decisions the filmmakers made to tell the story, the film transforms from just a charming and emotional tale of one man finding his destiny to a message that would help us find our own. In our daily lives, subject to their own necessities and authorities, we can be ruled and beaten down, or we can maintain or own unique faith in destiny, however we define it. We can see life between the lines and maintain hope. We can be ready for positive change when we come to a crossroads so those winds don’t pass us by.