Tuesday, December 11, 2012

MAN OF STEEL -- Does Zack Snyder Get It?

If the most recent trailer for the new Superman film MAN OF STEEL is any indication, the answer is a resounding YES!

I have long argued that Superman is my favorite character because he is the most complex of all superheroes.  He isn't merely the first, he is the most interesting.  He has layers and layers.

To often authors and illustrators focus on what Superman can "do" and not "why" he does it or "what" he needs.  Superman is the living embodiment of the question Aristotle poses his Politics.  In Book One of THE POLITICS, Aristotle writes about man and society: "But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends."

Like all men, Kal-El has the instinct to live within society.  He desires to be a part of humanity.  It is why he has a secret identity at all.  Superman has no need for a secret identity except as a way to connect himself with "The City."  Unlike Spider-Man and Batman, Superman wears no mask in his heroic identity.  He lets the world see him as he is.  But he knows that his superheroic identity can not be a part of society.  Superman is godlike and disconnected.  He would be naturally rejected by the society.  Not out of spite or fear, though some would feel that way, but out of awe.  Yet Kal-El isn't sufficient in himself.  Yes, he can survive the vacuum of space without protection.  He can survive a nuclear explosion and lift mountains, yet he is alone.  He is the "Last Son of Krypton."  He needs society and the only way he can have that is through the creation of the adult Clark Kent.

Without Clark Kent and the merging with society that persona gives Kal-El, he might well become a beast.  The tragedy is that through the creation and maintaining of Clark Kent as a persona, Superman puts those he loves at greater risk.  Spider-Man's adoption of a secret identity is done to protect Aunt May, and with some exception it does exactly that.  Superman's secret identity puts Lois, Lana, Jimmy, and Ma and Pa Kent at greater risk than otherwise.  Since Superman is a public figure, he could spend all his time in the Fortress of Solitude with no private life.  Villains would attack the Fortress and only attack civilians in typically villainous ways.  By having roots in society Kal-El puts those people at risk of being targeted as individuals due to their connection with him.  Yet he needs them to become fulfilled...to be a part of law and justice...to work with intelligence and virtue.

He is a truly tragic figure, and I have always been moved when writers are able to capture that small part of him.  Sadly, too few capture that conflict.  They are too often trapped by looking only at Superman as mythic figure and not as someone with the social instinct.

The new preview shows a Clark that yearns for that connection, but whose powers not only separate him from society but cause him pain.  Imagine Clark -- the child -- who can hear all the sounds of the world at once pounding into his eardrums.  Every conversation, every tear, every rain drop.  How alone he must feel.  The voice over with Ma Kent reflecting this in the trailer is magnificent.

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