The Conversation

New 'Man of Steel' trailer

Ace, I heard you weren't thrilled by the new "Man of Steel" trailer, so I thought I'd bring it over here for everyone to chew over:

Changing what the "S" on his chest means is a long-standing game among Superman writers.  I'm pretty sure it was originally just supposed to stand for "Superman," which makes sense only if you assume his costume was designed when he was ready to launch his hero career, and had already decided to call himself "Superman."  (One of Dean Cain's best moments during his tenure on "Lois & Clark" came when a sarcastic villain made fun of his costume.  An exasperated Superman growled, "Hey, my mom made this for me.")

But choosing to call yourself "Superman" is rather immodest, and really doesn't seem like the sort of thing your mom would come up with, unless your relationship is veering dangerously close to Norma/Norman Bates territory, so it's more common these days for writers to presume that someone else - almost invariably Lois Lane - assigned the name.  So the "S" is usually treated as a Kryptonian symbol that just happens to look like an "S".  In the classic Richard Donner / Christopher Reeve film, it was clearly meant to be the sigil of Superman's family, the house of El.  The other Kryptonians were walking around with their family symbols on their chests.  Declaring it to be the Kryptonian symbol for "hope" doesn't seem too out of line with this tradition, especially given where Jor-El seems to be coming from in this trailer.  (It looks like the destruction of Krypton might have been a "man-caused disaster" rather than a natural event, which I understand is in keeping with the current DC Comics backstory.  I always wondered why only one guy on a planet full of hyper-evolved super-scientists noticed that his world was about to explode.)

This movie looks far more energetic than the mopey soul-crushing Superman Returns.  Tell me your heart doesn't soar when Clark grabs that collapsing oil rig and the music picks up!  Or that it doesn't skip a beat when Pa Kent assures Clark that "you are my son."  And there's lots of hitting.  In addition to its other problems, Superman Returns was mostly about Supes carrying stuff around.  It was like watching a demi-god do his spring cleaning.

My one reservation is that the wonderful element of simple homespun humility that always made Superman such a lovable character looks a bit thin.  The theme here is about a godlike being discovering his destiny of benevolence, more than a Kansas farm boy discovering he can fly.  I hope there's room for the Kansas farm boy part, too.  I've heard the director say one of his favorite recent Superman stories was "Red Son," an entertaining alternate history where little Kal-El's rocket lands in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas.  The point of that story was to question how much of Superman's heroism is nature, versus nurture, versus choice.  The old knock on this character is that it's easy to be a hero when you have unlimited power.  But how well do you hold up under unlimited responsibility, no matter how powerful you are?


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