Thursday, March 31, 2016

Four Reasons Why I'm Good with today's Superman

Over the past few days, even before seeing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice on Easter Sunday, I've watched just about everyone give their take on the polarizing film. I've even levied my initial reaction. I liked the film, and found it to be incredibly accurate to The Dark Knight Returns, the film's primary source material.

Not many people share my perspective, as demonstrated by the massive amount of negative reviews the movie has received. The first thing I tried to do was to state my case in an assertive, respectful manner so that people might see my reasoning behind why the film was so great, and ultimately convert to my way of thinking.

It goes without saying that this was the wrong approach. And the most obvious reason why is because we all have different experiences that influence and impact our artistic tastes. So instead of spewing my opinions as if they represent a collective body of people, I want to take a more personal approach.

To me, the problems people have with BvS all revolved around today's version of Superman. So here are four reasons, all based on personal experience, why I'm good with the Man of Steel as he is.

1. My introduction to comic book characters came from animated series, not from the actual comics.
I'm a 90's kid from the east side of Detroit, MI. Outside of the magazine stand at Farmer Jack, there weren't a lot of places to buy or read comic books. The very first time I was exposed to comic-related properties (and nerd culture in general) was X-Men: The Animated Series. This show and the Power Rangers were apart of my Saturday morning routine.

Looking back, X-Men was only a kids' show in that it didn't have any extreme violence or language. However, many of the themes (discrimination, bigotry, evolution, social consciousness, the role of government) were very serious and allowed for storylines to take very dark/very mature turns. Batman: The Animated Series did much of the same thing. It was only a kids' show in terms of the ratio of visual/audio violence. But the mood and the maturity of its themes and narrative content was kept in tact.

When you combine that with the Power Rangers, a team of colorful, uber-powerful martial artists who routinely killed their enemies at the end of each episode, my foundation for the morals of the "superhero" was set. So by the time I get to my early 30s and I watch Superman killing General Zod in Zak Snyder's Man of Steel, I'm nowhere near bothered by it. Because the idea of pristine heroes who can inspire you while also destroying the enemy isn't new to me. It's apart of my roots as a nerd.

2. I didn't grow up with Christopher Reeves as Superman
Christopher Reeves wasn't my first live-action Superman. He simply wasn't the Superman of my generation. When I was about nine or ten years old, my mom (also a bit of a nerd) and I watched a re-run of the old Superman "mad scientist" short from the 1940s. I thought it was cool, but it didn't have any impact on me.

A few years later and we got the Lois and Clark Adventures with Dean Cain. At the time, superhero television shows weren't nearly as en vogue (or nearly as good) as the ones we have today, so I didn't really watch it. I learned more about Superman during the animated series boom of the 1990s. Superman got his own 90s animated show after Batman. Obviously, Metropolis was a lot brighter than Gotham. The mood wasn't as heavy. This version, certainly influenced by Reeves, was the first time I saw a single character built completely around hope, being a role model, and doing the right thing. I never viewed it as corny or old-fashion or anything derogatory. To me, he was like the Power Rangers, except he didn't destroy the monsters at the end, and that was fine with me.

In the mists of X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man, Power Rangers, G.I. Joe, Gargoyles, and Swat Katz, I simply saw Superman as another hero who did things his way. I certainly never viewed him as the standard bearer for what a hero should be about.

Now this isn't to say that I'm not familiar with the Reeves version. I've seen the first two Superman films. Some of my favorite graphic novels (Kingdom Come) have incarnations of Superman that carry the Reeves signature. But I wasn't expose to Reeves until well after I'd been exposed to dozens of different characters, movies, and TV shows that depict the wide variations of superheroes. So my connection to how most people view Superman isn't as strong.

3. I had absolutely no idea how much people hated Man of Steel.
Bloodsport, starring Jean Claude Van Dam is one of my favorite movies. Ever since I found out Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 33 percent, I stopped caring about ratings and reviews because we all have different tastes. So I watched Man of Steel about a year after it came out, having been completely ignorant of the negative reviews the movie got. In fact, I didn't really learn about the MoS hatred until recently.

Several critics of BvS are still angry about this version of Superman. One of the things that really upset them was the idea of a young Clark Kent being chastised by his adoptive father for saving a bus full of his classmates because he didn't want him to reveal his powers.

To them, this one aspect was indicative of the entire mood of the film, which they perceive to be a false portrayal of Superman. I've seen the critics use words like "dark" "cynical" "exhausting" "joyless" in describing Zak Snyder's Superman. But for me, I never thought any superhero, including Superman, would be exempt from any of those descriptions. I've seen lighter versions and darker versions of most of the heroes I grew up with. I've never expected Superman to inspire me or be a role model or to make me "feel" a certain way.

4. My faith in Christ
I won't dive too deeply into this from a theological standpoint. This comes completely from a personal experience perspective. In my house, what the bible teaches us about God and about Christ was our moral compass. Every situation, problem, or dispute led back to biblical devotions and teachings I had as a kid. The same mother that I watched Superman with was also the mother who taught me about the message of Christ. And the distinction was very clear. Superheroes are entertainment. God is a way of life.

In addition to my mom, I was very involved in my church. I played the drums for our praise and worship team. I was involved in many of the youth outreach programs. And I was very close with the deacons and pastors at the church (because it was a small church and I grew up in the house mostly without a father).

Growing up, my relationships with my mother and my pastors juxtaposed with my experiences watching and reading about superheroes. And although for me there was a very clear distinction between fictional characters with superpowers and the Lord God Almighty, I am in no position to speak on how clearly defined those lines are for others.

It seems to me that several people look to our heroes as a mirror for morals, ethics, justice, honor, integrity, etc. This association seems to be particularly strong for Superman. However, I never expected any superhero, Superman or otherwise, to be the example of goodness, grace, mercy or any of the above qualities. It was my relationship with God that gave me the definition of those attributes.

People have often made the Jesus/Superman comparison and I've always found that to be really silly. I pray to God. I seek his counsel for nearly every issue in my life. I've asked him for forgiveness for my mistakes. I've cried out to God both in public and in private. I've thanked him for making me a better man.

I have never even come close to associating any of that with Superman - not the Christopher Reeves version, not the Mark Waid version, not Zak Snyder's version, not the 40s or 90s animated versions, or any other version. I'm not saying that others view Superman as their god, but there are a lot of people who see Superman as the beacon for the kind of hope and reverence typically associated with a god. And they are uncomfortable seeing Superman portrayed in a way that perhaps is devoid of that hope and reverence. I don't have that problem.

I'm good with this version of Superman. I'll be good with just about any version of Superman because he's always been just another superhero to me.