Comics/Graphic Novels

How To Not Suck At Superman: A Handy Guide

Peter Damien

Staff Writer

Peter Damien has been reading since time out of mind, writing for a very long time, and been hopelessly lost to a disgraceful addiction to tea for a few years now. He writes short stories, comics, a lot of articles, and novels at an achingly slow pace. When not staring at words, he spends a lot of time in the woods, as befits a man of his hairstyle. He lives with a billion books, a tolerant wife, too many animals, and also two small boys. When it comes to writing, the small boys are, frankly, no help whatsoever. You can find Peter on Twitter, if that's the kind of thing you're into. Twitter: @peterdamien

By now, I imagine that most of you have seen the trailer for Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice, either because you have a genuine interest in the works of Zack Snyder, I guess, or because you wanted to find out what everyone else was giggling about.


Maybe you really are genuinely interested in it! That’s okay! We don’t all have to like the same things, and my opinions of Zack Snyder (a gorgeous film designer, but he seriously needs better screenwriters and a co-director) do not have to be your opinions. If so, you may depart this article for a paragraph or two and meet up with me below. Here are some cookies while you wait.

Anyway, I think those of us who remain can agree that since The Dark Knight, DC hasn’t had the best luck with films. It wouldn’t be a big deal except that their dodgy efforts with films have coincided with Marvel taking over the movie industry and giving Disney yet another money-printing machine, and that’s thrown DC’s problems into sharp contrast. There’s been a lot of duds and nowhere have these been more visible than in the Superman franchise, the most recognizable American superhero, one could argue, who nevertheless can’t seem to have anything good made about him lately.

Superman is tricky stuff. Even a lot of Superman comics fall down, because how do you write a character who has unlimited powers, a few weaknesses that get boring to write about after awhile, and a weird Jesus Christ vibe that some writers can’t seem to let go of (the depth of which amounts to “listen, I took this class once in college and…”). He just gets super (ha!) boring super (haha!) quick.

It happens in the movies, too. The plot inevitably is the same. Even in the new trailer, we see the same plot. Can Superman, who can punch super hard, punch super hard enough this time to save the day??? Probably! Wait for the sequel in which he has to punch harder than ever before but against a different bad guy.

Possibly you’ll point out that if I’m gonna break down superhero movies to that level, all the Marvel ones fall in that group too. And it’s true. It’s simply that we aren’t as bored by them and they seem to be working, where DC’s don’t.

So, with all that said, what would I do to fix it? Here’s what:

Bring Superman to Television

Marvel’s doing good now, but the thing people forget is, DC has owned television for ages. I’ve been arguing for a long time that DC should just stop worrying about movies. Let Marvel have that area and really focus their efforts on television because from Batman: The Animated Series and onward in countless places, DC’s best storytelling efforts in a visual medium have almost always been on TV.

So. Bring Superman back to TV. Smallville was pretty good (I watched all of it, even when it ran out of both ideas and cast members toward the end) and even though it was weirdly skittish about showing Superman himself, it had some fun stuff going on. That’s the kind of energy you want.

Bring Superman Back in Time

This one is optional, but it’s still my favorite. Listen, not every superhero story has to taken place in the now. For evidence, I hold up Agent Carter, a pulp-mini-series from Marvel that I remain absolutely bonkers over. Superman is a spectacular fit to be taken back into the past, because he’s a pretty ancient character. A pulp story fits him perfectly. Why not borrow the plot of something like Tom De Haven’s It’s Superman! And have the story of young Clark Kent going out to early Hollywood and slowly developing into Superman out there? Or just have a pulp-era New York, and go straight for that adventuring Indiana Jones, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Rocketeer vibe. That is the lineup where Superman fits very naturally.

Superman is Not The Main Character

This part’s rather important, fictional DC Entertainment employee who is reading and taking notes. Superman can never be the main character and focus point of his own story. He is too powerful and he knows too much. He is literally The Doctor from Doctor Who. Or Sherlock from, you know, Sherlock Holmes. It is vitally important that powerful, super smart characters have a human (and humanizing) viewpoint through which we can follow their adventures. Hence the Doctor’s traveling companions, and hence Sherlock’s John Watson. With Superman, this roll in the comics was sometimes filled in a wincingly goofy capacity by Jimmy Olson but…no.

No, in this show I’m making up in my mind, the main character is Lois Lane, followed closely by Clark Kent, with Superman an overwhelming and powerful force that appears now and then in the story. Lois and Clark (let’s pause to fondly recall that show, those of you who are my age. I loved that show so much. If I revisited it I bet it would be awful) are investigating all sorts of crooks, mad scientists and the like, in proper pulp style (remember how I mentioned Sky Captain before? That is very much what we’re talking here). Superman is very much present, but we do not humanize him in Superman form the way we do with some other characters.

It’s also important to me that Lois Lane is smart, tough, and awesome. There’s none of this damsel in distress shit happening in our show. Oh yeah, she can get in trouble and need rescuing, even saving by Superman, but not because she’s a hapless woman blundering in when the men told her to stay home, but because she is a force of nature not even Superman can stop and occasionally she gets in trouble. (And if we’re in the past, perhaps between World Wars, I like the thought of her being a war correspondent, who’s come back home but hasn’t mellowed even remotely).

Make Each Season Short

I think this is also kinda important too. I am a big fan of shows that are going with shorter seasons, because I think it gives them just enough room to breathe without giving them so much space that they wind up killing time, waiting to rev up for the season finale (I’m looking at you, this season of Arrow). Now we could go a few ways on this. The super-short seasons with longer episodes, like Sherlock, is one. I don’t care for that, though. I think that’s too cramped. A roomier 13-episode run like Agent Carter or Daredevil is the butter zone for me. Gives time for one-off pulp adventures, with an over-arcing plot that can build and pay off without creaking under its own weight.

And finally…

Cast Brandon Routh as Superman

Seriously. I know you’re saying “they already did, in Superman Returns! That film was super bad!” And you’re right. But it wasn’t bad because of him. Since then, I’ve watched Brandon Routh turn up on Chuck, and now on Arrow and he not only forever looks like Superman, but he is walking charm itself. He is great. Put him in the Superman show. I know I know, he’s playing someone else in the DC Universe right now shut up with your reasons and put him in the show already who’s writing this, you or me, I will walk off this project right now I swear to–

Sorry. I went away for a second there.

Anyhow. This is how to build a good Superman show, and also a template to follow for rescuing most other problematic DC movie things right now. Conquer TV, fix Superman, and repeat with all other characters. You’re welcome, DC. I await my thank-you check.

Oh, and here’s that trailer from up above, improved by adding Batman’s song from the LEGO movie. You’re welcome.



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