When I was a kid, Superman was a comic book hero. My older brother and my many male cousins were comic aficionados, and I was a girl who loved to read, so when I finished the latest Betty and Veronica comic, I pored over their stacks of Superman adventures. I wanted Lois Lane's job, but I was always disappointed that one measly pair of glasses on Clark Kent's face made her blind to his perfection. My brother and I sometimes watched the black-and-white TV series -- "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's ... SUPERMAN!" -- but George Reeves, in all his flawed humanity, never really had Superman magic for me. He kind of looked like someone's dad.
That all changed when Christopher Reeve played Superman in the 1978 film, and in three sequels. In his blue-eyed Technicolor perfection, Christopher Reeve made a believer of all of us, that a man could be handsome and muscular and smart and soft-spoken and sensitive all at the same time, a strong and selfless hunk. He embodied Superman, until a tragic riding accident proved he actually was physically human. He will always be a Superman in spirit. Since then, there have been more Superman movies, including a truly muddled remake called "Superman Returns" in 2006, and 2013's incarnation, "Man of Steel," starring the latest perfect specimen of super-manhood Henry Cavill and now playing at a theater near you.
The term "superman" is sometimes mistakenly thought to refer to the ubermensch , proposed by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in the 1880s. The ubermensch is a conceptual man who rises above the herd of humanity. Translated by George Bernard Shaw as "superman" for his 1903 play entitled "Man and Superman," the is not really divine or even otherworldly, but rather a superior human who is able to rethink cultural conventions and create a set of morals rooted only in this life on earth, the exact opposite of a supernatural deity.
I imagine the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, sci-fi cartoonists in the 1930s, hardly envisioned the enduring mass appeal, let alone the money-making potential, of Superman. In 1938, Detective Comics introduced a hero who came from the planet Krypton and derived superhuman powers from our sun. The invincible Superman became a syndicated newspaper comic strip and then a radio program. Decades later, Superman is still a mainstay in the DC Comics litany of superheroes, and still the first guy we all want on our side, upholding "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
And maybe we all need a Superman. Maybe we need to believe that there is someone stronger, more powerful, more knowledgeable than ourselves, who can take care of business in a way that we cannot, despite our best efforts. World mythology has given us many heroic figures, people who rise above the common man to solve a problem or avert a crisis, often at great and tragic cost to themselves. Religion speaks to a "God-shaped hole" in the core of our beings, and I noted that "Man of Steel" abounds with Christ-like images. We see a loving father sending his only son into another realm in order to save a group of life forms from themselves, and a cruciform pose just before Superman takes flight to rescue a planet not his own. In case we don't get those references, a Superman-supplicant stands just in front of an image of Jesus in a church, as our troubled protagonist seeks guidance from a stupefied priest. We get it: we need a hero!
This latest Superman movie has also made me want to vow solemnly to boycott any future films that involve the destruction of Manhattan. For the love of God, hasn't that borough suffered enough? It has been nuked and frozen and strafed and terrorized and crushed under the feet of monsters. Whether we call it Metropolis or Gotham City or wherever Spiderman lives, New York City should be cinematically off-limits for a while. Go bomb Cleveland, or Provo, Utah, or some city off the list of usual targets.
"Man of Steel" has made me feel like an old codger, complaining about fight scenes that are brutal and eternal, and a plot that emphasizes property destruction over character development, and overuse of the most-dreaded of all elements, special effects . Even worse: special effects in 3-D . It's made me face that I am no longer the target demographic of the film industry. I may not need a hero, but I can still fall for a well-made, satisfying, superhero tale, preferably one about an ubermensch who is also a mensch.
These are Valerie Schultz's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.