Friday, June 28, 2013

Truth...Justice and The American Way

It may sound old fashioned, clich├ęd even. But…we need heroes.

Often the heroes that have a wide spread inspirational impact are fictional. But don’t hold that against them. Being fictional does NOT mean they are not “real” or that they do not impact the “real” world in a very meaningful way.

How many people became scientists, astronauts, NASA personnel because they were inspired by the fictional heroes in Star Trek and Star Wars?

How many people became policemen, firemen, EMT professionals etc because they were inspired by the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Batman?

In the Captain America movie, don’t you get a lump in your throat when Cap comes marching back with the soldiers he helped rescue? I know I do.

Didn’t Rocky inspire millions of people to understand that there is no shame in being knocked down as long as you give everything you have to get back up again?

We have a common need to be inspired by heroes. We aspire to be more like those exemplars. This common cultural need goes back all the way to the very first story tellers in ancient times. How many were inspired by Achilles, Agamemnon and Hercules? How many tried to be like them?


My old friend Ray and I were talking yesterday about how fictional heroes like Superman provide (even for adults) a symbol of something better. Ray and I are a pair of crotchety curmudgeons but we share a world view in which concepts like honor, duty and heroes are inspirations, not punch lines.

Heroes give us something to aspire to. It is why there has been such a hot debate over the ending of The Man of Steel. But it got me to thinking about one of the first mottoes if you will, that helped me define who I am at my core.

It inspired me to aspire…at age six.

Truth Justice and the American way.

It was the last line in the opening of the old Adventures Of Superman TV series.

It is such a well known slogan that it became trivialized over the years. Almost something to be embarrassed about. A punch line.

Then I see where the Supreme Court made two major rulings that go a long way in providing Truth Justice and The American way to a large portion of fellow Americans and I wonder how anyone could ever trivialize or be embarrassed about “The American way”.

I remember when students, black and white were killed on freedom rides. I remember when women were little more than chattel in the practical sense. I remember good men dying in Dallas, in Memphis and in LA.

It’s been nearly 50 years since we lost John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. They were men who believed in Truth Justice and the American way. They died believing in it.

Fast forward not SO many years and we have a man of color in the White House. Something I never thought I would see.

I am a white, heterosexual married man and I will say that without a doubt that the day that Barcak Obama was elected President was my proudest day as an American. It doesn’t matter what you think of the President as a politician, or even how he does his job. It is the FACT of Mr. Obama as our President that speaks to Truth Justice And The American Way.

What makes it even more uplifting is that he gets NO breaks for being a man of color. He is treated as The President, not The Black President. . He gets beat up in the press as much as any WHITE President! There’s equality for you!!A subtle distinction, I grant you but another example of truth Justice And The American Way

In a pair of major rulings on Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled that married same sex couples are entitled to the same rights and privileged as heterosexual couples. This ruling was appropriate, common sense and American. The very fact that we even have to legislate for equal rights of any segment of our citizens speaks to the fact that, for as far as we have traveled, there is a long way to go.

Freedom is an absolute. It does not, and cannot apply to one person or group of people. It must apply to everyone or none of us is really free. Lincoln once observed that when ONE person is denied freedom we are ALL in chains. He could not have been more correct. Mr. Lincoln would have loved “Adventures Of Superman”.

Here’s the bottom line. ALL Americans are entitled to equal rights under the law. No exceptions, no questions. Individual sensibilities are irrelevant. ALL Americans get equal rights.

Just my opinion? Sure. But it is also…

Truth Justice And The American Way.

I learned that when I was six… from Superman.

That’s 30!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Man Of Steel

Man of Steel was a big thing for me. As you know if you have read my columns for like …ten minutes, I am an unabashed Superman fan. In a world with much “cooler” and “edgier’ heroes, Supes holds the number one spot in my pantheon of Superheroes.

Number two isn’t even close.

It’s Superman and all the rest.

So obviously I knew going in that I could NOT be unbiased about Man of Steel. I loved it before I saw a single frame of the film.
That was me going in. And for the most part, that was me coming out.

Man Of Steel IS an excellent film. It revitalized Superman for a modern audience and has re-launched a movie franchise that been dormant for far too long. Man of Steel is movie making on a HUGE scale. It made Avengers look like someone shot it in their back yard.

Henry Cavil looks someone lifted him off the comics page and brought Superman to life just to make the movie. He is the absolute embodiment of The Man Of Tomorrow.

Amy Adams is as close to a perfect Lois Lane as you could ever hope for. Plucky, dishy and tough as nails.

Russell Crowe, Kevin Kostner, Laurence Fishbourne and Diane Lane provide the same STAR power to the cast that Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman brought to Superman The Movie nearly four decades ago.

The movie set new June opening weekend box office records and has all but guaranteed that DC will be playing in the same live action sandbox as Marvel.

In every measurable way this film is a resounding success. I was not disappointed.

Are you sensing a “but” here?

Good…because there is a HUGE “but” coming.

You may want to stop right here because, while this has been all over the media, it IS a pretty big SPOILER.

Still with me? is the thing.

Superman kills.

I have a problem with that. And yes I am aware that Superman has killed in the comics. It was a mistake then too.
While I am perfectly fine with reinvention, making Starbuck a girl, a new time line for Star Trek, rebooting Bond and even “shudder” a male Slayer. I am less fine with taking a core aspect of a character and tossing it aside.

If Superman kills he ceased to BE Superman. He’s Wolverine or Cap, maybe even Jack Bauer. But he is no longer Superman.

This is the single aspect of Superman that cannot be changed if you are going to maintain that character AS Superman.

Superman killing is like Sherlock Holmes relying on instance rather than deduction to solve crimes.

Alex Ross in the seminal graphic novel “Kingdom Come” has Superman go into exile over this very issue. He cannot kill EVEN for Lois.

Alan Moore in “Whatever Became Of The Man Of Tomorrow” sums it up like this. Nobody has the right to kill. Not you and Not Superman. Especially not Superman. At which point Clark exposes himself to Gold K, wiping out his powers forever.

They got the essential nature of Superman.

Even as a piece of film making that scene was forced. It was a set piece specifically designed so that Superman would kill Zod . You could see it coming a mile away. The sequence was hundreds of frames too long. If Superman HAD to kill, as a film maker you need to set it up so that the audience never sees it coming.

(See the Red Wedding in the penultimate episode of this seasons Game Of Thrones)

Unfortunately Zack Snyder (while he does have a lot of talent) is about as subtle as a dock strike.

If you commit to making the choice that Superman must kill then there must be a life changing consequence to that act. What consequence was there for Superman?


Killed Zod? Betrayed all my beliefs? No biggie. Put on the glasses and cut to fade.

Not only did Snyder fail to maintain the integrity of the character, he did a piss poor job of bumping off Zod on the screen.
Does this destroy the film? Or Superman?

Nah. Far from it actually. Apparently this is the Superman a lot of people want. Just check out the box office.
Superman killing has spurred a LOT of debate.

Never a bad thing.

AND Superman killing has opened an opportunity for some compelling moments in the sequel IF the film makers decide to use it as a pivotal moment in Clark’s life that helps him to define himself going forward.

One thing’s for sure…this wasn’t your daddy’s Superman!

That’s 30!


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Requiem For Carmine

You may not know this but if it hadn’t been for a DC creator there might never have been a Fantastic Four, or Avengers…or X-men. In fact if it had not been for this particular DC creator there might never have been a Silver Age of Comics.
Carmine Infantino was that DC creator. He was born in Brooklyn on May 24, 1925 and spent most of his life as a comic book artist and editor. But he was much more than that. Carmine was an idea man, a creator.

He left us on April 4th of this year at the age of 87. He left behind a trove of over 60 years of wonderful comic book art dating back to 1942.

When I was a kid in the very same Brooklyn that had produced Carmine you would be hard pressed NOT to see his work on several covers a month. He had a slick, modern style that was his alone. He gave Batman his “new look” and introduced Batgirl (Detective # 359 in 1967), created Deadman in Strange Adventures #205 and was THE Adam Strange artist.
AND he gave us the Silver Age of Comics.

After the Second World War comic book superheroes had almost entirely faded from the comic book scene. The entire Timely stable (including The Torch, Submariner and Captain America) were retired in favor of horror, western, humor and romance comics. The same was happening at DC with the exception of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. In fact the only “new” superhero to get his own book during this period was Superboy…who wasn’t really a new character at all. Just Superman, pint sized.

This would change in 1956 when Julius Schwartz assigned writer Robert Kanigher and Infantino with the task of reviving the superhero genre. Schwartz had reasoned that enough time had passed that an entire new generation of comic book readers had come along who had never been exposed to the huge roster of superheroes so prevalent during the Golden Age of Comics.

He was right. And he picked the perfect artist to shake the dust off of the old characters.

Beginning with the October 1956 issue of Showcase (#4) Infantino began the process of reviving defunct Golden Age superheroes. He began with the Flash.

He gave the character a whole new look, slicker and more modern, along with a more science fiction style back story. Barry Allen was a police Scientist who is accidently doused in a chemical bath when a stray lightning bolt strikes his lab. A stretch, maybe but a heck of a lot more plausible than the golden age origin which had Jay Garrick becoming the Flash from consuming “Hard Water’ (ice???)
The fresh new look and tight story telling was an immediate hit. In short order Showcase launched the Silver Age careers of The Atom, Aquaman…and some guy called Green Lantern among others. The superhero boom was on.

Over in Brave And Bold a superhero team was born…The Justice League Of America. The JLA was such a huge hit that it gave the boys over at Marvel the impetus to create their own team of super heroes…The Fantastic Four.

And we all know what happened after that! The Marvel Age Of Comics was born!!!

All because of a DC creator.

Carmine was not done though. As an editorial director he was instrumental in bringing an entire generation of new talent into the comics industry including Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. In 1070 Carmine landed the Legendary Jack Kirby who created the Fourth World in the pages of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.

Infantino eventually became DC’s publisher in 1971, though he always kept his hand in the creative side including the creation of The Human Target in 1972. He would remain active into the new century and became a fan favorite at comic conventions across the country.

When Infantino passed from the scene in April he left behind a legacy of joy, fun and wonder.

Thanks Carmine.

That’s 30!