How do you watch a movie through fresh perspective when the character has been bogged down by seventy-five years of constant narrative publication? Although many moviegoers like to let a film stand isolated, I prefer to acknowledge the movies’ context as a frame of reference within which the story, acting, directing, etc., take their place in the broader picture. That being said, here are ten Superman texts that can enhance your experience watching Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, in theaters Friday:
1. The Movies: Watch Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman II: The Donner Cut, and Superman Returns (2006) as a trilogy, and it provides support as to why Bryan Singer made the kind of film that he did with ‘Returns’; he was trying to finish the nearly thirty-year-old story begun by one of his hero directors. Even though many viewer’s reactions, at the time, were lukewarm to Superman Returns, people now discuss it with a more extreme reaction than the critics and box office reflect. ‘Returns’ misplayed many of the key ingredients that Marvel films like Iron Man (2008) and The Avengers (2012) get right. That being said, there are a lot beautiful elements to director Bryan Singer’s Superman film, and both the pros and cons of the previous big-screen interpretations will give us an interesting point of comparison.
2. The Comic Book Origin Stories: Over the decades, Superman’s beginnings have been told in different styles with different details by a variety of top talent. Each book offers a unique interpretation of the core myth of the pure-hearted hero from the stars. Get your hands on John Byrne’s Superman: Man of Steel (1987), Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Superman For All Seasons (2000), Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Lenil Francis Yu (2002), or Superman: Secret Origin by current DC creative writing overlord Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank (2010).
3. Superman The Animated Series: While not as compelling as Batman’s animated adventures, there are many enjoyable episodes from animation guru Bruce Timm & co. The origin three-parter is another unique interpretation, episodes with The Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman are fun, and the growing animosity between the Man of Steel and cosmic death deity Darkseid is palpable in several episodes.
4. DC Direct Videos: Since 2005, DC Direct has produced several full-length features starring Superman in arguably his best form: animated. A case can be made that it is easier to suspend disbelief for stories about Superman (and Batman) when presented in this hand-drawn and lively form. The Death of Superman is good (but he wasn’t ‘dead’ long enough to be missed, which made for an anticlimactic return), All-Star Superman was better, although the story was rushed, but serves as a nice compliment to those who have read the books. Superman v. The Elite was surprisingly entertaining, but Superman Unleashed struck me as being the weakest production from DC Direct to date and should be passed over.
5. Kevin Smith and Superman Reborn: The infamous fanboy writer/director tells a great story about his experience writing the script for a would-be Tim Burton Superman movie starring Nicolas Cage in the late 90s.
6. All-Star Superman #1-13: While most recent interpretations attempt to update, modernize, or ground the character in reality, Morrison and Quietly’s epic proudly embraces older Superman comics’ adolescent science-fiction setting while beautifully showcasing all that we love about Superman and his world. I can’t say enough about how much I adored reading this series, and it is much better than the abbreviated animated adaptation.
7. Superman Red Son: Although the entire book, written by Mark Millar, is interesting and well done, the bold epilogue (which I won’t spoil) has forever enhanced the Superman legend in my mind, and seems like the most natural evolution of the mythos in the 21st century.
8. Justice League Unlimited – ‘Destroyer’: When the entire planet is on the verge of being overthrown by the space-tyrant (formerly referred to as ‘cosmic death deity’) Darkseid, Superman’s festering hate-on is let loose after years of conflict in the DC animated continuity. This is the final episode of both the JLU series and the ongoing continuity started in 1992 for Batman: the Animated Series and across a total of five different television shows.
9. Kingdom Come (1996): Although it features most of the characters in the DC Universe, Superman’s struggle is at the centre of the epic story, written by Mark Waid and painted masterfully by Alex Ross. I probably read this one annually, and it presents a version of Superman that is completely its own thanks to Ross’ life-like visuals.
10. The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told: Pick up this trade paperback at any comic store or Chapters/Indigo and read a fun selection of the best single-issue Superman stories from his seventy-five year publication history.