Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


-- film -- man of steel, rainbows and resurrections

As the release date for Superman Returns nears, people reinterpret the character in more spectacular and peculiar ways. - Jesus Christ Superman - Jun 14, 2006

First there were the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Now, for many Christian moviegoers comes another gospel.

As the hype machine shifts into high gear for the upcoming release of "Superman Returns," some are reading deeply into the film whose hero returns from a deathlike absence to play savior to the world. "It is so on the nose that anyone who has not caught on that Superman is a Christ figure, you think, 'Who else could it be referring to?' " said Steve Skelton, who wrote a book examining parallels between Superman and Christ. [...] the comparison to Jesus is one that's been made almost since the character's origin in 1938, said Skelton, author of "The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero."

Many simply see the story of a hero sent to Earth by his father to serve mankind as having clear enough New Testament overtones. Others have taken the comparison even further, reading the "El" in Superman's original name "Kal-El" and that of his father "Jor-El" as the Hebrew word for "God," among other theological interpretations....

How Gay is Superman?: What I learned from Superman
By Alonso Duralde
An exclusive posted, June 2, 2006

My oldest sister was a crappy college student. Don’t get me wrong; she’s one of the smartest people I know. But her university years were spent doing lots and lots of, shall we say, unassigned reading. Lucky for me, she has great taste in junky pop culture, so as a child, I was exposed to some of the best the ’70s had to offer. Namely, comic books. [...]

Best of all were the Superman and Batman comics she bought, particularly because, in the early ’70s, DC and Marvel were having price wars. One of DC’s responses was to put out mammoth 100-page comics for just 50 cents. Naturally, you couldn’t fill a book that big with new stuff, so DC would pad the books with stories from the vaults, vintage adventures from the ’40s and ’50s. Those 100-page specials, combined with hardcover Superman and Batman anthologies that featured everything from their origin stories in the ’30s up to their “contemporary” ’70s incarnations, made me fall in love with superheroes. When Christopher Reeve starred in 1978’s Superman, it blew my little kid mind; so, naturally—so what if almost 30 years have passed—I’m really excited about Superman Returns.

[...] Even before I could mentally process that (a) I was gay and (b) I needed to keep that hidden from everyone around me, I could totally relate to the idea of having something about you that sets you apart and must be concealed. There were consequences, after all—whenever a pre–women’s lib Lois Lane would hector Superman about marriage, he would constantly remind her that he could never be married, since criminals would try to hurt or kidnap his wife in order to keep the Man of Steel in check. Of course, why being known as “Superman’s girlfriend, Lois Lane” didn’t make her a constant target of the bad guys was never discussed, but Superman’s efforts to avoid intimacy, much less matrimony, with Ms. Lane probably rang true with a lot of young gay readers back in the Eisenhower era.

[...] For a gay kid who never got into soaps, apart from the occasional Search for Tomorrow episode with our housekeeper, comics were my first window into labyrinthine story lines that involved numerous characters. Marvel editors, particularly Stan Lee, would always throw in an asterisk when characters would say something that referred to an earlier comic—a little box below would say something along the lines of “ *Back in F.F. #33, remember?—Smilin’ Stan,” and I still remember the charge I got the first time that an asterisk referred to an issue I had actually read. And this kind of obsessive upkeep was going on way before the Internet, kids. [...] If you were a little boy in search of idealized masculine imagery—or a little girl starved for images of strong, powerful women—comic books were often where you got your fill. And a lot of those boys grew up and were inspired to make themselves over in their heroes’ image. (Thankfully, not every gay guy at the gym is out to transform himself into the bully who persecuted him during adolescence.) [...]

Reading Superman as some sort of Christian allegory takes just a bit of effort. Say, the sort of thing that ignores pretty much everything that was going on in DC Comics at the time or since then, or the fact that his creators were Jewish and thus at least somewhat unlikely to be creating a character to exemplify Christian myth -- unless it was part of a resolutely commercial approach, and considering how thoroughly Superman's creators were worked over when they sold their creation, that seems somewhat unlikely.

As far as the Big Gay Thing goes, to say that Superman and other superheroes have a sort of homoerotic appeal isn't quite the same as saying that they were created to have that sort of appeal, or deliberately portrayed as such by actors playing them. True, George Reeves (the first TV Superman) was apparently gay, and tortured himself about it ... but his Superman seemed, frankly, resolutely straight ... and also resolutely virginal, what with it being the 50s and him and Lois not being married and all. Christopher Reeve, hunk though he may have been, also seemed to have a resolutely straight Superman, albeit not quite so resolutely virginal. (A question for the ages: does it count when you lose your virginity to the one you love if after all is said and done, you have to mystically brainwash her so that she doesn't remember that you done the deed?)

In any event, the studio might as well just relax. Aside from the (admittedly rather peculiar) "gay vague" marketing -- which the studio could have avoided and didn't -- there's always going to be a certain amount of homoerotic appeal in a movie where the main character is a muscular man who spends most of his time running (or flying) around in a close fitting costume. It's kind of unavoidable.

To be honest, I do wonder how many of these questions about the movie's gay appeal would even be getting asked if Bryan Singer, the director of Superman Returns, weren't openly gay -- or at least how many would be getting asked in such a direct way. (For that matter, you wonder how many people would be asking the questions about Christian allegory in the movie if they remembered that about Singer as well.) I suppose we'll never know, will we?

Mind, we're only talking about Superman and his various portrayals today. At a later date, we may examine the tale of Batman, the Boy Wonder, and the FABulous batnipples of doom from Batman and Robin, where George Clooney decided all on his own that Batman was gay:

Daily Dish and Gossip: Side dish
NY Daily News; February 28, 2006

.... George Clooney outs Batman on Barbara Walters' Oscar special tonight. Asked if he'd ever play a gay role, Clooney says he already did — as Batman. "Think about it," he explains. "I was in a rubber suit. I had rubber nipples. I could have played him straight but I didn't. I made him gay." Well, that puts Bruce Wayne's "ward" Robin in a new light …

Given that he was under apparently intense pressure to deliver a "family friendly" film, one wonders what director Joel Schumacher thought about that approach -- or if he even noticed. (After all, unless you're going to play Batman as lusting madly for Robin or truly supremely indifferent to a female love interest (and there really wasn't one in that movie), unless the actor aims for massively stereotypical behavior, it's not as though anyone will necessarily notice.

Posted by iain at 01:40 PM in category film , things comickal


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