UPDATE 6-21-06! Please check the sidebar for a new poll on who you thought has been the best Superman, not including Brandon Routh. Scroll down on the sidebar and vote! We'll keep it up on the sidebar 'til opening weekend, and then we'll have a special post naming the results as your top Superman picks and provide the usual Flywheel and Loophole banter. Don't forget to vote!
It's time for that weekly foray into the world of pop culture mediums that we affectionately call the roundup. And this week looks to be a "Super" week! Sorry, I couldn't resist. Superman speaks to the best of us. It takes an alien orphan with super powers to help us defeat great evil, but it is being adopted by humanity and given earthly midwest American values that provides his moral compass. A combination of the best of ourselves plus that which we cannot do for ourselves or what is beyond ourselves is what truly makes Superman not just super or man, but heroic. There is so much mythology to the story of Superman, that in many ways it barely resembles Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel's original creation. I think as with a lot of myth, folklore, and fictional stories, what is great is not only the things we get out of the stories, but also what they teach us about ourselves.
While never told around campfires or alleged to be true, I believe Superman is one of the most enduring American folklore and legends of the 20th century; and I believe it will be around for a while. Superman has entries in movies, books, television, radio, not to mention comics and games. I don't really think that there is a story or "legendary figure" that has pervaded more parts of the American culture and consciousness in the twentieth century than Superman. Can you think of one? Can you think of one more imitated, loathed, loved, enduring or known? Perhaps very few. (Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny as far as characters go- maybe- but seen any live action Mickey movies lately?) Yes I know there is a lot of subtext and symbolism about late 19th century/early 20th century immigration and assimilation and about Judeo-Christian values and imagery in the Superman myth that I am not discussing. But that is just the point I am making, what other story or American folklore can really evoke all of that? Besides you can find many other essays and discussions of this around the web. Good stuff too.
When I was a kid, Superman was the stuff. It was the late 70s and the Richard Donner film Superman exploded into theaters. Sure, Star Wars kids were everywhere. Me? I had the Superman lunchbox, t shirt, and of course, the comic books... and underoos. And so did many other kids I knew. Light sabers? Ha! Try heat vision- sure you could wave that saber thing around and duel, but being invulnerable and being able to burn stuff by looking at it rocks. Jedi mind tricks? Yeah, pretty cool. But X-ray vision, super cool breath and super speed is more my style. Cool spaceships? Ok, but I gotta tell ya, being able to fly into space without a ship is wicked cool. Kryptonite weakness? Well, you got me there; but that whole "my-dad-is-my-evil-enemy-who-cut-my-hand-off" thing has got to suck. Ouch. Besides you may have had James Earl Jones' voice, but Supes had both Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford. Kick Ass.
There have been many incarnations of Superman over the almost 70 years that he has been around. Some great, some so-so, some just plain forgettable. There are some "super" picks for this week in anticipation of the movie debut of Superman Returns in theaters. So much great stuff that our Top Shelf pick is just - Superman.
Top Shelf Pick of the Week:
There was something different with this series that made me really enjoy not just the show, but Superman even more. Dean Cain sums it up in a line from the Tempus Fugitive episode in season 2 when he tells Lois that Clark is who he is, Superman is what he does. Now that isn't necessarily earth-shattering, but people connected to that in a way that they hadn't really connected to Superman before. In a way, Superman gained a bit more "human-ness" in the sense that while he could, as Superman, defy gravity and stop bullets with his teeth; as Clark he could still fall in love, and go through the heartbreaks, failures, and troubles that go along with being human. If a alien baby, such as Kal-El, was raised on earth by mortal parents from midwest America, would nature or nurture win out? Or could both be the sum total of the individual. I think in a small measure, this series addresses it better than any other before. Sure the approach of Lois and Clark is heavy on the romantic comedy and action, but the subtext in his interaction and relationships with Lois, his parents, and others really bring out that side of Superman. A side that I think emerged with Siegel and Shuster's original creation. We could really discuss in depth that context that S and S intended when they gave Superman midwest American values, but I think we'll leave that for a non-roundup post. Suffice it to say, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" was not just a great catch phrase for the creators. It was purposeful and important.
I know some "purists" who don't like L & C because it is a romantic comedy and not a real part of Superman, but I gotta tell ya- they are dreaming. Most of the "established" Superman lore didn't get established until the late 40s and early 50s. And even then, DC comics have changed so much of the story and added things and gone back and forth with the characters, that it's hard to keep up. L & C keeps the essential stuff, doesn't play fast and loose with the mythology and sticks to the story. What they do add is the honesty, romance, and humor that really has been there all along. How long could Superman truly have gone without Lois figuring it out? I mean really, in the words of one villain in L & C: "Duh!" I love romantic comedies, especially the screwball classics of the 30s and 40s. This is a bit of a throw back to that spirit- but definitely heavy on the adventure, mythos, and idealism that is Superman. More over I think the cast was perhaps one of the best (I'll take Teri Hatcher's Lois over Margot Kidder any day... sorry that's just me.) for a Superman show. And Dean Cain is perhaps one of my favorite incarnations of Superman. He modeled his "Super" part of the character after Christopher Reeve, and then really added more dimension and depth to Clark. You can say it's light hearted fare or that it was vapid... I'm saying I loved the show and that comes from a lifelong "comic readin', Superman I and II watchin' " fan. This season in particular was great, it had some excellent writing, and the special effects were getting more sophisticated and the cast was really gelling and bringing out so much more in the stories. This DVD TV box set is highly recommended. Besides, I think they come with a free pass to Superman Returns. Can you beat that?
This is old school Superman. Superman is the main guy and Clark is the secret identity. Not much about duality, roles in life, or humanity here- just the straight stuff. Sure a product of the 50s, but important and fun nevertheless. George Reeves played Superman like a post-WWII, idealic American hero. Tough, straight-laced and courageous. You might complain about that, but why? Are you gonna complain about how the conformist ideals represented hurt our culture and how this buys into the white male mythos and crushes an chances for minorities and women? I've heard it before and discussed it in an academic setting before. Yes, this is a product of the 50s, but like all mythology, this version is one that resonates with the era in which it is told, yet adds something to it. This is his story, not yours. Besides, we sure could use more of the same. Superman has taught respect for all people and races and creed- even in this series. The "American way" that many lefties so despise really does mean freedom and independence which are good things for humanity, despite that fact that they think otherwise. The American journey may have been and is rough, but the goal and purpose has been the same. The Declaration and the Constitution have been the bulwarks, the ideals and the goals we created for ourselves. We may not have been perfect in keeping them, and it has taken humans many years to make them apply to all Americans, but it has never been anything but our ultimate destination. I think this Superman evokes much of that, as a Cold War Superman probably would. Besides Supes was the ultimate minority: the only survivor of his whole Kryptonian race. Zod and Supergirl came later.
This documentary was on A&E last week and I thought it was fairly well done, maybe a little too much covered in too little time, but a good show nonetheless. Some interesting stuff about the making of the Superman film series is included that I did not know before. I would have preferred more on the impact on popular culture itself and not just its various manifestations in various cultural mediums. Either way it is worthy of your attention and the DVD release contains 20 more minutes than the A&E presentation.
More Superman this week:
Superman: The Animated Series, Volume Three. I have missed many of these. This volume is the last of the series, so I plan to go back and watch these with my boys. One of my sons is a big Superman fan and really loves the Fleischer shorts. It will be interesting to see how he likes these.
Justice League Season 2: This is a fantastic animated series. I really enjoyed the first 3 seasons and watched it fairly regularly. The scripting was tight, the animation continued in that same style of the Superman animated series in the 90s (which was a bit of a throw back to the great Fleischer shorts in the 30s). Think I'm too old for this? This isn't Superfriends, kiddies, so be prepared for some series butt kicking, infighting and storytelling goodness. Besides when the animation in me dies, the kid in me dies, and that's a sad thing.
Superboy: The Complete First Season. To be honest, I never saw it. Be it is being released today for those of you who are interested. Never cared for the Superboy comics in particular, but I think Smallville is pretty good and doing some interesting and cool stuff with the legend. You can tell the creators and writers of that show know alot about the mythology.
Other DVD releases:
If there is one other thing I am geeky about it's pirates. OK there are many other things I am geeky about, but one of them is definitely pirates. I am sure Christian over at Cinerati can relate. I hope he and many of you have seen this film. Yes, that is Tommy Lee Jones. The Tommy Lee Jones. And yes that is Michael O'Keefe of Caddyshack and Rosanne fame. Part Indiana Jones, part swashbuckler, this is a funny, action packed pirate film. In anticipation of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, do yourself a favor and check out this underrated gem. You'll thank me later.
The are several distinct, really, inimitable voices in music and Smokey Robinson is one of the best. Smokey brings that voice to the standards in Timeless Love. The result? Some of the songs could've been written for him. There are many artists out there who have tackled the great American songbook, but the ones that stand out are the ones who make the songs their own. Smokey's Timeless Love stands out.
Guilty pleasures: Big Brother All-Stars (CBS) I know, I know- but I can't help it. It's sort of the same fascination that people have with watching hamsters in a cage, or a wreck. This year's All-Stars edition promises to be both. On June 21st, host Julie Chen introduces the 20 candidates from past seasons, who the public will be able to vote into the house. Should be interesting. Mrs. Loophole and I have watched this show, like The Amazing Race, since it's first season. While The Amazing Race has my heart, Big Brother is truly a guilty pleasure. Check it out.
TCM (check local listings for times)
The Shelf Picks for TCM
June 21th: The Outlaw (1943)
July 22th: City For Conquest (1940), Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945)
June 24th: She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), Black Narcissus (1947), and The African Queen (1951)
June 25th: Buck Privates (1941), My Favorite Blonde (1942), My Favorite Brunette (1947), and My Favorite Spy (1951)
June 26th: Humoresque (1946) , Two Women (1960) , My Man Godfrey (1936)
June 27th: A James Stewart marathon: The Far Country (1955), The Naked Spur (1953), Winchester '73 (1950), Thunder Bay (1953), and Night Passage (1957).
Well, Shelfers- that be all for this week's edition of the roundup. Don't forget that your comments are always welcome. Got your favorite incarnation of Superman? Did we overlook an album you are looking forward to? Sound off in the comments section. 'Til next time, adieu.