Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series

Comics and Myths

I like comics and I like mythology. That is not a surprising combo since both of them can feature stories about bigger than life heroes. We even have a number of gods and goddesses who have crossed over from myth into the world of superheroes: Thor, Hercules, Isis and many more. So if there is a new Superman movie out – I’m going to be seeing it, right? Not exactly.

I know there is a lot of online debate about the current Man of Steel movie. People seem to love it or hate it. One of my best friends saw the movie and loved it. He considers it not just a great Superman movie, but a great superhero movie. None of what I am about to say is intended to disparage his opinion or that of anyone else. We just happened to get into an interesting email discussion about it and it inspired some thoughts I wanted to share on here.

Right off the bat let me say that I have not seen the movie. I’ve read a number of reviews and read most of the spoilers. I don’t normally do that. I did it in this case because I wanted to know how they were going to handle the story. Superman has been around for 75 years and he has leapt from the pages of the comic into the collective subconscious. In my mind he has attained mythic stature. That becomes a problem for modern story tellers. In the old days everyone sat around the fire and heard the same stories repeated again and again over the years. Sure, every bard had their own sense of flair, maybe they accented one part of a story or one aspect of a hero over the others, but they did not change the heart of the story. Modern writers seem to feel compelled to do that. It goes beyond adding their personal style and instead of retelling something they are remaking it.

We can blame Batman for a lot of this current version of Superman. Not the character so much as the recent wildly successful movie trilogy. These movies retold the story of Batman but brought it into the modern world and grounded it in reality. They postulated a realistic version of the character that you could readily believe existed. That works for Batman because he is just like us, except, you know, cranked up to the nth degree.

Christopher Nolan, the director of those Batman movies, was the producer of Man of Steel and is also credited with the story of the film. There was a lot of hype about how he was going to brings us a more realistic Superman. The problem, for me, is that Superman doesn’t need to be told realistically. He wasn’t grounded in reality to start with. From the beginning his character shared more with the legendary gods than the common man. We are also starting out with a guy in tights who wears a cape, an alien from clear across the galaxy who happens to look like us, someone nearly invulnerable who can fly and has other amazing powers.The grounding is unnecessary. We are already willing to suspend our disbelief. When you take a larger than life character like this and try to explain and justify everything about them you too often end up with nothing but a steaming jar of midichlorians. (I’m referring here to the explanation for how the Force works in the Star Wars prequels. That is a classic example because we didn’t need to have the Force explained -we already bought into it from the first films.) The Christopher Reeves Superman film had a tagline that said “You’ll believe a man can fly.” Yet they didn’t try to explain it all. They just ran with the story and we were swept up in their wake.

You have to stay true to the essence of the original story. When I wrote my first novel I looked at Norse mythology and some of the gaps in the stories that have been handed down to us and tried to write something that could fit within those spaces. Yes, there are things in my book that you won’t find in the Eddas, but I tried really hard to maintain the spirit of the original tales. I don’t think Man of Steel is doing that and that is why I will not be going to see this movie.

I like getting comments in general but for this particular post I would love to hear back from you with your thoughts on this topic. Drop me a line.

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  1. Its understandable when you have certain expectations for films based on comics. Often they fall apart like an issue of amazing fantasy that has grown brittle over time. I choked down the green goblin battle armor Willem Defoe wore in the 1st Spiderman film, however, there were parts of that film I did enjoy. Movies, television, animation and comics are 4 different media and I can enjoy all of them as seperate versions of the same basic idea even if the hollywood interpretation is often horrible (did you see the spirit?… DONT!! JUST DONT!

    • This is way slow in response time for me but somehow I didn’t get notified when your comment originally appeared. Anyway…
      Yeah, I imagine it is no easy task writing a superhero movie. You have to balance making the character accessible to the people unfamiliar with them and yet satisfy the wants of the fanbase at the same time. I can understand a writer or director having a different vision of a character. And different mediums have different needs.
      I haven’t seen The Spirit movie and it is a shame that it seems to have turned out so horrible because that is a great character.

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