Dean Haspiel on THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN

Not A MAN OF STEEL Review

WARNING: The following contains MAN OF STEEL spoilers, as well as way too much personal information about me…

I’ve seen MAN OF STEEL twice in two days and have been trying to write a review of it since the first viewing. No one asked me to review it, but I love the character and have very, very strong feelings about the way this movie represents him. Over 2,000 words into my first review, I realized it’d just gone off the rails. I started again and ended up at almost 4,000 words. It was a rambling summary with my own interjections and opinions here and there. I’m not a movie reviewer, really, though I used to do it all the time. I started wondering if I’d lost it or something, but it might be that I just can’t review this movie. I’m too close to Superman. Granted, a lot of people love the character as much or more than me and were able to write reviews (wise and talented people such as Mark Waid and Adam P. Knave). I know what they did and should be capable of doing that… yet I have finally accepted that can’t. Whatever I start typing just ends up being a summary with some pointless observations thrown in. My nearly 6,000 words of attempted review fall flat and are, for the most part, oddly impersonal.

This is bizarre, because my love of the character of Superman is very personal. My first memories are of Christopher Reeve as the character and of myself running around in Superman Underoos with an “S” spit curl my mom had to help me get right. I’ve always loved Superman for as long as I can remember, and he’s just as important to me now as he’s ever been. I feel like I need him. I need someone, even a fictional character, who I believe not only knows what the right thing to do is, but has the power to do it. As a kid, he felt like my personal hero.

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I was raised Christian, but, for some reason, this comic book character in blue tights and a red cape made me feel a security I never got from Sunday school. There’s always talk of Superman being interpreted as a Christ-like figure, despite being created partly as a Moses allegory by couple of Jewish kids named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The character, over the years, has been reinterpreted as almost a reaction to questions of why God doesn’t just step in and help us out. It’s oversimplified, and the character is primarily for entertainment, but he really meant a lot to me growing up. I feel like we’re born with our own senses of morality, of right and wrong, and that we shouldn’t need to be told to help people instead of hurt them… but it helps to have some good examples.

And Superman using all his amazing powers to help regular people like me meant so much to a young child who always felt kind of frightened and a little overwhelmed by life and everything I was taught about what comes after — both the good and the bad. I knew he wasn’t real, but knowing that a character like that could exist meant so much, and it still does.

I realize that fictional characters; especially ones that have been around as long as Superman and are owned by corporations instead of the creators are open to interpretation. Changes in the mythology don’t bother me, and, in fact, MAN OF STEEL makes some good ones. The world and history of Krypton is expanded in ways that make for very fun cinema. The central relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent is fundamentally changed in a very smart way. Most of it, frankly, delights me. There is a lot of good in this movie I can’t seem to legitimately review.

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There are great performances, starting with a perfectly cast Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Clark Kent (pointedly not named Superman in the credits or, of course, in the movie’s title). Everyone is committed to his or her roles, in front of and behind the camera. The design and feel of the movie is appropriately epic and, while not as light on its feet and fun as many of the best Superman stories, still earnest and full of the humanity and caring.

It is, for the majority of its running time, a very well done and well thought-out version of this character I love. For the first two-thirds it’s the best I could’ve hoped for from a blockbuster movie in this day and age. Superman is finally a modern feeling character, and the movie is filled with interesting actors and big ideas. My heart didn’t swell as I’d expected it to, and I didn’t get as misty eyed or teary as I’d feared I would watching a movie with my friends, but it felt good and right.

Then it takes a turn from which it cannot recover. Lots of people are talking about it, and for good reason. The amount of wanton destruction in violence in this movie, even though it’s digital and bloodless, is out of control. It goes from being exciting and gripping in the Smallville battle to just over-the-top in the worst ways in the destruction of Metropolis, first from Kryptonian ships, and then from a brutal one-on-one fight between Superman and General Zod. And all the while, this version of Superman is more concerned with using his fists than he is with saving the lives of all the superpowerless humans caught in the excruciating disaster porn insanity.

Everyone wanted more action in this than the last time the character was on the big screen in SUPERMAN RETURNS. The demand for Superman to use his power in a more visceral way via big punches in fights was heard by the filmmakers, and they overcompensated. What happens in this movie is just insane and ultimately numbing. Near the end, everyone I talked to agreed that the fight just went on for too long. There was too much destruction. CG allows filmmakers to do almost anything they can imagine with a budget like MAN OF STEEL has, but sometimes more isn’t better, it’s just more.

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The ultimate solution to this battle is a moment I still feel traumatized by, as silly as that might seem to people who don’t cling to this type of fiction the way I always have and probably always will. My hero since childhood, a character that, to me, stands for everything I aspire and usually fail to be, snaps the villain’s neck.

Yes, the filmmakers put him in what they thought was an impossible position. He had to do it to save people directly in front of him (never mind all the forgotten about and ignored thousands who had to have died in the type of fight that just took place in a huge city). They showed him struggle and plead with Zod. In the end they tried to show that, though he had no choice, he felt horrible about it, crying into Lois’s arms.

It’s a horrifically out of character moment. The fact that most folks I talked to after watching the movie weren’t that bothered by it shows that the Superman I love just isn’t the character he now is to the audience at large. That was a goofy, boring throwback to many of them. This version is what’s more palatable now. This character who is a good man, but not as good as the Superman I pretended to be when I was a little boy. That Superman would’ve found a way to do what’s right, to save the day, without resorting to murder. And that’s what it is, no matter how poignant the end of the scene, no matter how justified the filmmakers try to make it. They made the ultimate superhero, the ultimate symbol of hope and justice, a killer.

And that’s not what I want from my hero. All the good the movie does, and there is so much good in it, is ultimately negated to me by the ridiculous violent climax and disturbing resolution. The final scene, introducing glasses-wearing Clark Kent most of us remember, with the smart twist that intrepid reporter Lois Lane isn’t fooled by glasses but still plays along is stylishly directed, entertainingly written, and wonderfully acted. But it doesn’t wash away the bitter taste left over by the scenes of brutality that are just out-of-place in a Superman movie — at least the type I want to see.

It breaks my heart that this movie is, to my mind, inappropriate for someone the same age as I was when I fell in love with Superman via movies. I’m not suggesting that Superman stories have to be for little kids; they absolutely don’t. They can be sophisticated and thought-provoking and harrowing and exciting — and still be all-ages. All-ages doesn’t mean for kids. It means for everyone, regardless of age. That’s what Superman should be, and that’s where this movie ultimately fails.

The fact that murder, no matter how justified in the moment as scripted, makes a hero more modern and relatable is troubling. The “S” stands for hope, but, in the end, this new movie version of Superman does not.

EPONYMOUS blew up my confused mind…

So, I’ve been listening to my dusty old CDs whilst (yep) driving in my car, going through the old collection, or what’s left of it due to moving, lack of space, and new technology. It’s been fun, rediscovering some albums I haven’t heard in a while, kinda remembering what it was like to be young, skinny, and gray-hair-free. The CD I put in the player most recently as of this writing is R.E.M.’s “Eponymous.”

I first got into R.E.M. kind of when “Weird Al” Yankovic prodied their song “Stand” as “Spam,” and then super-fanned with OUT OF TIME, so I’m thinking this was a purchase made well after EPONYMOUS came out, exploring the back catalog and whatnot. I don’t think I listened to the CD a whole lot, to be honest, but it kinda blew me away with this revisitation.

It starts of with “Radio Free Europe,” a personal favorite of mine. Listening, I was like, “Ah, maybe this song is why I purchased this early R.E.M. CD. Ah, yes…” Then a few songs later, “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” started up, and I was all, “Dang. Some good songs on this album!”

Suddenly, it blew up all over my mind. “Driver 8” comes on, and a song after that the album finishes on an amazing run: “Fall on Me” to “The One I Love” to “The Finest Worksong” to freaking “It’s the End of the world as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — what?? How did so many of my favorite R.E.M. songs end up on one album? Surely the number of well-known singles off this album “Eponymous” is fairly monumental in alt-rocky-pop music. I mean, almost all of the pre-OUT OF TIME R.E.M. songs that I know are on this one album! How the– oh, wait. That’s right. It’s a greatest hits album.

 

Coming Out

As I was growing up, I was, almost right from jump street out of the womb, bigger than the average human baby. As I grew up, when my doctor or teacher measured my height, I was always in the top percentile, well above the “norm.” The curious thing is that this bothered no one. Not once was I told to just act like I was smaller or slouch. I was born tall, and, hey, who cares? I just had to get pants with longer inseams than some of my classmates.

When I was a little kid at whatever age little kids are when they start picking up crayons and drawing and trying to write, and I picked up the crayon with my left hand, no one freaked out. Sure, most people are right handed, but my parents and doctors and teachers didn’t get worried or upset when I used the OTHER hand. They even let me use “left-handed” scissors when we started cutting construction paper.

And when I played tee ball? No one looked down on me for standing on the other side of the tee from my righty teammates. I even got a glove that enabled me to catch the baseball with my right hand and throw with my left! Not that a glove helped with my lack of athletic prowess, but, still, baseball glove on my right hand — no one protested like they often did in the generations before mine.

See, my mom is left-handed, too, but a little before her time and maybe occasionally still during when she was in school, teachers would try to take that crayon out of their student’s left hand and put it in the right. How awkward and just, well, wrong and pointless and stupid that was. Everyone can agree on that. Just kind of silly, right? Everyone now understands that there’s no reason a lefty has to be changed. I never had to, anyway.

Interestingly enough, I also never had to “come out” to my parents that I liked girls. My heterosexuality was never an issue. It was never something that I worried about or even thought about in that way. I didn’t have to have any tentative or awkward conversations with my pals to let them know that I wanted my penis to go with a vagina. Seriously, it just never came up. Not once. Because that’d be absurd, right? It’s just how I was born. It’s my chemical and mental makeup for some reason. Just a wacky glitch of genetics. It doesn’t hurt anyone, as I just like ladies in that manner, and if one likes me in that manner, and we hit it off, all is well. No worries. No one cares, really.

If I’d been shorter, no one would’ve minded either. Or what if I’d picked up my first crayon with my right hand and showed instinctively that I obviously felt more comfortable drawing and scribbling that way? My parents and teachers would’ve been fine with that, too, as the silliness of worrying about something like that had long since been accepted.

So, one would assume, if I’d had a predilection toward pee pees instead of vajayjays, it should be the same thing, right? I’d have gone about my life pretty much the same way, never having to make a big deal or any announcements about it. I’d just be who I was, and when I started reaching “that age” where you notice people in a different way, well, surely there’d be another boy who felt the same way, and we’d get to be adolescently awkward together and hold hands and go to the movies (with a parent chaperoning) and slow dancing at the miserable school dances and whatnot. Like anyone else, me and the fella could go steady, maybe exchange class rings in high school. It wouldn’t matter. No reason it should. Just how some folks are born.

Right?

BOOK REVIEW: Adam P. Knave’s I Slept With Your Imaginary Friend

First off, full disclosure: Adam P. Knave is one of my best friends. We collaborate on a great many projects, co-writing or editing each other’s work on many occasion. Wauh heck, we even once took a sous-chef class together. (One of those things is not true.) Still, as Adam knows, I am one to keep it real, so this here review will be as unbiased as anything I’ve ever written.

This collection of essays and short stories I am about to review, PG-13ingly entitled I SLEPT WITH YOUR IMAGINARY FRIEND, was written by Adam P. Knave and published by Creative Guy Publishing. As not only a fan of Adam’s writing but also a friend (a real one with whom he hasn’t slept), I purchased this book and commenced the reading. Having finished it, I am now glad I learned to read. Finally.

This attractively slim tome, containing quick, ADD-appropriate entries of everything from stories about mad scientists to essays exploring comic book wackiness and Pop Tarts, is, first and foremost, just a fun darn read. One surprising surprise for me was that, despite having already read some of these on the interwebnets (I often visit his site and was also an editor for a site where some of these bits of word amusement first appeared), I found myself chuckling quite a bit, especially considering I read most of this particular collection completely sober. Part of this might be the joy of words on dead trees that, despite my love of the internet, a computer screen just cannot replicate.

Twenty-six tales in 108 pages. That’s some jam packed jam packedness, people.

Standouts include “Hooray For Luke Cage,” which I had indeed read on the interwebs before, but it definitely contained extreme re-readiblilty. Adam explores the lengths Marvel’s Hero For Hire will go to for $200. Like all the entries about comics (others featuring the debuts of Dazzler and The Legion of Super-Heroes), it takes an amused and jokey look at these stories, but the affection Adam has for the comics about which he’s writing is clear. It actually makes me want to read a comic about Dazzler singing to a crowd of superheroes overdressed for the disco, which is no small feat.

There are a couple multi-part stories featuring the reckless science of Professor Ezekiel Alphonse Horatio McFlurryphontos, the results of which are always catastrophic yet thoughtful, and diary entries by an emo teen — oh, who is also happens to be a ninja.

Two standouts, for me anyway, include the first story, “Why I Don’t Date.” Now, normally I’d encourage a single guy with lots to offer like Adam to get out there and meet some ladies, but after reading this? I understand why he might sometimes avoid such things. I also laughed situations in a way that cause me shame due to my repressed nature. Another tale, “Handbasket,” has a slightly darker tone that’s very compelling — I don’t want to give anything away on that one.

Variety. That’s what Adam P. Knave whips up in I SLEPT WITH YOUR IMAGINARY FRIEND. A variety of different words put together in different arrangements about different subjects that all form to make twenty-six fun word groupings.

Here’s the deal: 10 bucks for a minimum of 1,000 laughs. That’s a penny a laugh. A penny! We all need some laughs now and again, and in these difficult economic times, a penny is one heck of a deal. That’s the deal.