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Superman Must Reclaim the American Way

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Posted on October 6 2010 3:00 pm
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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As they stand on the rooftop patio of her lavish penthouse apartment in the 1978 Richard Donner classic, Lois Lane asks Superman why he has come to Earth. With complete sincerity he replies, “I’m here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way.”

Lois scoffs, as do we. “You’re going to end up fighting every elected official in the country.”

In this age of dark and moody anti-heroes, the unadulterated wholesomeness of Superman flies against the current. Yet, the character remains a popular icon whose family crest is prolifically plastered on clothing, hung from walls and rear view mirrors, and etched into the skin of fans worldwide.

Despite the character’s enduring appeal, his latest silver screen appearance in Bryan Singer’s 2006’s Superman Returns was meet with widespread disappointment. Audiences were unimpressed by Brandon Routh as an effeminate romantic, pining over the path not taken. Also notable was the exclusion of “the American way” in the script, in an effort to broaden international appeal.

Now comes news that Zack Snyder, director of 300 and Watchmen, is set to helm the Christopher Nolan produced reboot. Nolan is responsible for the masterful rebirth of the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. If able to combine their best traits, Nolan and Snyder may be the perfect team to get Superman soaring again.

That’s easier said than done, however. The comic properties which both auteurs have handled previously are decisively different than Superman.

Part of the problem stems from Superman’s classic comic book characteristics: The character for decades was a beacon for positive characteristics and his stories usually painted in black and white, so from a point of view of a certain segment, he was not hip enough for a time that prefers its heroes more morally ambiguous and drawn with tones of gray.

How could Snyder possibly present the “big blue Boy Scout” in a manner as credible as Nolan’s Batman? The latter benefits from a far less fantastic premise. We can accept a man born to wealth and committed to training himself who then dons a costume and beats criminals to a pulp. It takes significantly more suspension of doubt to believe a man can fly.

Then there’s the question of motivation. While Donner did a fantastic job selling us on the visual of Superman, his film never really explained the psyche. Why does this orphaned alien want to live a double life saving feeble humans from petty crimes and accidents? Why not live as a god among mortals instead?

The key to reintroducing Superman to a more sophisticated audience is providing him with a rational motivation to be the Boy Scout, while placing him in a world in which his fantastic presence is grounded by realistic surroundings. To that end, Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer would be well served to incorporate conservative ideals into the script, including the American patriotism for which the character has been known in the past. Let’s consider a few ways this could pan out.

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