Raise your hand if you don’t know who Superman is


Quick: describe Superman’s origin story as briefly as you can.  Where he came from and what his deal is.

Did you do it?  Great.  If your description included the words “alien”, “Krypton”, or “American way”, I can almost guarantee you got the basic gist of it correct.  If you said “I don’t know” then congratulations, you don’t exist.

I mean, am I wrong?  Is there anyone who doesn’t know the very basics? If so, here they are:

They even manage to cover the fake physics of super strength, complete with some Mark Trail style nature drawings, all in one page.  But if that’s not condensed enough for you, try this:


That’s Superman tossing off his entire origin in a thought bubble. Not much more to it than that. But if you really hate reading…

There.  They took out all the pesky sentences for you.  Four iconic panels and you’re done. Everything you need to know.  Actually, wait a sec.  I’ll do ya one better:

One panel, apparently written by a caveman (ONE AND SAME!) and you’re ready to enjoy yourself some Superman stories.

My point is this:  I challenge you to find any potential moviegoer who was unaware of the above premise, and yet the new Superman reboot, reportedly called Man of Steel, will be yet ANOTHER origin story.

I’ve mentioned the origin problem of superhero movies on the podcast before, and written about it in one of my first articles for the site, my review of The Spirit.  The issue is that these films feel the need to give you a detailed walkthrough of the hero’s early years, partially because it establishes their character motivation, and partially because the fact that Daredevil was blinded as a child, or that Plastic Man used to hate broccoli until he tried it in olive oil may be vital to the plot.  That’s all well and good, and I love a well-told origin.  The problem comes in when the origin overtakes a huge chunk of the movie, eating up precious time that could be spent on the actual story.

Now, I’m not talking about a film like Batman Begins which is really and truly ABOUT the origin.  In that case, the origin itself is the entire story.  I’m talking about movies that could have been tighter and more focused if they weren’t saddled with all that setup up front.

"I may be invulnerable to bullets. But not to sadness. You see, it all started when..."

And even if you yourself are from another planet and have somehow avoided hearing Superman’s backstory.  Guess what?  It doesn’t matter that much.  You can still enjoy a Superman movie.

You don’t need to spend thirty minutes watching Superman grow up on a farm just to establish his homespun American ideals.  Maybe instead, Superman is flying over Kansas and offers to help the locals with some superspeed harvesting, after which he reminisces for a second about his own cornfed upbringing. You don’t need to actually see Krypton explode to get across that he feels alone on Earth.  Maybe he’s invited over to Lois’s parents’ house for dinner and is reminded both of his own adopted parents and the biological ones he never knew.  Two scenes and a few lines of artful dialog. Less than ten minutes of screen time where you’re also moving other plot elements forward instead of wasting time hashing out stuff we already know.

I just realized that I don’t even know if Lois’s parents are still alive in the comics.  And I don’t really care.  It’s nice trivia when you’ve got the time for it, but it’s not that relevant to understanding and enjoying the character.

So please, Man of Steel, I know Chris Nolan and David Goyer are involved, so I don’t want to tell you what to do.  But please.  Please can you spare us another origin story?

2 Responses to “Raise your hand if you don’t know who Superman is”

  • Dave Says:

    What happened to the yellow sun idea? I could have sworn the people of Krypton were just normal strength on their own planet. I guess they’ve changed a few details since the beginning.

  • Ryan Says:

    The yellow sun is still cannon. That first page is very early, probably before the sun thing was introduced. But modern Superman gets his powers from the sun, and can lose them if it’s blocked for too long.