Superman

So, on National Coming Out Day this past week, October 11th, the current Superman—Jonathon Kent, son of Lois and Clark—came out as bisexual. When I saw the New York Times piece I literally gasped out loud. This wasn’t some minor character in a team comic; this wasn’t even a second-tier lead of a less-popular title. This was fucking SUPERMAN, the Big Blue Boy Scout, the tentpole character on whom all of DC Comics, and the DC television and film franchises, are built around.

I literally had tears come up in my eyes. This was So. Fucking. HUGE.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much that would have meant to me as a deeply closeted and terrified gay teenager in the Chicago suburbs and later, small town rural Kansas. I really don’t know how best to explain what this meant to me as a sixty-year-old gay man, but here goes.

Oh, Superman. You are the ubiquitous comic book character; since your debut back before the second world war you have become the default; the super-hero every other super-hero is judged against. It’s even right there in your generic name: you are the super man, hence you are Superman.

Superman is kind of the Bill Jones or Joe Smith of comic book heroes: basic, simply named, and the best of them all.

I was a kid when I first started reading comic books about super-heroes. Before I bought my first Action Comics (all I remember is that Lex Luthor was the issue’s villain), I read Archie in all of its iterations; I also read Millie the Model, Dot, Little Lotta, and some others that have faded from memory. The Jewel Osco where my mom used to buy groceries when we lived in Chicago had a comic book vending machine near the entrance, right next to a soda machine dispensing cans of Pepsi and its variants. You put in a dime and two pennies into the appropriate slots, and pushed the appropriate buttons for the comic you wanted; the metal spiral thing holding the comics would spin and drop your comic down, so you could reach in through the door and pick it up. That particular day I wanted a Betty and Veronica, which was A5 but I was in a hurry and accidentally pressed B5 instead; voila, I got an Action Comics instead, much to my bitter disappointment. One of the local independent stations, Channel 32 (which also showed repeats of The Munsters, among other black-and-white classics) aired reruns of the old Superman television show; which I thought, even for my unsophisticated childish palate, was cheesy and silly. I remember grousing about it to my mother—whose response, “Boys read super hero comics anyway” was the kind of thing that usually would guarantee that I would never read a super hero comic book, but I picked it up after we got home and I started reading, certain that I would hate it.

It probably should go without saying that I didn’t hate it.

And it opened an entirely new world for me. Sure, it got a little frustrating from time to time for me (Superman was such a goody two-shoes, but that was kind of his job) and Lois being so desperate (and jealous) to either marry and/or expose his secret identity was annoying; especially because Lois otherwise was such a kick ass woman. There were any number of Superman or Superman-adjacent titles, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen had their own titles; Superman often appeared in (and was definitely a charter member of) Justice League of America; there was also Superboy (“Superman as a teenager!”) and Supergirl…it was like the comics readers couldn’t get enough of Superman and his world. I eventually moved on to other DC Comics titles, too—everything Batman (Detective Comics was always my favorite, because there was a mystery to solve) and Flash and Green Arrow and Green Lantern and…yes, my dollar allowance every week for a long time went to comic books (Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were $1.50 and my allowance was $1 per week; and no, I couldn’t wait until I had two dollars to get one; I always needed to spend my money as soon I got it on Thursday—Mom’s payday—at either Jewel Osco or at Woolworth’s…because I could always talk Mom into buying me a book if there were Hardy Boys or Three Investigators to be had). When we moved to the suburbs the Zayre’s didn’t carry comics, nor did the grocery store in town; the 7/11 only carried Marvel (I tried with The Mighty Thor, but the continuing story aspect Marvel used irritated me because I would inevitably miss an issue), and when Zayre’s finally started carrying comics, things had… changed. Wonder Woman was no longer an Amazon, and was just an every day modern woman running a boutique (somehow she’d given up her powers). Supergirl had been poisoned, which meant her powers came and went without warning; one moment she’d be super, the next she wouldn’t. It was an attempt to modernize the books, of course, make them appeal to the newer, more sophisticated modern audience of the 1970’s; some of them started addressing social issues and became a lot more adult in theme. (Green Arrow actually became my favorite book during this time; he was drawn naturally—had curly chest hair AND nipples—and he had no powers other than being an expert archer and skill at hand-to-hand fighting). I eventually moved away from comics because I started spending my money on novels—Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, etc.—and comics were, I thought, really for kids.

Later on, when we moved to Kansas, I got back into comics again, and things had changed yet again. Some of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ costumes made them look like strippers (male and female); the drawing of the characters had become more natural and realistic (Superman, for example, went from being barrel-shaped to having a narrow little waist and abs showing through his skintight costume), and Wonder Woman was an Amazon again. This was my Howard the Duck period, when I also started delving into Marvel a bit more. Comics always remained of interest to me throughout my life, with me going through periods of collecting and reading in large volumes at different times…before moving on from them again. I am not an expert on comics by any means; I know the names of some artists and some writers, but for the most part, I always paid more attention to story and character (go figure). But I’ve always maintained a love for the characters; and yes, the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie (which I rewatched recently for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival) indeed made me believe a man could fly.

I’ve always had, and always will have, a soft spot for Superman.

To me, Christopher Reeve was Superman–the prior versions of the character, including the popular television show (which I watched religiously) always seemed, to me, to be an actor playing the part; Reeve somehow just was the character. He was so insanely and ridiculously handsome; the body was just right, and he had the right mix of charm and charisma the part demanded. Reeve’s Superman could never be seen as a threat–and he also made it completely believable that no one could tell Clark was him, with different hair, glasses, and street clothes; he physically changed how he stood, his posture, everything about him that was Superman, when he was playing Clark.

Reeve never got enough credit as an actor, frankly.

And while my memories of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane aren’t fond ones–I thought she was a fine actress, but miscast–overall, the first two Reeve films were good ones. They could have stopped there, but didn’t–and the last two weren’t good. I enjoyed Lois and Clark (despite what Dean Cain turned into) and Paul and I eventually succumbed to the simple pleasure that was Smallville…but I wanted to see Superman back up on the big screen, where he belonged. I was very excited when they cast Henry Cavill in the part (I’ve been crushing hard on Cavill since first noticing him on The Tudors)….and then came the movies. I enjoyed them for what they were, and I did think some of the changes made to update and modernize the story (how would Americans today react to the discovery of a super being from another planet?)–and you can never go wrong with Amy Adams, either.

But…they forgot the most important thing about Superman: his kindness and genuine concern for people. In the quest to make the DC Film Universe of all that is dark and angsty like the Batman movies–the direction Batman has gone in since the comic mini-series The Dark Knight Returns–was a bad one. Patty Jenkins got Wonder Woman so fucking right–and it was the same basic formula as Superman. Superman used to be derisively called “the world’s oldest Boy Scout”, but that can work with the character, and with the right actor. I think Cavill has the charisma and the charm–and the extraordinarily gorgeous smile–to pull that off; I just wish they would have let him have the chance.

The new show on CW, Superman and Lois, is also excellent; I absolutely love it, and I do think that Tyler Hoechlin is one of the best Supermans of all time, frankly. (The entire cast is stellar, frankly.)

So, as I said earlier, I was pretty fucking jazzed the other day to see the piece in the New York Times earlier this week about Superman “coming out”–on National Coming Out Day, no less–and even if it turned out to not be Clark Kent, but Lois and Clark’s son Jonathan (in the comics they have the one son; on Superman and Lois they have twin sons, one of whom is named Jonathan), and while I, in my white gay male privilege assumed this meant that he was gay–he’s actually bisexual. But he is attracted to other men, and even has a boyfriend.

There was one particularly noxious piece posted on Medium, which the homophobic piece of trash who wrote it proudly posted on Facebook (I reported his post on Facebook as well as the piece on Medium as hate speech; the Medium piece came down, but the last time I looked, of course Facebook had done nothing about it). I read the whole thing–poorly worded, not grammatical, would have given a C- grade on the construction basics level alone–but the part that I couldn’t get past, the part I can’t forget, was him saying this: But why take one of the few heroes left for the “Straight World” and make him abnormally offensive to us?

Abnormally. Offensive.

I guess I missed the massive closet exodus for the DC and Marvel Universes? Let me see–right off the top of my head, at DC aren’t Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Cyborg, Aquaman, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, the Question, Beast Boy, the Elongated Man, and Shazam, all straight? (And that is just off the top of my head., and only DC.) But you know those people who are so afraid of the queers–you know, like the piece of shit who wrote the Medium piece–they just can’t help themselves or keep their fucking mouths shut. Oh, no, Mr. I’ve Never Brought a Woman to Orgasm just can’t let us have anything without letting us know how much it offends their delicate, needle-dicked sensibilities. You know, the same kind of guy who undoubtedly always complains about “cancel culture” and “social justice warriors” and “wokeness” and I don’t have a problem with gay people but why do you have to exist? Those kinds–sad, bitter little men with so little joy in their lives they have to spend their precious time on this planet letting everyone else in the world know how much they object to our existence.

But he has a right to his opinion and we are oppressing him if we call it out for the hateful trash it is…and him for the piece of shit he is.

As my editor at Kensington wrote on a note he included with a copy of a bad review of one of my books, this just reeks with the stench of failed author.

This guy claims to be a crime writer, and claims to work for a publisher (I’ve never heard of it or him before this moment)…but after reading this piece and another one he published on Medium, the real crime is his actual writing.

Fuck off, dude. And know that bisexual Superman is going to have way better sex than you could ever pay for, no matter how long you live.

God knows I have.

Style

Friday morning, and I had an absolutely lovely night’s sleep, thank you for asking. It’s the final day of the work week, the weekend looms, and as always, I have a million and a half things to get done before Monday. I somehow managed to fall behind on the writing again–by the time I was finished with my work-at-home duties yesterday I was exhausted again–and as such, didn’t write another word. So I need to get my writing going again today, knowing I am at least two chapters behind that need to be caught up, and yes–NO PRESSURE THAT AT ALL, is there?

I have some copy edits for an essay that dropped into my inbox this morning, which shouldn’t be too terrible an issue to deal with over the course of the weekend–then again, I’ve not really looked at them, either, so it could be absolutely horrifying once I open the document–but again, I don’t see that I won’t be able to get caught up on everything that must be done this weekend. What I really need to do is make a to-do list; I’ve been meaning to all week and yet somehow have not managed to get around to it yet. Gah. But that’s the kind of week this has been; 2020, after dragging all fucking year, seems to have now speeded up time now that it’s coming to a close, continuing to prove itself to be a shit-bag of a year.

Given how much optimism we all had for 2020 and what we ended up receiving, I am a bit afraid of 2021, to be completely honest.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday, and I managed to watch Superman whilst making condom packs yesterday; the 1978 version with Christopher Reeve. I hadn’t seen the movie in years–I saw it originally in the theater and then watched again when it was on HBO in the early 1980’s–and wasn’t really prepared for the impact it would still have, many years later, on a rewatch. As I watched, my nimble hands breaking off condoms in groups of four and shoving them into little plastic bags, along with a packet of lube and instructions on how to properly use them, I found myself catapulted backwards in time and remembering the time period. The movie’s slogan was You will believe a man can fly and you also have to remember the late 1970’s was when films–and special effects–were changed forever after Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Superman was the acme of super-heroes; perhaps the most famous, the most loved, and possibly the very first comic-book hero with superpowers, and bringing him to the big screen with a huge budget and special effects to make it look like he actually had powers was a huge deal. It was a huge hit, set the stage for several sequels, and showed Hollywood that comic book heroes were big-ticket items–it can easily be argued that there would be no MCU, no Arrowverse on television, and no Batman movies had there never been Superman first. The first sequel was also a huge hit, but the franchise began to run out of steam with the third, and the fourth was misbegotten from the very beginning.

On this rewatch, Christopher Reeve was even more perfect than I remembered, and Margot Kidder, whom I always believed was miscast, actually fit the role much better than she had in my memories. But what made the movie work–just as how the Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman worked–was how Reeve, at that point a complete unknown whose biggest role had been on the soap Love of Life, fit the role like a hand in a glove. He looked the part, had the right body for the part, and he just was Clark and Superman–and the physical differences between the two different characters–entirely dependent on how Reeve held himself, stood, and his posture–I could see how you wouldn’t see one as the other. Obviously, there were some flaws–how on earth did Lois Lane afford a penthouse with that glorious view and patio deck on a reporter’s salary? How did reversing the Earth’s spinning turn back time so he could save Lois–and didn’t turning the clock back change a lot of other things as well? DC was still in its Golden Age–the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot was still some years in the future–and so this film fits into that comic book era; they were trying to update the comics and giving their characters more of modern flare and new costumes for the most part at this time, before realizing their universe was so convoluted and confusing they needed to start over. This was the period when Wonder Woman had gotten rid of her powers; when Supergirl was poisoned, which led to her powers becoming unreliable and actually coming and going beyond her control; when two more Green Lanterns turned up on earth in addition to the original; and Green Arrow going more in a Batman-like grim direction.

But it was an uplfiting movie, putting a clear-cut hero on the screen, and it is to Reeve’s credit that he made Superman’s integrity, code of ethics, and kind concern for all humanity from a two-dimensionality to a fully fleshed out, completely believable character that you root for. The John Williams score was excellent, and it really was perfectly cast–I apologize to Margot Kidder for hating her performance for all these years. It was also interesting to see the New York of the 1970’s (passing off as Metropolis), and remembering the way the culture saw the city in that decade (the Cynical 70’s Film Festival has also done a really good job of this); in some ways the perception of New York hasn’t really changed much since then, but it isn’t the same city today that it was back then. It was, I think, in the latter half of the 1970’s that Hollywood began to turn away from the cynicism of the decade and began making movies with happy endings or that were more uplifting in general–Star Wars, Superman, Rocky–the melding of those polarities in film deeply influenced the films of the 1980’s.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.