The Shelf Is Half Full

An optimistic geek's blog on comic books, movies and professional wrestling.

Archive for the tag “Superman”

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #10-1

It’s been a long, fun and interesting journey to get to the end, and I feel pretty confidant about these final choices. However, the list went through a few changes and edits while I was putting it together and I figured it’s only appropriate to recognize some of the honorable mentions who almost made this list.

Some came down to personal preference, like Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. While she’s definitely got her fans, I’ve never really enjoyed the character or understood her appeal. For similar reasons, Power Girl was not really considered either.

A couple of notable omissions are anti-heroes like Emma Frost, Harley Quinn and Catwoman. All certainly have their appeal, but I’ve chosen to save them for another take on this list where we look at the sexy side of villainy. This list is more about acknowledging heroic women with strong moral ideals, and those characters just didn’t seem to fit the overall theme.

And then there’s a few who just didn’t make the cut because I only had thirty spots. Some notable ones include the Huntress, Renee Montoya as The Question, Flash’s love interests Iris West and Patty Spivot, Rachel Summers, Dazzler and Mary Marvel.

Carol Danvers

#10. Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel)

Whether she’s going by Ms. Marvel or Captain Marvel, the alien-enhanced U.S. airforce captain is one of the most powerful and capable women in the Marvel universe. But don’t blame yourself if you haven’t heard of her; Carol’s gone through some serious down times; she’s been an alcoholic and was even put in a coma for years when the then Brotherhood member Rogue absorbed all of her powers. But she’s also been a valued member and even leader of the Avengers, and has been starring in some of the better comics Marvel has been publishing in recent years. And in a few years she’ll be coming to the big screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

From a personality standpoint, I tend to describe Carol as a cross between two DC heroes: Wonder Woman and Hal Jordan. She’s a warrior, a leader and a negotiator, but she’s also an adventurer and an explorer. And a bit of a dork. She’s a devoted Star Wars fan and even has a dog named “Chewie”. But perhaps the blonde bombshell’s most admirable trait is that the character has overcome so much adversity to be better than ever. Perseverance under pressure is always cool, and trust me; people want a significant other who is inspirational on some level.

Sue Storm

#9. Sue Storm (The Invisible Woman)

When compiling this list, Susan Storm was a name that came to mind a little late in the game, but once I thought about her she quickly ascended the ranks. I am a huge Fantastic Four fan and have a deep love for all of the characters, and Sue is pretty near the top of that list. More commonly known as the Invisible Woman, Sue is known both for her signature ability to vanish from sight as well as her energy shields that arguably make her the most dangerous member of the Fantastic Four. But while the FF are adventurers, scientists and superheroes, they are above all else, family. And Sue is really the glue that holds it all together.

It’s said that you can best judge the character of the person you’re dating by how they treat the people around them. If that’s the case, Sue is one of the best catches in comics. She is the older sister that both cares for Johnny and makes sure that his ego doesn’t get out of line. Even without their romantic interest, Susan is a grounding force for Reed Richards, reminding him that there are more important things than science and work. Ben Grimm can count her perhaps his best emotional support; she has helped keep from falling into despair. Sue is a woman whose presence strengthens everyone around her and makes them better than they may be. Hard not to fall for someone like that.

Jean

8. Jean Grey (Marvel Girl/Phoenix)

Jean Grey was probably modeled off of Sue Storm and serves a similar function for her team. But I think Jean stands out a little bit more and is a better, more interesting character, so she narrowly edges out Sue. Throughout her history, Jean has been many things. Marvel Girl was a quiet introvert, Phoenix was a more outgoing and passionate person, Dark Phoenix was an extremely powerful megalomaniac with a dominatrix thing going… Pardon me, I seem to have lost my train of thought there for a moment. My point is that the appeal of Jean is sort of a mix between the “girl next door” archetype and the “danger is sexy” trope I’ve brought up a couple of times. On one hand she’s this incredibly nice, loving person who will do anything to help other people. On the other hand there’s a monster inside of her that can be incredibly damaging when it gets loose.

That mix of elements is probably what most defines Jean. Whatever you’re attracted to, it’s likely you can find at least some of it in the character of Jean Grey. And while that is great, it is a bit of a double-edged sword for the purposes of this list. Her personality is harder to nail down and thus it’s harder to analyze what exactly makes her so appealing. But then, there’s a lot of appeal in that too; she’s got layers, so she’ll always be interesting. If perhaps fatally so.

Black Canary

#7. Dinah Laurel Lance (Black Canary)

Ah, Black Canary. Crime-fighting martial arts expert, flirty and witty girlfriend of Green Arrow, brilliant and capable leader of the Birds of Prey, wearer of fishnet leggings, owner of an excellent singing voice… what’s not to love? For those not familiar with the comic version of Black Canary (or any of her excellent animated counterparts), Dinah is kind of a softer version of Black Widow. And no, I don’t mean more vulnerable, I just mean that she doesn’t have the colorful past history that Romanoff has. So she’s got a lot of the appeal of a dangerous, knowledgeable woman who’s on top of things, but doesn’t come with so much baggage. That makes her a little less intimidating.

Another key aspect of Canary is that while she is completely viable as a solo character, she has some key relationships that really flesh out her character. She’s the sometimes girlfriend, sometimes wife of Green Arrow, and while they have their issues they are an excellent example of a couple that respects each other’s abilities and support one another. So she’s got a pretty good history of being a loyal, supportive and loving partner. Definitely a plus. She’s also a big sister of sorts to Barbara Gordon and Huntress, her Birds of Prey teammates. She’s helps keep Helena’s dark side in check, and helps keep Barbara optimistic during some of the toughest times of her life. So, take everything awesome about Sue Storm and everything awesome about Black Widow and you get Dinah Lance.

Lois

#6. Lois Lane

As probably the first significant female character in comic books, Lois Lane has a very long history and not all of it is good. She started as a constant damsel in distress for Superman adventures; some could argue that falling through the sky to be saved by Superman was her defining trait. Fortunately, Lois Lane has evolved into a much more fleshed out character. She’s smart and extremely quick-witted, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and perhaps most importantly, she’s just as relentless about pursuing truth and justice as Superman. Lois is the kind of reporter who doesn’t care what feathers she ruffles or what personal danger she puts herself through; where there is crime and corruption, she will be there to shine a light on it.

Lois is arguably intended to be the “feminine ideal” in the same way Superman is for men. She’s independent, intelligent, confident and passionate. She’s got respect for herself and expects everyone else to respect her in turn. Her moral center is what drives her work and she is always trying to help other people. One could argue that this is an impossible standard. But much like Superman, I think Lois Lane is a pretty good role model for anyone. She fights for what she wants and does it for the right reasons and without compromising her integrity or her self respect.

Wonder Woman

#5. Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman)

If you’re read more than a few of my columns, you’re probably well aware of my undying love for Wonder Woman. Diana is my favorite superhero, but I don’t think she outranks the other four women ahead of her. The iconic prototype for female superheroes, Diana combines the physical strength and martial skill of male heroes like Superman and Batman, and adds a more feminine touch to it. Wonder Woman’s primary traits are her unconditional love and her honesty. Diana cares about everyone, fights for everyone, and tries to make life better for as many people as possible. She is also extremely honest and expects the same out of others, and isn’t afraid to use force (and a magic lasso) to get it.

Women love her because she’s a symbol that women can have strength and skill, and that they deserve equal respect. Men love her because even though she is representative of female strength, she is an equalist; men and women should be respected equally. She’s physically stunning and imposing, but also emotionally vulnerable. She’s supportive and caring but also has high standards. She’s fierce and competitive and driven but also gentle and kind and wise. By whatever measure one wants to measure beauty, Wonder Woman is going to knock it out of the park.

Zatanna

4. Zatanna Zatara

Many women who have made this list are physically imposing and a lot of the appeal is that they are stronger than the man or woman who is crushing on the character. Strength is largely attractive because we equate it with security, and safety is conducive to intimacy which paves the way for sexual fireworks. But there’s the opposite end of that too, and Zatanna’s a perfect example. DC’s most famous magician is generally depicted as petite and not the best hand to hand fighter. Her sex appeal isn’t in her physical power; Zatanna’s more the kind of person one describes as “cute” or “adorable”. Which I totally go for. See Gordon, Barbara. She’s outgoing, flirtatious, unpredictable and likes to create her own fun. Without being too stereotypical, I’d have to imagine that many comic book fans like me tend to be more on the introverted side and creatures of habit. If opposites attract, it’s no surprise so many of us love Zatanna.

But the cool thing about Zatanna is that her magical powers make her both one of the best escape artists and potentially one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe. She has unbelievable magic power at her disposal and has used it to help save the world numerous times. But if left to her own devices she’d rather use her gifts to put on a show and entertain others. She is a performer, the center of attention who manages to do so without being arrogant or annoying.

Starfire

#3. Koriand’r (Starfire)

Starfire is sadly a name that is synonymous with controversy. Many artists have made her the poster child for stripperiffic, impractical costumes that make her a sex object. Sadly, some writers have also found it acceptable to strip away her personality as much as her clothes, making her something that is less of an actual character and more of a pin-up model. These are all valid arguments, but sadly it has taken away from a very simple fact; when written with some actual care, Koriand’r is one of the most fun, likable, and yes, genuinely sexy characters in comics. After all, she’s a Marv Wolfman creation and Marv simply doesn’t create bad characters, especially when they are one of the main characters of a long running and beloved comic book series like The New Teen Titans.

So for those who may only know Starfire for being the subject of some incredibly poor writing and shameless artwork, let me explain what it is that makes us love Kori. First, it’s important to understand that she is very much a counterpart to fellow Teen Titan member Raven. Raven is an introverted pacifist who keeps her emotions bottled up. Starfire is an extremely curious and outgoing person who loves life and tries to squeeze as much out of every day as possible. For those who read Red Hood and the Outlaws and took issue with her having sex with two guys really quickly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Women are people, not things; they deserve sexual autonomy and Kori has always had that. She’s not going to wait around for a boy she likes to make a move; she’ll take the first step because life is too short to wait. What is out of character was the lack of emotion involved; Kori is all emotion; joy and anger and sadness, all felt intensely and coming across transparently. That’s what readers love about Kori, and that’s why she’s so high on this list.

Rogue

#2. Anna Marie (Rogue)

An often repeated phrase in this series has been “danger is exciting, and thus danger is sexy”. Rogue may be that truth to the absolute extreme; her mutation causes her to drain the life force, powers and memories of anyone who comes in contact with her skin. Super deadly. Even worse? Rogue couldn’t control it for the longest time; so she literally could not have sex ever without killing someone. That’s way beyond forbidden fruit there. On its own, it may have kept Rogue from ever being considered attractive by some. But when you take that power and mix it with a feisty, flirty powerhouse with a Southern accent, you have perhaps the most sexually frustrating character in comics. And one of the most common fan crushes in the industry.

Heck, for many of us, seeing and hearing Rogue on the 1990’s X-Men cartoon was the spark that made us realize that we actually did want to have a girlfriend. It also made us feel incredibly bad for Rogue and her main love interest, Gambit. These two always seemed to be made for each other, enjoying each other’s company and obviously caring for each other even they were butting heads. But Rogue’s mutation made it impossible to even kiss for more than a moment. Rogue raises a lot of questions for readers; would we be able to be a committed lover to someone if sexual contact was out of the question. For many, Rogue was worth it. So she went from being this incredibly source of sexual frustration to helping us realize there are more important things.

Storm

#1. Ororo Munroe (Storm)

Trying to pick the top woman for this list was very difficult, but ultimate I feel confident in putting Storm at the top of this list. Ororo has consistently been a major part of the X-Men for a long time and has maintained a high level of popularity from her initial appearances and all the way to today. Other than Wonder Woman, she’s probably the most well known female superhero to the general public. And she has many of the same traits that Diana has. She’s got power, both physically (she’s usually depicted as six feet tall and very well muscled) and because of her ability to control the weather. But she’s also a gentle, loving soul who is very much a pacifist and a nurturer. Somehow she manages to come across as both wise beyond her years and able to enjoy life with reckless abandon.

Ororo’s definitely got some of the exotic appeal to her, and not just because she’s one of the few truly iconic black female characters in comics. The white hair and blue eyes would stand out even if she were a real person. Many of her earlier appearances put her in the position of a stranger in a strange land, someone who isn’t used to Western customs or ideals. Though it isn’t as drastic as say, Kitty Pryde, Storm has still shown considerable growth. She started as a young, almost naive woman who felt out of place to a woman who felt at home with the X-Men and was soon capable of leading them. Ororo has many aspects that could appeal to someone, whether they want someone who is strong and steady, emotionally vulnerable, wise or curious, mature or young at heart. And unlike some characters, Ororo’s personality seems to blend perfectly into one definite character, as opposed to various interpretations that don’t always match up.

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The Top Twelve – Superhero Movies

This list is just my own person favorites and not intended to be a scientific or definitive list. I don’t expect my opinions to be shared by everyone, but at least that should make this a refreshing read, right?

X2

#12. X2: X-Men United (2003)

Not enough credit is given to Bryan Singer’s X-Men films these days. I think the poor quality of X-Men 3 (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) as well as the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made people forget that before X-Men released to positive reviews in 2000, superhero movies were pretty much a joke. The Batman franchise was dead and buried thanks to Batman and Robin (1998) and the most successful comic book franchise was Blade. Anyway, the first film was good but the second one was even better. Wolverine’s origins were explored, the tension between humans and mutants took center stage, Nightcrawler was a worthy addition to the cast, and everyone from Mystique to Pyro got meaningful character development. Twelve years later this film still stands as one of the best ensemble superhero movies and arguably the blueprint for The Avengers movies.

Superman

#11. Superman (1978)

The first modern superhero film is still one of the best. The movie told us that we would believe a man would fly, and thanks to the cutting edge special effects, it’s still easy to believe Superman can fly almost four decades later. But more importantly, thanks to Christopher Reeve we believed that Superman could act; his portrayal of the Man of Steel was so different from his portrayal as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent that it was easy to believe nobody could make the connection. To me this is the standard for everything that was to come; it’s also so much better than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) that it isn’t even funny.

Spidey

#10. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Yesterday I wrote about how awesome Doctor Octopus was in this film and how the movie raised the bar for action in the genre. But there is plenty more to love about Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man movie. The characters are older and more complex. Peter feels more of the toll that being Spider-Man takes on his personal life, which is probably the most important dynamic of the character in the comics. Harry Osborn really comes into his own in this film as well. While the franchise took a nose dive after this, this is still a high point and I feel is the film that should be most closely modeled when Marvel brings Peter Parker into their cinematic universe.

Ultron

#9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The most recent addition to this list, Age of Ultron is a worthy follow up to the most successful superhero movie of all time and another hit in Marvel’s recent flurry of creative successes. The all-star casts returns and by this point could play the characters in their sleep. Jeremy Renner’s increased role as Hawkeye arguably makes him the breakout star of the movie, but everyone has their moments. The Maximoff Twins worked better than I could have hoped and the Vision ended up as one of the best parts of the movie instead of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ultron was also a strong antagonist who entertained me in ways I didn’t expect. While not as good as the first one, it’s still a great time at the movies.

Logan

#8. The Wolverine (2013)

Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for about fifteen years at this point, but for my money, it’s this film where he gave his greatest performance as the character. I love this movie because it is a great character study and a solid action film and doesn’t try to be more than that. I also enjoy the film for helping wipe away the bad memory of Logan’s first solo film, and for not trying to insult me for being a comic book fan like other movies from 2013. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet I highly recommend it.

CA.0417.ironman

#7. Iron Man (2008)

I remember going to the theaters to see this movie and not having overly high expectations. As difficult as it may be to imagine now, Tony Stark was hardly a pop culture icon. I knew of him mostly because I played War of the Gems on Super Nintendo. By the time the movie was over I was in love with Iron Man and even more in love with Robert Downey, Jr. Turns out I wasn’t the only one; this movie helped launch Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and made Robert a high profile star once again. And it still holds up as one of the most fun comic movies out there, and is far better than its sequels.

Lights

#6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I remember when Marvel announced that they were doing this movie shortly after the release of The Avengers and thinking that they may have gone in over their heads a bit. Sure, Iron Man and Thor weren’t exactly cultural icons but the Guardians of the Galaxy were obscure even by comic book standards. I expected this to bomb hard, but that is why Kevin Feige is a millionaire and I am writing about his movies. Guardians of the Galaxy was irreverent, innovative and glorious entertainment, introducing audiences to a slew of new characters that almost all comic book fans have come to adore. Including myself. This movie is fantastic and arguably the best launch of a franchise ever.

Batman

#5. Batman Begins (2005)

Then again, this is a pretty good argument too. While I have gained a certain appreciation for the 1989 Tim Burton film Batman, especially Michael Keaton’s performance as the caped crusader, I have to say that on the whole those movies fell flat for me. And let’s not even talk about the Joel Schumacher films. But Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the character in movies was the breath of fresh air that the character needed, the most serious dramatic film based on a comic book to date. This told the origin and training of Batman so well that I don’t think it ever needs to be addressed again.

Future

#4. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

It was a long and bumpy road, but the third Bryan Singer directed X-Men film was more than worth the wait. Featuring a story that was loosely based on one of the best stories in the X-Men’s history, this film brings together the cast of the original series with the younger cast from X-Men: First Class (2011) to stellar results. In many ways this is my favorite comic book movie, because it felt like a reward for sticking with the series even after it burned me as a viewer more than a couple of times. Unfortunately, being a movie that runs on time travel, there are some serious logic problems that sometimes distract from the experience, but other than the film is a blast. Especially when Pietro is involved.

Avengers

#3. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Here’s a bright idea; take a World War II soldier, a Norse God, Frankenstein’s monster, a female James Bond, a male Katniss Everdeen, and a man in a flying robot suit and make a movie. This should have been a disaster, but Marvel’s careful world building mixed with talented actors mixed with Joss Whedon’s writing and directing somehow formed the perfect mixture for what may be the best comic book movie ever. It’s a miracle that this film works as well as it does. Which is spectacularly. I think I saw this movie around five times in theaters and was never bored, and I still like to throw it in when I have nothing better to do. One of the best popcorn flicks ever put together.

Joker

#2. The Dark Knight (2008)

Batman Begins was a great… beginning, but it turned out to be a mere appetizer for the most critically acclaimed film based on a comic book ever. The Dark Knight is more of a serious crime thriller than escapist popcorn fun, though it does have its moments. However, this was one of the first movies to take the heroes and villains seriously and show that they actually can be symbols with greater meaning. Even if it did beat those points into the ground. Still, it’s got a ton of great performances and an Oscar-winning Heath Ledger as The Joker, one of the all time great antagonists in cinema; not just comic book movies, but movies in general. It’s a remarkable piece of film making, and it just happens to involve a guy in a bat mask.

Scuffle

#1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

If one takes the comic book escapism of The Avengers and blends it with the real world seriousness of The Dark Knight, you get the conspiracy thriller action film called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I was a huge fan of the first Captain America film but the sequel was an improvement in every single way. Chris Evans is brilliant as Steve Rogers, there’s a strong supporting cast and a genuinely compelling plot. The action scenes are gorgeously choreographed and feature a lot of practical stunt work, and the film even brings in political concepts from the real world to discuss them. It’s my favorite comic book movie and I think it’ll be a while before anything challenges it.

Supervillain Spotlight – Darkseid

Jack Kirby is probably the most influential and legendary comic book artist of all time. Most famous for his collaborations with Stan Lee, Kirby created the character designs for most of Marvel’s greatest superheroes and their villains. But he has also given some significant gifts to the DC Universe as well, and none are greater than today’s spotlighted villain…

Darkseid

Darkseid

Darkseid is the tyrannical ruler of the planet Apokolips, one of the famed “New Gods” of the DC Universe. He stands in direct opposition to Highfather and his paradise planet of New Genesis. He is one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe, possessing near invulnerability and immortality as well godlike power to bend reality to his will. The most iconic power is his Omega Beams, which usually release from his eyes and can destroy all but the most powerful of beings. He seeks to bend the whole universe to his will, hoping to destroy all free will through the Anti-Life Equation. This has put him in direct opposition with the Justice League and other heroes, who have been lucky to stop him.

Despite his destructive goals, Darkseid has an uneasy truce with Highfather and New Genesis which ended their stalemate of a war. This truce is maintained because of an exchange of Highfather and Darkseid’s sons. Darkseid’s second son Orion is raised by Highfather and becomes a hero, one of Darkseid’s greatest enemies. The son he got in exchange doesn’t serve him any better; Scott Free refuses to give into Darkseid’s brainwashing and becomes the master of escape known as Mr. Miracle.

Kirby

The Real Life Origin

Jack Kirby based Darkseid’s personality, ideals and even some of his fashion on Adolf Hitler. He is a heartless, fully evil monster who believes that his worldview is the only valid one; he seeks to destroy all opposition and to control the minds and will of his subjects. While his world of Apokolips is completely ordered, it is a nightmarish dystopia. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Fuhrer was the inspiration for Jack Kirby’s greatest antagonist; Kirby was Jewish and helped to create Captain America as a way to raise awareness of the atrocities the Nazis were committing in Europe. When you are creating pure evil, it is best to use pure evil for inspiration.

Darkseid was created for Kirby’s “New Gods” comics, originally a universe separate from the DC Universe called “Fourthworld”. However, he debuted in, of all things, in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 and once Kirby finished with DC his ideas were integrated into the DC Universe at large. While this was probably not Kirby’s intention, I do feel that it was for the best overall. His world was too good not to be used, and Darkseid proved to be the ultimate villain that DC needed. He’s a force powerful and evil enough that even Superman feels vulnerable when facing him, and that shouldn’t be put on a shelf and forgotten about.

Uxas

The Most Copied Villain

And if there is any character that can be defined by the phrase “often imitated, but never duplicated”, it is Darkseid. If you’ve been to any Marvel movies lately, you may have heard of this guy called Thanos, Marvel’s ultimate big bad. Probably the biggest Darkseid knockoff ever, but I’m not saying that to knock Marvel; Darkseid is a good idea and it makes sense to have their own version. The X-Men villain Apocalypse is also heavily inspired by Darkseid, possessing a similar appearance and even more similar goals. Were it not for the fact that Apocalypse has vastly different powers and has been defeated far more easily, it would be difficult to tell the difference. And even DC hasn’t been afraid to rip off Darkseid; Mongul is pretty much a carbon copy, though much less powerful.

Despite the imitations, there is only genuine article. Thanos is a great character in his own right and certainly a more complex one; he feels the weight of his actions and has shown to regret them at times. Darkseid would never regret anything. I appreciate that kind of pure evil in the same way I appreciate the pure goodness of Superman; Darkseid stands for something and there is an epic, mythic quality to the character. Apocalypse is a great X-Men villain, but he doesn’t have the scope of Darkseid’s goals. Apocalypse wants to rule Earth and could do it, but Darkseid wants to control the whole universe and bend it to his rule.

Jim Lee

Why Do I Like Darkseid?

Darkseid is, in concept, my favorite villain in all of comic books. He is the quintessentially supervillain. He’s not complex, he isn’t sympathetic. He is pure evil and possesses near infinite power, making him the ultimate threat. Darkseid isn’t a character that should be used often; his stories should be epic and no defeat should come easy. And DC seems to realize that. While is as iconic as any of their villains, DC has never leaned on him as a crutch; when he shows up, it’s a big deal. That is why I love Darkseid; when he’s around, I know I am going to get a superhero story that I am going to love reading.

Supervillain Spotlight – Lex Luthor

Considering his super strength and near invulnerability, Superman would seem like the last person any villain would want to go up against. And indeed, this makes the character a difficult one to create antagonists for. Most of the bad guys in comics featuring the Man of Steel are small-time criminals who are about to have a very bad day, or alien monsters with strength that rivals the Kryptonian hero. But the most prevalent enemy of the Man of Steel does not possess great physical ability, but is instead written as the most brilliant mind in the DC Universe. Driven by an intense hatred for Superman, this criminal mastermind has managed to carve his own place in comics as one of the greatest characters of all time.

Lex Luthor

Luthor for President

The Super Intelligent Mad Scientist

Lex Luthor is a character who’s role has evolved quite a bit over his seventy five or so years of existence. Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced him in Action Comics #23 as a mad scientist planning to take over the world. Or simply to steal money from banks to fund his newest idea for a death machine. Regardless, he was always foiled by Superman and was largely an ineffective villain. He does have the distinction of being the first comic book villain to use nuclear weapons as part of his schemes. Arguably the character’s best interpretation during this time frame was on the Superfriends TV show where he was the leader of The Legion of Doom, which at least put him in an position of importance.

Luthor was also chosen to be a key character in the film adaptations of Superman. Actor Gene Hackman plays the character as the leading antagonist of Superman and reprises the character in a more comedic, supporting role in Superman II. I have to admit to enjoying this interpretation of Luthor a great deal; Hackman’s charisma and the witty comments he makes throughout the film add an extra layer of personality to what was a one-dimensional character.

Hackman

The Even Smarter Corrupt Businessman

When DC Comics rebooted their superhero-filled fictional universe after the events of Crisis On Infinite Earths, Superman wasn’t changed all that much in spirit. The writing had evolved and Clark was a more complex character than he was before, but he was still essentially the same guy he’d always been. But Lex Luthor went through a radical change in John Byrne’s limited series The Man of Steel, where the mad scientist supervillain of the last forty-five years was tossed aside in favor of something that 1980’s America could identity with; a power-hungry businessman with good publicity and no morals. This was not a Lex Luthor who robbed banks or built giant robotic suits in insane attempts to fight Superman in fisticuffs. This was a villain who kept an arms length away from his crimes, using his resources and influence to keep himself at power with little regard to anyone else he is stepping on.

For me, this is the version of Lex that I prefer most, because he is not a simple blackhat criminal who loses all the time. On the contrary, Luthor’s intellect and resources and ability to control criminal activity without actually committing it make it almost impossible for Superman to ever win against Luthor. Lex becomes an effective villain who rarely ever has to face consequences, which makes it all the more satisfying when he does. More importantly, I think it’s important that Luthor is a man in power who abuses it because of how that conflicts with Superman. Clark Kent uses all of his abilities to help others and does not think he is special in any way; Luthor is a narcissist who views himself as being above everyone else and only uses his power to serve himself. The characters work extremely well together, and that’s essentially what a good villain should do; make the hero a more compelling protagonist.

Smallville Lex

Not Simply A Bad Guy

Another important reason why I support Lex Luthor: Corrupt Businessman over Lex Luthor: Mad Scientist is that a mad scientist is very difficult to sympathize with. They are evil and want to take over the world or destroy it; not guys we can relate to or empathize with. I believe that the greatest villains are the ones who have something to like about them, something we can agree upon. Luthor as a businessman wants the public to view him as a hero; it’s a selfish desire, but it also leads to philanthropic efforts that Superman would never be able to do for the city of Metropolis. As evil as Luthor can be, he is often depicted as a necessary one, a crooked, greasy wheel in the machine of society that has to be there to make sure things work.

Luthor also serves as a compelling counterpoint to the “great immigrant story” of Superman. Clark Kent is an alien who comes to Earth and views it as his home, using the special abilities granted by his heritage to defend and better his new home. Luthor is a normal person who grew up on Earth and says, “Hey, can we really trust this alien with godlike powers?” Yes, we can, but it is still important that this point is brought up because it helps keep Superman accountable; he can’t be somebody who abuses his powers because then he is just like Lex Luthor.

Luthor

With these complexities in mind, I view Luthor better as not just a straight-up antagonist, but as a supporting character in the Superman universe. The incredibly sympathetic portrayal of the character on Smallville is an example of how to make Luthor a great, well-rounded character whose goals have clear motivations and justified reasons. He isn’t a great person, but he also had the chance to be and in his heart, probably wants to be the hero that Superman is. That’s a character who is fun to read and to watch. And it’s still possible to throw in the mad scientist with the mech suits once in a while.

Whether you enjoy the Mad Scientist or the Corrupt Businessman more, one thing is definitely true. As long as there is a Superman that stands for truth and justice, there has to be someone opposing him and challenging those values. And that looks like a job for Lex Luthor.

What Can We Learn From… Man of Steel?

Man of Steel is a 2013 action drama film directed by Zack Snyder featuring Superman from DC Comics, It stars Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as Kryptonian villain Zod. Russel Crowe and Kevin Costner also appear in supporting roles as Clark’s Kryptonian father Jor-El and his adoptive father Jonathan Kent, respectively. Snyder attempted to bring Superman back to prominence at the modern box office, adopting a grittier, more serious tone than previous Superman films and considerably increasing the level of action in the film. While Man of Steel was a box office success, the mixed reaction seems to indicate that it is not exactly a creative one.

While this movie does have its supporters, I believe the general reaction has ranged from apathy to negativity. I think the film, whether at its best or its worst, is a mixed bag. There are good things that should not be ignored, but there are also strong negatives that should not be glossed over. The actors are all very solid in their roles, and there are some truly creative and spectacular action sequences. However, Snyder’s tendency to focus on spectacle rather than substance is quite evident; the script is extremely poor and lifeless, with little in the way of humor or even solid emotion. While the actors often do the best with what they have, they don’t have much to work with.

Poster

Man of Steel is an extremely flawed film, and I think even fans of the movie would have to admit this. But just because something is flawed does not mean it has value. Instead, I think that this Superman movie is an important for us to watch, examine and think about. Why doesn’t it work? What are the flaws and how can they be avoided? In short, what can we learn from this movie?

For anyone who has not yet seen this film, beware; there are many spoilers to follow.

Lesson #1: Characterization and Storytelling Always Trump Action Scenes

The scope of the action scenes is remarkably ambitious, if sometimes shot in a way that is unnecessarily messy. However, the main problem is that there is so much action and so little focus on actual storytelling that the action feels meaningless. We don’t have a sense of who the people fighting are, so we don’t care about why they are fighting except for the basest aesthetic appreciation and adrenaline rush that action causes. But we are not as engrossed as we should be.

One does not need to look much further than the first twenty minutes of the film in which peaceful Kryptonian scientist Jor-El is transformed into an action star for no particular reason. The opening scenes feel like the closing scenes to a movie that we never saw; characters are introduced and they do things to move the plot, but there is no true exposition. We don’t know why the different Krytopnian groups are fighting each other or why two people as opposite in temperament as Zod and Jor-El were ever friends. There is so much crammed in this short amount of time that we don’t get a chance to breathe. The biggest problem with this is that this is not a movie about Jor-El (which could work, by the way), but a movie about Superman. Having action scenes at all during this period clutters what should be a simple exposition scene to get us to the point where we are talking about the main character.

Javert

The film’s two biggest action scenes are a battle in Smallville between Superman and Zod’s officers in the middle of the movie and a titanic smackdown between Clark and Zod at the film’s climax. The first battle for the most part is well set up and doesn’t drag on too long. This is one point where Snyder feels like a good fit for Superman, as he can deliver impressive action that we never were able to get from the character in previous films. The biggest problems are the overuse of shaky cam, a comic amount of product placement and a disregard for civilian casualties and property damage (which I’ll get to later on). This scene works because of its placement in the film; the audience is anxious for some action and we get it; there’s a solid reason for why it starts and the action itself is entertaining.

The film’s climax battle between Zod and Superman is another story altogether. It is a perfect illustration of the difference in a mid-movie action scene and a climactic action scene. A film’s climax should feel like a natural payoff to the build-up of conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. One of them has cornered the other and a fight must resolve the issue that the audiences cares about. The problem is that there is no truly engaging reason for us to care about, so the spectacular scope of the knockdown, drag out brawl feels anticlimactic and boring.

This problem occurs because the film’s structure is inherently flawed. Characters are not thoroughly explored, morals and motives are not properly defined, the conflict is not obvious or engaging. Which brings me to the second thing we can learn from this movie.

Cavill

Lesson #2: No Writer Should Ever Draw Attention to Superman Being an Alien

If the writers sought to make Superman easier for audiences to relate to, they failed spectacularly. Many writers make this mistake. They feel that Superman’s invulnerability and perfect “boyscout” ethics make him “too good to be true”, as if goodness is some inhuman trait that nobody can relate to because we are all evil. This tends to result in Superman becoming an allegory for Jesus Christ, which isn’t horribly off-base but should be something that the audiences concludes for themselves rather than being told by the movie itself. The other alternative is to try to make Superman a more flawed person who is more “realistic”, but doesn’t accurately depict the character. This film somehow manages to do both of these things, resulting in possibly the single most confused and therefore awful version of the character…ever.

The film painfully mines the Christ symbolism even going so far as to show Superman going to church asking God (in the form of a priest) if he has to save the world with a picture of Jesus doing the same thing in the background. This isn’t symbolism any more, this is dropping an anvil that says “Superman is Jesus, Love Him!” on the audience and all but the most simplistic Bible thumper is going to feel insulted by this. After the film tries to get away with telling us that Superman is a perfect man who has come to save us all, the movie then throws us the huge “twist” of Superman breaking General Zod’s neck to save innocent bystanders, and tries to show that this is some horrible thing that has made Superman not perfect.

I say “twist” not for emphasis but because this barely qualifies. Within the context of the film, Superman killing Zod is not shocking (aside from the gruesome way it is done) because the film never tells us that Superman has a problem with killing. It is never once brought up, and the only people who would know this is out of character are devout fans of the character; the casual viewers and children who are not familiar with Superman are going to be confused by the narrative. After all, the film has already blatantly told us that Superman is Jesus, so doesn’t that make Zod the Devil by proxy? Why is Jesus killing The Devil to save innocent people a bad thing? I think the fact that Superman seems to be so devastated would be more of a twist to most people.

Costner

Okay, so I’ve already explained that the lack of character development hurts the emotional impact of the film’s action scenes and dramatic moments. I’ve beaten that horse to death. Let’s get into the bigger problem here; Superman is not an uninteresting character and does not need to be changed. It isn’t the character, it is the presentation that matters. Most people can relate to somebody who wants to do good in the world. That is what a hero is. That is why we read books and go to movies; to see people who want to do good and succeed at it despite the odds. The important thing is that we get to know who the person, why he is the way he is, and what we have in common.

One of the most common mistakes Superman writers make is focusing on the fact that he is an alien with godlike power. They believe that Superman’s alien heritage and superpowers make him fundamentally inhuman, something greater and more perfect than we are. But if he isn’t human, then we don’t relate to him. Writers shouldn’t focus on his alien qualities, but on his human ones. Clark Kent is the real character here, not Kal-El. Clark has a deeply personal code of ethics and a sense of responsibility to use his gifts to help people; he is compassionate and decent and kind and basically everything people should want to be. He has infinite power, but doesn’t abuse it because it is wrong. But he doesn’t neglect it either; he uses it where it is needed, to save lives. And he happens to be a charismatic person who can influence others to exhibit that same kind of altruism.

Superman is meant to inspire us because he makes us believe we can be more like him. He is not mean to alienate us because he makes us think we can never be as good as him. Man of Steel repeatedly informs us that Superman is unique and special and unlike us; this is the absolute least effective way to make the audience care about the character. We didn’t come to a Superman movie looking for God, we came looking for a super man.

Kent

Lesson #3: Superman Should Be Explored, Not Reinvented

Superman should not be edgier, nor should he be made out to be some perfect, divine being who came down from the sky. All he needs to be is a good man trying to do good in the world. The way you make an audience relate to somebody like this is by explaining how the character thinks and why he thinks, and by challenging him. If we understand the character and sympathize with him, then we will cheer for him and feel like we share something in common with him.

To be fair, Man of Steel does one of those things very well. Superman is physically pushed in this film like never before; he gets beat up and that is refreshing and it makes the villains feel like serious threats, which is not always easy to do with this character. However, Superman’s morals and emotions aren’t challenged often, and when they are he reacts in a way that just doesn’t mesh with the character. Superman would never allow a person to die; he saves people. That is what he does. But this Superman allows his father to die in a tornado (at his request, but it still doesn’t work), and pays absolutely no attention to the safety of civilians throughout the film until it is convenient for it to matter so Snyder can justify his stupid scene where Superman kills Zod and is troubled by it for no explained reason.

The reason the mid-movie action scene works is because Zod threatens Clark’s mother and he reacts in anger to this and saves her, pulling Zod far away from his mother to protect her. That is in character, that makes sense, and unfortunately it is a glaringly rare example of good character work in this movie.

Zod

One of the biggest problem’s with Clark’s character in this film is how pathetically dependent he is. All of his characterization is explained by his fathers preaching about ethics, which are conflicting and thus somewhat confusing. But we never see Clark actually talk about what his fathers are saying to him, how he feels about it, and thus he just feels like a product of the good will of his parents and not a self-actualized character. This is taking the idea of parental influence way too far and damages the hero because he feels like he didn’t choose to be heroic by himself, but because his parents told him to.

If this film had simply chosen to calm down for a moment and have Clark be an actual human being with feelings who expresses why his values matter and why he will fight for them, we would understand the man and thus be invested in the superhero. This is not complicated; it is basic, simple storytelling that always works. If nothing else, Man of Steel is the perfect reminder of how some people can completely miss the point about what makes characters appealing to audiences. And that is something that every writer needs to learn from.

Superhero Spotlight – Superman

One of the recurring features of this blog will be spotlight features on various comic book superheroes as well as on various professional wrestlers. This is a way for me to take both a broad and in-depth look at characters, to analyze who they are, what they represent, and why people connect with them. Character analysis is something that I love to do, because to me it is very difficult to have a good story without compelling, memorable characters. Sometimes that is possibly, such as with The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, but most of the time a plot is not interesting enough to stick with people, but a good character will stick with us for a lifetime.

Since this will be an ongoing series, it only makes sense to start with the character that many consider to be the ur example of the superhero genre. He’s the Man of Tomorrow, the Last Son of Krypton, the Man of Steel, Clark Kent, Kal El, and most famously…

Superman

Superman

The Comic Book Origin

Sent to Earth in a rocket by his parents Jor El and Lara from the exploding planet of Krypton, Kal El was raised as Clark Kent by Jonathan and Martha Kent in Smallville, Kansas. Brought up with strong personal ethics by his adoptive parents, Clark moved to the bustling city of Metropolis as an adult, working as a journalist for the Daily Planet while also working as a a costumed hero named Superman. His Kryptonian physiology absorbs the energy from the sun, granting him immense strength and near invulnerability, as well as a variety of other powers, most famously flight as well as heat and x-ray vision.

Though he is not from this planet, Clark has embraced the Earth as his home and uses his powers to protect the innocent from the oppression of the cruel and from alien threats. He is a cornerstone of the Justice League and perhaps the most beloved, though not universally trusted, superhero in the DC universe.

Shuster & Siegal

The Real World Origin 

Superman was created in 1933 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two sons of Jewish immigrants who met each other in Cleveland, Ohio. Their goal was to make a recognizable hero for the common man, a bulletproof strongman who could right the wrongs that normal people couldn’t. Superman was also intended to be a great immigrant story, someone who came from another planet to Earth in the same way that immigrants from around the world came to the United States of America looking for success. They would eventually sell the character to DC Comics, and Superman would make his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938.

Over the course of 75 years, Superman would appear in countless comics, television shows and Hollywood movies. His image and his “S” shield symbol are universally recognized and have been used to make Superman one of the most successful marketing licenses of all time. His name, look, powers, origin story and even his supporting cast, from Lois Lane to Lex Luthor, are known all around the world. Terms like “Kryptonite” and “Brainiac” have become commonplace terms in our everyday language. Without question, there has been no more influential character in the history of comic books.

Reeve

A Symbol of Hope

A character does not become an icon recognized all over the world without merit. Superman is the idealized man, possessing infinite physical strength but also strength of character. It is not so important what Clark Kent is physically capable of, but rather what he knows that he should do. To me, Superman is at heart, a fireman. He is compelled to be a public servant, and I believe he would find some way to help people even if he wasn’t more powerful than a locomotive. After all, his civilian persona is a reporter, a person who seeks out the truth no matter who he upsets in the process. Clark wants to leave this world better than he found it.

This, for me, is the heart of the character. Some people like to throw around the term “messiah complex” as if it is a bad thing. I believe that Superman’s unflinching belief that people are worth protecting makes him the most human superhero of them all. Superman doesn’t believe in doing what is right because it’s the popular thing to do or because there is something in it for him. He simply does the right thing because it is the right thing. This uncompromising view of morality showcases the best of humanity; not just truth and justice, but compassion, restraint, and fairness.

Superman is the best of humanity, and that is the driving force behind his most important superpower; the ability to inspire others to be better.

New 52 Superman

What I Like About Superman

As somebody who tries to keep an optimistic view of things, I like to imagine or hope that most of us share this trait with Superman and can connect with his struggle to do good in the world. Of course, because of Superman’s abilities, he has some interesting questions that only he has to ask. How much good is enough, and is there such a thing as doing too much good? After all, if Superman solves all of the world’s problems, is that the right thing to do? Wouldn’t people come to be dependent on Superman and potentially become helpless in his absence?

Perhaps the more important question for understanding Superman’s character: what happens when you do your absolute best and still can’t save everyone? Even a man who can fly faster than a speeding bullet can’t be in more than one place at a given moment. In the face of overwhelming destruction, how does Superman make choices about who to save? On a smaller scale, at what point does this selfless streak become detrimental to Clark’s own life? He should be able to develop his personal interests, fall in love and build a family like the rest of us, but that isn’t always possible when he devotes his life to being a public servant.

The appeal of Superman, for me, is that he is the embodiment of true heroism; selfless conviction to protect other people no matter the cost. While many other heroes have this trait, it is because they are all, in some way, inspired by who Superman is. It is that influence that makes Superman perhaps the greatest superhero of them all, even today when hundreds of others are all staking their claim. He is a timeless symbol of good.

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