You can see the clues. They’re in the trailer. They’re in the stills. They’re in the toys. Superman is returning and he’s going to bring the legacy of a whole dead planet with him.
As the world sat and gawped at the first sighting of Henry Cavill dressed in blue all those months ago, I was unmoved. And I was unmoved because, like Morpheus eating a cookie, I believe I know something.
Mythology is so hot right now. Geoff Johns has made a career out of juggling tales of DC’s past. JJ Abrams became Emperor of the galaxy by championing his Lost worlds in favour of the stories within them.
Ever since The X-Files’ black oil spilt across screens, the obsession with arcs before action has become a sci-fi disorder.
And Zak Snyder won’t be able to resist with Man Of Steel. He is too desperate to please his audience. Like Smallville before it, the chances of the new film not playing Twister with Kryptonian myth and getting itself all muddled in the process are slim to Zod all.
And the collateral damage with mythology is always character.
The new Superman will be about how an alien might cope with being all-powerful on a strange, lonely planet. There will be long, pensive shots of Kal-El contemplating his place in the world mourning for the home he never knew. There will be shots of him hovering above Earth, thinking about being different from everyone else.
This is a big problem.
Superman should not be about a mighty ET offering his biceps as a service to the weak, useless species he has been lumbered with. It should not be about a caped Kryptonian disguising himself as a journalist to hide away from a populace he feels detached from. It should not be about how his past and powers set him apart.
The end result of this Superman story is always doomed. Superman can do anything. He can fly through the rigours of hyperspace, surge through the sun, out-wrestle gods, shoot lasers from his eyes and rise from the dead.
And as Bryan Singer found out with Superman Returns, loving the alien over the man just ends up with a film about a guy who lifts progressively heavier things.
Superman stories can ask one of two questions, either ‘what would happen if an all-powerful, decent alien lived on Earth?’ or ‘what would happen if a young man from Smallville, USA was given the powers of a god?’.
The former has almost always sought for tension through fisticuffs – the powers and the myth are the differentiators, so they take centre stage. The latter, a far less trodden path, puts Superman’s values in the middle of the ring, not Kryptonian symbols and x-ray vision.
It’s something Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman always got right.
Now there was a lot wrong with the Nineties show but it also got a few things dead-on: John Shea, the bit in the opening credits when you see down Teri Hatcher’s top and the fact that at the heart of the tension was always Clark Kent wondering what the right thing to do is.
It wasn’t about overpowering Zod or stopping a plane from crashing into the middle of a baseball field – it was about the values of a good man struggling with a corrupt world. And that’s the essence of great Superman stories.
One of the best Superman comics ever published, Kingdom Come, was about more than Alex Ross’ artwork. Mark Waid told a tale of man exiled by a society, not because he was beaten in a duel but because his values were rejected.
At the end of the four-issue series there was a beautiful frame that had Superman put on his glasses and smile. The importance of Clark should never be underestimated.
The mythology of Krypton will only lead to tedium; the story of a god raised by Pa and Ma who fights for what’s right no matter the cost will inspire.
In the build-up to Man Of Steel’s release, the producers and writers have spoken of the “relevance” of Superman, finding a way to make him “relatable”. I hope the focus groups went well and that the moody, solitary, hollow hero we inevitably end up with will have been worth the budget. But I can’t see it happening.
A point has been missed. Superman isn’t supposed to be relevant. He’s not supposed to be cool. He is a boy scout, an out-and-out good guy, a man with principles, fighting for a world that isn’t always with him. And therein lies the drama.
It’s a plight alluded to by another boy in blue, Captain America, during Marvel’s Civil War: “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, you move.’”
I hope I’m wrong about Man Of Steel, I really do. But the world, it seems, has changed. It doesn’t want stories, it wants universes. It doesn’t want heroes, it wants warriors. It doesn’t want Clark, it wants Kal-El. And it will get what it wants.