Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow

Superman's mission has changed.  This past Saturday, October 16, 2021, DC Comics announced at their DC Fandome event that Superman's long-standing mission for "truth, justice, and the American way" would be changing to better reflect the current world.  

The new mission - a never-ending fight for truth, justice, and a better tomorrow.*

Moving Superman away from strictly an American icon and giving him back to the the world.  DC Comics has stated that the decision is meant “to better reflect the storylines that we are telling across DC and to honor Superman’s incredible legacy of over 80 years of building a better world.

Unsurprisingly, like the reaction to the new Superman's recent coming out, the reaction has been mixed.  Many praising the decision for its inclusivity and broader scope.  Other's seeing it as one more anti-American sentiment.  Notably, former Superman Dean Cain expressed his disapproval to this as well.



To Cain and similar detractors, this is merely the latest in a series of ill-advised political moves seeking to pander to the left.  It would seem to reveal more of Cain's politics than DCs.

In truth, it reflects a long pattern of changes to the hero's motto and mission.  Dating back to his earliest appearances, Superman's mission has always included truth and justice.  You can find many instances of Superman's slogan only including these two items.  The award winning Fleischer theatrical animated shorts from the early 1940s only proclaimed a "never-ending battle for truth and justice."  Ironically, Dean Cain's Lois & Clark television program only included the "battle for truth and justice" part as well.

The American Way portion has come and gone a lot over the 80 year history of the character.  This tag line originated in a 1940s radio serial; but really came into prominence with the 1950 George Reeves television show.  The phrase was then dropped for the 1960s cartoon, but picked back up by Christopher Reeve in 1978's Superman film.

Not surprising, the phrases comes and goes as American patriotism (or nationalism, depending on your perspective) waxes and wanes.  With the current emphasis on diversity and inclusion that is in the zeitgeist, broadening Superman's mission makes sense.  Likewise, with the increasing globalization of our pop culture and the larger global audience for superhero comics, television, and film, a global mission makes sense.

Plus, Superman has always represented the best of us as humans, not just as Americans.  His core beliefs, his personality, his innate goodness would have come through regardless of what country he hailed from.  What nation he called home.

He's always been the "Man of Tomorrow."  Now his mission is aligned with that.

*I have had to add the Oxford comma myself. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, And The American Way?

Originally posted on December 6, 2019.  Re-posted for context around a couple of Superman conversations, both preceding and following this post. 

DC Films still doesn’t know what to do with Superman, the studio reportedly is unsure how to make the character “relevant to modern audiences” https://t.co/ActQZp2O3t pic.twitter.com/EtxNICHvWT


It started with a piece in Variety outlining the future of DC Films, the subdivision of Warner Brothers focused on the DC Comics characters.  It outlined plans for The Batman and discussed in depth plans for the upcoming R-rated features like The Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey, hot on the heels of the success of Joker.  But when it came to Superman, the piece confirmed what many of us have known for a long time - DC really doesn't understand Superman any more.

The studio has less clarity on what to do with Superman, a character who has now been rebooted two different times in the last 13 years, […] without landing on a winning strategy.

To help find a way to make Superman relevant to modern audiences, studio brass has been polling lots of high-profile talent. “ Like J.J. Abrams and Michael B. Jordan.

Now, this will be harsh, but if you don't understand how to make a Superman movie, perhaps you are in the wrong business.  It you cannot find enough material to understand the character, then perhaps storytelling is not your strong suit.

Superman has been continuously published since 1939.  Eighty years of material waiting to be told on the big screen.

For the Man Who Has Everything

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

Superman: For All Seasons

All-Star Superman

Really, none of those could serve as an inspiration?!?

And the character isn't relevant?!?

It's hard to fathom not thinking an illegal immigrant raised in the Midwest who moves to the big city to become a journalist to fight corruption and an egomaniacal billionaire isn't relevant today.

Or that the original social justice warrior fighting corrupt politicians and slumlords isn't relevant, as he was presented in his original stories.

Warner Brothers hesitancy reveals a problem with sincerity, with hope, with optimism.  It's the Batman problem.  Everything to them is viewed through a Batman shaped lens.  Batman is gritty, Batman is edgy and dark.  Batman sells.  Ergo, in order for other things to be successful, they need to look like Batman.

And Superman is inherently diametrically opposed from Batman.  Superman is light, Superman is bright, Superman is hope.

You can see this problem in their most recent attempts at a Superman movie.  Man of Steel, while a solid sci-fi film, is a terrible Superman film.  Randian objectivism should not be allowed anywhere near a Superman film unless it is used as a contrast.  Superman should prove objectivism fatally wrong.  He must do what is right simply because it is right and for no other reason.  He protects, he saves those where he has no personal interest, no personal stake.  He will save everyone, or at least die trying.   Superman cannot stand by and let someone die if he has the power to save them, especially if the reason for inaction is to protect his identity.  That strikes against the very core of the character.

"Are you going to help everyone?
No.  But I'm going to try.
"
Superman: Up in the Sky #6

Likewise, Batman v Superman fails because it provides no contrast between the two characters.  In the film, we are shown no difference between Batman and Superman.  Two characters filmed through the same dark lenses, literally and metaphorically, battling each other because the plot requires it to be so.  And in Justice League, Superman is more of a plot device than an actual character in the film.  The adjustments to the film at least brought forth a few moments which showed what Henry Cavill might be able to do with the character under the right pen, but the disjointed production of that particular movie did no one any favors.

It's a puzzle why Warner Brothers has such a hard time with an appropriate tone for Superman.  Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger, showed that an earnest approach to superhero film would work.  That character has formed the backbone of their MCU and has benefited from playing off the different personalities in that universe.

Likewise, a film like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood showcasing an optimistic hero and contrasting him with the cynical world is earning critical acclaim.  And while it is not burning up the box office charts, it has still recouped its costs, nearing $40 million in ticket sales.

We need Warner Brothers to get this right.  We need Superman again, as everything he stands for seems to be under attack.

"To best be in a position to use his amazing powers in a never-ending battle for truth and justice, Superman has assumed the disguise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."

The American Way was later added to Superman's fight, making the better-known phrase "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

But what is truth when unpopular realities can be dismissed as "fake news" or when documented record can simply be denied?  When the images we see must be evaluated for their level of manipulation?  When scripted dramas are passed off as reality television?  What is truth when feelings and opinions matter more than facts?

What is justice when it seems to be applied unevenly at best?  When the color of ones skin can be the difference in a business meeting in a coffee shop and an arrest at a coffee shop or between life and death in a traffic stop?  When antisemitic, white power, and alt-right groups are on the rise?  When the gender pay gap still exists?  When affluenza is a recognized condition?  What is justice if it is not blind?

What does the American Way mean anymore?  Whose American Way? Especially when our country is as fractured as it is.

Sadly, even the "reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper" part is going away in our society.  Under attack from declining sales and partisan politics alike.

Superman has always existed to be our ideal.  The hero of heroes.  The greatest.  He has been a social-justice warrior before the term ever existed (look back to those initial comics where he was beating up slum lords and corrupt business men).  The Blue Boy Scout.  A father figure figuratively and literally.  The leader of gods and men.

He has been portrayed as a Messiah figure of late, though that is a little misguided in my opinion.  He is much more of a representation of Moses, the leader-deliverer.  A child sent away in a vessel, raised by adopted parents who discovers his heritage and becomes a leader and inspiration.  An important distinction given the heritage of Siegel and Shuster, two Jewish kids growing up in the Depression, with a war raging in Europe.  Into these dark times, these two guys created a beacon of hope.  A strong man who could stop all the bullies and protect the little guy.

Over time, Superman's character continued to solidify.  Powers and weaknesses came and went; some of them very, very strange.  But the core of the character remained.  Superman is honest, fair, and decent.  He is a paragon of virtue who knows and does what is right.  He is the strongest one their is, but uses that strength to protect only, not to intimidate or bully.  Strength with responsibility.

And through the years, we have seen him bubble to the surface when he is needed.  Christopher Reeves fully embodying the character more than any other actor, making us "believe a man could fly."  More than any actor, Christopher Reeve gave the character a lightness, a comfort in his own skin than shone brightly through the screen.  The movies may be a little corny and only two of the four really work, but there is no denying the sincerity of the portrayal that would define the character.

It's that character we need again.

We need that paragon, that beacon of hope to inspire us again.  The example that causes us to find a better way.

We need to believe a man can fly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Superman Comes Out

 


In addition to Indigenous Peoples Day, Monday was National Coming Out Day, an annual LGBTQ+ awareness day to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and others in "coming out of the closet" to those around them and to support them living openly as themselves.  The foundational belief is that homophobia and bigotry thrives on silence and ignorance, and that by coming out and being open, it is harder for those closest to them to maintain homophobic or oppressive views.

DC Comics commemorated yesterday by announcing that corporate sponsor and world's greatest superhero, Superman, will be coming out as a bisexual man.  

Reaction has been mixed, with many praising the decision for the impact it will have on those struggling with their own identities, and the predictable voices decrying this as the end of comics and/or the world.  

Here's why it matters.

1) It means the Seduction of the Innocent era is truly finally over.

During the height of McCarthyism, psychiatrist Frederic Wertham published his critique of the comics of the era entitled Seduction of the Innocent.  Wertham believed that comics were leading to juvenile delinquency because of their portrayals of sex, violence, homo-erotic sub tones, and un-American ideals.  The Senate had also turned its eye toward comics, and used Wertham's book to forward its agenda.  This lead to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, a censorship organization that put strict restrictions on the type of content that could be included in comic book magazines.  Of course, in looking through Seduction of the Innocent, it becomes clear very early on, that a lot of Wertham's arguments were out and out fabricated.  He manipulated, overstated, compromised, and flat out fabricated evidence for his claims.  But it worked, and impacted comics for decades to follow.  We've just slowly been coming out of the effects over the past 20 years, with the major companies' abandonment of the Comics Code Authority.  

The Code, like the Hays Code and other McCarthy era governing codes, reduced comics to strictly all ages material, good and bad.  It prevented cops from being seen  as corrupt or bad guys.  It prevented the use of vampires or werewolves requiring creative adjustments sometimes even to a comic creators name.  Marv Wolfman had to fight to be credited correctly because they wanted to censor his last name.  

One of the chief objections was to "sexual perversion or any inference of the same." Because Wertham had deemed that the relationship between Batman and Robin had such overt homosexual overtones, anything remotely approaching subtext had to be stripped away.  This is why the Batman television show added Aunt Harriet.  You couldn't have a home occupied only by men.  

Comics have been struggling since to adequately represent their creators and their readership ever since.  The first comic character to come out at a major publisher (Northstar at Marvel in Alpha Flight) did not occur until 1992.  Even Archie added a homosexual member to the gang in 2010.  With a Superman coming out in the pages of a mainline, published DC comic, the impacts of Wertham are finally at an end.


2) It's additive and not reductive or retroactive.

Changes in comics, like in most serialized fiction, comes in a couple of different forms.  There are the reductive changes, removing something from a character's backstory, or perhaps removing a character altogether.  There are retroactive changes, changing some aspect of the character in such a way that this is always the way it was supposed to be.  There are proscriptive changes, changing the character going forward.  And then there are additive changes. Those changes that don't take away or change anything that has come before, but simply add to the mythos.  These type of changes are the best, the most well received.

This change to Superman is an additive change.  

Because the headline is a bit misleading.  It's not Clark Kent that is being changed.  We're not seeing the Superman that we have all known for now 80 years and 1000+ issues suddenly dumping Lois Lane and declaring his new sexuality. Rather, the Superman coming out is the current protagonist in the Superman titles, Clark and Lois' son, Jon Kent. 

What that means, practically, is that most people will never interact with this new bisexual Superman. The 80 years of history of the character still remains the same and exists for those who wish to read and view it.  There are still new comics being written with the straight Clark Kent Superman.  There will be more movies and television shows featuring Clark.  

It just means that there may also be movies and television shows with this new Superman.  There may be more content created that a different audience can also find and relate to.  That someone struggling with their own identity might find a hero they can look up to as well


3) It returns Superman to his original Social Justice Warrior roots.

A prevailing modern view is that Superman is passé.  He's too square, too boy scout, too goody goody.  He's seen as a government stooge, keeper of the status quo, thanks largely in part to his portrayal in Frank Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns.  

Superman is the man and it's just not cool to like the man.

The funny thing is that Superman was the original Social Justice Warrior.  Superman was created by two second generation, children of immigrants in the 1930s, coming off the end of the depression.  As such, they created a super-human character to address the social ills they saw around them. They created the ultimate immigrant, brought to the United States as an infant, who would then become the strongest hero around, to speak for the poor and down trodden.  In the 1940 first issue of Superman #1, Superman casually dropped in on a wife beater and taught him the error of his ways.  Other stories in the first issues of Superman found him fighting crooked labor unions, drunk drivers, and gamblers. Superman didn't just fight robots and super-villians, he fought the ills of the world.

This new Superman is a seventeen year old kid still trying to find his way in the world and live up to his father's legacy.  He's a second generation immigrant, like the original creators of the Superman character.  He's seeking to define who Superman will be, what Superman will represent to a new generation.  Current writer, Tom Taylor, notes this Superman being the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane is important.  He brings both the best of the two of them, melding Clarks' mid-American values with Lois' hard-nosed reporting.  "The question for Jon (and for our creative team) is, what should a new Superman fight for today? Can a seventeen-year-old Superman battle giant robots while ignoring the climate crisis? Of course not. Can someone with super sight and super hearing ignore injustices beyond his borders? Can he ignore the plight of asylum seekers?"

This new Superman has already protested with refugees and stood up to police brutality.  It will not be hard to imagine him standing with those at Pride rallies.  This would be the Superman who would be protecting those at Stonewall, not cracking down on them.


4) Representation always matters.  Period.

The most basic reason why this is important is that representation matters.  Representation always matters.  The writer of this new Superman has put it "everyone needs heroes and everyone deserves to see themselves in their heroes."

Marvel Comics went through this ten years ago when they created their new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Latino teen hero.  There was the same praise and same condemnation.  A small and annoyingly vocal minority were convinced Marvel was getting rid of the Peter Parker they knew and loved.   But that didn't happen.  Instead, thousands of new fans discovered a Spider-Man that looked like them.  To the point where Miles Morales would go on to headline perhaps Sony's greatest Spider-Man film, Into the Spider-Verse.

Miles' creator, Brian Bendis would talk about his creation process and would say that if you were looking at Queens or Forrest Hills New York today and were creating a new teen hero that would fit into that world, you wouldn't create scrawny white Peter Parker.  That's just not what that world looks like any more.  Miles more accurately reflected the world outside your window that Marvel always strived for.  

The same can be said of this new Superman.  If you were looking today to create Superman, whole cloth, as if he were a completely new character, he would not be the corn-fed straight white male figure that was created in the 1930s. Especially with the immigrant experience remained a part of his story.  There would be something changed about his story which would again make him the protector of the down trodden and oppressed.  The most powerful hero who identified with the minority and protected them.

Since this new Superman was to be the biological child of Lois and Clark, an existing character in the DC universe, changes to his gender, his race, or ethnicity were not available.  His sexual identity could be stated, as it had never previously been defined.  (The character is very new and has only been seen "dating" one other character  in the far distant future of the 30th century, a time period which may have also affected his views on sexuality).

Within the LGBTQ+ community, it is also important that this new Superman is representing the bisexual community, the portion of that community whose existence and legitimacy is most often questioned and outright denied.  Bi-erasure or bi-invisibility are pervasive problems, effecting mental and physical health of bisexuals.  Bisexuals have the poorest health in relation to their sexuality, having increased risks of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders, as well as increased risks of heart disease and cancer.  They can feel unaccepted by both heterosexual and homosexual groups, with their sexuality challenged as either too homosexual, or not homosexual enough.  As if there was some litmus test to be passed.

The Superman family has long been an inclusive one.  There is the female Superman in Supergirl (and Superwoman).  There is the kid Superman in Superboy.  There is the black Superman in Calvin Ellis and Val Zod.  The native American Super Chief.  The Chinese New Superman.  

It's now just a little bit more inclusive and a little bit more representative. 

One step forward in the never ending battle for truth and justice.

And if just one person feels validated.  One person stops cutting or hurting themselves.  One person can stand up to their bullies; can face the world around them. One person feels like they can continue living because they have been seen, it’s worth it.



Monday, October 11, 2021

Indigenous Peoples Day 2021

Today marks Indigenous Peoples Day.  A day to celebrate and honor Native American peoples and to commemorate their histories and cultures.

Today we remember America wasn't discovered.  Not by Columbus, not even by the Vikings who beat him here.  Yes, they opened up trade, they made the contact between Europe and the Americas, but there wasn't anything to discover.  There were always people of this land here.  And sadly, the European contact with the land came largely at the expense of those already here.

Today is a day we remember the tragedies the indigenous people have endured and find inspiration in their overcoming ongoing struggles today.   It should be a day most of us remember that we still have a lot to wrestle with in our history. 

Sadly, our education system is failing in teaching us history.  It has been has been so undervalued for so long, we cling to problematic myths and struggle with the wrong parts of our heritage.  And we can see this in the battles over whether today should be Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day.

It's time to have a celebration that recognizes the heritage of our country and land dates back much farther than any date when a European stepped foot on this land.  And when we recognize that, perhaps we can start dealing with the harder issues.

Perhaps a great way to start today would be in learning more about the native peoples of Texas, or for your particular region.

"Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society."
John Fire Lame Deer

Saturday, October 2, 2021

WDW@50

"Walt Disney World is tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney...and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney's dream come true.  May Walt Disney World bring Joy and Inspiration and New Knowledge to all who come to this happy place...a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn - together."
Roy O. Disney, October 25, 1971


Yesterday, Walt Disney World celebrated its 50th anniversary.  On October 1, 1971, the Magic Kingdom opened its gates for the first time.  At that time, Walt Disney World was a lot smaller than we would think of today, consisting only of the Magic Kingdom theme park, the Ticket and Transportation Center, and the Contemporary and Polynesian resorts, all located on the monorail line circling Seven Seas Lagoon.  

With the success of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Walt Disney began exploring several options for a second theme park location.  Primarily, Walt wanted to find space to combat the encroachment of motels and shops that had sprung up right next to Disneyland.  

"The Florida Project", as it was known, was intended to present a distinct vision with its own diverse set of attractions. While a theme park would be included as an attraction, it was only a small portion of Walt's vision.  His original plans also called for the inclusion of an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" (EPCOT).  Instead of the theme park we know today, this EPCOT was a master planned community intended to serve as a testbed for new city-living innovations. 

Walt's death in 1966 during the planning phase of development left the company wrestling with the idea of whether to bring the Florida Project to fruition. However, Walt's older brother, Roy, came out of retirement to make sure Walt's biggest dream was realized.   And it was Roy who insisted the name of the entire complex be changed from Disney World to Walt Disney World, ensuring that people would remember that the project was Walt's dream.

Though the pandemic put a damper on a lot of the celebration plans, the company is still celebrating in true Disney fashion, with two nighttime spectaculars, EARidescent decorations and costumes, and lots of nostalgic food and souvenirs.  The pandemic also didn't stop massive crowds from arriving yesterday to celebrate the anniversary, with the Hub area filling to capacity in early evening for the new fireworks show.

The celebration will be continuing for the next 18 months in typical Disney fashion, and we will look forward to celebrating this December.  

Happy Birthday, Disney World!  Here's to 50 more magical years!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Father To A Son


This little kid.  My all black clad, emo 4 year old.  The tender-hearted voracious sight word learner.  The one who takes it on himself to put our dates on the calendar.  He’s our photographer, filling our camera rolls with his photos and videos. He in fact asked for this picture. 

He brings so much joy into our world.  

Like his sister, he is growing up too fast, but I am enjoying every minute of it  

Today is apparently National Sons Day. There is a debate on whether it is March 4 or September 28, but the sentiment remains the same. So like for Daughters Day, I thought I would share some poetic words for my son. 

these tears of joy,
are for the first time that i saw you
my beatiful baby boy,
i never thought this love i would find,
for what i feel for you is so deep inside,
when i see your face i see mine,
when i look into your eyes i can see the sun shine,
no matter how hard times may get,
just remember that im here for you dont ever forget,
for you are my hart my strenght my all,


when ever you need me just give me a call,
for i will always be here for you until the end,
because im more than just a father im also your friend

Jose Murguia,  2009

Saturday, September 25, 2021

To My Daughter


This girl right here. This rambunctious, big-hearted, athletic, toothy-grinned little girl. She’s the one who made me a father and I cannot be prouder to be her dad. 

For National Daughter’s Day, some wise poetry for my little girl. 

My child! thou seest me content to lead
A lonely life. Do thou, in imitation,
Not happy, nor triumphant, learn the need
Of resignation.

All guileless be, commercing with the skies,
And as a sun to glorify the whole;
My child, within the azure of thine eyes,
Put thou thy soul.

For none are happy, none triumphant here;
To all their little span is incomplete.
Our life is but a shadow, and, my dear,
The shadows fleet.

Yes! of their weary lot all men complain.
To happiness, oh! strange and cruel fate,
All things are wanting, all! we seek in vain,
Or find too late.

What are the boons we crave, each for his part,
The hope of which doth still our hearts beguile?
Renown and wealth, a word, a woman’s heart,
A loving smile.

Mirth, to the unloved king, is wanting still;
A drop of water to Sahara’s plain;
Man’s heart is like a well, which, as we fill,
But dries again.

Behold those thinkers whom we idolize,
Those heroes whose command we gladly own,
Whose names illuminate our somber skies—
Where are they flown?

They rose like meteors through the wintry air,
And dazzled for a moment every eye;
Then sunk into the careless grave, and there
In darkness lie.


Kind Heaven, that knows our bitter griefs and fears,
Takes pity on our vain and empty days,
And bathes each morning with refreshing tears
Our dusty ways.

One only law there is, so just and mild,
Of which each honest heart must own the sway:
To pity, nothing hate, and, oh! my child,
To love alway.


Victor Hugo