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Messiahs and darkness

Peter Chattaway recently posted on a Wall Street Journal article relaying the decision by Warner Brothers to scrap their Justice League plans and instead focus films on individual DC comic book heroes—which includes a reboot (or is it a re-reboot, heh) of Superman. Interestingly, the powers that be are pondering the recent success of the Batman reboot and want the upcoming films to be “to be bathed in the same brooding tone as The Dark Knight:”

Creatively, [Warner Brothers Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov] sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.’ DC properties. “We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it,” he says. That goes for the company's Superman franchise as well.
Chattaway links to some responses by folks to the idea of a “brooding” Superman and gives his own as well.

Interestingly, Chattaway’s post comes as my husband and I are almost finished watching the last season of Smallville, which chronicles the early years of Clark Kent (Kal-El) before he becomes Superman. The season is heavily laced in biblical allusions, with passing references to biblical people and events interspersed here and there. In “Traveler,” one of the most recent episodes we watched, Clark's friend Chloe addresses Jor-El at the Fortress of Solitude, declaring: “Out of all the planets across the universe, you decided to send your only son to this one. To Earth!” Plays along the messianic theme, if you ask me. Which, of course, isn’t new to Superman fans, as more than a few folks out there suggest Superman Returns went out of its way to conjure up that image. (I found them myself, heh.)

Connecting messianic themes to Superman is not a stretch, in my opinion. There are more than a few echoes of this in the character. Sent to Earth by his father, Clark grows up among humans, sympathizes with them, loves them. But he is also greater than them, and he struggles with temptations regarding his powers, but chooses to use them sacrificially to help others (even at heavy costs to himself). He constantly confronts evil, risks his life for others and has saved the world from destruction more than once—threats of destruction often brought on by selfishness, greed and pride (ie, sin).

And these kind of themes speaks volumes to the whole darkness issue. Anytime you deal with messianic themes, you’re going to deal with darkness—and a lot of it. We wouldn’t need someone to save us if the world worked the way it should. And walking in a world not-yet-right leads to confrontations with evil, both in big and small doses. And those clashes are stinging at best, brutal at worst; often it costs us, sometimes dearly. Which naturally makes even the best of us frustrated, angry and, yes, brooding.

Jesus had his dark and brooding moments in those kinds of collisions—cleaning out the temple, the death of Lazareth and the night in the Garden are a few that come to mind. He got frustrated at lack of faith, furious with corruption and harsh with those who wielded power over the poor and powerless.

As deeply as he suffered in those confrontations, however, Jesus wasn’t jaded by them. He knew how deeply the world and its people were broken, mere echoes of what we were created to be. But he also knew that he, the Father and the Spirit were about to fix that, to enable us to live again as we were created to. His kingdom is all about the certainty of good overcoming evil—about restoring and redeeming this world and its people, offering hope to the hopeless, comfort to the mourning, fulfillment to the longing, forgiveness to the unforgivable, redemption to the irredeemable and life to the dying.

Clark Kent/Superman undoubtedly has an optimistic view of human nature and the faith that good should, can and will overcome evil. Chloe notes in “Varitas” that Clark has an “inherent need to find good in people” and a willingness to forgive. To darken the series by taking that away from this character and try to make him like Bruce Wayne/Batman (who, by the way, has his own messianic tendencies) would cease to make him Superman.

But just because Clark’s got great hope doesn’t mean his confrontations with injustice, corruption, and despair won’t bring on dark and brooding moments. That seems to be inherent in the whole messianic theme. Smallville has gotten to that point more than once (like the scene above in “Veritas,” where Clark agonizes after Lana falls victim to Brainiac and remains in a comatose state)—and very effectively.

And I think that aspect would be interesting to explore in a film, too.

(Images: cover of Superman (v2) #204, art by Jim Lee, via Wikipedia; Smallville images, CW via Wikipedia; Superman Returns, Warner Bros) smallvillectgy


Great comments, Carmen.

The question of whether Superman Returns was a reboot is an interesting one, isn't it? It's basically a sequel to the first two Christopher Reeve films, but it utterly ignores the third and fourth films (and presumably it ignores Supergirl as well). So it's sort of a semi-reboot, but not a full reboot.
Carmen Andres said…
thanks, peter. 'superman returns' had the feel of the old films but some different angles, so, yeah, semi-reboot does fit best, heh.

it was an interesting experiencing watching 'superman returns' while being a fan of 'smallville.' smallville's lex is one of the best i've ever seen, and i felt like i knew clark better in the series than the film. but that might be because television series have the advantage of taking 22 episodes to explore a storyline, while films give you 2 hours.
Ken Brown said…
Great thoughts! You make me wish I hadn't given up on Smallville. Maybe I'll have to get caught back up (I enjoyed the first few seasons, but gave it up last year when I drastically cut back my TV watching).
Carmen Andres said…
i'm actually enjoying watching the series over a period of weeks rather than months. it gives a sense of the whole story that i miss when i watch it as it comes. it's a good series, though i have a feeling it is coming to an end. eight seasons is getting up there. and then there's the cast shake-up next season, hrm.
SolShine7 said…
You made some good points. Smallville is one of my favorite shows and I think they've already explored a "darker" side to the Superman mythos. The way they shaped Lex is brilliant and we really get to see Clark's struggles and growth. If Warner Brothers sets out to make a film that dresses Superman in The Dark Knight's style if could be good as long as they don't get caught up trying to turn Superman into Batman because that's not going to work. They're two very different characters and hopefully they don't forget that.
Carmen Andres said…
solshine, i've really appreciated the way they've developed lex, showing us the road to darkness rather than just making the character dark to begin with. i've deeply appreciated the way this series explores the idea that how we become the people we are is based very much on the choices we make in getting there. i also like how redemption is a constant presence in this series. thanks for stopping by!!