Sunday, February 5, 2012

Max Landis’ "The Death and Return of Superman"

We all know there's a new Superman movie in the works. The cast, at least, has me comfortably jazzed about its prospects. I've been a casual fan of the big blue dude since I was a kid. Over the decades I've picked up the comics so infrequently that I only rarely could say I was up to date on what was happening in the mythos. And yet, largely because of my fondness for the first Christopher Reeve film (now a relic of another age) and my affection for Superman as a character that seems to perpetually regenerate from some deep part of our collective mammalian brain, I still get a fanboy thrill at the notion of the whole Superman thing being reinterpreted for and reintegrated into yet another generation.

But that's one hard row to hoe, and getting harder. Keeping Superman not only relevant but interesting has never been a bigger challenge. (My own fiction spin on that relevance question was published ten years ago.) The very subgenre Superman triggered — superhero adventure — has over 74 years grown so vast and deep and (in its rare best examples) sophisticated that it has outgrown Superman, antiquated him. Keeping him on top of that has proven to be a serious creative challenge.

On film, Bryan Singer's Superman Returns in 2006 is an obvious case in point. While I like the movie and will defend it to its detractors, I concede that some big choices behind it (#1 being its awkward linkage to the Chris Reeve series) resulted in a final product that aimed for worthy ends and was artfully crafted, but landed broken and underpowered. It's to the DC film "canon" what Ang Lee's Hulk is for Marvel: noble aspirations ground between the gears of big-money movie-making.

In the comics, the obvious case is The Death of Superman, DC Comics' 1992 storyline developed through a multi-issue story arc under the title The Death and Return of Superman. Years after missing its initial print run, I tried reading the collected omnibus edition. Instead of being thrilled by the ol' gosh-wow, I was bored bored bored. Couldn't finish it. "Doomsday," the alien super-monstrosity that the DC team created to best Superman once and for all (or not) — brain-jellingly boring. I dropped the book into a donation pile and never thought of it again.

Until this past week, when Max Landis — son of John and screenwriter of Chronicle — released his "educational parody" titled The Death and Return of Superman. He recounts what happened in 1992 when DC  decided to kill, then resurrect, Superman. Landis breaks it down for us hilariously, aided by a justice league of Elijah Wood, Mandy Moore, Ron Howard, Chris Hardwick, Simon Pegg, and more.