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« If they had to announce the Oscar nominees right now... | Main | Strong Lex For Second Steel »

What Would Superman Do? A Superhero's Guide to National Security Crisis

[Editor's Note: Please enjoy this guest post from the recently Reader Spotlighted Andy Hoglund. We haven't said much about Man of Steel (Nathaniel hasn't even seen it yet!) so here's Andy to do some thinking about it for us!]

Life is about choice, particularly in America. Coke or Pepsi. Elvis or Beatles. Biggie or 2pac. The choices we make engulf us, setting course for the lives we lead and informing the men and women we are to become.

No choice is more indicative of who we are than a decision made by most early in life. Though perhaps aided by circumstances out of our control – marketing, household income, geographic location – I feel nothing better defines a person’s character than their answer to this simple question:

Batman or Superman?

Sure, at first it’s a distinction without a difference, maybe even a little inane. After all, both are superheroes owned by the same parent company, originated in the same decade of American pop culture and, indeed, arguably the two most beloved superheroes in the country (sorry Iron Man).

But, in a rare streak of bipartisanship, politician fans of both characters have crossed the aisle to support their favorite superhero. Their endorsements may underscore nothing less than our continued capacity for a broad political discourse. [more...]

Batman, for instance, has been transformed by Frank Miller from 60s camp icon to near sociopathic vigilante, a character deeply suspicious of any form of authority. Despite this, his supporters include Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. Fans of Superman—a character so idealistic and good-natured he could easily be mistaken for a bleeding heart—include a near plurality of 2012’s Republican challengers for the Presidency of the United States: Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain.

And so the debate rages on; across party lines and across the country.

Much like the divide between fans over the greatest DC Comics hero, the recent nationwide debate on the NSA spying scandal crosses well defined ideological lines.  At the heart of the uproar –led by an unholy alliance of liberals and libertarians – is a familiar conversation about the boundaries of government oversight and the price we pay for national security.

Regardless of one’s personal take on the NSA leaks, the nationwide conflict is already evident. It begs to ask how two of pop culture’s greatest heroes cope with the murky questions of handicapping freedom in the name of protecting it.

The latest Superman film, Man of Steel, evokes the current debate through the precarious relationship between Superman and the US government. In the film, writers David Goyer and Christopher Nolan –who also penned the Dark Knight trilogy – attempt to answer a glaring question: how do you control (or humanize) a character that is able to see through walls and fly into outer space? The answer: you can’t. And yet, the fictionalized US government tries, both with weaponry and high tech surveillance. The results are at best comical, at worst, boring.

In one moment, Superman smugly destroys a satellite that had been monitoring him, in what I can only interpret as some kind of wish fulfillment for Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor turned leaker of classified information on mass surveillance programs. A general (depicted as a fool… because isn’t it just easier that way?) sternly reminds the Man of Steel how many millions he just wasted in one impulsive swoop.


Couple that with the billions of dollars in property damage caused by Superman during his encounters with the villain (the xenophobic General Zod… nudge nudge political overtones), and I’m asking: who is actually going to pay for all this destruction? That’s right: you, the American taxpayer. Or, rather (you know), we’ll place the burdens on the backs of our grandchildren, who we’ll saddle with a debt so large it will, yada yada…

More relevant is the subplot featuring Lois Lane as a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter attempting to protect her sources (and her journalistic integrity) against the prism of national security.

The timing could not be better for a film like Man of Steel to be released, and force audiences to sift through thorny issues such as privacy rights and the limits of the freedom of the press. Unfortunately, the film rope-a-dopes away from that kind of confrontation, hewing instead to its blockbuster instincts. It is a missed opportunity.

Answers do not come easy in Man of Steel, nor do they in real life, but for different reasons. For a more nuanced look at the modern conundrum of balancing security with freedom, Goyer and Nolan’s The Dark Knight presents a hero more than willing to use the tools at his disposal in the interest of the people he has sworn to save, as long as they are managed under the proper guise of checks and balances (sound familiar?). In the morally complex world of The Dark Knight, choices are not clear cut as some characters are allowed to have “their faith rewarded” while others are forced to “make their own luck” with ultimately tragic results. InMan of Steel, issues are simply sidestepped with the snap of Supes’ cape as he bounds continent to continent, to and fro.

Guys like that always have it so easy, don’t they? And they always get the girl.

I was always more of a Batman person, anyways.



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Reader Comments (6)

"Batman, for instance, has been transformed by Frank Miller from 60s camp icon to near sociopathic vigilante,"

You mean Superman, right?

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZizo Abul Hawa

Batman or Superman? Hmph. I chose Wonder Woman.

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Erin: (sigh) I've backed the Gina Carano casting since before I knew she and Cavill were dating, but I doubt anyone's interested. Of DC's "Trinity" (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman), Superman is the adopted child who barely knows his biological parents to mourn their passing and has his parents die when he's capable to live on his own and most of us care for because of everything the limited series All-Star Superman IS and Man of Steel ISN'T, Batman is the tragic orphan who we care for because of his pain and his ornate and his increasingly mythical gothic villain stable (For example: Poison Ivy went from "woman with high immunity to toxins" to "Plant God), but why do we really care about Wonder Woman? I get that she's the one superheroine with no ties to a male equivalent, but what's her actual backstory, pre New 52? Wait... she's actually living clay? And she's lived on an island of warriors completely away from men? I, a reasonably intelligent mainstream reader, am not exactly getting attached to this. Well, she must have some awesome villains, right? Oh, her most respected villain cocnept that's not "she punches Nazis" is an evil Cheetah woman? If that's her best villain, are her books usually focused on humour? They're not? Here's more appealing superheroines that I, someone reasonably intelligent, can see working more as movies, some actually proven to work: Justin Grey/Jimmy Palmiotti Power Girl. She-Hulk. Teen Titans Animated Series Starfire. Empowered. Ms. Marvel. Any of the female X-Men. Wonder Woman is a 1940s relic who has never consistently worked when adapted for the times, and I actually think we should consider her left there.

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Zizo: GOYER just turned Superman into what could be called a near sociopath. Miller eventually just did that to EVERYONE. Just read ASBAR for proof.

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Andy: Meaningless 45 minute destruction heavy action scenes and Christ paralellism so heavy handed it'd make Superman Returns blush. Honestly, if I were the Warner Bros. brass and was faced with a choice between "allow the estates to have their stake of the royalties while we wait for a team to be interested in making a genuine Superman movie, with the bright colours and true idealism and everything" or "make Man of Steel", I'd choose the former, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia: agreed. One final thought - it is surprising that Supes is so embraced by the GOP candidates for President... given that he was an illegal alien.

*rim shot*

June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

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