Comics

Evolution of the Superman Part 6: The Man of Tomorrow, Today

J. C. Maçek III

The final in the "To Be Continued..." six-part look at Superman’s evolution is upon us now. From fanzine villain to the world’s first superhero, back and forth from stage to screen, to godlike powers, to reboot to death, to resurrection to complete power revision… what do we get in the Man of Tomorrow today?

Once Superman got over his weird shift into his Electric Blue and Red forms, he was more or less back to normal in his classic red, blue and yellow costume and short hair with spit curl and he was again surrounded by many of his classic friends and opponents (Supergirl and General Zod were both back in more or less their recognizable forms, with the “new” Superboy still bounding around the planet) and with the longest-accepted version of his power scheme. (Big Blue did switch to a black background as opposed to the traditional yellow on his S-Shield after the bleak events of the Imperiex war.)

The dawn of a new Millennium also marked the dawn of a new television show featuring characters from the Superman mythos in the form of Smallville, which ran for ten seasons starting in 2001. Instead of focusing on Superman himself, the show focused on the young Clark Kent as he grew up with an increasingly more public use of his powers each season and an expanding number of post cape-and-tights supporting cast members appearing in Smallville before adolescent Clark even took his first real flight. Everyone from Lex Luthor (Clark’s erstwhile best friend in the series) to Brainiac to Lois Lane to Green Arrow to Morgan Edge to even General Zod and Doomsday for heaven’s sake have been witness to Clark and the strange things that surround him, so once he hits Metropolis in his fedora and glasses, he may look like a new man, but when he flies around in the cape and tights with no mask, pretty much every surviving one of them will say “Yep… that’s Clark!”

Many Smallville fans had hoped that star Tom Welling would get a shot at Superman on the big screen, but when it came time to relaunch the Superman film franchise, the distinction went to Brandon Routh, (a very similar-looking actor to Christopher Reeve). In 2006 Superman Returns brought a new sequel to the series that began with 1978’s Superman: The Movie (albeit ignoring the events of the third and fourth films in the series). In Returns provided the most accurate big screen representation of The Man of Steel’s powers to hit the big screen yet, especially in its focus on yellow sunlight as the source of Superman’s powers. Superman Returns was a hit at the box office and has an overall positive rating with critics.

As Smallville wound itself down to the finale, the creators at DC Comics were making plans for a company-wide reboot that included many revisions to Superman starting in 2011. “The New 52”, as it was dubbed, went farther than other reboots and continuity revisions ever did at DC including the relaunch of every each surviving book with issue #1, including Detective Comics and Action Comics which had retained their numbering since the 1930s. Yes, some revisions cannot truly be undone even though this was considered, yes, a “soft” reboot by DC’s editors.

What’s different for Big Blue? Well, for one thing, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are not only not married anymore... they never have been. Lois doesn't know Clark is Superman and she was actually engaged to some other loser while Superman’s new love interest might just be Wonder Woman. So... "Soft Reboot". For another, Superman no longer wears his classic costume and has a new look. At first glance, it's not so different, is it? He only lacks those red external trunks that have caused so many "underwear on the outside" jokes over the decades. But wait a second... it turns out he's done away with Spandex all together and is, in fact, wearing Kryptonian Battle Armor!

That's right... The Alien who can bounce bullets off of his eyeballs, fly faster than any jet ever made, change the course of rivers, fly through the sun is now wearing Body Armor. Now, at least, we know Superman won't get HURT! Chin up to you true believers who miss him in the classic look... he also now wears an alternate costume... of a short sleve T-Shirt and blue jeans. Please note, DC History has been rewritten, so NOW it's not NEW... it's always been that way! "Soft Reboot"!

From a powers perspective, Superman survived without much of a reboot. He can still fly, use heat vision and x-ray vision, fly at supersonic speeds, bounce bullets off of his eyeballs and lift an entire Wal*Mart at peak hours. And the big guy’s power can increase with more yellow sunlight on his skin.

This New 52 Superman stood as the basis for the next Superman film to hit the big screen, 2013’s Man of Steel, which imitates the New 52’s Kryptonian Battle Armor look to his costume, but avoids the Jeans and T-Shirt look (but maybe in the sequel). As in Smallville everybody and their dog has a good idea that Clark Kent has superpowers and that costume still doesn’t come with a mask, so we’ll see how that goes. Man of Steel is noteworthy for focusing as never before on Clark Kent learning to use and control his powers, as if the entire “evolution” was packed into a single film. Clark must learn to reign in his X-Ray and Heat vision and his first “flights” are long jumps before he actually learns to defy gravity. Owing to something vaguely resembling the new Superboy’s “Tactile Telekinesis”, Clark learns to launch himself from the ground and remain airborne (or spaceborne) with little need to rest.

Man of Steel has been a huge worldwide success (and is sure to boost the sales of the New 52 comics as well) and while it has had a lukewarm critical response, many fans swear by it. From an Evolution of the Superman perspective there are few things more fitting than seeing so many factors in the character’s Evolution in one film. There is no substitute for the comics, of course, and while there are many incarnations of the Man of Tomorrow over seventy-five years, there is still only ONE Superman.

Superman may never stop evolving, so keep watching To Be Continued... for another retrospective in another seventy-five years (this author plans to be alive that long). As for next week on PopMatters.com? You’d need superpowers to foretell what’s coming next.

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