In the wake of the bombings in Boston, Alex Yarde realizes that the best Fortress of Solitude can be a blanket-fort and a tea party, attended by his two young children.
Like most comic book fans, I had some mild interest in the upcoming film, Man of Steel, hoping that the latest reboot of the Superman franchise would, at best, be watchable. But after I saw the trailer once, I had to watch it again and again. I was blown away. It was like I was 9 years old again…
In the summer of 1978, at my local movie theatre in the Morrisaina section of the Bronx, I saw the trailer for Richard Donner’s “Superman the Movie” and was immediately drawn in. The effects (now, so dated) were awe-inspiring. There was an excruciating lack of details in the teaser but it contained the best tag line ever for a film: “You will believe a man can fly!” Then the “S” symbol appeared followed by “Superman the Movie.” I ran home after the seeing the main event (I don’t even remember what film it was) and cut out the full-page advertisement from my Dad’s unread Daily News (he wasn’t very happy about that) and hung it on my wall. I had butterflies in my stomach counting the days until the movie came out. On that glorious summer day I watched it twice, then zoomed out of the theater in full geek mode, giddily humming the unforgettable John Williams score. This is a great memory of my childhood.
I loved the characters in that 1978 movie. Clark Kent/Superman was earnest and endearing. Played perfectly by Christopher Reeve, in what was surely his most famous role. Jor El: legendary Marlon Brando (Superman’s father from Krypton) was regal and brilliant. Jonathan Kent: the great Glenn Ford (Clark’s father on Earth) was a salt of the earth type, who raised Young Clark to be the hero he was destined to become. I, like many of my generation, believe Richard Donner’s film to be the definitive vision of Superman.
But director Zach Snyder and actor Henry Cavill may have produced another one for a new generation. This latest incarnation of Superman has reached inside of me and tapped that 9 year old on the shoulder and said “Hey! You remember how awesome Superman was?”
I couldn’t help but wonder why this snippet of a film resonated with me so much. Did it have something to do with recent events in Boston, Newton, Aurora and sadly so many others? Perhaps I feel the need for a Superman right now—a trustworthy, hopeful figure that stands for Truth, Justice and the American way? Not in a paternalistic, xenophobic or exclusionary way, but in a cowboy hat-wearing, Carlos Arredondo way. Mr. Arrendondo selflessly climbed fences to care for a man who suffered traumatic injuries on Monday. Mr. Arredondo is a helper. Superman helped everyone. And he didn’t care what you looked like, how much money you had or who you loved. Fred Rogers counseled parents when talking about scary events to their children to “look for the helpers, they are everywhere.”
The story of Superman is one of dual identities and inherent goodness in the face of tragedy. Superman has an unshakable belief in the good in people. Admittedly, Superman is not as “cool” as other superheroes, like Batman. But, Batman is a bit dark. He has a mission and He is scarred. Superman is a boy scout. He is corny. But nowadays I feel a little less cynicism and a little more wonder and innocence is refreshing. I’d like to see hokey as the new hipster.
Humility and compassion for others was instilled in Clark Kent by his parents, the Kents. Superman took pride in his unique heritage and the power bequeathed to him by his biological Father Jor-El, but that power was used with responsibility. The era of the 24-hour news cycle seems to have become an irresponsible bombardment of unfiltered, unchecked “news” followed by rancor and hate of those who do not share our “values.” Why is our discourse so raw? I wear no rose colored glasses. I know that history is filled with hateful and ghastly things that humans did to other humans. The Bronx, New York in the late 70’s wasn’t Small Ville, Kansas. But, somehow things feel different to me today. It seems that nothing is sacred and discourse between people (even in the grocery store) is impolite and rough. Courtesy is no longer common. We have forgotten to see people as our neighbors.
Perhaps I’m trying to recapture some lost innocence? Maybe the trailer took me back, and I liked remembering how I felt at that time. With all the challenges young people faced growing up in the 1970s, it was still a time before the unimaginable mass shootings in public schools, or shopping centers or local movie theaters. Before one had to wonder about attending a big event out of fear of bombs. Before planes flew into skyscrapers. Maybe I want to feel how I did when I was a kid.
Today, I feel we all need heroes more than ever. I need to have hope that I can be heroic enough to shield my son and daughter from the tragedy and cynicism that come at children from all sides nowadays. I need to share with them pride in themselves and their own unique heritage. Perhaps the hope that I can cradle the embers of their innocence and wonder as long as possible is the driving force behind why the story of the Last Son Of Krypton is one I feel is worth sharing.
When the daily grind gets too real, the best Fortress of Solitude can be made out of the couch cushions and blankets with a tea party going on inside. I am fighting to hang on to that, and to the 9 year-old in me still believes a man can fly.