Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"We begin to fall..."

Truth, Justice, and the Battle Against Irrelevancy: Superman in American Culture (1938 - 2004): Screencap comes from the final page of Superman #653, one of the best Luthor-Superman issues of my lifetime.

Seeing as we're exactly smack dab in the middle of the "Ranking the Presidents" thing, I thought I'd throw out a bit of a curveball. Here's a link to a paper I wrote on Superman when I was in the Ph.D. program at Western. (Note: I still can't believe that I got course credit from this--according to my transcripts, I got an 81 for this, which, depending on your perspective, may or may not sound impressive, but is very much akin to a C+ in grad school, where, if memory serves, grade inflation was rampant).

Anyway, it'll probably come as no surprise to all six of my loyal readers that this is a long one (53 pages). Usually disclaimer: if you're bored/are unable to sleep/have lost an unfortunate bet, by all means, read it all. For those with, you know, lives, I'm going to give you permission to skim it. To that end, here is a brief reader's guide to the paper, with some observations I've made upon re-reading it for the first time in three years (page numbers are exactly as they'll show up in the .pdf window--meaning that the fancy title page counts as #1--as, for some dumb reason, Adobe elected not to retain the pagination I put in place):

p. 2-3: Upon further review: Jesus, is that house analogy tedious. I am so, so sorry. Please know that, were I not more or less forced to explicitly reference course readings I would've begun with paragraph #4 ("Webster's defines 'superhero' as..." "Created in 1938..."), which is bizarre and exhausting in its own right ("strayed beyond the mainstream"? In the words of the great Sam Seaborn: "you cannot do that to the English language." I think I probably meant to use "outside." Dunno.)

p. 4, note 5: let's keep track of the number of footnotes that are barely even tangentially related to the paragraphs they emanate from: one.

p. 7, para. 2: starting to heat up! I really think they should bring back shifty lobbyists as comic book villains--the timing is perfect. At the very least: a Congressman on the Appropriations Committee that's gone mad with power (I know, I know, very improbable...). At first glance, it looked as though footnote 20 on the next page references the "shitty munitions magnate" (which would've been hilarious), but, alas, it actually reads "shifty." Oh, well.

By the way, while this may be sacrilege, I'm totally opposed to Superman's "no killing" policy. You're telling me Metropolis wouldn't be better off with Luthor dead? He's escaped from prison approximately 612 times!

p. 8 - 9:
in response to your question: no, I obviously didn't have an outline. How else to explain me bouncing around (in the span of a paragraph) from Umberto Eco to sales figures to WW2? It's conceivable that I was drunk for part of the writing process.

bottom of p. 9: I'm guessing I meant to say "ingenious" (extremely clever) and not "ingenuous" (openly straightforward, artless). Christ, this is starting to get depressing.

bottom of p. 10:
From the essay, re: the (in retrospect, kind of unfortunately named) "Supermen for America Club" which appeared at the back of the books:

Pedantic, but generally well-meaning, the typical article counseled young boys and girls to uphold American values. One particularly intense message instructed readers that:

"It is your duty to yourself, your God, your country and your parents to care for yourself in body and mind. You must accept your share of responsibility, thereby lessening the weight of responsibility from the shoulders of others. At home, in school on the playground—be Self-Reliant."

Less defensible was the following week's column:
"kids, do you have a friend who is Japanese? Would you like to send him to a super-secret camp for the summer? If so, please contact 1-800-OSS-4USA. And be sure not to tell your pal--you wouldn't want to spoil the surprise!"
p. 12, note 24: detailed footnote explaining the uses of the Superbots in the 50s and 60s (have I mentioned that I got course credit for this?).

p. 13: Sigh...lengthy (and unnecessary) description of the plot of the first Spider-Man movie, in case, I suppose, my professor decided to have his four-year old son grade it.

p. 16:
I actually find this analysis to be pretty interesting. Yes, I'm now complimenting myself. Incidentally, Eco's "The Myth of Superman" essay is truly outstanding. I urge you to seek it out if you haven't yet read it.

p. 16 - 17: not really sure why I ripped through "The Sandman Saga" so quickly, especially in light of the fact that it's a kickass storyline and I was obssesse

p. 18: "oneiric" means "pertaining to dream." I had to look it up just now.

p. 18:
"Theoretically, with his god-like powers, he could do pretty much anything: eliminate world hunger and homelessness or even (in a dated reference) liberate all of China from Communist rule." (Emphasis added)
It's not entirely clear to me now what system of government 2004 Kyle thought China was utilizing, but clearly it wasn't Communism. [Shakes head]

p. 19: this is probably my favorite paragraph in the whole paper. You can probably stop reading now--it won't get any better:
"In the ultimate act of irony, Superman, the most powerful being in the universe, is bound by the rigid conventions of literature. Free to do anything, as long as it amounted to basically nothing, the Superman of the 1970s spent his time (as did his writers, even if they weren’t necessarily aware of their own constraints) going through the motions, waiting—patiently, politely, nobly—for an opportunity to get out of his (and their) rut. Enter Hollywood."
p. 21: in a fanboyish, turn, I'm apparently irritated here that the film series didn't follow the continuity of the books--the books I've been complaining about for something approaching ten pages now. Nice.

p. 21-22, note 56: wherein I (justifiably) shit all over the third and (ugh) fourth movies in the series. Good times.

p. 22, top: I stand by all of this, of course. I still think the original Superman is pretty crappy, but that Superman II is, as I say, a "true gem." And don't even get me started about how Hackman's jokey Luthor is hailed as one of the best villainous performances ever committed to celluloid, while no one ever talks about how chilling Stamp was as General Zod. (God!)

p. 22, bottom: again, looking back, it's galling how much I bounce around here. ("What's that? I have nothing left to say about the films? Well, better start talking about the multi-verse and Crisis on Infinite Earths now...") I guess I thought that throwing in a "but" would suffice for a transition...

p. 23-4:
though, in fairness, it's a pretty damn good explanation of the multi-verse and its pitfalls, isn't it?

p. 24, note 60: If you're ever in a comic store...or at a garage sale for an exceedingly dorky person that has fallen on hard times and you see all 26 issues of Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the D.C. Universe bundled together, I insist that you buy it, if only so you can read about the Earth-3 exploits of President John Wilkes Booth. You won't regret it. Best 20 bucks I ever spent.

p. 25: shamefully, since this was written, both the writers for Smallville (three seasons ago) and TBTB at DC comics (two months ago) opted to callously kill off Pa Kent. Lame.

p. 26: two whole pages without a single footnote? That has to be a record for me.

p. 27 - 38: in what I guess can be categorized as self-plagiarism, this section was culled from a much shorter paper I wrote for a Pop Culture course in 4th year on the death of Superman.

p. 38, top: I think we can all agree that is probably the only time Lois and Clark has been referenced in a(n admittedly second-rate-ish) Ph.D.-level paper.

p. 40, note 98: ...or Three Doors Down.

p. 41: confession: I've never read Kingdom Come.

p. 42: ...but Red Son is fan-fucking-tastic.

p. 44, middle: again, no transition. (imagined writing notes I consulted: "end S1 summary of Smallville....begin meditation on post-9/11 American malaise.") Would it have killed me to throw in a couple more subject headings to break things up.

p. 47-49: while a three-page long paragraph is fairly inexcusable, that aside, it's a pretty good way to end the paper.

p. 49, middle: oh, wait! It's not over. In true Return of the King fashion, I opted to throw in a second ending. Nice.

p. 49, bottom:
That's right, suck it Kill Bill 2! Not only were you dreadfully dull (esp. in comparison to the awesomeness of part one), but you bricked your major comic book analysis. (Note: I'm not sure how you can conflate "necessity with commentary"--I'm 99% sure I just wanted a pairing to lead in to "disguise with denigration.")

p. 51-2: with these four suggestions (and, for the record, I still think all of them are good--especially #4--but can probably best be summarized in five words: "sell Superman franchise to Marvel") I'm openly in fanboy mode. Thankfully, I stopped short of providing relationship advice ("I think that Superman should be with Lana Lang, because she's hotter than Lois and, like, totally gets him...").

p. 53: I'm usually against ending papers with quotes, but that's a good one (particularly the very last line).

OK, that's it. Peruse at your own peril. POTUS post #6 should be up sometime tomorrow (time permitting).


Sean said...

I applaud you (I think) for posting an academic essay online. I also applaud you for including a purloined image of Superman on your essay's title page. As far as grad school goes, this passes as a defiant act of youthful whimsy. So it goes in the hallowed halls of academia where, as you so aptly demonstrate, even the slightest of observations is deserving of a cleverly deployed series of footnotes.

I am guilty of all of the above mentioned crimes, as well as many others that I am too embarrassed to discuss.

On an unrelated note, I must request that you abandon your ongoing POTUS series. It is a decidedly weird undertaking. Enough said. :)

Question Mark said...

To argue one of your points, Superman shouldn't kill Luthor because (as you've pointed out before) Luthor is primarily Superman's adversary, not always the world's adversary. There is ample evidence to suggest that were it not for Superman's presence, Luthor would be a very benevolent (if egomaniacal) force for good.

That said, there is literally no reason why Batman shouldn't have killed the Joker years ago.