Chris and the Dragon

Random thoughts, findings, & loose threads on faith, culture, & parenthood

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As I Remember It: The Reign of the Supermen Part 3

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The final part of my recounting of “Reign of the Supermen,” which I read 20 years ago. Here are parts one and two. Let’s finish this.

To recap briefly: Superman died, then four guys show up wearing the famous S shield. Eventually most people begin to think that the Cyborg Superman is the real deal, which is unfortunate because he is actually a maniacal villain bent on world destruction/destroying Superman’s good name. With help of the alien warlord Mongul, he annihilates Green Lantern’s hometown of Coast City, seemingly kills the Last Son of Krypton, and kidnaps Superboy. This leaves only the non-powered Steel to handle this mess because every other hero in the DC Universe is apparently tending to jaywalkers instead of looking into the major metropolitan area that was destroyed by aliens.

So it’s time for a quick good news, bad news.

Good news: Superboy escapes the clutches of Engine City and flies back to Metropolis to recruit Steel to go after the Cyborg Superman.

Bad news: They get distracted by a giant Kryptonian Robot coming into Metropolis. Is it friend or foe?

Good news: It’s friend. We think. Yes, it definitely is. It is a guy in a black suit with a silver S shield claiming to be the real Superman (life we haven’t heard that before). But he does look like the real deal except that he has longer hair.

Bad news: He does not have superpowers. That’s why he needed the giant Kryptonian Robot to help him walk beneath the ocean from the Antarctic Fortress of Solitude to Metropolis (tragically there was not a level in the Death and Return of Superman video game for Super Nintendo in which you guided the giant Kryptonian Robot through the sea and punched sharks; that would have been amazing).

Good news: He gets a pair of rocket boots from someone, so now we have two de-powered dudes heading with Superboy to Engine City. Hurrah!

Good news: Green Lantern returns to earth. He’s been in space. So we have another superhero that’s going to take care of business in the former Coast City.

Bad news: No one thought to tell him that his hometown has been blown to smithereens. Probably because no one seems remotely interested that, again, a major metropolitan area was destroyed by aliens. I’m pretty sure this is the real reason why Hal Jordan went crazy, destroyed the entire Green Lantern Corps, then tried to destroy time itself in an effort to make things right. Show, the dude some common courtesy.

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As I Remember It: The Reign of the Supermen Part 2

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In honor of the 20th Anniversary of the Reign of the Supermen story, I am recounting the story to the best of my memory. It is meandering and not entirely accurate. You can read Part 1 here.

So there are four dudes running around claiming to be Superman. Actually there are two dudes claiming to be Superman (the Cyborg Superman and the visor-wearing Last Son of Krypton), a teenage punk that claims to be a clone of Big Blue and insists on being called Superman (Superboy), and a guy wearing steel armor that bears the S shield to carry on Superman’s legacy (Steel).

Things start off with the guys having their own adventures fairly separately, which is kind of weird. Even in a city as big as Metropolis, you’d think that if four guys were claiming to be its greatest hero back from the dead that they would run into each other fairly quickly. 

The Cyborg Superman establishes himself as the frontrunner out of the gate. Superman’s science buddy Dr. Emil Hamilton says that the Cyborg Superman is a DNA match with the original and his technology is Kryptonian in origin. Also, the Cyborg Superman saves Bill Clinton and the White House from an attack getting the Presidential seal of approval.

Let me repeat that: Bill Clinton. 

This was actually not our 42nd President’s first appearance in Superman comics. He and Hilary Rodham Clinton spoke at Superman’s funeral. Imagine if that happened today. Twitter and Facebook would explode. If Barack and Michelle Obama spoke at Superman’s funeral, 30 minutes of Fox & Friends would be dedicated to why John Boehner didn’t get to speak as well. Rush Limbaugh would be dismissing Superman as a no-good illegal alien.

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As I Remember It: The Reign of the Supermen Part 1

Back in the fall, I celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the first ever comic books I read with a two part recounting of “The Death of Superman” storyline. Now as we have hit the two decade mark on the “Return” aspect of “The Death and Return Superman” series, I figured that I would break down the comics that fully got me hooked: “The Reign of the Supermen.” This is that story as best as I can remember it, which means this will all be incredibly meandering and not entirely accurate.

After Superman died, there was an eight-issue series called “Funeral for a Friend” which dealt with the aftermath of Doomsday and, yes, Superman’s funeral. It was fairly well told and gave the opportunity for all the major DC players to say farewell to Big Blue. There was also an attempt to steal Superman’s body. Finally, the last thing that happened in “Funeral” was a despondent Pa Kent having a heart attack and flat-lining as a distraught Martha Kent reaches out to her dying husband.

This was the last thing we saw before the comics went on a two-month hiatus.

In retrospect, it was pretty harsh.

When we come back. Jonathan Kent is in the haze between the here and the hereafter, the limbo between earth and heaven. It’s kind of like C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce but with more punching and less theological ruminating.

Pa does not yet know he is in this netherworld. Instead, he thinks that he is back fighting with the U.S. Army in Korea and he’s talking with his buddy as they patrol. Everything seems alright until his buddy basically tells him to give up on the land of the living. Then he turns into some sort of demon goblin with a bajillion teeth. Thus Pa Kent punches the haze monster in the face because, listen, you do not mess with Jonathan Kent.

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How the Man of Steel Should Have Ended
I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile. I still liked the movie a lot, but, yeah, they pretty much nail this one; hilariously, as always.

Filed under Man of Steel movies comics Superman

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Man of Steel/Prince of Peace

There is a scene roughly halfway in Man of Steel that I can’t stop thinking about. General Zod has just issued an ultimatum to Earth: turn Kal-El over to him or be destroyed. Clark, unsure of whether Zod or the people of Earth can be trusted, goes to a minister for counsel.

I love the setting behind the conversation. Superman is probably the only major superhero that would naturally seek the advice of clergy. And I appreciate any movie scene that portrays ministers in a positive light. I also think that the minister’s ultimate advice to take a leap of faith is a wonderful piece of counsel in the context of the film.

Yet the thing that I cannot get off my mind is a particular shot in that scene. In it Clark is framed in front of a stained glass window depicting Jesus in Gethsemane. Later, if that image of men wrestling with their ultimate calling was not explicit enough, Superman escapes a Kryptonian ship to save the world with his arms extended unmistakably in the image of a cross.

Comparisons between Superman and Jesus are nothing new. I certainly have made them and the previous movie featuring Kal-El, Superman Returns, took the Christ allusions even further than Man of Steel. Since the latter movie released a few weeks ago, people have pondered if such comparisons are a misreading of the Superman mythos. I would in fact suggest that it is a misunderstanding of Jesus.

The comparisons between the two are natural. Both are sent by their father from a extraterrestrial plane. Both grow up and live as normal human beings yet wield incredible power. Both grow up to save the world in some capacity.

The how of that saving is where the stories diverge. Superman goes about rescuing the world by fighting back against the forces of evil he faces. Though he does not seek to throw the first punch, he will throw the last if he has to. On the other end of the spectrum is Jesus. With the cross and all that surrounded it, Jesus accomplished salvation not by fighting back, but by laying his life down. He took the brunt of the darkness entirely on himself. Jesus saves through power, but it is power in a completely counterintuitive form.

Thus when Superman is shown in a cross pose before he goes to fight some superpowered Kryptonian criminals, it is a misunderstanding of the sacrificial power of the cross (The Christ imagery in Superman Returns was closer on point as in that movie Clark did not throw a punch but sacrificed his life non-violently for the sake of others. Of course, this was also a movie where he fathered a child and then abandoned it for the reaches of space for years, which is decidedly un-Christlike. Though I’m sure Dan Brown nodded his head in approval). It doesn’t make me like the movie any less. I don’t expect profound theological nuance from the director of 300

The difference is that Jesus saves us not with the sword (or heat vision and superpunching), but with sacrificial love that is more powerful than power. Reflecting on the difference between the two raises an interesting question with how we perceive the ultimate end of evil.

The melee in Metropolis that ends Man of Steel is probably how most evangelical Christians envision the end of evil: an epic battle to end all battles. That is what the symbolism in scripture evokes. Yet is that necessarily how it will all work out?

The all-powerful nature of God is a basic tenant of the Christian faith. Thus if God can defeat evil with the sacrificial love of the cross, then would God need a world-crushing battle to ultimately defeat evil? If there is nothing more powerful than God, would not God be able to dispatch the darkness in this world without a scorched earth, tooth and nail war?

As Christians look to Jesus, they see that justice, love, and righteousness could overthrow power as the world conceives it. He laid down his life and it brought evil to its knees. Why would that way suddenly be abandoned in the end? Is it necessary for the Prince of Peace to become a Man of Steel? Do we believe that more because we desire that kind of rock ‘em, sock ‘em finality? Is it the catharsis? I don’t know.

I could certainly be wrong, but I think God does not need the battle to eradicate evil. I look to what Jesus did and I suspect that an all-powerful God does not need the hell of war to bring about heaven on earth.

Filed under faith comics Superman Man of Steel Superman Returns movies Revelation

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Two Cents: Man of Steel

The Movie
Man of Steel starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, & Russell Crowe
Directed by Zack Snyder
Story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Tweet the Plot (140 Characters or Less)
Krypton: Boom. Baby Kal-El→Earth. Clark grows up feeling isolated. Discovers ship. Talks to ghost dad. Gets suit. Zod. Epic melee ensues.

Who will/won’t like it?
I would say Superman fans, but in the week since Man of Steel has released, opinions have proven to be quite divisive. I can understand some of the qualms while others I think are based solely on an irrational large scale decision that Christopher Reeve is the only person in the history of cinema that can ever play Superman. In other words, I have no clue who will or won’t like this movie.

Favorite Random Scene
Clark flies for the first time and it’s really the first time in the movie that we see him happy. It’s not actually a random scene. It’s the first time he puts on the suit. He’s found his calling. But for all the reviewers that referred to the movie as joyless, this scene would be my first counterpoint.

As a long time Superman fan, I feel it necessary to break down multiple elements of this movie. Be warned: heavy nerdery and spoilers follow.

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Two Cents: Iron Man 3

The Movie
Iron Man 3 starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, and Sir Ben Kingsley
Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black
Directed by Shane Black

Tweet the Plot (140 Characters or Less)
Tony Stark seriously ticked people off in 1999 leading to terrorism, exploding people, & Stark Mansion getting blown up. Also? Tennessee!

Who will like it?
This is part three, so we pretty much at this point know what we’re getting. Do you like superheroes? Do you like Robert Downey, Jr. doing Robert Downey, Jr. things? Do you like your summer blockbusters with a dash of snark? Do you like robots? Do you like cameos from other superheroes after the credits? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you’re going to be pleased with FeMan the Third.

Who won’t like it?
This is a crowd pleaser popcorn flick. There are obviously some people that feel those type of movies are beneath them. Obviously, this movie is not going to garner an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Individuals that get incredibly frustrated with plot holes will probably find things with which to get incredibly frustrated. But again, it’s a crowd pleaser. I’m a solid DC guy and even I enjoy the Marvel cinematic adventures of Tony Stark.

Favorite Random Scene
Hold up…I should probably throw up the spoiler warning and then put in a jump for those that haven’t seen the movie yet. 

Be Warned: Spoilers Follow.

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On a lighter note, Superman made his debut 75 years ago today in Action Comics #1. Happy Anniversary to far and away my favorite superhero.

On a lighter note, Superman made his debut 75 years ago today in Action Comics #1. Happy Anniversary to far and away my favorite superhero.

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Handing Out Awards for Arts & Literature in 2012

Well, it’s the last day of the year and I haven’t yet posted a “Best of 2012” list. I don’t want to lose my blogging license, so here are some awards for the arts and literature (perhaps we could call them the Dragon Awards? Nah.) that I experienced in the past twelve months. I’ll make a few comments here and there. Let’s go. I should probably alert you that some spoilers lie within.

Most Gaping Plot Hole in a Superhero Movie
(Tie) The Healing of Bruce Wayne’s Broken Back & The Hulk Suddenly Being Able to Control His Hulkness
The Dark Knight Rises
got a lot of flak for its plot holes, but The Avengers had a few big ones itself. Just because your movie is fun, doesn’t give it a free ride for being Swiss cheesy. Enjoyed both movies though.

Best Book About How We Read the Bible
(Tie) The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith & A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
Two very different, but very important books. TBMI takes the broad view and examines interpretive pluralism and the problem it causes for biblicism. It’s the more scholarly side. AYoBW on the other hand is one woman’s story, a smart, funny, and meaningful one at that. Both are great conversation starters.

Show That Should Be More Popular and I Have No Idea Why It Isn’t
Parks & Recreation
I love Community. I think it’s one of the best shows on TV. But I also understand why it’s not going to be a massive hit. Parks & Rec though? One of the best written shows on TV. It’s smart and a ton of heart. It has a deep bench of supporting characters and Pawnee has become the most fully realized town since Springfield. Yet millions more people watch Two and a Half Men. This is why you can’t have nice things, America.

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