We live in the Age of Adaptation. It’s an interesting time to exist. Both television and film are now awash with stories and characters poached from other mediums. This is particularly true of things that started out as comic books. The rise of the superhero movie is undeniable. The CW is practically the DC universe network. We’ve got countless Marvel original series popping up on Disney+. No matter where you turn a lot of the highest profile content being screened these days has its roots in sequential art.
Quite frankly, I’m of two minds about it.
On one hand the characters and stories that I love are now omnipresent within the zeitgeist. There wasn’t a kid around that couldn’t recognize Batman but now the same is true for Rocket freakin’ Raccoon. I honestly did not see that coming. It’s kind of awe inspiring. If you had told me, even ten years ago, that I would see youngsters dressing up as Captain America because he’s their favorite superhero, I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, sure…” Instead I am now full of smiles to see these characters not just sequestered away into “Geek Culture” but be a part of the everyday vernacular.
The second hand comes down to an argument that has been beaten nearly to death and revolves around a sense of ownership I feel over my nerdy passions. Part of this stems from the insecure feelings that many of my fellow dorks may experience from time to time. “Well you’re not a real fan”. It’s a sentiment I hear echoed in a lot of different ways. It’s the thought (one that I can’t deny I have felt about certain things *cough* Star Wars *cough*) that someone else’s enjoyment of a thing is somehow lesser due to the fact that they haven’t consumed as many aspects of that thing as I have.
It's a tired, petty thought at this point. It’s not what I want to talk about. It’s a piece of it I think, but it is not the whole.
This Age of Adaptation has made the characters and stories I love ceaselessly popular. It has created a demand and while I’m not certain that we’ve hit peak saturation yet, I think we’re quickly heading there. So as we see more and more translations of comic books into other mediums they, inevitably, can’t all be good. Or, at least, they don’t speak to me, The Fan.
Somewhere, someone has a statistical chart worked out to show us how many good adaptations we can have per bad one. I’d be curious to see if it’s a linear progression or more of a curve.
Because we have seen the Age of Adaptation turn on us a few times in the last few years. In both film and television. When things are the opposite of good. When we get a take on something that is downright bad. Those twisted versions of the things I love leave me with a hollow sadness that I guess I’m trying to unravel here. Where does that feeling come from? What does it mean?
Let’s go straight to Superman.
I give Superman a lot of shit. He’s not my favorite. He’s too perfect. He’s too powerful. He’s boring. Blah blah blah. All of those old lines. But do you want to know a secret? A part of me loves Superman. He is the Paragon. The Ultimate Do-Gooder. He represents everything every other superhero, at least in part, is trying to be. He can carry the weight of the world on his shoulders (sometimes literally) and do so with a humble smile and a knowing look that says, “Everything will be alright. It’s okay that I take on this burden, because it’s the right thing to do.”
That is a Hero. That is something to aspire to. That is how I see Superman.
That is not the Superman I have been given in the three movies directed by Zack Snyder. I’ve been given a mirthless god, too wrapped up in his own inner turmoil to be anything other than a bludgeon against evil.
My Superman is a do-gooder. He does good. Without thought or hesitation he gives of himself in a way that would make Saints blush with envy. Is that everyone’s interpretation of the character? Clearly it isn’t. But if I may be so bold as to take a reading of the overall fan consensus, I’d say that there are more people who agree with me than with Zack Snyder.
It’s not Zack Snyder though. He is an easy scapegoat and a face that we can assign to villainhood. But movies like Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Justice League don’t get made by the will of one man. There was a legion of people who helped make those movies happen (and another legion of fans to get one recut). People who, maybe, weren’t as big of fans as me.
And so we get back to that tired statement.
But maybe that’s where the anger and the sadness comes from? It’s the idea that in the long list of individuals responsible for adapting something as intrinsic to comics as Superman, there weren’t any of them saying, “No, this isn’t right.” Well, maybe there were, I don’t know. They just weren’t enough to stop the Hollywood juggernaut once it had gained steam. I am sad and frustrated not because they’re presenting a different take on the character, but because they’re presenting this as the new normal. There is a generation of kids who are growing up right now and this is how they are getting introduced to Superman. These young nerds, who love The Star-Spangled Man and a talking raccoon with his best friend the walking tree, are being raised in the Age of Adaptation without much knowledge of what came before. Their Superman is the one being shown in theaters right now.
Best case scenario? They get into comics sooner rather than later. They read Superman for All Seasons, they find Superman: the Animated Series, they realize that what they’re seeing in the films being produced right now isn’t Superman. I so desperately want that.
I want the next generation of fans to grow up and know Superman for what he is. The Best. The Paragon. The boy scout. The too-powerful, boring, do-gooder. If they’re going to sour on the character, at least do it for the right reasons.
I don’t want the dour, grim-faced Snyderman to be what the Age of Adaptation gives us. I hope it’s not too late to believe a man can fly. That a hero can just be good for goodness’ sake. No, not good. Because even the good need something Great to aspire to.
That is Superman. Or my adaptation anyway.
For more Superman, read Brendan Jones' "A Starter's Guide to Superman."