Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC. He is an editor at The Comeback and Awful Announcing

Previously, he has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, and SB Nation. In addition, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

He still plans to write that novel someday. 

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Entries in superman (12)


Defending 'Man of Steel' and its new version of Superman

As anyone who knows or follows me might expect, I had plenty to say about Man of Steel when it hit theaters back in June. (Hell, I had plenty to say in the years and months before the movie came out. Reading movie blogs and news sites is one of my favorite hobbies.) 

I wrote a review of the film, but always wanted to write a follow-up or complimentary post responding to so many of the criticisms that were leveled at this new Superman movie. As the weeks and months passed by, however, I thought I'd let it go and maybe revisit that idea when Man of Steel came out on video. 

With the DVD and Blu-ray release last week, I had my chance. Even better, I arguably had a bigger outlet now that I'm writing for The AP Party, Bloguin's pop culture site. So here we are again with this movie. 

I get that people have an idea of what Superman is supposed to be: Truth, justice, the American way and all that. But is that concept so preserved in amber that newer interpretations aren't allowed? Why can Batman go from campy 60's pop icon to the surly Dark Knight of the 2000's, and both portrayals of the character are seen as acceptable? Maybe it's because Batman is just a better character. But I don't buy it. 

You can read the full article here. 

I acknowledge the flaws in Man of Steel. It is hardly a perfect movie and I think director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer could have taken some simple steps to avoid some of the criticisms directed their way. But that's also presuming they thought they were doing something wrong. Superman was a character in need of a modernization, and this film did it. Somewhere along the way, however, it became fashionable to shit on the movie for what it wasn't. 


The history of Superman in 2 minutes

I'm late on this, but I don't think I could not type up a quick post about the Superman 75th anniversary video that was shown last week at the New York Comic Con. 

The animated short was put together by Bruce Timm (who oversaw the Batman, Superman and Justice League animated series, as well as the DC animated films) and Zack Snyder (director of Man of Steel) and follows the evolution of Superman since his 1938 comic book debut.

It covers the comics, from the early days when Superman didn't fly, but leapt through the sky to the cheesy Silver Age to the "Death of Superman" to Red and Blue Superman. The cartoons, spanning from Max Fleischer, Super Friends to Timm's version. The Atari game. Superman's fight with Muhammad Ali. George Reeves. Christopher Reeve. And of course, Henry Cavill, the last incarnation of the character we see. Will that end up being the definitive version for years to come? 

It's two minutes of awesome, all scored to the legendary John Williams theme from Superman: The Movie and Hans Zimmer's theme from Man of Steel. 


Ben Affleck as Batman? It works for this geek

I just wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't write at least a little something about the news that Ben Affleck is the new Batman, right? 

You know what? I like this choice. Maybe it wouldn't have been my first. If Josh Brolin was up for the role, as was rumored at one point, I would've liked to see that. I also thought Karl Urban would've been a sly choice, though maybe I just feel that way after watching him basically play a superhero in Dredd

The general sentiment — at least based on what I've seen on my Twitter and Facebook feeds — is that fans think this is a bad idea. And I get that, because Affleck hasn't done much good work as an actor. The guy had a pretty terrible run in the 2000s. Pearl Harbor, Gigli, The Sum of All FearsPaycheck

Of course, Daredevil (2003) has to be mentioned among those. Affleck has already played a masked superhero in a movie that wasn't very good. As a big Daredevil comic book fan, however, I would pin most of the blame for that film on director Mark Steven Johnson. He wrote a pretty bad script, trying to shoehorn in too many characters and canonical storylines into a two-hour film. 

However, Affleck has undergone something of a renaissance since becoming a director. Gone Baby Gone was outstanding. The Town wasn't quite as good, perhaps suffering from Affleck directing himself as an actor. (He's also built like a frickin' superhero in that movie.) Then there's Argo, which won the Oscar for Best Picture. 


Did Affleck do a good job as an actor in that movie? No, he didn't stand out as the lead character, Tony Mendez. But I think his job was to be sort of the straight man, letting John Goodman and Alan Arkin do their thing. During the hostage rescue in Iran, Mendez was supposed to be stoic, maintaining a calm demeanor for terrified civilians trying to escape. 

I'd argue that becoming a director has made Affleck a better actor. He's done some nice supporting roles in State of Play and The Company Men. David Fincher thinks enough of Affleck to have cast him as the male lead in the adaptation of Gone Girl, which is a pretty big deal. (That movie will come out in 2015, the same year as "Superman vs. Batman" — or whatever it ends up being called — by the way.) 

Directing two excellent films for Warner Bros. has certainly made Affleck a darling at that studio. You would think he could do just about anything he wants there now, but maybe playing Batman sealed the deal. Perhaps he's always wanted to play the role. Maybe Affleck received the proverbial offer he couldn't refuse. 

Affleck needs to be good as Batman and Bruce Wayne, though. Chances are he's going to play the character in more than one movie, given that this new team-up with Superman is a jumping-off point for a Justice League franchise. Maybe Affleck will even direct that one. Or a new solo Batman film, which is also surely in the plans. 

According to reports, director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer have been looking for someone a bit older and with some gravitas to play Batman next to Henry Cavill's newer Superman. Going by that criteria, I think Affleck fits the bill pretty well.

He certainly looks the part. Affleck will be a great Bruce Wayne, one that could provide a slick, refined contrast to a Clark Kent still trying to define himself. He can also pull off someone who might fight dirty against a more virtuous Man of Steel.

The question is how Affleck will do once he puts on that Bat-suit. But really, how bad could he be there? The mask covers three-quarters of his face. He just needs to avoid looking foolish acting with his mouth.

Hopefully, Goyer's script and Snyder's direction guide Affleck along the right path — especially if there are quite a few exchanges of dialogue between Batman and Superman. And really, there could be plenty of philosophical clashes in that story, as these two heroes see the world and approach their work in very different ways. Presumably, that will be the foundation of this movie. 

Let's just hope Affleck he doesn't try to emulate Christian Bale's gravelly growl. That would be a huge, terrible mistake. 


Superman and Batman in a movie together? I don't like it

The big news from Comic-Con on Saturday was that Batman would be a part of the next Superman movie. The whole gang responsible for Man of Steel — notably director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer — will be back for this sequel. 

Tip the cap to DC Comics and Warner Bros., because that announcement completely overshadowed what Marvel Studios presented for the next Thor and Captain America flicks, Guardians of the Galaxy and even the Avengers sequel. 

Two of the biggest superheroes on the planet in the same movie? It's a geek wet dream. DC and WB had to come up with something bigger than The Avengers, and this might do it. Of course, Superman and Batman teaming up is a precursor to a Justice League movie, which could just blow everyone's mind.

Yet I don't necessarily have the feelings about this that you might expect.

I'm a Superman fan. I'm a Batman fan. I love comic books and superhero movies. However, I just don't think this is a very good idea. I won't go so far as to say I hate it, because that sounds like internet fanboy. But I really don't like this. 


I get that DC and WB are way behind Marvel when it comes to making superhero blockbusters. It has to kill WB that they have the far more recognizable superhero properties. Everyone knows who Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are. Go check out a Target toy department these days with its Justice League displays. Yet The Avengers are now the worldwide box office superstars. 

So WB wants to get the ball rolling toward an eventual Justice League film. But at this point, it would probably take three to four years for a blockbuster project like that to get made.

What can WB do in the meantime? Build anticipation by putting its two biggest characters in one movie. (The film will also get plenty of play from film and geek sites over the months to come by speculating on who could play the new Batman.) And maybe introduce others like The Flash in the process. 

As a business strategy, this is probably the right thing to do. As an artistic choice, however, I'm not so sure. Man of Steel just began establishing Superman as a character and the world he inhabits. The idea was to lay the groundwork for introducing the other DC superheroes, but introducing Batman into this world so soon feels premature. And, as Anne Thompson writes for Indiewire, it seems a bit desperate.

What it comes down to for me is that I just want another Superman movie. Batman has enough movies already. He got the three Christopher Nolan films, the two Tim Burton ones and the Joel Schumacher flicks that everybody wishes didn't exist. He's had at least three animated series that I can think of — more if you include the Justice League cartoon. 

But I want to see Snyder and Goyer build from what Man of Steel established. I want to see Superman deal with the consequences of what happened in that movie and hopefully grow into the heroic figure we're familiar with (the one many felt he wasn't in the latest movie). I want to see the new Lex Luthor and perhaps other classic Superman villains. 

Of course, all of that stuff can happen in whatever this new movie will be. Maybe introducing Batman is a part of that. Considering that Snyder had actor Harry Lennix (who played General Swanwick in Man of Steel) read a famous line from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns comic book, there's surely an excellent chance of that happening. 

One of the best things DC did when they rebooted their comic book like in the mid-80s was put Superman and Batman at odds, rather than have them be the best of friends as they'd been in the past.

These two characters have two completely different worldviews (even with the attempt to make Superman darker and more alienated) and it's only natural that they'd clash because of it. 

But the battle between Superman and Batman in The Dark Knight Returns had years of history and continuity behind it. Superman was sort of the bad guy in that story, basically established as a government stooge vs. Batman's anarchist.

I doubt that's the way Snyder and Goyer will go, because that shared history just hasn't been established yet. I'd love to see that story on screen someday, but not now.

I'd also love to see Superman and Batman on screen together, and I know it's an inevitability. My inner comic book geek will love it. There's a great history — best represented by the "World's Finest" comics — of teaming these two heroes up.

I just don't want to see it right now. It's too soon. 


Movie review: Man of Steel 

Typically, my biggest fear with a movie like Man of Steel is that I've anticipated it so much and for so long that I'm bound to set myself up for disappointment. 

But the newest Superman movie definitely lives up to expectations. All the cool visual spectacles weren't used in the trailers. (Although maybe most of the good emotional scenes were already shown.) There are certainly some surprises. If there's one thing director Zack Snyder can do, it's create some memorable, beautiful shots. 

Yet I don't think the story flowed as smoothly as it could have. It wasn't because of frequent flashbacks and bouncing from the present to the past. But it felt like Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer just wanted to bull through the origin story so we could get to Superman (Henry Cavill) flying and trading punches with equally superpowered villains. 

However, I liked the choice not to tell a straightforward story and cover familiar territory. 

We know Clark Kent left Smallville for Metropolis and eventually became Superman. But what happened in between the small town and the big city? Like Batman Begins, this is the story that largely hasn't been told.


What may be most surprising is that Man of Steel is a science fiction tale more than a superhero fable. But how can it not be when you're telling a story about an alien? The beginning of the film that takes place on Superman's home planet of Krypton is not a prologue. It's a significant part of the story because it fuels so much of what comes afterwards.

Though a Superman movie obviously can't be realistic, he can be made to seem plausible. The Krypton part of the story is meant to explain why Superman wears his costume. The "S" on the suit's chest is supposed to be a symbol of hope. Superman's natural father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), envisions his son being an inspirational figure for the people of Earth.

But depicting an otherworldly culture doesn't just demonstrate that Superman is an alien. It informs the worldview of the movie's villain, General Zod (Michael Shannon), making him more than a mustache-twisting megalomaniac. This is a man who's lost his home, his way of life, and wants to recreate it on Earth. 

Zod doesn't just challenge Superman physically, resulting in the best superhero fights we've ever seen on screen. (No one is ever again going to complain, as with Superman Returns, that Superman doesn't throw a punch.) But he also challenges the hero's values, leading to a painful decision later in the movie.

The choice Superman makes is impossible to fully discuss without giving away a major spoiler in the story. But it's a shocking moment because it's so unlike what we believe this character — the big blue boy scout — would do.

Superman is always supposed to do the right thing. This violated his moral code, the pledge he presumably took when deciding to use his abilities for good and set an example for the world to follow. 

Was it out of character? The reflexive impulse is to say yes. Yet I enjoyed the willingness of Snyder and Goyer (along with producer Christopher Nolan) to try something daring. So many people say what Superman is supposed to stand for, yet also lament that the character is boring. He's too powerful. He's too good. There's nothing bold or edgy about him. 

My friend Joe Lunday believes that the challenge of superhero storytelling is telling new stories within the framework and mythology that already exists. Generally, I agree with that. But Snyder and Goyer are trying to create a new framework, a new mythology. What is out of character if that character hasn't been fully formed yet? 

Did the filmmakers go too far in trying to establish that this isn't the Superman you know? Maybe. At times, I thought this was a surprisingly cynical movie. 

Superman's adopted father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), doesn't believe that people will embrace an alien being with extraterrestrial abilities. They will fear what they don't understand. They won't trust something more powerful. And thus, people can't really be trusted.

For most of the movie, the people that Clark encounters prove Jonathan right. They pick on Clark for being different, for turning the other cheek rather than engage. Do we even deserve a hero like Superman? At times, it felt like that was the question the movie was asking. 

When Clark finally meets an apparition of Jor-El, and Superman's absentee father tells him why he was sent to Earth and what purpose he needs to serve, I almost expected our hero to say, "But Dad, these people are the worst."

This cynicism is pushed to extremes throughout the story. As shown in the first full trailer, Jonathan admonishes Clark for lifting a school bus out of the water and saving his classmates, putting himself at risk of revealing his secret. When Clark asks if he was supposed to let those people die, his father replies, "Maybe." 

It's a rather jolting stance for the character that has always influenced Superman's moral view.

While that seemed like a refreshing change to the Superman origin, this philosophy gets taken even further later in the film. One of the more important moments in the story occurs when Jonathan refuses to yield at a great personal cost. It felt like an attempt to burden Clark with a Spider-Man type of pathos. If you don't act, bad things will happen. 

It's difficult to imagine that Clark wouldn't have taken action in this scenario, and it's one of at least two crucial character choices that have outraged hardcore Superman fans — and apparently film critics as well. 

But I'm going to argue that if Snyder and Goyer walked down the same path that so many other comic book, novel and screen writers have already traveled, Man of Steel would've been heavily criticized for that too.

Haven't we already seen this story? Tell something new! This is why Superman is boring!

Well, we got something new and I admired the effort. Besides, who's to say that this version of Superman won't eventually become something closer to what we're accustomed to? Maybe the choices that he's faced with and the decisions that he makes in this story end up forming the morality that we associate with the character. 

What about the amount of carnage and destruction leveled on Smallville and Metropolis during the superpowered battles between Superman and his opponents?

I can't say that it didn't bother me at least a little bit. Nearly 20 years ago, I was troubled by the amount of destruction seen in Superman: The Animated Series, in which Superman would punch villains through buildings and demolish them, yet not seem terribly concerned about people getting hurt. 

But maybe this also helps build Superman's belief system. He sees the damage that occurs when his powers are fully unleashed. This is a story point that could be used in future movies. Imagine Lex Luthor using Metropolis' destruction to turn public favor against Superman and create the fear and paranoia that Jonathan Kent dreaded. 

However, we can only speculate about what might be. The movie at hand is what has to be judged. Man of Steel should stand on its own. Maybe it ultimately doesn't because it's clearly the beginning of Superman's story. This Clark Kent didn't know who he was, nor what he had to do. He was burdened with self-doubt. 

I think a foundation had to be built, a modern take on the character had to be established. Though a phrase like this tends to make my eyes roll, this really is a redefining of an icon for a new audience. This Superman is more fallible, he's more human. He's not the embodiment of an ideal. At least not yet. 

Now that Snyder and Goyer are freed from that responsibility, the next Superman movie these guys make will be the best one we've ever seen.


Who else would inspire a kid to wear a red cape?

I haven't seen Man of Steel yet, though I certainly hope to be on my way to the cineplex shortly after publishing this. 

The negative reviews have been somewhat surprising, especially because some critics really seem to dislike the movie. But until I see it, I don't have a response. (Some of those negative reviews have spoilers too, which I'm trying to avoid.) 

For now, however, I'd like to ponder one of the images previously released. It's seen in the first teaser trailer as well. A boy who's presumably a pre-adolescent Clark Kent runs around with a red cloth fastened to his shoulders — like a cape.

It's a poignant image, certainly one meant to invoke thoughts of Superman.

But here's my question: What would've inspired this kid to wear a red cape if there wasn't a Superman in the world yet?

Anyone who drapes a red cape around his or her shoulders is inspired by Superman, right? Who else in myth or pop culture was wearing a red cape when Clark Kent was a kid? Flash Gordon, maybe? Am I not thinking of some other hero?

Maybe the idea is that young Clark already had such grand ambitions in mind, knowing that he was different. Or perhaps a latent memory of people wearing such capes on Krypton is somewhere in his consciousness.

Maybe that's not Clark Kent, but a kid inspired by Superman once he makes his appearance in the world. 

Or maybe I'm just overthinking this, which could absolutely be the case.  


Rerun post: What I love about Superman

[Editor's Note: With Man of Steel hitting theaters this weekend, I do want to write something about Superman and hope I'll get a chance to do so.

In the meantime, I thought I'd re-publish this essay I wrote in 2006, before Superman Returns was released. The fansite was running a contest for a limited edition WETA Collectibles statue of Superman and Lois Lane flying above the Daily Planet. To enter, you had to write 500 characters or less on what you love about Superman.

I didn't enter, mostly because I didn't think I could be limited to 500 characters. Also, I have no idea where I would've put that statue. Had I won it, I surely would've tried to sell it before moving from Michigan to North Carolina.

But this is the essay that I probably would've written. Looking back now, I think I got a little mushy and I'm embarrassed by that. However, from what I've read about Man of Steel, I believe the story touches on some of the aspects I celebrated. So I think this still applies seven years later.

If you take the time to read this, I thank you.

His famous chest insignia has been on my keychain for at least 10 years (if not more). If I had to make a Top 5 Desert Island DVDs list, Superman: The Movie would be on it. John Williams' theme song still causes a tingle inside my chest.

Yet Superman isn't my favorite super-hero. And with the exception of only a few stories, I have no use for most of his comic book adventures.

So what is it about this guy that turns me into a little kid whenever I see a Superman action figure, book, poster, or DVD?

Is it that famous symbol, which didn't even look like a "S" to me until I was a teenager? (I always focused on the negative space, which looked like a weird jumble of alien shapes to me.)

Is it the eye-catching combination of red, yellow, and blue, colors which will probably always signify Superman to me? Do I secretly have a thing for spit curls, square jaws, and capes? (I'm not even going to address wearing underwear on the outside.)

I'm sure I can answer "yes" to all of those questions. But what also deeply appeals to me about Superman is what he stands for.


He represents the best in us. No, we can't fly, deflect bullets, or lift up cars. And, of course, we're not fictional, fantastical characters.

But if we could, would we choose to help people, as he does? Or would we peer through womens' clothing, smash cars, rob banks, and crush the skulls of anyone who pissed us off in our daily lives? Not that I would. Those are just — ahem — examples. But Superman holds himself to the values we all might like to think we follow.

As a kid, Superman was kind of boring to me. A goody-goody, with virtually no flaws. And as a writer, I'm sure I'd hate dealing with Superman stories because what kinds of conflicts and challenges can you create for a guy who can lift Manhattan into outer space?

Give me someone with some tragedy to him, like Batman or Spider-Man, guys whose parents (or parental figures) were killed, who spend the rest of their lives fighting their guilt and anger, and making sure no one has to suffer that same sort of loss.

But over the past few years, I've realized some tragic aspects in Superman, as well. I'm not sure if it's from modern interpretations (such as Smallville) or not, but he's become much more compelling to me. He's the last of his kind, trying to find his place in his adopted homeland. What makes him special also sets him far apart from those he wants to get close to.

And no matter how much he tries to get the woman he loves to appreciate him for who he really is, his human side, it's the fantastic part of him, the super side that appeals to her most. Superman wants to be normal and spend time with someone who's not expecting him to save the world.

But Lois Lane doesn't have time for Clark Kent. She's too infatuated with Superman. How sad is that? (The comic books have moved far beyond this aspect of the character, which is probably why they don't do much for me these days.)

He is so much more than us, yet he wants to be one of us. Yet if he tried to live as one of us all the time, he wouldn't be happy, either. Because he'd know he could be doing so much more with what he's been given. That's what I love about Superman.


Zack Snyder wearing a Michigan t-shirt: Go Blue on Krypton?

I couldn't help but notice Zack Snyder's shirt in this photo from the set of Man of Steel. Was that a gift from Russell Crowe, who struck up a friendship with Michigan head football coach Lloyd Carr?

As the story goes, Carr used one of Crowe's films — Cinderella Man — as a motivational tool for the team. Crowe heard about this and contacted Carr. Carr was subsequently invited by Crowe to Australia to check out the actor's rugby team. And Crowe has appeared on the sideline during Michigan football games. 

Or is Snyder a Michigan football fan? Wikipedia says he was born in Wisconsin and raised in Connecticut. Could the Wolverines be the official college football team of the planet Krypton. Kal-El, who was raised as Clark Kent, probably grew up a University of Kansas fan.