May 16, 2018

Superman: You'll Believe a Man Can Fly

Superman first flew in 1938, and for the next 40 years he had comic books, movie serials, cartoons, and radio and tv series, but no feature films.  Nor, for that matter, did any superhero except for the tongue-in-cheek Batman (1966).

That all changed in December 1978.

 It was a dreary winter, dark, cold, and snowy, with movies about angst, tragedy, and lost love: The Deer Hunter, Same Time Next Year, California Suite, Moment by Moment, Oliver's Story.  I was depressed; a semester into college, and I hadn't met any gay people, or learned of any gay writers except Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde.  Superman was a bright spot, a cozy childhood memory (though it too had a cave of ice).

Director Richard Donner was careful to include every familiar aspect of the Superman myth: the doomed planet Krypton, the elderly farm couple of Smallville, the Daily Planet, Perry White, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, the Fortress of Solitude, Lex Luthor. And some from the familiar TV Superman of the 1950s, who used to change clothes in a phone booth (no old-style phone booths left in 1978).

Indeed, everyone was so busy checking off their list of Superman conventions that they forgot to pay attention to the plot: Lex Luthor plans to drop a nuclear bomb on the San Andreas Fault, thus causing California to slip into the ocean, whereup he will get rich by selling prime oceanside real estate in Nevada.

Ok, that was ridiculous even for a comic book.

The Man of Steel was played by 26-year old Christopher Reeve, a virtual unknown (he had one movie credit and a few tv appearances). He was hired for his muscles, his square jaw, and for his uncanny ability to be both sexy and wholesome at the same time.

He didn't disrobe during the movie, but he favored us with some beefcake shots in teen magazines and in the faux-gay After Dark.

 He was interviewed in gay magazines, an almost unprecedent act of solidarity in the 1970s, and in 1982 he played a gay character, the protege of playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Cane) in Death Trap.  I can still remember the gasps of shock when the two characters kissed on-camera.

Gay-positive Christopher Reeve and his studly physique provided the only gay interest in Superman.  No buddy-bonding in high school, no boy pal, no subdued homoromantic sniping with Lex Luthor.

It was a heterosexual love story, and rather a sappy one.  Audiences twittered and squirmed when Superman and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) flew endlessly through the skies of Metropolis hand in hand, while Lois thought: "Can you feel what I feel? Do you know what you're doing to me?"

On the other hand, she wasn't a complete Girl Scout.  She asked, "How big are, I mean, how tall?", leading to considerable speculation about the Man of Steel's package.

Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in an equestrian accident in 1995, and died in 2004.  Margot Kidder died in 2018.  They're both gone, but that magical night in the midst of a cold, dark, dreary winter lives on.


  1. Which movie-only power is cheesier: Time travel by orbit or his S is actually tape which can some how bind whoever it's thrown at?

    I also found the "glowing white room" aesthetic associated with Krypton a bit boring and dreary. It's also used in other 80s movies.

  2. The phone booth thing wasn't the '50s TV show (he ran into a Store Room or a back alley); I don't remember it from the comic books either, and I suspect that it was mainly due to the newspaper comic strip. The Fleischer cartoons sent Clark to a store room too.
    Yet, when the phone booth appeared in the foreground, everyone knew the trope (otherwise the reversal wouldn't have been funny).

    1. Furry parodies did. Underdog changed in a phone booth. Did Mighty Mouse?

  3. There's also a bawdy jump rope rhyme where Batman and Robin fly. At least from my childhood.

    Batman and Robin flying in the air
    Batman lost his underwear
    Robin said, I don't care
    I ain't got no hair down there

    We had no bawdy rhymes about Superman.


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