For Textualities 2013, I presented a brief paper on the highway as a motif prominent in American rock music. I chose the highway largely out of sentiment; it is a powerful image in some of the first good literature I ever absorbed, and I wanted to foreground it on the off chance that someone else might like it too. Long before I encountered McCarthy, Faulkner, Hemingway et al the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne and others had familiarised me with the major preoccupations of American literature. For my paper I focussed on the highway as a physical conveyor belt on which characters are ferried from A to B to C and back again, often without ever really finding what they want. I talked briefly about how I believed the Highway to be a child element of the frontier struggle, a desire to expand into an alternative area that one hopes holds more promise, though no guarantee of such exists. I argued the highway was one arena in which the distance between the promises of high rhetoric and the lives of the citizenry beneath it was measured.
I talk about Springsteen quite a bit and since my intention isn’t to regurgitate a previous presentation, we shall exclude him from these proceedings. I will instead offer alternative examples and include a brief defense of why they are useful. Bob Seger’s songbook is full of literal drifters and spiritual vagabonds. The protagonist of “Roll me Away” simply looks at his motorbike, reflects on the emptiness of his life and throws himself headlong down America’s maze of asphalt corridors in an attempt to outrun his directionlessness, something he never manages. Kris Kristofferson’s dictum that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” rings true for many of rock’s open road nomads. Similarly, consider the words of Seger’s speaker in “Even now” from The Distance
There’s a highway
A lonesome stretch of gray
It runs between us
And takes me far away
Out in the distance
Always within reach
There’s a crossroad
Where all the victims meet
Jackson Browne is best described as a kind of sun dried James Taylor. He uses largely the same singer-songwriter bent but with more electric infusions, akin perhaps to The Eagles (he wrote “Take it easy” with Glenn Frey). He has compensated for the fairly linear directions his muse seems willing to take him (his songs focus on broken romance, political discontentment and often not a lot else) with some of the most beautifully written work in contemporary rock n roll. One of his big breaks was the use of “Late for the Sky” during the American Bandstand scene of Taxi Driver. His protagonist in “Running on empty” declares:
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields
In sixty-five I was seventeen and running up one-on-one
I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on
That album also contains a song explicitly titled “The Road”. Linked below also is a song entitled “You know the Night” the words of which were composed by Woody Guthrie.
Steve Earle has been one of the most uncompromising voices in any medium in the latter half of the twentieth century. His song “John Walker’s blues” written from the point of view of John Walker Lindh,a US citizen captured as an enemy combatant in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan ,forever removed him from contemporary Nashville. His albums Guitar Town and Copperhead Road construct a highway that is both a symbol of escape of from the trappings of small town life and a physical avenue by which to ferry moonshine liquor because you’re a disenfranchised vet who can’t get no other job (yeehaw, *ahem* ).
These are a few examples of many in a concern that I think has been useful in providing recreational consumers of art with meaningful material, things can be relatively simple and still be resonant, educational, “good” etc. Steven Pinker has some great thoughts on literacy and empathy that he teases out in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature which have been of much use to me this year. Old Wordsworth knew a thing or two, art is for all the people, and there should be no premium on its understanding.
Written in 1985 Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian charts the journey of an unnamed protagonist known simply as “The Kid” and his adventures with a band of outlaws along the Texas-Mexico border in the mid and latter half of the 19th century. Lead by a fictional re imagining of John Joel Glanton. “The Glanton Gang” scalp hordes of apache; first for money, then for fun, then out of compulsion. The band becomes increasingly hostile toward anyone they meet, and as their atrocities expunge the last vestiges of their humanity they become the wandering personae non grata of the frontier, careening blithely toward their respective apocalyptic resolutions.
Regarded rightly as McCarthy’s magnum opus, Blood Meridian takes on broad philosophical questions about human nature and the proclivity toward violence with a graceful, enthralling plot. This is not to say that the book is an allegory for anything. McCarthy, when he has said anything about his work, seems to encourage people to take it at face value. For comparison simply ask yourself this, How much do Stephen King, John Grisham or Elmore Leonard set out to tackle mankind’s broader questions when they work? The answer is probably “not all that much”. They do so incidentally because that’s what realistic characters and plot will do, reflect the world around them, but to sit down and pretend they do it on purpose is a different thing. They sit down to write good books, this is their foremost, non-negotiable concern. If people want veiled elaborate philosophical parables then they should be reading Atlas Shrugged and not The Road. To quote Kurt Vonnegut (on novels): “These are billboards, we say exactly what we mean”.
An arrest for free booting (filibustering) south of the Mexican border starts The Kid on his dystopic journey, the violence of which is rendered in incredibly graphic detail. If you can’t stomach scalpings, hangings and bushes decorated with the corpses of dead infants then this is probably not for you. The book marries the natural beauty of the world to the natural violence necessary for its further existence:
“They rode on and the sun in the east flushed pale streaks of light and then a deeper run of color like blood seeping up in sudden reaches flaring planewise and where the earth drained up into the sky at the edge of creation the top of the sun rose out of nothing like the head of a great red phallus until it cleared the unseen rim and sat squat and pulsing and malevolent behind them.”
The role of antagonist is eventually filled by Judge Holden, a 7ft hairless Albino who runs with the Glanton Gang. Holden makes McCarthy’s later “unstoppable evil” archetype, Anton Chigurh look more like Elmer Fudd than the anarchic harbinger of death that he is. The book itself reads with visceral imagery to rival any screen based story I have hitherto seen. If I were to place its aesthetic in relation to movies, I would cite it as somewhere between Once Upon a time in the West and Unforgiven ; westerns that recognise the old frontier times as what they really were, a time not long in the past where the leviathan was lost on the open range and where massacres tantamount to genocide occurred.
Reaching down into the void implacable McCarthy conjures something so visceral and so stirring as to defy adequate description. Blood Meridian asks questions that speak to the deepest sinew of the human condition and if these things are worth anything then it is not only every inch the ultimate western but, for my money, the ultimate book.
Photograph: Pete Turner/Getty Images (Reproduced via The Guardian)
The taught course is hurtling toward its conclusion at quite a clip now, a little faster than I would like because I enjoyed it, but we rumble on all the same. The material reached a brief convergence on depression era literature last week, covering John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, John Ford’s movie adaption and an illustrated lecture on Woody Guthrie by visiting performer Prof Will Kaufman. This blog is my idea of taking a break from an essay due on the former two, and in a way of discarding any superfluous digressions in a potentially useful-ish way.
Tom Joad is a strange protagonist, I think. He is reminiscent of a dime-store western hero in many ways, he cuts a loner’s persona and has been in jail for a crime that was only sort of his fault, according to him. By the novel’s conclusion he resolves to be a force for social change, quite how remains rather ambiguous. He maintains, among other things, that “wherever there’s a cop beating a guy” he’ll be there. “Doing what?” was the question no one had time to ask him. Woody Guthrie fashioned two songs out of Joad and his amorphous moral manifesto and Bruce Springsteen wrung a whole album out of him.
Guthrie had a penchant for outlaw ballads, Kaufman informed us, and a predilection for the charismatic figures that might, through example, become agents of social progression. Consider in this vein his adaptation of the outlaw ballad Jesse James to fit history’s most famous martyr, Jesus of Nazareth. Guthrie’s ballad eschews the mythology in favour of a good old lynching story. Kurt Vonnegut did a similar thing in Slaughterhouse 5, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/564843-the-visitor-from-outer-space-made-a-serious-study-of
Guthrie’s tale gives Jesus a Robin Hood-esque flavour not dissimilar to James himself and in that way doesn’t stray much from the formula of the original song, as Kaufman pointed out, he might have made Jesus the first socialist. Linked is the Seeger sessions version of Jesse James and also of Sis Cunningham’s (another dustbowl artist mentioned in the lecture) “My Oklahoma home”. Both are filmed in Dublin.
Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad concerns poverty and immigration, the songs are set along the US-Mexico border and manage, as Springsteen always does. to evoke a deeply romantic landscape to set battered characters against, which either makes you love or hate him depending on taste. “Highway 29” is the standout song for me, about a shoe salesman who has an affair with a customer before robbing a bank. Also noteworthy are “Straight time” which tackles criminal recidivism in a really empathic way (for an even better example there’s “Dead man walking”, written for the eponymous Sean Penn film about capital punishment) and “Dry lightning”, which is one of the most country sounding Springsteen songs you’re ever likely to hear, and there are a few.
The title track owes its inspiration to Ford’s movie and not Steinbeck’s book, which in light of the differences is an important distinction. There are some tenuous comparisons attempted linking Springsteen to Steinbeck and also Hemingway, its largely an enterprise of imagination. In the song a homeless man (complete with preacher) waits beneath an underpass by a barrell fire for the ghost of a long dead agent of social change. There is often a glimmer of hope in Springsteen’s music, though at times it can prove to be nothing more. I won’t spoil the ending for you as to whether the spirit of Steinbeck’s old hero does make an appearance, but increasingly for me thesis time is looking like it might be boss time, unless the ghost of Tom Joad turns up to change my mind.
“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”
Edgar Allan Poe
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is a fun movie. It happily satirised a phenomenon dubbed “golden age thinking”, which is a grand line of philosophical enquiry ending in the thesis that “someone else’s grass is always greener”. The point, or at least part of it, is that things like personal taste, viewpoint and even memory are subjective lenses. Reading Suzan Lori-Parks’ The America Play got me thinking about those things again. The America Play is pretty thematically diffuse in places, and large chunks of it are hard to pin down. Probably the most obvious thing that it does very well is argue how we approach history largely through reasoning biases and treasured myths. Our perspectives come encumbered with the cultural baggage of our past. By having the assassination of Lincoln re-enacted as a fetishised tourist attraction, Parks illustrates how we can fracture objective facts into competing narratives. For Parks History is a prism and not a mirror.
This was the last in a series of texts we studied which sought to blur the lines of demarcation between reality and illusion. In Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire a faded southern belle drifts to her sister’s apartment in the tenements of New Orleans only to clash with the violent, abusive man of the house. It is a compelling read, shot through with sexual tension no one apparently thought could be done on stage, and yet they managed it. It also appeased my hatred of happy endings . As a side note the theatre scares the crap out of me, if anyone in the arts is crazy, its definitely stage actors, and I mean that entirely as a compliment. Death of a Salesman is Arthur Miller’s attempt at re-imagining tragedy. A small time salesman lives and dies in futile ignominy, misguided by the very system he had sworn by. A searing indictment of the grander illusions associated with the American dream and, at its very marrow, a powerful and moving story about a world with not enough dignity for everyone. Lastly in Edward Albee’s
Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? two bitter drunks attempt to wrestle themselves from their misery with a series of corrosive mind games. This play is imagination as the darkest of spaces, the characters retreat further and further into their neuroses before they finally purge their illusions, an exorcism that only leaves them cold and broken.
The texts not only construct a blur between the real and the imagined but they also pose the thorny and, I think, difficult question of whether delusion is desirable or even necessary. By Streetcar’s conclusion one half of it’s central pairing, Blanche DuBois, is being carted off to the nuthouse. Williams seems to enjoy playing Devil’s advocate for Blanche, on the one hand her behaviour is strongly symptomatic of insanity. But on the other hand sometimes our working definitions of insanity aren’t logically tenable themselves. Williams was a largely unloved gay child who grew up in the 20s, he was the unfortunate paradigm of being different. I would venture a guess therefore he would take issue with punishing someone for seeing the world differently, if the rest of society could only ground the coherence of its view through numeracy alone. If the ludicrous and untested beliefs that continue to mould public policy prove one thing its that the only truly punishable delusions are the unpopular ones. People who think Elvis is alive or that intelligent life trawled the galaxies only to content themselves with violating a few isolated corn growers are not the only ones with suspicious minds
Willy Loman is one of the fall guys in the ultimate pyramid scheme, camped out under the glass ceiling he is waiting for the trickle down that never comes. There is a game theory expression called “The Concorde Fallacy” that describes how hard it is to reconcile your sunken gains with the fact that you must abandon a treasured yet now unworkable premise and start anew. Equivalent literary devices like peripeteia (which the spell check looks after for me) and anagnorisis explore similar dramatic realisations in literature. Willy never quite gets that though, its probably what kills him. All the plays seemed to paint the default position of the human condition as sadness, which is a pretty responsible thing to do if you want anyone to read them. You can either have your characters dig themselves out of this depression or let it swallow them, and there are fine stories and difficult decisions to be made in terms of each. In Woolf George and Martha have an imaginary child and then George decides to kill him in an equally imaginary car accident, this works somehow. Aside from Neil Diamond’s “Shiloh” it drew me to Alfred Pennyworth’s monologue in The Dark Knight, “Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more”, which is a frightening proposition the more you examine it.
For the sake of neutrality included are links to two opposing views. Not diametrically oppositional but definitely different. For Richard Rorty the truth is merely a compliment given to sentences “seen to be paying their way”, for Ronald Dworkin there is always one objective best answer even if the machinery to discern it lies out of view.
If the last 5 weeks taught me anything, besides the whole reality/illusion thing, its that playwrights tend to be really good at plots. It could be because there’s no narrative to pad out the space, but I won’t pretend to know for certain. I read John Banville’s latest book a few weeks ago. Banville is a man not afraid to step over a plot and write really character centred books (though conversely he also writes successful detective fiction as Benjamin Black). Ancient Light focuses on an affair between the narrator and his best friend’s mother (set in the narrator’s adolescence during the 50s) and his daughter’s suicide, set ten years removed from the present. Its a melancholy book, full of Banville’s wry philosophical insights and poetic turns of phrase. It too was a window into history as an imagined space, Banville uses the narrator’s unreliable memory as he attempts to recall events from bygone decades, exploring how we construct crafted versions of the past. Interwoven is the idea that we gaze nightly on the Universe’s most immense refraction, the idea that light from distant stars is only reaching us now, that above us is a vast canvas glimmering into the past, that we are fixated on the heavens, yet unsure if what we see is really there.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”
“I didn’t say half the shit they said I did on the internet”
“My feet, they finally took root in the Earth, found me a nice little place in a star.
Sir, I found the keys to the universe in the engine of an old parked car.”
from “Growin up”
Without being too dramatic, everyone who grew up where I’m from feels the truth of those lines in their own different ways, even if most didn’t hear them directly. It is the teenage definition of freedom at its finest. Deep in the heart of the Irish countryside the term “public transport” carries the same evidentiary weight as the term “unidentified flying object”, consequently the automobile in all its allure is still a fixture of tremendous importance. Within American literature in all its vast preoccupations, in its strident restlessness and its thirst for movement there exists a special, maybe an unrivalled preoccupation with the car. As the engine turns over it ferrys its occupants from place to place across the vast frontiers of their origin, with the roof down and the revs high, you can practically taste the freedom on your tongue. You now already have the first half of a good story, all that remains is to interrogate the meaning or the quality of the freedom you’re offering and you’re well on your way. America’s fixation with the car is borne equal parts of adoration and necessity and motifs like the open highway are inextricable from large bodies of its literature, think On the Road or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Cars feature prominently in a lot of mid twentieth century American cinema, American Graffiti is one of my favourite examples. The normally shy and reserved Terry borrows his buddy Steve’s ‘58 chevy impala and garners the attention of a beautiful, flirtatious girl, who we are led to believe, would likely have overlooked him in its absence. The climactic scene where Harrison Ford’s character flips his car in a drag race is noteworthy also. I like Grease, or at least I can forgive it, for a lot of the same reasons. I defy anyone to look me in the eye and tell me they didn’t knee slide across a floor and howl “greased lightning” at least once in their lifetime. The Last Picture Show features cars a good deal as well, specifically how to use them to leave McMurtry’s fictional Texas one horse town, “Anarene”. Its a beautiful movie in its entirety and if you haven’t seen it I heartily urge you to do so. The ties between adolescence and cars are just a way of voicing a desire for freedom and that’s why they feature so prominently in so called “coming of age movies”, Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused has a similar “teens behind wheels” structure, in Risky Business the car is even the primary plot device after Tom Cruise manages to dump his father’s sports car into a lake. Bob Seger wrote the song “Night Moves” as a nostalgic ode to his adolescent fumblings in the drive-in theatres of 1960s Michigan and its a neat microcosm of the concept I’ve been talking about. In the episode “Home Wreckers” the cast of How I met your Mother pay tribute to both the song and its era by having Barney try to seduce Ted’s mother (a recurring gag on the show) in a car while it plays in the background. I couldn’t find that clip online though so I settled for linking Seger’s music video, you’ll notice a very young Matt leBlanc of Friends fame.
I mentioned in an earlier post that Bruce Springsteen built a big chunk of his career transcribing just these concerns. I originally got the idea to write this post from watching the movie Drive and the boss in his more contemplative moods has produced some very adult and gritty songs about real pain and joylessness told from behind the wheel, “Racing in the Streets” , “Something in the Night” and “Stolen Car” all come highly recommended. Born to Run has cars at its heart, the New Jersey state legislature wanted to make it the state anthem once, which Springsteen found quizzical on the basis that it was a song “about leaving New Jersey”. “Thunder road” however, is the song from that album that, I think, best frames a vehicularly motivated lust for greater freedom. The song takes its name from the eponymous Robert Mitchum movie which Springsteen hadn’t actually seen. He saw the the poster for the movie at a cinema and the name caught his eye. The film itself is about bootlegging moonshine liquor in the deep south, in activity where cars unavoidably feature to a great degree. Mitchum sang “The Ballad of Thunder road” for the picture, which is worth a listen, sort of a tuned down “Copperhead road”. Springsteen’s Thunder road takes the form of a monologue aimed a girl named Wendy (the women in Springsteen’s songs tend to have names that end in “y”) attempting to convince her to drive away with him. Years later he wrote an eloquent follow up called “The Promise” which documents what happens when the dream goes south, as so often happens in his music, but thats a subject for another day. Charles Bukowski wrote some wonderful poems about cars, typically about ones that don’t function. I’ve linked one called “eulogy” here, he feminises the car, though you could argue he does that with everything.(http://www.davidcake.com/2010/08/eulogy.html)
Neil Young also wrote a great eulogy for a deceased automobile called “Long may you run” which is worth finding if you’re that way inclined. “Thunder road” is below, the last verse of which might be my favourite piece of writing of all time, though Clarence Clemons saxophone solo at the five minute mark nearly steals the show, as it has done on so many occasions. Til next time, drive safe.
“James McMurtry may be the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation.” – Stephen King
So they sunk some roots down in the dirt
To keep from blowin’ off the earth
Built a town around here
And when the dust had all but cleared
They called it Levelland, the pride of man
From “Levelland” (Where’d you hide the body? 1995)
Coming from a founding member of “The Rock Bottom Remainders” that is high praise indeed. “We were good”, King notes in On Writing, “you’d pay money to see us” ( though not “U2 or E street Band money”, he was careful to add). Now I would venture a guess that I know a lot less about music than Stephen King, I don’t play an instrument and only sing in the shower for starters, but one thing I do have in common with the most prolific horror writer of his generation is that we were both moved in some way by the burning verse of the less famous McMurtry, Larry’s son- James. Unfamiliar to many mainstream music fans, McMurtry is a musicians’ musician in the vein of John Hiatt and JD Souther. The reasons that these people’s voices were somehow deemed unpalatable by populist audiences are the same reasons I periodically check that every Kris Kristofferson song I own is backed up on a hard drive. McMurtry has sailed blissfully under the radar of commercial success and into the far less populated waters of critical acclaim, a smaller, poorer pond. Glowing recommendations from the likes of Robert Christgau have helped move copies of Childish Things (2005) and Just Us Kids (2008) from the shelves, but for the most part Mellencamp’s old protege is still relegated to the cult fervour that fuels his midnight sets each Wednesday in Austin, Texas.
Though initial comparisons with his father proved tiresome and irritating, the two are not that different in how they portray the vast and unforgiving landscape of the “Lone Star State.” Bruce Springsteen is probably the locus classicus for a writer’s struggles to reconcile the banality of their environs with a buried sense of attachment, but people were doing it very well, some would argue better, before him, they just didn’t manage to reach as many people with it. One of those was Larry McMurtry, the same bookshop recluse that scandalised Archer city residents with his bawdy parallel “Anarene” would eventually see his progeny write as the same kind of outlander in songs like “Levelland” and “Six year drought”. As much as his father’s conflicted romanticism for the ghosts of the old frontier is evident in the Lonesome Dove series, James’ own ties to “The West” as a space both real and imagined (with uneasy lines of demarcation) are evident in cowboy ballads like “Ruby and Carlos” and “Hurricane Party”. The songs themselves sound a little like Mark Knopfler singing Townes Van Zandt, there are echoes of Dylan in there (where are there not?) and, I think, Mississippi John Hurt. “We can’t make it here” from Childish Things was a scathing overtly political tirade aimed at the misgivings of the Bush administration. It was followed by more politically themed verse, “Ruins of the realm” “Memorial day” and the least subtle of the bunch, “Cheney’s toy”. Livelier songs like “Childish things”, “Bad enough”, “Just Us Kids” and “Pocatello” evoke CCR, arguably the quintessential American band, and mix southern rock stylings, like those of John Hiatt , with more articulate expressions of Mellencamp’s breed of angry folk yearning. Thematic subjects in contemporary soft rock tend to be quite narrow, rarely digressing beyond girls,cars,highways and being jobless, or angry at the government, or both.There are as we know, a handful of people responsible for this, the purveyors of a steroidal bar band rock evocative of cool beer, mustangs and monosyllabic names . Classic examples are Bob Seger’s Night Moves , Tom Petty & The Heartbreaker’s eponymous debut effort and about half of Springsteen’s The River. In McMurtry’s songs many of these objects find a grittier imagining than they tend to do elsewhere, as if someone had dropped ole’ Neil a few octaves and made him even surlier. Girls become women, who remain esoteric and aloof, cars become dingy pickup trucks that rumble more than coast, highways become leaving town any way you can, and being angry at the government becomes much more name dropping and finger pointing than clouded rhetoric.
McMurtry’s last effort was Live in Europe (2009), performed as always with the aid of his rhythm section, The Heartless Bastards. He has a carved a niche for himself outside of a more famous and, objectively speaking, more accomplished parent in much the same way that Jakob Dylan did with The Wallflowers . His work is approachable from the same outsider bent as his father’s and is similar in sentiment with being so in approach. Fittingly he seems as untrustworthy of critical appraisal as he is ill-equipped to sell large amounts of records. At a concert in Amherst, Mass. he was terrified to see students scribbling into notebooks during his set and he precluded ever playing at a college again. Such incidents paint him as the principled, reclusive, occasionally nomadic small town rocker that no sane man would pretend to be. For that reason alone I for one will be waiting patiently for McMurtry’s next piece of work, half social commentary, half beautiful sonic architecture and every damn thing in between.
A combined effort from Zak Snyder and Christopher Nolan is set to bring the last son of Krypton back to the big screen, for what is presumably intended to be the biggest summer blockbuster of 2013. I thought (still think) very highly of the original Superman movies, before they denigrated into farce (quest for peace, bah). Christopher Reeve brought Clark Kent to life as much as he did Superman and that, I think, was the key to making his “man of steel” relatable and likeable. In Superman, Siegel and Schuster created, for all intents and purposes, a God. Obvious biblical comparisons between the young Kal El and baby Jesus have been fleshed out as far as Marlon Brando’s emphatic “To the people of Earth, I give my only son”. We all know Gods can fly, Gods can do anything our imaginations let them do, but men, men are earthbound. By creating a Clark Kent who subsumed his ego selflessly in his secret identity, Reeve managed to live up the the movie’s weighty tagline. One of the iconic shots of Superman, in all his mediums (Comics, film, TV) is of the man of the steel flying in low orbit around his adopted homeworld, surveying all he guards. There is perhaps no grander, and indeed more noble a metaphor for the highest potential of human ambition than that of unassisted flight. It can be argued that in one way or another we all desire to fly.
The comic book nerds of my generation will have come of age associating Tom Welling with Superman more than anyone else. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar created a deep and intricate universe out in rural Kansas and as TV re-imaginings go, Smallville was exceptionally well received. It balanced a faithfulness to the character’s canon with a decent amount of originality and adapted many of Superman’s signature tropes for the 21st century. The “no tights, no flights” rule stringently in force under the Gough/Millar tenure ensured the teenage Kal El kept his feet on the ground until season ten. Flying for Clark was the piece of the jigsaw puzzle necessary to fulfill his unique destiny, to fly Welling had to shed Clark’s adolescent definitions of love, freedom and justice, he was already “super”, he just had to become the “man”. Smallville is worthy of a post in itself but I’ll keep it this; the show dips in quality in the last two seasons in particular, the supporting cast are excellent (Costner will have his work cut out following John Schneider as Jonathan Kent) and the finale is superb. With all that in mind it is quite disappointing not to see Welling in the title role for this. Conversely, plucking that version of superman so far out his universe that he would be barely recognisable in what appears initially (and worryingly) as a darker Watchmen style project probably wouldn’t do any good either.
Mentions of Nolan will be unavoidable, comparisons with his ingenious revision of Batman equally so. But this project will be tougher still, for although Batman is right now probably DC’s flagship character and the maybe the greatest noir character in literature generally, he does not hold the burden of being “Earth’s mightiest hero”. Jeph Loeb, Frank Miller and Joseph Sale had given Batman his balls back long before Nolan arrived on the scene. Superman is a bigger challenge precisely because “the boy scout” as his peers mockingly call him, is not as good of a character. He is less well rounded and, ironically, less edgy than the caped crusader, so anything less than a big effort is liable to leave him just flat. For Superman, you have to get the audience to indulge its most romanticised reflections of themselves. For Superman, there is set the loftiest of benchmarks, for Snyder and Nolan to succeed, in 2013 – we must once again believe that a man can fly.