Hello everyone, thank you for clicking on this article. This is the pilot for a column currently called Panel to Frame. Do you like comic books? Do you like movies? Do you like movies based upon comics? Well, this is a whole series based around comics being turned into movies. Here we analyze how certain adaptations hold up, what was great about the original book, and even wonder what could’ve been under different hands. This will include interesting contexts, such as when the book was completed would affect who would be able to direct it. As cool as Jim Henson’s’ Bone would be to think about, even in the realm of hypotheticals, it wouldn’t be able to happen. Same with Hitchcock’s A Small Killing. Don’t worry, we will get to those eventually. For today, sparked by a recent reading and the release of the Batman V. Superman Comi-Con trailer, I thought this would be a good topic for the first video.
Is it still a controversial to say that Man of Steel was disappointing? A lot has already been said about all the ways that Man of Steel, as an adaptation of the Superman mythology, doesn’t work, either at all or not as well as the creators intended. It muddles the moral/ethical code of Superman by switching the philosophies of the two fathers, its attempts at optimism are only surface level despite being about a character meant to be a beacon of hope, and it seems that the only thing new and interesting that Zack Synder, David Goyer, and Christopher Nolan to do with Superman, the major icon of the superhero genre, is having him fight General Zod as if they had stepped into Dragon Ball Z. To the film's defense, Synder does know how to make a film look and sound amazing, which proves a theory I have about Synder: he is a director that is only as good as the script he is working on. That’s why, despite still being polarizing in certain circles Watchmen is still his best film yet, because it is the one based upon the best book. And while Man of Steel was at one time based upon Mark Waid’s Birthright, which I have not yet read, it quickly became a more unique story of its own. Yet, it still tries very hard to be Batman: Begins, a comparison I know most are probably tired of. If I may avoid check listing their similarities, I want to highlight something that works for Batman: Begins and what doesn’t work, and it goes back to the earlier idea: source material.
No matter your opinion on Nolan’s Batman trilogy, you can’t deny that he knew which stories to borrow from. Batman Begins being inspired by Batman: Year One and Son of the Demon, and The Dark Knight being The Long Halloween and The Last Laugh/The Killing Joke, and The Dark Knight Rises being The Dark Knight Returns and Knightfall. None of these stories get told purely on screen, but their influences make up the back bone of which Nolan based his by all accounts high quality trilogy. Whereas Man of Steel uses Batman: Begins’ structure and even plot beats as its source, while painting over it with Superman’s colors. So where could’ve the team behind the film have gotten their inspiration if they didn’t feel like going for the cheapest way possible? Ordinarily I would recommend John Bryne’s run in the eighties, but upon finally reading it, I can’t help but think of what would happen if Superman for All Seasons had been adapted to film instead.
Superman for All Seasons is a 1998 limited series by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, which recounts Clark Kent’s first year as Superman, from the first time he uses his powers to save lives, moving from Smallville to Metropolis, his first encounters with canon staples such as Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, the first time he feels he lets someone down, and his decision to march forward and continue to save lives as the most iconic superhero of all time. Interestingly, whereas most retellings of origin stories go with updating said origin to whenever the book was written, For All Seasons seems defiantly classical, opting for a setting that feels timeless. It could be set in the forties, the fifties, even the nineties, and the story wouldn’t change at all. Its art continually references classic depictions of Americana, the works of Norman Rockwell being a cited source of inspiration. It also frames Clark’s decision with becoming Superman alongside his transitioning from small town life in the farming community of Smallville to the bustling city life in Metropolis. It’s a simple story that manages to pack some powerful wallop into its simplicity.
This is a bit early for me to say it, but I love this book. I love the perspectives of the different characters as they all interact with Clark, I love Tim Sale’s artwork, how it places superman within the greater iconography of Americana, how it establishes everything needed for a Superman franchise just shy of anything Kryptonian, and it does all of this without Superman punching people through buildings causing untold collateral damage that according to Batman v. Superman was the plan the whole time. Right. Back to For All Seasons, it’s bound with optimism, it isn’t afraid to be colorful and goofy, it isn’t desperately striving for great depth because it manages to be wise, carry depth, and be fun all at the same time. In other words, it’s everything Man of Steel either wasn’t, couldn’t be, or actively tried to not be.
It is easy to see the makings of a truly great Superman film in For All Seasons, with only minimal tweaking. But even so, who should direct it? You need an appropriately skilled and thematically inclined film maker to get the job done as much as possible, and you wouldn’t want to screw up on attempt at rebooting Superman, so who to get. Well…
While we could be here all day talking about cetian directors who had been attached to do a Superman film all day (to name a few: Wolfgang Peterson (The Neverending Story, Troy), Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pacific Rim), Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch)), I want to focus specifically on who I would like to make a Superman film like this. Since this is our first time together, there will only be five candidates for the position.
5. Sam Mendes: (Road to Perdition, Skyfall)
Sam Mendes is admittedly one of my favorite directors working today, and as you will see he is unlike any of the other directors on this list. He is a dramatist at heart, but he has an almost questionable obsession with American values and culture despite being a British director. His work also tends to be more critical than your average Americana, to the point where they are seen as part of the sub-genre of Anti-Americana. Plus thanks to his regular Oscar nominations and wins for films like American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Revolutionary Road he is a top tier man for the job. But can he handle action, you might say. My reply: Skyfall.
4. Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captian America)
Joe Johnston is a director that I feel gets a lot more hate than he deserves. Yes, Jurasic Park III was terrible, but no one could have saved that film (someone not blamed for the film: credited writer Alexander Payne). His emphasis on old school action adventure stories places him almost immediately in my head whenever I want a classic story like this to be told, plus he has the distinguished credit of directing a superhero film that felt more like a Superman film than Man of Steel. Just think of it like this: the small town Americana of October Sky meets the metropolitan heroics of both The Rocketeer and Captain America: The First Avenger.
3. Steven Spielberg (The Adventures of Tintin, The Indiana Jones Franchise)
One thing I will not deny is that Johnston is a director whose filmography occasionally seems to mimic Spielberg’s sensibilities. Well, it wouldn’t make sense to include one and not the other on a recommendation list. Why Spielberg? Because he is Spielberg. Do I need a reason? He was one of the guys first considered to do Superman back when they first tried to make it a franchise with the first film, and since then he has only proven that he is one of the greatest American directors in film history. He can practically pull off that magically mix of optimism, jaw dropping action set pieces that feature ground breaking special effects, and be able to spin an emotionally powerful and satisfying story that would make for an amazing Superman film.
2. Brad Bird- Iron Giant, The Incredibles)
Out of all of the directors clearly inspired by Spielberg, I think Brad Bird maybe the best of them, and the one that has come the closest to matching his skill and prowess as a storyteller. In case you don’t know who he is let me inform you: he is the man responsible for one of Pixar’s best films and a major sleeper hit that have become staples of your childhood. Both make allusions to Superman either directly or indirectly, both play with sci-fi concepts in classic depictions of Americana, and both are among the best genre films of the past twenty years. Those films are The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. Imagine the man responsible for both those films doing a Superman movie. Yeah. I had that same dumb grin too.
1. Ricard Donner (Superman)
My final pick may seem like a cop out, but it’s true; Richard Donner has done more good for Superman as an icon than perhaps any other film director. His first film, the first major modern superhero film, is still the gold standard for how Superman stories are measured. Hell, Superman for All Seasons even has panels in the book that mirror Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography, itself also inspired by Americana. His voice and vision of the character have an almost immeasurable influence upon all modern iterations of the character. So why not let the man have another go at the character?
Those are my thoughts about the book and who I would get to direct it. I would like to hear what you think. What do you think of the book? Who would you get to direct an adaptation of it, or even who would you get to do a Superman movie in general?