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Why the world needs Superman

Superman is one of the most iconic fictional figures of our time. Superhero lore is the closest we have to mythology from the modern era, and Superman is the most prominent of them, the one who started it all. Superman is one of the few fictional characters whose story has crossed cultural boundaries. It’d be hard to find a place in the world where Superman or his famous emblem is not recognized. Created in 1938, by two Jewish immigrants – Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, it told the story of the ultimate immigrant, an alien baby, who is found and raised by a farmer couple. As an outsider who grows up among us, his story is shown to embody the best of humanity, and of being a shining example for everyone.

Over the last few decades, Superman’s popularity has been eroding. In late 20th century, more morally ambiguous characters started rising in popularity. Despite being almost as old as Superman, a re-branded Batman, along with newer heroes like Wolverine, were the new face of superheroes. As heroes with limitations, who had to make hard choices, they were, understandably, more popular than the idealistic heroes of the past.

Superman movies always hold a special place in my heart. As a child, I grew up watching the Superman cartoons. Later, the Christopher Reeve movies took my love for the character further, and I have many fond memories of watching them. Since Christopher Reeve’s tragic accident and later death, Superman took a back seat in the public psyche. Superman Returns tried to recapture the Christopher Reeve magic, staying true to the tone of the movies, but with updated technology. However, despite being critically successful, it did not do well with the audience. In retrospect, this was not surprising. The world had grown weary of watching a cheerful, god-like alien who smirks and lectures the bad guys into correcting their evil ways. Everyone flocked to The Dark Knights and the Iron Men that dominated the early 21st century.

In 2013, Warner Bros released a new movie on Superman – Man of Steel. Fresh off the success of the Nolan Batman trilogy, Warner Bros was (obviously) attempting to start a shared movie universe, similar to the wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was instantly put off by the “dark” vibe it seemed to convey in the previews, assuming that it was just a weak attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Nolan movies, despite the fact that Superman was supposed to be a hopeful and inspiring character. This was aggravated by the fact that the other Zack Snyder movies I had watched (300 and the theatrical cut of Watchmen), did not inspire confidence in his ability to make a good comic book movie. I didn’t bother watching it in the cinemas and caught it on TV much later, watching it out of the corner of my eye, while my attention was focused elsewhere. Consequently I missed most of it, and rashly concluded that this was a bigger mis-step than Superman Returns.

However, when Warner Bros announced Batman v Superman, its sequel, I was cautiously optimistic. Warner Bros definitely knew how to do Batman well. The previews looked promising, and showed a Superman who has potentially become a threat (a la Injustice) whom Batman needed to take down. The previews were not alone in conveying that direction in the plot. Zack Snyder pointed out that The Dark Knight Returns was a major influence for the movie, and this was similar to the reason that they clash in that book. All things said, I was excited after watching the preview several times, and recognized several iconic shots from the books. When the movie came out, I watched it as soon as I could. I looked forward to seeing Superman turn into the angry (and misguided) tyrant and Batman, the courageous human, standing up to this alien who thought he could impose his will over the human race. What a bait-and-switch it was! Towards the end of the titular fight, I was completely rooting for Superman. Superman was the good guy, trying desperately to save his mother, and yet, never losing restraint. Batman was the angry, irrational and egotistic vigilante, attempting to kill him in cold blood, for the wrong reasons. I came out of the cinema hall shook, not just by the plot of the movie, but by the realization of how deeply ingrained my prejudices had been, against Superman, against Man of Steel and against Zack Snyder.

I went back and rewatched Man of Steel, paying it the attention it deserved. The movie that unfolded in front of me drove me to further remorse. In a passionate and heartfelt take on the titular Man of Steel, Zack Snyder and his team retell the story of the most iconic superhero of all times, and try to ground that tale in a modern context. By taking the subject matter seriously, and avoiding fan service by referencing the cheerful movies of the past, the movie makes Superman’s tale relate-able. We are shown a young Clark struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’s not his parents son, and that he was different from the children he grew up around. A childhood fraught with bullying, aggravated by his pacifism. A pacifism borne of restraint, being taught that any loss of restraint would be disastrous for everyone around him. That if the world knew about him, it would change everyone forever. He constantly tries to hide his true identity, but is unable to refrain from helping those in need. This invariably forces him to abandon his current identity and move on from place to place. We see this young alien slowly grow into the hero that the world needed. He is unsure of his place in the world, but never on what the right thing is. Despite its flaws, Man of Steel achieved much of its lofty target, of telling a Superman story for the modern era. This story is continued in Batman v Superman, as the world’s opinion is split once Superman goes public. The main plot focuses on the negative impact it has on Batman and his sanity, but we are shown how the world reacts to the question “Must there be a Superman?”. The movie culminates in Superman sacrificing himself for a world that had repaid his goodness with suspicion and hate, and in that sacrifice, inspiring others around him to strive to be better. The story was as much a Batman redemption arc, as it was a second act for Superman’s “hero’s journey”.

Through this experience, I have come to appreciate my childhood hero again. These movies reminded me of why Superman mattered. Not because he was all-powerful, but because he was all good despite being all-powerful. The movies touch upon many social issues, not least of which is the importance of holding onto idealism despite adversities. This is a message that has become quite important in a mediascape which has become increasingly cynical. I felt a similar sense of elation after watching Cinderella (the 2015 live action one). I don’t remember the animated one much, but the main takeway for the new one, is the importance of sticking to your ideals, especially when it is easier to give into hate and pettiness. In fact, that is when it is most important to do so. Any movie that changes the way I feel about the world and how I live in it, always rates highly in my books. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman have done that for me, not just by reminding the ‘why’ of Superman, but by reminding me to not be held back by my prejudices.

We could do with more positivity in the world. We could do with more heroes that we can look upto. I am gonna end this with this panel from All-Star Superman.

Batman v Superman

Batman v Superman has been an extremely divisive movie, with a ridiculously low Rotten Tomatoes score of 28%, and a strongly divided fanbase. While far from being perfect, personally, I loved how ambitious the movie was. It was not just another summer blockbuster. I loved how Zack Snyder, in typical fashion, attempted to deconstruct two of the most iconic fictional characters of all time.

This was my favourite movie of 2016, and by a huge margin. I concede that there were better movies (having not watched Moonlight or La-La Land, Arrival currently tops THAT list). However, Batman v Superman will be the movie that stays with me for a long time, as I watch it over and over again, re-discovering the joy of experiencing some of the greatest comic-book scenes ever, while discovering new easter eggs and hidden layers of meaning, with every watch. Let’s dive right into some of the scenes that I absolutely loved to bits, and keep rewatching. It was quite difficult to narrow it down to these 8 amazing scenes.

Must there be a superman?

This scene is one of the best examples on how the DCEU stands apart from the other comic book movies. The movie does not just follow the exploits of superheroes, but also contextualises them in our world, the real world in which you and I exist. It attempts to believably portray, how we would react to gods living among us. Through the use of real world talk-show hosts and bloggers, we get the feeling of watching a real-world debate on the existence of a god-like being and his role in our society.

The Day of the Dead scene at the start is also noteworthy. As Clark saves the little girl and hands her to the mother, he is doing so with a smile. This is who Superman is. He saves people with a re-assuring smile – “I’ve got you”. The smile quickly fades when he realizes that they see him as a god, and desperately try to touch him. Henry Cavill conveys well, the dismay their adulation brings him.

“Maybe he’s not a devil or Jesus character. Maybe he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing.”

The warehouse fight

The Dark Knight trilogy gave us an amazing set of movies, that not only shed off the stigma caused by Batman and Robin, but set a new bar for comic book movies, with The Dark Knight still considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made. As amazing as those movies were, they still left Batman fans yearning for a more comic-accurate version of Batman, with Nolan’s version being more grounded in reality.

Ben Affleck shines in his portrayal of a weary, bitter Batman, who’s drained of hope and positivity. We see the Dark Knight at his darkest, constantly obsessing over the loss of his parents and one of his Robins (at the hands of the Joker). Consequently, he has become crueler, which is a major theme in the movie.

In this scene, however, we get to see the engine of perfection, that is the caped crusader, as he takes on a small army, in his quest to save Superman’s mother. Regular people in the DC Universe, always assume that the Batman is a vampire or a demon from another dimension (the DC universe has many!). This scene shows us why even hardened criminals would believe that about him. We get to see how unstoppable the Batman is, in a fight, by combining elements from the books, the animated universe and the Arkham games.

The Batman takes on multiple armed opponents and destroys them with ease. Notice how the fight avoids the common trope of enemies attacking in turns, as the caped crusader adeptly fights multiple opponents at once, coming out on top despite a few hiccups. The nod to The Dark Knight Returns (“I believe you…”) at the end, was great too.

Knightmare

Though this scene disrupts the pacing of the movie, there is no denying that this is one of the most visually surreal set pieces in recent times. From the unique styling and costumes, to the long single-take shot in the mid, to the parademons, this is a scene that leaves your jaws on the floor.

Heavily inspired by the Injustice storyline, this nightmare is a realisation of Bruce’s worst fears, of Superman turning evil and ruling the world with an iron fist. The omega symbol, coupled with the appearance of parademons to help Superman, indicate Darkseid’s hand behind Superman’s dark turn. In the comics, we have Superman turning authoritarian after the Joker tricks him into killing Lois Lane and their unborn child. This version seems to share some parallel with that, since we have Superman saying “She was my world, and you took her from me”.

We also get a nice Flash cameo, with the Flash (from a possible future) popping out of the speedforce to warn Bruce that he was right about him (ah, the pronoun game), and that Lois Lane is the key. It would be interesting to see how all this plays out in the DCEU. For those who didn’t notice it, the papers flying about at the very end, serve as an indication that Flash’s appearance wasn’t a dream.

Rooftop

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was divisive even among fans who loved the movie. This scene, however, doesn’t need any defense, as Jesse Eisenberg finally shines as the god-hating Lex Luthor. All credit to Terrio for knocking it out of the park with Lex’s lines in this scene. Lex finally unleashes his fury at Superman, both as an embodiment of God who failed him, and a god who makes him feel powerless.

Also, note how Superman is hovering above Lex at the start of the scene, with Lex progressively getting the upper-hand in stature over the course of his monologue. At the end, he strokes Superman’s hair, further asserting his dominance and power over a god. There are so many amazing lines in this one scene, including some of my favourite in the entire movie.

“If God is all powerful, then he cannot be all good. And, if he’s all good, then he cannot be all powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see you for the fraud you are.”

“Mother of God! Would you look at the time? When you came here, you had an hour. Now it’s less.”

“Boy, do we have problems up here! The problem of evil in the world, the problem of absolute virtue, the problem of you, on top of everything, you above all.” – This is also a clever nod to the DCEU God (usually referred to as One-Above-All), the in-universe representation of the Abrahamic God.

“The mother of a flying demon must be a witch. And the punishment for witches, what is that, that’s right, death by fire!” – One of several literary references by Lex, here possibly referring to the witch and her flying demons from The Wizard of Oz.

The Trinity vs Doomsday

In a movie about Batman and Superman meeting for the first time ever, it is Wonder Woman who steals every scene she is in. It is unbelievable that it took 76 years for the most popular female superhero to appear on the silver screen. The casting in DCEU has been exceptional for the most part, and Gal Gadot is no exception.

Though chaotic, this fight is gorgeous. Doomsday takes on the DC Trinity, who we see assembled together for the first time ever. There was so many great shots, not to mention the hilarity of Batman just looking so out of place, and desperately scrambling to survive Doomsday. Superman gives it his all, but fighting with more brute power than finesse or technique. Wonder Woman is the one who shines here, valiantly leaping into battle, and expertly dodging and weaving through Doomsday’s onslaught. Apart from the Kryptonite spear, she’s the only one who manages to harm Doomsday in any significant way.

A beautiful lie

Zack Snyder does intros really well, and this is no exception. We are treated to an incredibly poetic potrayal of the Wayne murders, which ends with Bruce Wayne being carried up by the bats, symbolically, as he ascends into “a beautiful lie”. This is the first of many (some say, too many) dreams/nightmares that plague Batman throughout the movie, showing him slowly slipping into insanity. There’s a scene where he wakes up from a nightmare, and immediately pops a few pills, and washes them down with alcohol. This intro is a great way to establish the kind of Batman we are getting.

The Batmobile chase, followed by ‘Do you bleed?’

The BvS Batmobile is almost as impressive as the Batman himself. The bad guys throw everything at it, and it just keeps coming, like an unstoppable juggernaut. We see the Batmobile effortlessly go through ships, vehicles and buildings, in it’s tireless pursuit of the bad guys. It is nigh unstoppable.

That is, until it bounces off Superman like a toy car! What an amazing way, both to show how badass the Batmobile is, and how much more powerful Superman is. Also, it is followed by one of the most badass lines in the movie, when a man looks up defiantly at a god, and asks:

Tell me, do you bleed?

He is not our enemy

The disagreement between Bruce and Alfred come to a head, in this scene, as Alfred points out that he knows Bruce is lying and asks him what he’s really after. What follows is an intense argument between these old friends, as Alfred tries to reason with an angry, frustrated Bruce, who has already made up his mind, to kill Superman.

Both Jeremy Irons and Ben Affleck are amazing here, as we see the true depths of Bruce’s cynicism. Also, note how Bruce’s backdrop is red, symbolising his anger, and Alfred’s backdrop reflects the water, indicating his calmer and more level-headed nature.

20 years in Gotham, Alfred. We’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left. How many stayed that way.

Eyes

In a desperate attempt to stay awake, I pulled out my phone and started checking my mail for the millionth time since I got to the station. The dawn was just breaking and the dusty old platform slowly lit up in golden light. Shivering from the cold, I stuffed my phone back into my pocket and looked around. The platform was nearly empty except for a few stray dogs fast asleep and the odd vagabond or two. The cold was eating through my jacket and I glanced impatiently at my watch. After several minutes of fidgeting in my seat, I noticed that the tea stall had opened. Sighing with relief, I hurried over to get a cup of hot tea. Clutching the cup in one hand, I managed to wiggle out my wallet from my back pocket and pay the vendor. It was on my way back that I first noticed her.

I was taken aback by her sudden appearance. She was sitting on the bench beside mine. I hadn’t noticed her coming in, even though I had been gone for a scanty few minutes. She looked at me curiously, noticing my stare. I politely looked away and sat down on my bench and gently sipped the tea. A thousand questions instantly sprang up in my mind. Like me, she had to be waiting for the Intercity Express, since no others trains stopped at this station at this time. The abscence of any luggage suggested she was here to receive someone, much like me. I would put her age to be in the thirties though it was impossible to be sure. I stole another glance at her as I sipped my tea. Her gaze was fixed on something far away. Following her eyes, I realized she was just gazing at the horizon, her mind lost in thoughts. Something in her eyes vaguely unsettled me. Not wanting to get caught staring again, I turned away and closed my eyes, spending the rest of the tea wondering about her eyes.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted by the blast of the train’s whistle. Finishing off the tea, I got up and walked towards the approaching train. The brakes screamed as the train screeched to a halt at the platform. I hurried down the length of the train, my eyes scanning for Raj. In a while, I noticed his familar form struggling with a pair of bags. As I hurried towards him, I couldn’t help casting a quick glance backwards. She was standing now, scanning the faces that had alighted. She looked taller than I had judged her to be. Turning back, I realized that Raj hadn’t seen me yet and was looking around in confusion. Pushing myself through the human multitude, I called out to him. Whipping around, he gave a gasp of relief and promptly made his way towards me. Without further ado, he threw one of the bags at me and launched into a tirade of complaints about everything wrong with the railway system. I smiled and nodded along as we made our way through the crowd. I saw her still looking, her eyes searching the crowd.

As we reached the exit, the engines roared up and the train slowly started pulling out of the station. Raj kept on grumbling about the food that tasted horrible, the fans that didn’t work, the sleepless night of battling mosquitoes, and I kept nodding absent mindedly, my thoughts elsewhere. As we stepped out the gate, I looked back, one last time. There she stood, on the platform that was nearly empty now. In her eyes, I could see it now. I could finally understand the sadness and the hurt as they kept searching.

My december

“This is my December..
This is my time of the year..
This is my December..
This is all so clear..”

I alight from the bus and take a deep breath. Here I am again, alone in the big city. A slight tug in my chest reminds me that this time would be the last time. So it’s all ending tonight, I muse. I look around at the tall buildings that surround me and let that emotion wash over me, the one I cherish, the one I can never explain, the one that dissolves away my past and my future and leaves me lost and alone. Sometimes I wonder why I crave for this feeling, despite the loneliness it brings. Always, I have no answer.

“This is my December..
This is my snow covered home..
This is my December..
This is me alone..”

I close my eyes and take in the sounds of the bustling night life around me. Again the question arises in my mind – why do I like to come here alone? I love being with my friends and it’s not like I want to take time off for myself. Then what is it that gives me this inexplicable thrill, the moment I set foot in the great city? Is it the feeling of adventure, of uncertainity? Or was it the feeling of independence and the foolish notion that I was a big boy now, and can venture into the real world on my own? Maybe it was all of this, and maybe it was none of these.

“And I…
Just wish that I didn’t feel like there was something I missed..
And I…
Take back all the things I said to make you feel like that..”

Tonight, the feelings were a little different. In a few hours, I would be leaving all this behind forever. Most of my friends have already left. Maybe that compounded the loneliness. I knew for sure that my life was changing. Gone were the days of carefree frolicking. I knew my heart would linger here for a while, after the rest of my body has departed. I reflect on my days here and realize that the only regret I have was of having to leave this place.

“And I..
Just wish that I didn’t feel like there was something I missed..
And I..
Take back all the things I said to you..”

I knew I had to hurry. As much as I didn’t want to leave this place, I definitely didn’t want to get stranded here after all my friends had left. A hurried dinner, alone. I look around. I knew I would miss each and every place in this city that I have been to. So many memories. So many memories. A quick auto ride and I arrive at my final destination for the night – the bus. I leave all my luggage inside and just saunter around the bus.

“And I give it all away..
Just to have somewhere to go to..
Give it all away..
To have someone to come home to..”

Something stabs me in the chest when the bus starts pulling out of its station. I can’t believe that everything was ending and that I was actually leaving everything behind. That all the happiness I had found in this place would soon become just memories of the past. And in my panic, I was alone. No one was there to hold me and tell me that it is gonna be ok. That life goes on and we have to move on. I close my eyes and sink back into the seat. Everything that has a beginning, after all, must have an end.

After eleven years

As the bus gathered speed and sped into the long, dark highway, I sat quiet, lost in disturbing thoughts. I was leaving home from college for the last time. Four years of fun filled days spent in the company of loving friends has come to an end and travelling back alone almost felt symbolic. My uneasiness kept me from falling asleep despite a tiring day of tear-filled farewells. Lines from a popular farewell song kept coming up in my thoughts and I kept pushing them back. Time sped by as I sat lost to the world around me. Memories of places and faces flashed by in front of my eyes and I felt my eyes moisten up.

The bus came to a halt and my mind snapped back to the present. The driver was yelling at us to be back in half an hour. I get out of the bus and look around. It’s the same “drive-in” restaurant they always stop at. With a deep sigh, I walk in, occupy an empty table and place my order. While waiting for the food, I scan the room for familiar faces. A quiet face sitting alone at a table at the other end of the room catches my attention. I rack my brains trying to figure out why he looks so familiar. Was it someone I’ve met in college? Or some distant relative whose name has slipped my mind? Suddenly, with a start, I recognize him. The memories start flooding in – painful memories. Alagappa. A name that I have not been able to forget for so many years.

It was eleven years ago. I had just come back from summer vacation and all geared up for the academic year. That year I had shifted from the school bus to a private tempo service. One day, this strange looking guy comes up to me and starts talking to me like he knows me. Bewildered, I ask him who he is and when he reaches out to touch my arm, I panic and push him away. With a hurt look on his face, he walks away. For several days after that, I was disturbed by the memories of this incident. Who was this guy and why did he behave like that? After a while, I figure out how he knows me and the realization startles me. I had met him a month before the summer vacation. He was in the school bus with me and with a couple of days, we had become good friends. He was a year senior to me and he loved me like his brother. I too liked him and we used to go home together. Then came the two month long summer vacation and over these two months, I had forgotten a dear friend.

The very thought of it made me sick and suddenly the reason for the hurt in his face became apparent. I had forgotten him but he hadn’t forgotten me. His face kept haunting me ever since, but I, somehow, lacked the courage to go out and make up with him. A few weeks later, during the morning assembly, the principal announced that Alagappa would be reciting a poem that day. Hearing the unusual name, many of the students giggle, till the principal’s stern voice quitens them. Trembling and clearly nervous, Alagappa comes to the mike and in a shaking voice recites the poem. After the poem was done, Alagappa quickly steps away from the mike. No one shows any signs of appreciation and soon Alagappa and his poem are forgotten. Soon I stop seeing him around the campus. On enquiring I find out that he had transferred to another school. And no one knew why. Was he unable to adjust to the school and the people here? Or did his parents have to move somewhere and he had to leave too? I guess I will never know.

The guilt of treating a friend the way I did, of jilting someone who had loved me, haunts me to this day. And now, Providence has given me another chance. Another chance to quiet the ghosts that haunt me. Here he was, sitting in the same room as I was. He had noticed me looking at him but obviously hadn’t recognized me. With trembling hands, I stand up and slowly approach him. I knew I wanted to apologize to him for how I treated him but I had no idea how to start. Even before I could figure out where to start, I ran out of time as I had reached his table. He looks at me with a puzzled expression on his face. I ask, ‘Alagappa?’. For a moment he is silent. Then he says, ‘No. Maybe you have mistaken me for someone you know?’. I shake my head and walk back to my seat quickly. Was I wrong? The face was exactly how I remembered. Was it a look-alike? Or was that really the Alagappa I knew? If so, why did he deny it? Had he recognized me and pretended to be someone else? Or had he changed his name for ‘Alagappa’ had evoked much ridicule, and had decided to let go of the past?

My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the food. I slowly chew on my food, hardly enjoying it. I look up to see his face again, and it’s gone. He was gone. I look around but see no sign of him. I get and run outside but there was no one there. I ask the man at the counter and he remembers someone matching the description leaving a short while ago. I walk back in, only to be reminded by the impatient blowing of the bus horn, that my thirty minutes were up. Quickly washing my hands, I board the bus. As the bus pulls away from the restaurant, I look once more at place where I had seen him, hoping that somehow, magically, he would return. But the seat remained empty.