Monday, October 13, 2014

What do Zombies, Shared Universes and The Dark Knight Trilogy have in Common?

I think the absolute worst thing that could happen to superhero movies is if too FEW of them start getting released.  On it's head that statement might sound insane, but hear me out.

I think almost everyone is in agreement that the current trend of zombie themed movies (horror and otherwise) has run its course, saturated the market and holds very little current value to potential fans.  Most people think of zombies as played out, and that everything that can be done with them has.  But if you are one of the people that is sick of this current trend (and for the sake of this argument I'm counting on the fact that you are) what are you really sick of?

Are you sick of movies like Warm Bodies, that bring a young adult romantic comedy sensibility to the genre, with a retelling of Romeo and Juliet?  Are you sick of dark coming of age stories like "Dead Girl" which features a single zombie that serves as the starting point of an exploration of who people really are when no one's looking?  Is it shows like "The Walking Dead" that explore long term implications of living in a zombie apocalypse, and how people would deal with it once they got over the shock of it all?

Or is it the vast and increasing number of lazy retreads of George Romero's "of the Dead" series, especially "Night of the Living Dead?"

I think that right there demonstrates the principle I'm getting at. For decades there were never more than a few small active adaptations of superheroes going at any given time. Granted at this time the genre had substantially less depth in the source material, with stories never having much more depth than "hero fights villain," "hero fights natural disaster," or "hero takes part in love triangle."

For decades that's all you saw in adaptations, well that and endless origin stories.  Don't get me wrong, origin stories can serve a purpose. They define the underlying motivation of a hero/heroine/group of heroes and serve as an entry point for an audience to imagine a world close to their own offering a jumping off point after which the leaps the story expects them to take are more acceptable.

But at the end of the day, there's a reason that one of the defining characteristics of the villain in the film that allowed superheroes to turn a corner as a genre had the defining characteristic of mocking origin stories as a concept.  All of them wind up being very similar. Stan Lee basically admits to writing the same origin over a dozen times for many of the key Marvel characters.

Creators often treat the origin as a simple means to have a character that can do the things they want them to do. They're not written with the intent of being the best story the character ever takes part in. seeing as successful characters often last for decades and hundreds of stories, it would be very sad if it were.

Back when the genre wasn't well represented in film, often there were stretches of several years without an entry from the genre and usually any year where one was released there were never more than five in a single year.  In these cases they were almost always origin stories, and if watched back to back they were all essentially the same movie. For a long time this was all Hollywood knew how to do, which is why every franchise floundered when it went past four installments.

Honestly what allowed this to turn the corner was Christopher Nolan's expanded world building of "The Dark Knight trilogy" and Marvel's expanded universe films. Films where good, if safe, versions of all the major character's origins were released to give everyone context, and then once that was done, the gloves came off and they could start doing real stories that actually took chances.

Things like this are the difference between seeing dozens of different versions of the same movie, and films of varying quality within a genre.  When there's a good foundation a genre becomes a structure by which people can use a set of trappings to tell whatever kind of story they'd like. It's at this point that you start to see the really great stories/works emerge and the formulaic ones simply become intolerable.

When I hear people complain that there are too many superhero movies, I can just see the genre getting its wings clipped right as it truly gets ready to soar.  But it's at this point that I can only hope that someday the phrase "there are just too many superhero movies out" sounds just as strange as "there are too many comedies out."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Real-Life Heroes: Heroism in Wisconsin

As if the Colorado shooting wasn't enough, a monster opens fire in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. A moment of silence for the victims, and a moment to honor those risked and gave their lives in the defense of others. 

"The six killed in Sunday's attack were identified by police as five men -- Kaleka; Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; Prakash Singh, 39, and Suveg Singh, 84 -- and a woman, 41-year-old Paramjit Kaur."

Satwant Singh Kaleka

Earlier Monday, the son said he was not surprised his father tried to stop the gunman at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
"It's an amazing act of heroism, but it's also exactly who he was," Amardeep Kaleka told CNN Milwaukee affiliate WTMJ. "There was no way in God's green Earth that he would allow somebody to come in and do that without trying his best to stop it."

Amardeep Kaleka told CNN that the FBI told him his father attacked the shooter in the lobby, resulting in a "blood struggle." A knife close to the victim's body showed blood on it, he said.
"From what we understand, he basically fought to the very end and suffered gunshot wounds while trying to take down the gunman," said Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, Satwant's nephew.

Lt. Brian Murphy

Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, a 21-year veteran and a finalist to be police chief two years ago, is being called a hero for his selfless actions during the rampage.
Moments after Murphy was shot, more officers arrived at the scene. Among them was Sam Lenda, a 32-year veteran Oak Creek police officer. 

 Lenda, who is also being hailed as a hero for his actions....He had been shot nine times, one of them very serious in the neck area, and he waved them off and told them to go into the temple and assist those in there," Edwards said Monday.

While Murphy remained hospitalized in critical condition Monday, Edwards said he was resting and surrounded by his family. Lenda did not wish to discuss the shootings Monday.
"Lenda does not consider himself a hero and is not interested in being a part of any story to that effect," said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. "He feels as though he was only doing his job."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Real-Life Heroes: Heroism in Colorado

While there was a Joker, sadly, there was no Batman. But there were real-life heroes. Let us honor and remember them, and name them where appropriate.

From left to right: Jon Blunk, Alex Teves and Matt McQuinn were killed at a midnight movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., Friday while protecting their girlfriends from bullets. (Credit: CBS News/Personal Photos)

(CBS News) As the gunman fired into the darkened theater, one of the youngest survivors tried to save the youngest victims.
At a church in Aurora Sunday, pastor Michael Walker told a story of heroism, how a 13-year-old struggled to save the life of 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, the youngest person to die.
Pastor Michael Walker: "If you could imagine a 13-year-old giving CPR to a 6-year-old who is dying. It's a tragedy."
That 13-year-old is Kaylan.
"I'm still in shock. I don't think that it's hit me yet what I've been through," Kaylan said.
Kaylan's mother, Heather, asked us not to use their last name. They want privacy to recover, but agreed to share Kaylan's story.
"She was trying everything she could to save another human being," Heather said.

If you know of any one else who should be added to this list, feel free to leave a comment below.

Christian Bale visits Colorado Massacre Survivors

From Access Hollywood: "Christian Bale Visits Dark Knight Rises Shooting Victims"

AURORA, Colo. --
Batman star Christian Bale visited survivors of the Colorado theater shooting Tuesday, and thanked medical staff and police officers who responded to the attack that killed 12 people and injured 58 others.

Bale visited with little advance warning and also stopped by a makeshift memorial to victims near the movie theater that was showing “The Dark Knight Rises” when the gunfire erupted.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Words of Wisdom from George Takei

Words of wisdom from George Takei's Facebook wall on today's Batman/Colorado massacre. I am at a loss of words to express how I feel about all this. For better and for worse, this is more than just entertainment. This statement goes to show why Mr. Takei has won so many fans from all sides of the spectrum. Thank you.

The Dark Knight Rises/Colorado

A moment of silence.

Monday, December 19, 2011

ATLAS SHRUGGED, The Movie: Would the REAL Francisco D'Anconia Please Stand Up?

As per my normal viewing habits, I've finally watched the Atlas Shrugged movie, now that it's out on DVD, and now own a copy. For the sake of this review, I'm going to assume you've read the book. I have to admit that, when I first bought it, I skimmed the whole movie for the "Francisco" scenes and wasn't much impressed with what I saw. I loved the set design and visual effects. I didn't like the particular tint used to represent Reardon metal, but I have to admit the sight of the inaugural run of the John Galt line passing over a paper thin bridge was breathtaking.

With all that being said, did the movie look any different when I watched it all the way through? To that I have to answer, yes and no. The news reports made for a great narrative device to sum up the "state of the world," and move from one event to the next. At first, I thought this may date the movie, but I think it did a good job at packing in some dense exposition in an engaging way.

But the exposition isn't really the problem in this movie, is it? In all, the supporting material states how important the ideas in the novel are, and, as an Objectivist writing on an Objectivist-leaning blog, I can't really disagree. The problem is that there are several volumes of non-fiction available on the philosophical theories of Ayn Rand, and though Atlas Shrugged's narrative is dependent on these theories, it is, first and foremost, a narrative.

By most indications, the filmmakers were not Objectivists themselves, so I have to wonder why the story was consistently sacrificed to the ideas in the film version. I know everyone complains about the length and frequency of the philosophical speeches within the text, but they also complain about some of the best dialogue in the book. I personally almost stopped reading Atlas the first time around pretty early into the book. The only thing that kept me reading was Francisco's first appearance and his exchange with Jim Taggart that ended with "See, I told you that you didn't want to talk to me."

It hurt me watching Jsu Garcia in this role, not because he was a bad actor, but because I could see the potential for how he could've done this role justice. On my first, and even second, reading of the book I never picked up on the angst of Francisco; all I remembered him for was his clever wit and his tendency to say things I'd never heard anyone say before. Most of this was gutted from the character for the movie, and the movie's all the worse for it.

But Frisco's treatment is just symptomatic of bigger problems. The movie jumps right from the ultimatum of the railroad union to the first running of the John Galt line, cutting moments like every Taggart employee volunteering, and the initial press conference where Reardon and Dagny both say that they'll be riding the first run and tell the press "You should make sure to have cameras set up to watch us plummeting to our deaths when the bridge collapses." Plus something should be said about the fact that the book was written as a mystery, and I was genuinely surprised when I found out what was going on in part three of the book, whereas the film just advertises it.

In all honesty, I think most people were bracing for a two-to-three hour movie. The text is long and dense, so I don't think anyone would've complained if the movie went a full two hours if it meant more actual "story" being told. As a final take-home statement to the filmmakers, I'll just say this: it's ok if you leave the bulk of the philosophical education to groups like ARI and TAS (they're still around, right?); what you're being counted on is doing justice to a great story.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State: No Heroes

"That boy didn't need an out and out hero that night. Neither did the victims after him. What they needed was a leader. Hell, what they needed was a human being.

Instead, they got Mike McQueary."

-Pete Lieber

"Mike McQueary Will Have to Publicly Live with His Cowardice: A Fan’s Perspective"

I can only hope that the victims get some justice, now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

SUPERMAN: GROUNDED: Is THIS the "American Way?"

Ok, we've all heard how Superman renounced his citizenship, and "The American Way," in a one-shot, out-of-continuity story in issue of Action Comics 900 ("The Incident", a story which D.C. has emphasized is not canon.) But did you know that meanwhile, in continuity, he's been walking the country, for about a year now, trying to reconnect with America?

For all the ruckus in the mainstream media over Superman's supposed betrayal, there's been little, in comparison, over the "Grounded" storyline, which started in June of 2010. (It doesn't help that the story's been delayed by creative setbacks, which have held the story up.) It features a Superman who feels so disconnected from his country that he decides to walk, not fly, in order to reconnect. Now, the story may have started last summer, but you'd have to be blind not to see how the latest controversy has steered the direction; in Superman #713, "Clark Kent Abandons Superman!", Superman announces to Superboy and Supergirl that he is giving up the mantle:
Supergirl: "What about 'Truth, Justice, and the American Way'? You giving up on that, too?"

Superman: "No, those are good ideas, and worth defending. I just won't be doing it as Superman."

After this, Clark Kent begins to write an article, "Must There Be a Superman?", and his answer is "No." (This title is an allusion to a previous story of the same name, in which aliens put the idea in his head that maybe he's done more harm than good by playing "big brother" to the human race, making us too reliant on him.) A Superman fan gets wind of this, and has Clark speak with different people who answer all his objections, and reaffirms his mission as Superman. It's written almost as if in apology to the "The Incident."

What's most notable about the "Grounded" storyline is that, like the Action 900 story, it, too, has not been well-received; in the comics community, it was claimed to be the "Worst Comic of 2010" on the Comics Alliance website, in an article by Jason Michelitch, but for different reasons. In contrast to the Action Comics 900 story, the author of the story is criticized for his simplistic jingoism.

Instead of being some grand statement on heroism and America, "Grounded" is just one introductory issue bloated with preposterous ego, two mediocre and forgettable Superman stories in #702 and #703, and then #705, a rushed piece of mechanical hackwork featuring a child abuse story made up of half-remembered garbage cliches from network television specials 20 years ago.

One might be tempted to claim that the writer of this piece is simply "Anti-American" when he writes that 'I have no idea what [writer] Straczynski ultimately intended to say with "Grounded," and since he isn't finishing the story, I'll never know. But Superman #701 reads like a mini-thesis of its own, and it has a very clear message: Anyone who criticizes this comic is stupid and shallow and should shut the hell up."

While that is a crack at the story's writer, it could be taken as a criticism of the jingoism throughout the comic. I have no idea who Michelitch is, or his politics, but that doesn't matter, because, unfortunately, my own reading of #713 corresponds with his; it's simply warmed-over, contradictory platitudes about what it means to be "American." Half of it reads like a threat, with Superman as the stand-in for "Big Brother" government, who only those who have something to hide don't trust ("Look, the only people who are afraid of Superman, I think, are people who've done something wrong"), and the other half promotes the altruistic saviour that people have come to count on, and love...without good little sycophants ("He helps everyone who needs him. That's the American Way.") Put the two together, and you get the bi-partisan hybrid-child of fascist authority and "New Deal" style-communism.

That brings me to the real issue: Why is it so hard, nowadays, for people to write pro-American stories that aren't shallow, jingoistic, and ham-fisted? And if this is, in fact, a good pro-American story, then why isn't it being embraced from the rooftops by the very people who decried "The Incident"?

The answer, I believe, was suggested by Ayn Rand's The Romantic Manifesto, in her analysis of "good" Naturalism versus "bad" Romanticism. The Superman story shares characteristics with the popular literature of Rand's day, and her critique could apply today:

The highest function of Romanticism--the projection of moral values--is an extremely difficult task under any moral code, rational or not, and, in literary history, only the top rank of Romanticists were able to attempt it. Given the added burden of an irrational code, such as altruism, the majority of Romantic writers had to avoid that task--which led to the weakness and neglect of the element of characterization in their writing....Thus, the emphasis on action, the neglect of human psychology, the lack of convincing motivation were progressively dissociating Romanticism from reality..."

She also writes that "There were several reasons why Naturalism outlasted Romanticism, even if not for long. Chief among them is the fact that Naturalism's standards are much less demanding. A third-rate naturalist may still have some perceptive observations to offer; a third-rate Romanticist has nothing."

The problems that Rand spells out for Romanticism are a mirror to the problematic side of "pro-American" Superman. The contradiction of Superman's altruism and his fantastical nature mirror the view of America as founded on Christian principles that contradict its history of capitalism and individualism. Combine that with poor storytelling and appeals to an insipid, anemic morality, and you get good, wholesome shlock that simply doesn't convince. The Comics Alliance article spells out this problem with the "Grounded" story by pointing to Superman's discussion of Thoreau's On Civil Disobedience:
The problem with making Thoreau a generic patron of holier-than-thouness, though, is that it ignores that his principles weren't generic. He wasn't. Superman isn't the principled outsider in these comics. He's the roving monitor of the status quo.
"Grounded" is full of this kind of ponderous, pretentious gobbledygook, meant to show the reader how important and thoughtful it all is. Over and over, Straczynski inserts shrill arguments for how seriously the reader should take this pointless exercise in Superman solving "real" problems through glib assertions of nonsense axioms and generous application of brute force and intimidation. It's made all the more ludicrous, then, by Straczynski leaving mid-thought, before delivering any of the intellectual meat promised by the self-important build-up.

Now, I'd ask you to determine, yourself, if the charges hold, but the theme of the charges, if true, make me believe that the reason why Superman's anti-American stories get more attention than the pro-American ones, is, sadly, that the anti-American ones are more perceptive in their observations, and that much more effective. And if that's the case, then, to quote the my blogging partner's last post, "That's it. I'm officially done with mainstream superhero comics."

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Thoughts on the DCnU.

"That's it. I'm officially done with mainstream superhero comics."

That's what I thought when I originally heard about the DC reboot. And it wasn't one of those comedic overreactions that fanboys are known to be prone to. I haven't bought a Marvel comic in about two years now. I've watched the movies, but that's been the only money Marvel's gotten from me. I don't plan to read anything else from Marvel until there's a changing of the guard at editorial.

This didn't really bother me much, however. For the most part, I'd been very happy in the directions DC had been going. The last continuity reboot with Infinite Crisis, leading into the 52 worlds, was probably their best yet. There were certain things which were changed with Crisis on Infinite Earths which I never liked, but many were changed back (most notably Wonder Woman was reinstated as a founding Justice Leaguer).

Geoff Johns was also doing a great job reviving a number of franchises, most notably Green Lantern and Hawkman. He also managed to give some extra attention to my favorite team, Young Justice, which came at the price of shoe-horning them into being a new version of the Teen Titans.

Since then, there have been dozens of crossovers that made major changes to many of the franchises. When I first heard about the reboot, much of the initial leaked information bothered me, to the point where I thought of the whole situation with the line I started this article with. Frankly, some of it still does, but with that in mind I'll be doing separate posts on the many facets of this event.

I'm not "HAPPY" with the bulk of the changes they've made public, but I think a workable version of the DC Universe can go on for several years with this version. I'm hoping a lot of it gets reversed eventually, but I'll likely be along for the ride in the interim.

That said, I have a number of complicated thoughts on most of the aspects of this event, all the way from the specific choices they're making as far as the changes go to what makes each of these franchises "work." Lately, I've heard too many fans who, admittedly, do not understand the basic draw of these iconic characters try to dictate how they should be handled, and that's bothered me. I want to be one voice out there contradicting the general flow and, hopefully, bringing both intelligence and heart to the discussion. I admittedly have my own prejudices on the subject, but I will try to wear them on my sleeve at all times.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Green Lantern: The Choice of Courage

Green Lantern has been getting ripped by the critics, and it doesn't surprise me one bit. Why? Because it gets everything that's good and true about the genre, all the things the critics hate.

I admit that I, too was a bit skeptical about this movie, but for different reasons; I thought it looked a little goofy, as if it were going to make fun of the genre. Having Ryan Reynolds, known for his comedy roles, in the role of fearless Hal Jordan didn't reassure me, either.

I was wrong.

Green Lantern is an example of romanticism, presenting people not as averages, but as heroes. It's a movie that knows what it is, a comic book movie, and furthermore, doesn't apologize for it. That means that the CGI is well-employed in bringing to life the wild, colorful else-worlds and aliens. But more than that, for those who are concerned with "the human element": well, that's there, too. Green Lantern finds the right balance between art and entertainment; the heroes don't wallow in angst or despair, and don't wallow in unnecessary white-middle-class guilt, while the story asks philosophical questions about the nature of courage and heroism. (For those who prefer more philosophy than entertainment, I direct to to Green Lantern and Philosophy: No Evil Shall Escape This Book.)

One recurring criticism I've read is that the movie lacks a "self-deprecating" if that's a bad thing. In the comics, Hal Jordan is selected because he is "without fear." Rather simplistic, especially in the context of a jet pilot, as Hal Jordon is supposed to be, when you consider the old saying that "there are old pilots, and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots." If the movie had been that simple, it truly would have sucked, and Ryan Reynolds' brand of humor would have been obnoxious. However, his humor is put to good use. Contra the critics who celebrate the denigration of the self, Reynold's Jordan uses humor as part of his brash brand of "fearlessness," which, in reality, is a mask for what he does fear. This mirrors the situation with the Green Lantern corp, for which he is, seemingly at first, a mistaken choice by the ring. But it turns out that the fearless corp are simply repressing and evading, and thus, vulnerable to fear. Jordan is different, and his story illustrated the idea that courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to face that fear. This, despite the critic's claims that the story is thin, is a much-needed improvement to the original comic origin. To quote another sci-fi epic, Dune:

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.

Now, this brings us to an interesting philosophical issue, and that is the question of why Jordan is chosen. In the comics origin, it's because he's fearless. But the movie version does, indeed have fear, he just chooses to overcome it. It can be asked, then, was there no one else equally worthy? It does present a plot hole, but it is somewhat addressed by way of the film's human villain, Hector Hammond. Hammond, whose life choices are dominated by fear, infected with an alien presence, manifests powers that work on the fear of others. When Jordan offers Hammond the ring, in exchange for the life of Carol Ferris, he tells Hammond that anyway can be a hero. When Hammond seems to agree and accepts, he says that he lied, prompting Jordan to say that he also lied, that to wield the ring, one must be "chosen." Hammond cannot hurt Jordan with the ring, because Hammond's choice to use fear renders it null. On the surface, this may seem similar to many classic hero stories of "the chosen one" (a recent example being Harry Potter, who, at birth, was "the one who lived,"), but it's crucial to note that, to be chosen by the ring, one must be ready to make the right choice. So, getting to the question of "Why Hal?"; anyone, potentially, can be chosen, but it won't choose just anyone, either.

By choosing courage instead of fear, Jordan doesn't have the need for self-deprecating humor. One doesn't mock what is considered virtuous, and this movie is about virtue. But when the critics talk of self-deprecation, it brings to mind the contrast of career choices between Hammond and Jordan. Jordan has taken risks, while Hammond, who, ironically, is a brilliant scientist, turns down lucrative opportunities out of the belief that he is not worthy. Jordan, by contrast, when praised for his work, notes that it's people like Hammond, the idea guys, who make the men of action possible. This is not presented as self-deprecation, but as honest recognition. But it's also a reminder that the thought and action are not false dichotomies, but enable each other. This movie runs the risk of repeating the "mad scientist" as cliche shtick, but this scene is a welcome antidote to all that.

Yes, there is the self-sacrifice trope to deal with. Although I'd have to see it again to be sure, I felt that it was presented as it was not a self-sacrifice at all, but rather, as "I value this world, and would rather die than to sacrifice it without a fight." A rationally-selfish value, to be protected and defended.

Just like this movie. Instead of re-inventing the same-ol' Superman-Messiah trope, the future of superheroic characters is better served by the lesser-known heroes like Green Lantern, who don't have the same religious baggage, and, therefore, and despite the alien presence, can truly represent humanity as something to be respected, not pitied.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Saying Goodbye to SMALLVILLE

"You will believe that a man can fly."

The final episode of Smallville has aired, It was an epic sendoff to a show that's brought me much more than entertainment, so I'd like to offer my tribute and thank you to all those heroes, real and otherwise, with my thoughts on the future, if they are to survive.

Although my childhood favorite was Spiderman, perhaps no character in the 20th century has garnered so much recognition than Superman. It's fitting that so much recognition has been paid to him, and Smallville in particular, here at Superhero Babylon, both positive and negative. But the negative was always in the constructive spirit of what could be; as one of the greatest heroes in the popular imagination, we all want our vision to be the vision. No matter what version of him, Superman inspires in so many the same thing: the idea that we, in our own way, can fly. Even his enemies know this; as Lex Luthor quotes in the finale, villains are defined by their heroes, a reversal of the cliche that heroes are defined by their villains. Despite my philosophical differences with the explicit religious overtones, this one line made it all worth it.

The very existence of Superhero Babylon was a reaction to the hate towards heroism and values in general, as characterized by the "grim and gritty" school of comics. With the return of heroes in the popular media, however, the tone shifted toward the fight between conflicting claims over the ideas that make a hero, and Smallville has led the way. I had my disagreements with the show's philosophical premises. I take my disagreements seriously, but at its most antagonistic, I found it a worthy adversary. At its best, however, I found it an ally in its spirit. If this seems strange, especially in regards to cartoon characters, consider how Ayn Rand felt about the work of the Romantic writers, especially Victor Hugo:

The distinguishing characteristic of this top rank (apart from their purely literary genius) is their full commitment to the premise of volition in both of its fundamental areas: in regard to consciousness and to existence, in regard to man’s character and to his actions in the physical world. Maintaining a perfect integration of these two aspects, unmatched in the brilliant ingenuity of their plot structures, these writers are enormously concerned with man’s soul (i.e., his consciousness). They are moralists in the most profound sense of the word; their concern is not merely with values, but specifically with moral values and with the power of moral values in shaping human character. Their characters are “larger than life,” i.e., they are abstract projections in terms of essentials (not always successful projections, as we shall discuss later). In their stories, one will never find action for action’s sake, unrelated to moral values. The events of their plots are shaped, determined and motivated by the characters’ values (or treason to values), by their struggle in pursuit of spiritual goals and by profound value-conflicts. Their themes are fundamental, universal, timeless issues of man’s existence—and they are the only consistent creators of the rarest attribute of literature: the perfect integration of theme and plot, which they achieve with superlative virtuosity.

If philosophical significance is the criterion of what is to be taken seriously, then these are the most serious writers in world literature.

She also writes that
The Romanticists were far from Aristotelian in their avowed beliefs; but their sense of life was the beneficiary of his liberating power. The nineteenth century saw both the start and the culmination of an illustrious line of great Romantic novelists.

And the greatest of these was Victor Hugo.

Of his characters, Rand writes:
Do not say that the actions of these giants are "impossible" because they are heroic, noble, intelligent, beautiful–remember that the cowardly, the depraved, the mindless, the ugly are not all that is possible to man.

Of the charge of escapism:
Do not say that this glowing new universe is an "escape"–you will witness harder, more demanding, more tragic battle than you have seen on poolroom street corners; the difference is only this: these battles are not fought for penny ante.

Do not say that "life is not like that"–ask yourself: whose life?
That is how I feel about Superman, and superheroes, and, well, heroes in general.

Superman does not make people believe that they will fall, but fly. And when I criticize, it's because I know their importance; if they were simply kid's stuff, as many would have you believe, I wouldn't be outraged when they are forced to espouse ideas antithetical to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." You see, it's not the literal stories and characters, that matter, but the ideas they represent, not the powers and the primary colors, but the vision of what life might or ought to be. That antagonism is, again, paralleled by Rand's analysis of Hugo's contradictions:
"Grandeur" is the one word that names the leitmotif of Ninety-Three and of all of Hugo's novels–and of his sense of life. And perhaps his most tragic conflict is not in his novels, but in their author. With so magnificent a view of man and of existence, Hugo never discovered how to implement it in reality.
He never translated his sense of life into conceptual terms, he did not ask himself what ideas, premises, or psychological conditions were necessary to enable men to achieve the spiritual stature of his heroes....It is as if the wide emotional abstractions he handled as an artist made him too impatient for the task of rigorous defining and of identifying that which he sensed rather than knew–and so he reached for any available theories that seemed to connote, rather than denote, his values.
When I think of the Superman as the "Man of Tomorrow", I can't help but think that his ideals were full of contradictions of good and bad from the past. Rand noted a similar contradiction in Hugo that sums up the current "Superhero Babylon":
Hugo the thinker was archetypal of the virtues and the fatal errors of the nineteenth century. He believed in an unlimited, automatic human progress....Feeling an enormous, incoherent benevolence, he was impatiently eager to abolish any form of human suffering and he proclaimed ends, without thinking of means: he wanted to abolish poverty, with no idea of the source of wealth; he wanted the people to be free, with no idea of what is necessary to secure political freedom; he wanted to establish universal brotherhood, with no idea of what is necessary to secure political freedom, he wanted to establish universal brotherhood, with no idea that force and terror will not establish it. He took reason for granted and did not see the disastrous contradiction of attempting to combine it with faith–though his particular form of mysticism was...closer to the proud legends of the Greeks, and his God was a symbol of human perfection, whom he worshipped with a certain arrogant confidence, almost like an equal of a personal friend.
Gee, that sounds a lot like how generations viewed Superman, doesn't it? And that is why I write this tribute today; Superman, despite being an alien, inspires the same hope in this world that Hugo inspired in Rand:
A professed mystic in his conscious convictions, he was passionately in love with this earth; a professed altruist, he worshiped man's greatness, not his suffering, weaknesses or evils; a professed advocate of socialism, he was a fiercely intransigent individualist...he achieved the grandeur of his characters by making them all superbly conscious, fully aware of their motives and desires, fully focused on reality and acting accordingly....And this is the secret of their peculiar cleanliness, this is what gives a beggar the stature of a giant...this is the hallmark of all of Hugo's characters; it is also the hallmark of human self-esteem.

And that, above all else, is the value, and the danger, of the Superman mythos, and of heroism in general. A hero, by definition, is one who "defends" and "protects." A hero can be a blessing, but a curse, if allowed to become a crutch. The best heroes don't just save the day, they inspire and enable us to become our own heroes, so as not to require others to need to sacrifice themselves. Then and now, the idea of Superman has, time and time again, promised to unite America Babylon. That may be a job too big even for Superman, but should it ever come to be, his message that the greatness comes from within us, should we choose it, will have played no small part.

Perhaps the most important theme throughout Smallville has been the lesson for Clark to become a hero without sacrificing his own needs, to embrace his community, his humanity, without sacrificing his self. To say "I love you," someone must first say "I." The best thank-you one could offer a hero, a Superman, would be this engraving over the Fortress of Solitude:
"I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."
For those heroes among you, thank you, and shine on.