Saturday, October 3, 2009

SMALLVILLE: "Metallo" and SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES:

I was going to discuss Smallville's last episode, "Metallo," (did you catch the torn Superman flag in Lois's nightmare, a la this site's banner? Who/what was that man lying in the Superman crest/crater? I wanna know, I wanna know!*) followed by a review of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, but synchronicity has graced me with the time-saving coincidence of a parallel theme, allowing me to condense the two into one meaty review (and a really long introduction sentence...)


Anway...both are united in characters and theme: "Metallo" featured...um...Metallo, aka John Corben, the "Man with the Kryptonite Heart." (Aka Brian Austin Green, the second 90210 alumni to appear as a villain. First Torri, now Green...who's next? Shannon Dougherty as the Banshee?) Anyway, Metallo is intent on exposing "the blur" as an irresponsible vigilante, who, through a twisted rationalization, blames "The Blur's" involvement with a bus crash, which spared the life of the man who killed his sister:
What gives you the right to interfere with our lives and change our fate? You stand apart from the world while the rest of us live in it.
I contend that that is a fair criticism by itself, even if Lois tags him as a "textbook hero-hater," and Corben's attitude is reminiscent of Lex Luthor's, who views Superman as an "intruding alien." (More of that to come.) Morality should be based on the conditions of human-life, not imposed from above by gods. But the overall result does shake Kal-el from his self-imposed exile from his "Clark" identity (along with his burgeoning love for Lois):
What's the point of protecting life if you don't know how to live it?
Despite my atheism, I submit that this is a good touch, in a literary sense, demonstrating the theme of Clark's parallel as Christ-figure, mirroring the biblical transition of a God over men to the "savior" who walked as "one of us." And that's what makes Metallo so interesting as a character, and not just a two-bit villain: how does mankind take responsibility for itself, if it's subject to the interference of "the gods?" Corben is guilty of faulty logic in his assessment of "the Blur" and the acceptance of "fate" (and Corben has no qualms about taking the law into his own hands, or kidnapping Lois, hypocritically.) Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, Metallo's "sin" is to question the authority of the gods, their right to intervene without accountability. (Where they differ is that the Joker is for anarchy, while Corben wants there to be order, and sees himself as "heroic" in his own right, avenging his sister's death.) One is "mis-integrated," the other "dis-integrated." This is not "judge not, lest not ye be judged," but "judge...and prepare to be judged." John Corben is just a human, but as "the man with the Kryptonite heart," he has the power to question a god and hold him accountable. This is not "judge not, lest not ye be judged," but "judge...and prepare to be judged." And gods do not, traditionally, like to be challenged...


Metallo on Smallville is (as far as we know, the origin of his krypto-heart is still a mystery), but in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, he is acting under the orders of the President of the United States...Lex Luthor. In a storyline similar to that of Marvel's Civil War, metahumans are required to register with the government, and vigilantes are held accountable to the law. Luthor uses Metallo to stage a fight with Superman and Batman, while framing the "World's Finest" for Metallo's murder. Consequently, Metallo's motives are transferred to Luthor himself, claiming that an alien has no right to interfere with the affairs of men without consequence. It's very "Promethean," reminiscent of Luthor's motives in Superman Returns. Luthor is not totally wrong, either: his argument is that the use of retaliatory force should be under objective law, in his words, Superman and Batman, by taking justice into their own hands, are "in violation of the laws that bind us all." The problem here, however, is that Luthor, and people of his ilk, are prone to lie and abuse the offices of power for their own games. (Like Machiavelli, with kryptonite rings.) The frameup leads to a confrontation where Luthor's evil is revealed; we know this because he tells us that "he knows evil." It's the one jarring flaw in an otherwise sophisticated story; Luthor is much more interesting when he, like Doctor Doom or Magneto, believes that he is in the right, and the "Promethean" aspect to his character makes him much more formidable in gaining the high ground (by a villain's standard, anyway...).

In comparing the two, Smallville does not have the luxury of delving in-depth to the issues raised in Public Enemies, give the serial nature of the show, and having to carry other storylines and subplots.
Public Enemies, meanwhile, as a one-shot, is able to not only touch a number of elements: the role of government versus vigilantes for one, but also questions raised in the debate over minarchy versus anarchy: "who watches the watcher" debate, the coercive actions of an individual versus the coercive power of a state that holds a monopoly on retaliatory force...even the question of psychiatry is introduced: Luthor makes the claim that Kryptonite has, over the years, clouded Superman's mental capacity and uses that as a means to outlaw the Man of Steel. Thomas Szasz would be proud...

The movie is overall very well-done, certainly an improvement over the Green Lantern/Wonder Woman features; the action is intense, the acting on-target, and the storyline compelling. (Being based on an established storyline from the comics doesn't hurt, either.) The very role of heroic deeds is never called into question, and the more troubling..."altruistic" aspects are pretty neutral. It doesn't address the nature of heroism, only accepts it as a given. (Even the Toyman character, usually a villain, acknowledges his inspiration for his machine, shaped like a Superman/Batman hybrid, as being made when "he was way into hero-worship.")

If there were wider scope available, it would have addressed the government's role in heroism philosophically...but then, it'd would be Atlas Shrugged....But it's nothing of the sort; and once again, we are reminded of the "folly" of Prometheus, Icarus, and the like, even if does conclude on a witty note: as Luthor, exposed and disgraced, is carted away, argues for respect of his "office," he shouts "God Bless America...God Bless ME!" And once again, we are reminded of Superman as the "Christ figure." What makes this ending culturally relevant today is the reminder by the likes of Glenn Beck that America's failure is in its "godlessness," as the liberals embrace the likes of Richard Dawkins and "The God Delusion," while they attempt to replace God with the State.

Gods...who needs em? Oh well..."Who is John Galt?"

*See Heroes, that's how it's done!

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