Friday, June 28, 2013

Teri Hatcher has a lot to answer for

And I'm not talking about those Radio Shack commercials with Howie Long.

I was listening to a podcast of Radio Times yesterday. It's a radio talk show on WHYY, one of the public radio stations out of Philly. The first part is the guests saying their part, and in the second segment, they take calls from listeners.

The topic was Superman and why his story still resonates.

The guests were Robert Thompson from Syracuse University's Bleier Center and and Larry Tye, the author of a history of Superman.

I wasn't particularly impressed with Thompson as a subject matter expert. He referred to Christopher ReeveS on several occasion. George Reeves played Superman. Christopher Reeve played Superman. There is doubtless a person named Christopher Reeves out there, but he never played Superman in any major motion picture. Yeah, it's a common mistake, but if you're acting as an authority, you should really know better.

Additionally, he said this was the first major appearance of a Superman suit without the red underpants, however, they were jettisoned nearly two years ago in almost every comic appearance, in favor of something that looks an awful lot like what Cavill wound up wearing.  Again, a picayune complaint, but this was a pretty big deal in comic book circles.

It's possible that he doesn't consider that a major appearance and I think that argument can be made, as Action Comics averages a circulation of a little over 100,000 issues per month and Man of Steel has been seen by millions of people already. However, if that was the point he was making, it would have behooved him to make it more cleanly.

They touched on Superman's religion/the Moses myth/the Christ metaphors. These are all old hat to comics geeks of a philosophical bent, but it was nice to see them getting a little play to a wider audience. They bitched about the fights and echoed the complaint that Superman made no effort to move it to another venue. Which is true. Except for the times he did.(Trying to fly away and getting snagged right back and also flinging Zod into space.)

When they opened it up to calls, they took one from a woman who compared it unfavorably to Iron Man ("Oh, Tony Stark was mean to me 15 years ago, I guess I'm evil for the rest of my life") 3, which she found brilliant in its characterization, which should be sufficient to invalidate her opinion. Her main complaint was that Lois was "too astute".

Seriously?! Good God. I was skeptical of Amy Adams as Lois Lane, but she OWNED that role. I thought she was the first live action performance to capture the essence of the character.

However, this alerted me to the fact that my conception of Lois Lane might not be in line with the mainstream, so I asked a couple friends for their conception of the character.

"I thought she came across as stupid.  She's in love with Superman, but her BFF is Clark Kent and she can't tell they are the same person?  Also, she is an idiot in the movies."

They also described her as "shrill" and a damsel in distress who exists only to be rescued. However, since the dominant live action portrayal of Lois Lane for our generation was by Teri Hatcher, I am forced to admit there is some merit to those claims. 

When they asked me what I thought of her, I said:

The usual caveats apply here, in that she's just as old as Superman (75 years!) and there have been almost as many interpretations, but here's my conception.

She's tough, smart. A really great reporter. She grew up an army brat. I like her. Tenacious. I think Amy Adams does a really great job with the role.

I also quoted at length from a piece DC Women Kicking Ass did, where they interviewed various writers about their conception of Lois Lane. I really liked Kurt Busiek's response. I won't quote the whole thing here, but click over and read the rest if this kind of thing interests you.

What is it about her you like? What are her strengths?

I like her drive. She doesn’t quit — she gets the story. Heck, she can
compete with Superman to get a story, and still win out. That takes
brains, good instincts and an unstoppable sense of mission. If you’re
a ne’er-do-well, the last person you want trying to get the goods on
you in Lois, because she just doesn’t quit.

What role does Lois play in the Superman mythos and what’s her importance?

Well, I’ve said it before, but she’s the urban, hard-edged cynic to
Clark’s idealistic, empathic heartland guy. The two of them are a
study in contrasts — he’s all heart, masking a keen brain, she’s all
brain, masking a warm heart — so they strike sparks and they compete
and the challenge one another and they both get to show off their
strengths. Aside from Superman himself, she’s the most important
character in the series — you can get away with dropping any of the
others, really, but if Lois isn’t there, if that sense of human drive
and spirit, going alongside and challenging the super guy from another
planet, isn’t there than it feels to me like something’s missing.

I enjoyed Man of Steel a lot. It was good, not perfect, but much better than its detractors claim. A big part of that was Amy Adams' smart, tough, savvy Lois and if her portrayal becomes the dominant conception of Lois Lane, then I think it was worth it.

And, bonus, my favorite exchange between Lois and Clark from the Animated Series.

Lois Lane: I'm confused, Kent. See, I've lived in Metropolis most of
my life and I can't figure out how some yokel from Smallville is
suddenly getting every hot story in town.

Clark Kent: Well, Lois, the truth is, I'm actually Superman in
disguise and I only pretend to be a journalist in order to hear about
disasters as they happen, and then squeeze you out of the byline.

Lois: You're a sick man, Kent.

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