Human of Steel

“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” —Jor-El*

Jonathan/Pa Kent: “You have to keep this side of yourself a secret.” Clark at 13: “What was I supposed to do? Let them die?” [brief pause] Jonathan/Pa Kent: “I don’t know. Maybe.”**


I have a confession to make. I’ve avoided most spoilers and interviews concerning the new Man of Steel movie, opening tomorrow. The early trailers provided only glimpses of what we already know, impressionistic flashes that established a nostalgic tone. But as the release date approached, more and more was revealed about the plot—too much as usual—and I went into media blackout mode so as not to be over-saturated by film stills and ads and sound bytes that would dampen my enthusiasm. Because I am a fan, it’s true, and a purist, and the pure products go crazy for this sort of stuff.To maintain and fuel my excitement over the last six months, as they’ve ramped up the publicity, I’ve taken to watching—nay studying—reaction videos that other fans and blockbuster buffs have uploaded of themselves watching the various theatrical trailers that have been released for the Man of Steel.

It’s been amazing to watch dozens of people from all over the world, from L.A. to Europe to Singapore, record their reactions to these trailers in real time. In these videos, you only see their faces, rarely the trailer itself, except occasionally in the reflection of any given viewer’s eyeglasses (Superman disguised by ocular lenses, etc. etc.). It’s a testament to the enduring legacy of the Superman myth that, 75 years after he first appeared on the cover of Action Comics #1, the story of an immigrant/misfit trying to make his way in the world still resonates for a new generation of readers and viewers. I could write an essay on Superman at 75, citing Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jules Feiffer, but I won’t here. Except to say that these viewers are real people, and I have to believe their video reactions are 100% authentic.

These people, these fans who opened themselves up and made themselves vulnerable in their reaction, are affected by what they’re witnessing in a visceral and profound way that cannot be faked. Most often, they are touched by the scenes between parent (both biological and adopted) and son (both alien and human). Many are visibly deeply moved. Several cry. I’m not kidding. Go see for yourself.

This particular video I’m thinking of  is a mashup of pre-existing reactions to Trailer #3. (Note: there have been four trailers total, not including the ones airing currently on TV, which I run away from or hum loudly to while covering my eyes. I have avoided the fourth trailer like the plague. Trailer #1, what’s called a teaser, could be about anything besides Superman, but for the last few seconds. While Trailer #2 makes more people cry than the others. Just for the record.)

I admit to having watched all of the individual reaction videos before this one multiple times, but the mashup is the best of them. If you watch only one (and I know most you wouldn’t even watch one, let alone several), watch this one. It has the film’s actual score, “An Ideal of Hope,” playing throughout, while previous trailers featured music from, oddly, The Fellowship of the Ring, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and an eerie piece by Lisa Gerrard, a frequent collaborator with Hans Zimmer, who composed the music. For me, seeing all these reactions grouped together like this—well, there’s nothing to quite like it in my experience as a comic book reader. There’s just so much to love here as a fellow fan. A few of those things include:

I love the cool dude who nods knowingly, and the man who shakes his head in quiet disbelief, when Russell Crowe cradles his newborn son and says, “He’ll be a god to them.” I love the expression of the girl who wipes tears from her eyes, and the teenager biting his lower lip when Kevin Costner hugs an adolescent Clark, saying, “You are my son.” The guy who covers his mouth and the guy whose mouth just hangs open when they first glimpse a corner of the red cape. Speechless. The man in a tie furiously scribbling notes but then stopping to simply gape. The Wonder. The kid who can’t contain himself, squealing with delight. The hardcore stoic guy who breaks character to reveal a big-ass grin mid-way through. The arms raised in triumph, the fist pumps, when Kal-El first defies gravity, leaving a dent in the cracked glacier upon blast-off. The eyes that bulge and the stifled gasps that occur during the cacophony of action only hinted at. And throughout, only the sound of the Zimmer’s score to suggest a narrative arc to this three-minute-long micro-story promo.

I especially love the occasional commentary, intended for us, the viewers. But in this mashup, the comments could also be meant for those viewers watching side-by-side, Brady Bunch style, who are similarly recording themselves. Like the guy at minute :35 who turns to the camera (as if to his fellow fans) and says, “OK guys, let’s do this,” or the guy who asks at minute 1:40, “Is that really what I see?” The comments make a chorus that we return to again and again, like listening in on a private confession they’re engaged in with each other, full of coded references, intonations, and incantations that are all but sacred in the lore surrounding the first superhero of the modern age.

And then, finally, the end, those last few moments of stunned silence followed by the clapping, the whooping, as a swift succession of action bursts onto the screen. The punches are the trailer’s punctuation. Again, their disbelief, their wonder.

It’s as though none of them can quite comprehend what they’re seeing, yet they’re acutely aware that what they’re seeing is only a taste of what’s still so much more to come. Like they’re all watching it together somehow, in the same packed movie theater full of like-minded comics readers who’ve waited their entire lives to see Superman brought to life in exactly this way, lowered to Earth, taken down in size, made sympathetic, approachable, vulnerable…. Human. These people, these fans, who’ve turned their cameras on themselves to capture and share with us their joy and excitement, I love them like they’re longtime friends. The kind of friends with whom I usually attend midnight screenings on opening night. Like tonight.

Because these people, these fans, they are me. And very soon, after a long, patient, and frustrating wait, I will be them.


*This snatch of dialogue from the first teaser, released last summer, is spoken by Jor-El, Kal-El/Clark’s biological father, played by Russell Crowe (and by Marlon Brando before him in the 1978 Richard Donner film, and voiced by Terrence Stamp in the television show Smallville.) It is, in fact, a paraphrasing of lines taken from Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, considered by many to be the greatest Superman story ever penned.
**This exchange is taken from the second trailer, released last December, in which a young teenage Clark sits in the flatbed of a pickup truck parked in the grass on a farm in Kansas, his legs dangling from the back. He looks dejected as he and his father, played by Kevin Costner, apparently discuss whether or not he should have rescued some children who would have otherwise drowned in a sinking school bus.

Paul W. Morris has been involved with the website in several capacities since early 2001, including editor, marketing consultant, event producer, and contributor. He was an editor at Viking Penguin and Tricycle: The Buddhist Review before becoming a freelance gun for hire. He’s killed time at Entertainment Weekly and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia staring into the abyss, but nothing stared back. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including his introduction to a recent translation of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. The former Director of Literary Programs at PEN America and Vice President of the Authors Guild, he currently serves as the Executive Director of the literary nonprofit House of SpeakEasy. He lives in New York City.