Super refit: Superman gets another makeover

Whether he's fighting Hitler or giving up his US citizenship, Superman is an ever-evolving character. Phil Boucher finds out about the Man of Steel's latest redux

Can't teach an old dog new tricks? Explain that to Superman.

It's 73 years since the Man Of Steel left his farm in rural Kansas to fight for "truth, justice and the American way", yet the septuagenarian superhero is about to return to these humble origins in a 21st Century reworking of the comic series by Scottish writer Grant Morrison. "We want to introduce a take on Superman that's going to be so different that no one can expect what might happen next," Morrison explained at last month's LA Times' Hero Complex Film Festival.

"We're going to show you how Superman is, who he is, why he ended up wearing the costume that he wears. And to show a kind of a different side to the character than we've ever seen before."

This brand new version of Superman will be revealed in September and superficially the most noticeable difference will be that he's missing his famous red pants and yellow belt. Yet the most substantive change is likely to occur in the subtext of the super-villains Superman finds himself pitted against. While the character has always been a source of fantasy and escapism, he's also had his red boots securely planted in the politics and social undercurrents of the United States and, since his creation in 1938, continually reflected the concerns, worries and aspirations of US society, as well as its position on the global stage.

"The whole idea of Superman is that he is super-immigrant," explains Dr Chris Murray, lecturer in comic studies at Dundee University. "He is a representation of the immigrant who comes to America and is seen as part of the American dream. In many ways he is part of the way that the American dream is sold to the world. It is stretching things to say Superman has a one-to-one relationship with US foreign policy. But he is certainly an ambassador for American values." In the 1930s this saw Superman tackle corrupt politicians and slum landlords in the guise of an avenging New Deal protector for the downtrodden masses. During the Second World War and the Cold War he metamorphosed into the alien wing of the US armed services, striding the globe as an arbiter of ultimate moral authority and self-belief who simply could not be challenged.

By the 1980s Superman had evolved once again, growing his hair into a mullet and marrying the ultimate shoulder-padded career woman, Lois Lane, while tackling Islamic terrorists, supernatural beings and his arch-enemy Lex Luthor.

Then things dramatically changed for the last son of Krypton: the Berlin Wall fell and with it Superman's position of global policeman and cheerleader for America. Things went from bad to worse as the US and the UN became humbled in Bosnia, ending any public belief that international power could be so openly exercised. It was only through the horrors of 9/11 that Superman rediscovered himself as the saviour of American values, yet even this was not to last, thanks to Iraq, extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay.

All of which leaves Superman – the character who embodies the American Dream like no other – in a tricky situation: just how do you stand for the 'American Way' when that ideal has been tarnished and is itself being vehemently fought over by a polarised US public?

Tellingly, the answer may lie in a recent edition of the comic, which saw Superman travel to Tehran to take part in a non-violently demonstration against the Iranian regime. Shortly afterwards he renounced his US citizenship because he felt 'truth, justice and the American way [is] not enough any more'.

"The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this was that the idea of everyone loving Americans or wanting to be American is no longer there – it has changed dramatically in as little as 10 years," explains New York-based Superman expert Vincent Zurzolo.

"I still think there is a tremendous love for the whole ideal of the American Dream, but because of our policies, many citizens of foreign countries now view us differently.

"In the last Superman movie they also took out 'the American way', so it was just 'truth and justice'. I was tremendously upset by that, both as an American and a comic book fan. Superman is about truth, justice and the American Way. Why is that a dirty word now?"

Whether or not this is a theme that will be continued by Grant Morrison is, as Donald Rumsfeld put it: "a known unknown". But given the rise of China, the stumbling US economy and the recent death of Osama Bin Laden, it's inevitable that Superman will tackle an array of unfamiliar and previously unseen foes, whether in the guise of a US citizen or someone with a uniquely global passport.

It may even be the case that Superman embraces this universal status to tackle the one dilemma that faces us all and which even he may be powerless to prevent: global warming.

"The only way to make things in comic books real is to make comic books about real things," explains Morrison.

"Through this terrible sense of oppression – in which we're being watched constantly, we're stuck on the internet and we're scared of everything – the superhero has surged up as an imaginative response; a reminder that there is a future: to stop telling kids that the planet is going to die and start using your minds the way that superheroes use their minds and get us out of this."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas