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
The crowd enjoy Latitude Festival 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

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.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn