Sunday, September 13, 2015

Turning back time : Spin round the earth really really fast

The recent revival of the live action superhero movies has made comic book fans rather happy. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU (not the Major Crimes Unit of Gotham City, that is DC comics), started in 2008 with Iron Man, a movie that jump-started Phase I of the MCU as well as revived Robert Downey Junior's career. With one excellent movie after another--interspersed with the pedestrian Thor movies or the somewhat underwhelming sequel to the Avengers--the MCU has swiftly taken its place among James Bond and Harry Potter as one of the most lucrative and popular movie franchises of all time. DC comics has also attempted to duplicate Marvel's success, but with questionable success, with a disastrous Green Lantern movie and a rather soulless Man of Steel.

Which brings me to Superman live action movies. I'll begin with the most recent one, which gets a bit of a Nolanesque Dark Knight treatment, being all dark and gritty and joyless. Not surprising, considering that Nolan was in the production team. The problem with making a Superman movie humourless and dark is that it does not work as well. Dark and gritty are the Batman's territory, while it is up to his foil Superman's job to keep things happy and shiny.

Which is of course what the excellent 1978 Richard Donner movie managed to do flawlessly. With Christopher Reeves as an almost perfect Superman/Clark Kent, Donner never quite let go of the fun, comic-booky feel of the plot, blending real danger--such as the flooding due to the breaking of the dam--with its rather silly reason hatched up by an equally silly Lex Luthor played by Gene Hackman. Thanks to Superman's timely intervention, the total number of casualties of Luthor's nutty plan is precisely one.

And that is when the penny drops, for that one person who manages to get herself killed is Lois Lane, Superman's love interest, played brilliantly by Margot Kidder (honestly, she is by far the best live action Lois Lane; Dana Delany of course is equally good as Lane's voice in the Superman animated series as well as in Justice League). When Lane dies and Superman fails to revive her, Reeves does a passable and much more humane impression of Shatner's Khaaaan yell and flies off into space, to be confronted by the disembodied--and very dead--voices of his biological father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) and his adoptive father Jonathan Kent; the former prohibiting him to do anything to influence the history of his adopted planet, the latter urging him to do so in true Uncle Ben fashion. So Superman decides that the Prime Directive of Krypton can go to hell, he is gonna to do something about it, bring Lois Lane back to life. But how? CPR? Magic defibrillators? Perhaps fly her to the Fortress of Solitude and give her a little of ye olde Kryptonian magic science? Nah, nothing too complicated. Here's what he does.

Simple, ain't it? Jus' spin 'round the ol' earth at superspeed a few dozen times, turn back yon time, and spin da udder way 'round to git tings back on track and all that shit bro!

In a movie filled with silliness, this takes the cake, and is a perfect example of how comic books used to be written once upon a time. This is a perfect Superman comic book trope, and doubtless the authors of the movie story must have been inspired by some Superman story somewhere. Right?

Probably. But this particular panel from a 1940s Flash comics might just be the first instance of the incredible scietific thought of Golden Age comic book writers.

Thanks to the excellent tv show, the Flash has recently entered the popular sphere. Grant Gustin plays the second Flash, the forensic scientist Barry Allen who gained his powers when he was hit by lightning and (a) doused with a cocktail of chemical (in the comics) (b) was exposed to a cocktail of dark matter particles from the particle accelerator explosion (tv show). The first Flash was Jay Garrick, who obtained his powers by inhaling hard (or heavy) water vapours. That is the Flash time travelling here.

There is probably no way of knowing if this panel was indeed the inspiration for the climax of the classic movie almost three decades later, but it no doubt shows that ideas shared by comic book writers across decades don't lose their absolute kookiness.

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