What Is The Point Of Superman?

Christopher Reeve as Superman

No, Metropolis is totally not New York. Source: Warner Bros.

I think, out of all the superheroes I grew up on, Superman wore off on me the fastest. Think about it. Batman might be sheltered by Bruce Wayne’s millions, but in the end, he’s a psychopath with a conscience, as bad and as vulnerable as his enemies. Spiderman has to pay his rent. The Hulk, or rather David Banner, has to cover his tracks. The X Men might save the world, but they also have to elbow their way to the lunch counter and demand the freedom to marry whom they want. They’re still human, or human-like.

Then we have Superman, strange visitor from another planet, fighting a never-ending battler for truth, justice, and the American way. Why American? The dude grew up in Smallville, in Kansas in his latest incarnation. In the recent Man of Steel, he informs a general, “It doesn’t get much more American than that.” It’s a vestige of the Cold War, but he grew up among humans. Naturally, he’s going to adopt the culture around him.

Superman, however, is god-like. His only weakness is a piece of his destroyed homeworld that makes him weak as a kitten. The rest of the time, he’s impervious to fire, bullets, the vacuum of space, and, quite likely, a nuclear blast. This is why, beyond retellings of the origin story, I just don’t really care about Superman. He’s just not easy to connect with. “Oh, but he’s the outsider. He has to fit in. Haven’t you ever tried to fit in?”

Well, Peter Parker’s a misfit. Darth Vader is a misfit. Magneto and Prof. Xavier are misfits. Hell, even Sauron, the Dark Lord trying to conquer Middle Earth, is a misfit. He can’t really manifest as much more than a giant eye. If Frodo failed, they could have sent Ben Stein up the tower with a giant bottle of Clear Eyes to take out Sauron. Wow.

Once you get past Superman’s struggle to establish himself and find a role, there’s not a helluva lot of story to tell. Think about it. In the original run, you had Superman, a comedic retelling of Clark Kent’s transformation into his nerdy day-to-day persona and into a superhero, and Superman II, where the consequences of Krypton’s destruction could devastate Earth. In both, Superman has to struggle. And then…

Brandon Routh as Superman

“They got one thing right. Kevin Spacey is evil.” Source: Warner Bros.

Superman III, an embarrassment for both Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a ham-handed sermon on the danger of nuclear weapons. And Superman Returns, a good effort to pretend the other two movies did not exist, but ultimately, a boring story.

Now we have Man of Steel, which I watched this past weekend. It was a decent action movie and an interesting take on Superman’s origins. Yet they had to go back to the beginning to find a decent story to tell. When Henry Cavill walks into The Daily Planet at the end of the movie to go to work as a reporter, I thought, “What’s left to tell? Zod is dead, and Superman is a nearly immortal hero.”

Henry Cavill as Superman

“General Zod. I crap bigger than him.” Source: Warner Bros.

He gets compared to Jesus Christ. “Hey, people keep retelling that story over and over again. How is Superman different?” Well, while Christians believe Christ was divine, he was also human. That much everyone agrees upon. Which, if you recall Mel Gibson’s subtitled torture porn movie a few years back, means he was vulnerable. The Almighty might have been saving him for his mission, but that only underscores the fact that a lightning strike, a wild animal, or a violent roadside thug could take out the Son of Man at any time. Sure, divine intervention helped. So did a large entourage. See twelve disciples and crowds of adoring followers crowding around Clark Kent?

Even the myths of old had vulnerable characters. Chronos swallowed his children, only to vomit them back up so they could condemn him to darkness. The Norse gods will all die someday. The Greek and Roman pantheons are a collection of case studies in human neuroses, from the panicked overlord (Zeus) to perpetual smartass (Hermes) to the borderline autistic (Hades and Hephestus). Pick a god, any god. They have more weaknesses than Superman and more flaws. This lets them be the hero or the villain, depending on the story.

I know I loved Superman as a kid, having this invincible hero take out much more powerful baddies than people could handle. But I’m not a kid anymore. Even my escapism needs a dose of reality.

From Joffrey to Han Solo

King Joffrey

Yeah, he’s kind of a dick. Source: HBO

When I started writing the SF novel, I took an earlier character I’d written and lifted his origin story. Why not? You’re never going to read that material anyway. Or if you do, you’ll have to dig for it.

*Ahem* Anyway…

My original character, by the time we meet him, is kind of a cross between Han Solo and Captain Kirk. The Kirk part only came from the fact that the guy wore a uniform and had to have some degree of discipline and decorum. He still was a fly-by-seat-of-pants smart ass.  But his mother was extremely wealthy, like Koch Brothers wealthy but without the Bond villain tendencies. His father was a lord high muckety muck in the military. Being the oldest son of such prestigious and powerful parents, one might expect him to be more like Joffrey and less like Harry Potter sans wand. So I lifted that origin story, dropped it into the new SF universe and went to town.

Sorry, George, but he still shot first. Source: Lucasfilm

Sorry, George, but he still shot first. Source: Lucasfilm

With the SF novel’s rough draft in cold storage at the moment, I’ve given a little thought on how to make him believable to a new audience. As I said, he is based on another character I always envisioned as being a parallel to Han Solo, a somewhat selfish rogue who nonetheless has a conscience and a helluva pragmatic streak. The old character was cruising into middle age when I wrote him, so this wasn’t hard to sell.Now?

The new character is not much older than Joffrey. He has to have something of a conscience because he finds his life of privilege to be a gilded cage and proceeds to go out into the world for a load of drinking, whoring, and generally stealing any really cool mode of transportation owned by his mother. When mom steps out of the board room long enough to mom all over him, he runs away, and therein we dump him into what Christopher Vogler calls “the ordinary world” in The Hero’s Journey. He might be getting dumped into the ordinary world, but it’s the one we know when meet him. Actually, when we meet him, he’s vomiting on the boots of a security guard, but anyway…

When I finished the book, he was, indeed, on his way to becoming the lovable rogue. However, I don’t think I made him dickish enough in the beginning. This guy needs to be a brat, a really snotty brat. There are a couple of scenes where he acts like he’ll be out of his predicament in no time, but it’s not long before the farmer’s daughter takes a shine to him. Don’t know why she’d do that if he’s an ass. I suppose Joffrey is a bad comparison. Joffrey had no redeeming qualities. He killed whores for sport. Moments before his death (This is no longer a spoiler, kids. The episode was two weeks ago, and the book was written in 2000. Get over it.), he is busy humiliating his smarter, better-hearted uncle (possibly the only Lanister in Game of Thrones who ought to be allowed to survive the series.) And his bravery makes Draco Malfoy look like a Schwarzenegger character. (Besides, Draco turned out to have a conscience, too, even if he took after his sniveling, conniving dad.)

But these are simply references. This character is not the one I based him on. He is not Han Solo. He is not Joffrey in the beginning. But the existing characters give me points of reference to use. He has to grow up. He’s trying. Unfortunately, he succeeds if only because circumstances won’t allow anything else.

Hey, I’m fishing for Amazon reviews, good or bad. I just want tongues wagging. Wanna help out? I’ll send you The Compleat Winter or Road Rules. You tell the world what you honestly think of it. Hit me up on Facebook, DM me @authorjimwinter, or email me at jamesrwinter@yahoo.com for details.

Friday Reviews: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Stephen King

After the harrowing ghost story of Bag of Bones, Stephen King returns to TR90, the unincorporated Maine township, in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The titular girl is Trisha McFarland. Trisha wanders away from her brother and mother on a section of the Appalachian Trail to pee and, more importantly, get away from their bickering. When she finishes, she realizes she’s lost. When in doubt, she thinks, follow a stream. Streams empty into the ocean. Right?

No, this stream empties into New Hampshire, which is nowhere near the ocean. After a harrowing week in the woods, Trisha finds herself living off the land – checkerberries, beechnuts, and fiddle heads – fighting pneumonia, and possibly hallucinating. She hallucinates Tom Gordon, the popular closer for the Boston Red Sox in the late 1990’s. She hallucinates three robed figures telling her she is about to meet her destiny. And she hallucinates something that is following her.

Actually, something is following her. King uses the word “it” to imply Pennywise, but the demonic clown is never once mentioned. And while her supernatural encounters may or may not be caused by fever and fatigue playing tricks on her mind, something is following her. Even the ending leaves it up to the reader as to whether her stalker is a typical King monster or a more mundane denizen of the forest.

More frightening is Trisha’s continued turns away from civilization. At one point, because she passes through during midweek, she misses human presence by a mere few hundred yards.

Two things mar this novel. First is King’s tendency to insert spoilers into the story. At several points, he references “the Trisha who emerged from the woods a week later,” which telegraphs a happy ending at points where the suspense should be ratcheted up. Second, King cannot seem to make up his mind if this is a supernatural story or simply a little girl lost in the woods. The former plays nicely into King’s Dark Tower series, but the latter, like Cujo, works on a level of terror many of us have known at some point in our lives. What’s more frightening than wandering aimlessly in Western Maine’s undeveloped forests, staggering toward Montreal with nothing in between?

Tom Gordon did keep me turning pages. Unlike the previous three or four King novels, this one is short, 265 pages in the version I read. And one thing that gives the novel its flavor is King’s love of baseball, particularly the Red Sox. It shines through as Trisha listens to the games on her Walkman, her only link to civilization during her ordeal.

Over all, this was a much better, more coherent work than, say, Desperation.

Remission: No More Excuses

running

(CC) BY-SA Tomas Fano

Winter has finally gone away in most of these United States. (Canada is still waiting. Sorry, Canada.) Which means the weather is finally warm enough to run. Am I doing it?

Yes. No. Maybe. It depends.

Day-to-day life has a lot to do with it. Rain had a lot to do with it. When you’re fully engaged in running with a schedule to keep, a torrential downpour might be a reason to stay inside.

Of course, I’ve had an interesting spring, dominated largely by buying a new car. The test drive and ultimate purchase occurred on a rainy Wednesday night when I originally planned to run. Too bad The Princess (my old, needy 2005 Neon) was not cooperating. So I retired her.

OK, genius. You have a new car. That took one night. What about the rest of those nights?

Ya caught me. I’ve been a bad boy. I should have been out there pounding the pavement, but after a long winter layoff, it’s hard to get back into it. This is the part where you expect me to say I’m not making excuses. Oh, bullshit. I’m making excuses.

It’s a bit dumb of me not to run because the exercise does so much for my health. Just this morning, I spent about an hour working on a proposed article for cracked.com entitled “5 Things Diabetics Are Sick of Hearing.” If I’d stick with the plan, I wouldn’t have to hear them. Or if I did, I could go, “It’s in remission, sweetie. Now save me a cupcake. Daddy’s got a grueling 10-mile run later, and he needs the carbs.” (People hate it when you beat a serious disease, but I’ll save that for the article. Maybe it’ll become a blog post here.)

It’s more than blood sugar, though. When I run, my blood pressure drops. When I run, my good cholesterol rises and the bad cholesterol falls. (I don’t have a problem with triglycerides, the third evil in the cholesterol axis. Treatment for that is its own special kind of hell.) I sleep better. I feel better. I look better.

Then I have to remind myself of a promise I made years ago. I am going to run the Flying Pig Marathon the week of my fiftieth birthday. Well, I have far less time now to slack off and start over than I did when I made that decision. And it’s getting harder to get my numbers back to normal.

So it’s back to the grind. Even if a mile and a half is a challenge right now.

 

Done With The Red Ink. Now What?

red-inked manuscript

(C) 2008 Nic McPhee, used under Creative Commons

I finished my own pass through Holland Bay last week. One thing I learned is that I really should have printed it out last time. There are things like missed words and sentences that were cut and pasted together that needed tweaking. And of course, I had all that repeated information I needed to weed out.

I’m not sure why we don’t see these things when we reread electronically. It’s the same text, and every word processing app worth mentioning displays it as black text on a white background. Yet there is something about having to flip pages and marking them up with a red pen that lets us catch more errors. When it comes time for me to edit other people’s work, I’ll probably print out their work. I’ll have to put the notes in electronically, but I don’t see that as an issue.

So, I’m done, and all I have to do is put in the revisions. Right?

Wrong. I’m trading edits with someone. Deep edits. The kind you pay a professional about a lot of money to have done. To simply go on my own is asking for trouble, and I’ve got too much into Holland Bay not to do the work. Holland Bay is going to be the first novel I take down the traditional route since I shopped Road Rules about eight years ago. Some might ask why I would do that when independent publishing is all the rage.

Simple. Independent publishing requires a lot more work than I have time to do. I not only have to write the book, I have to have it edited, formatted for both print and ebook (and two formats on top of that), and sell the thing. It’s hard because I live in a town where the crime fiction community is nil. Hence “My Dick is writing a novel.” I can do science fiction much easier here than I can crime.

Plus crime is so fragmented these days, and no one wants to cross genres, or should I say subgenres. Noir fans aren’t interested in police procedurals, and police fans want nothing to do with PI fiction. PI buffs can’t stand cozies, and the cozy fans don’t like the Elmore Leonard/Carl Hiassen capers.

But crime is a writer’s genre. While we get very insular about what we read, it’s not unusual to go to Bouchercon and see Lee Child and SJ Rozan sharing a drink. When your chosen field operates like that, you almost need a traditional publisher to take on the task of marketing and spreading the word. Once you’re out there and known, then indie pub becomes doable. For me, it’s more like the guy in the Greek myth rolling the stone up the hill only to have it roll back down from just shy of the top.

I suppose part of this is my fault. I chose to set Nick Kepler, my original series, in Cleveland, a city four hours away and one where I haven’t lived since 1990. By the time I had a feel for Cincinnati, I’d already written the first three Kepler novels. Starting over again wasn’t feasible. I suppose I could do it now. Cincinnati would love it if someone would set a series here. In crime, that hasn’t happened since Jonathan Valin’s last novel in 1995.

I digress. Holland Bay, set in a fictional Lake Erie city based on elements of both Cincinnati and Cleveland, is a bit of a sprawling story. My touchstones were The Wire and Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series. The city derives its name from the old mystery-based soap opera, The Edge of Night. Edge, up until its final two seasons, featured a shot of the Cincinnati skyline in its opening credits. So how to market that? Well, a bigger publisher or one with decent marketing can play with that. Right now, I need to make the book worth their time. And yours. Because sooner or later, this epic is going to get out into the wild, and I want it to do well.

I hope to have this thing packed off to an agent (Not saying who just yet. Not until the paperwork is signed.) by mid-summer. By then, I’ll be back into the SF novel and even blogging as “Dick,” who himself will have a funny name for me. (Not “Dick.” That joke’s worn a bit thin.)

And of course, there’s one or two more Keplers I’d like to finish. You didn’t think I forgot about him, did you?

Friday Reviews: The Undesirable by S. Celi

The Undesirable
S. Celi

Charlotte Walker lives in a future America that looks nothing like today. The state runs television. Everything is for a war effort against Canada, which has cut off the Keystone Pipeline. There is no president or Congress. There is only the Party. And Maxwell Cooper, the Supreme Leader.

This is the only world Charlotte has known, and the Party manages to turn even that upside down. Humvees roll into Harrison Corners, a small town in northwest Ohio that, up until now, has been isolated from the turmoil gripping the US. She, like her neighbors, are forced to work in a factory making shirts for the war effort. But there’s more than war production behind the occupation. As Charlotte points out in the first chapter, she’s just found out she is Cooper’s bastard. What follows is a clandestine escape to Canada, followed by a harrowing rescue run back to Harrison Corners.

Two authors came to mind as I read this: Stephen King and John Scalzi. Like Scalzi, Celi makes her future familiar. However, whereas Scalzi’s Earth in both the Old Man’s War series and The Android’s Dream is actually a decent place to live, Celi’s America has more in common with Susan Collins’ Panem, minus any bloodsport spectacle. (Yet. This is a series after all.)

The King comparison comes from the desperate vibe that permeates the book, which echoes The Running Man (the book, not the movie), The Long Walk, and shades of The Stand. The status quo is bleak, hopeless, and insidious.

There are nice touches here as well. Cooper is described as an Ohio native son who bears a resemblance to a certain House Speaker who hails from nearby Butler County. But whereas Mr. Boehner usually looks like he has a migraine (Wouldn’t you with the current Congress? Even if most of them are your people?), Cooper solves the problem of gridlock with a coup. But on a more mundane level, the Humvee has replaced the limousine and the Army Jeep as the ride of choice for the powerful.

Still, anyone can make a new universe, altered reality, or dystopic future. Celi, however, has an affinity for romance (which is the bulk of her subsequent books). The real story is Charlotte, who already has to be a survivor thanks to a neglectful mother, and Fostino, a fellow student who has had a crush on her. Fostino finally sees a chance with Charlotte when he is drafted into the Homeland Guard (Cooper’s storm troopers) and takes her under his protection. It’s this relationship that drives the story. Charlotte must leave Fostino behind as he is part of the occupation, then must go back for him when the government betrays its own citizens in Harrison Corners.

I liked this story for its quick pace and its spanning of three genres (YA, science fiction, romance). This is Celi’s first novel, and a very fine effort for a debut. I look forward to more in this series.

The Return Of Nita Ritas!

Spring has sprung, and with it, time in our backyard. Right after Nita and I got married, we lucked into a wonderful discovery. You don’t need Triple Sec to make a margarita. You can use Jameson. Or rum. Or Jack Daniels. Or…

We wanted margaritas one night to sip out on the back deck of the old Rancho Winter, but we had no Triple Sec. We did have Jameson. So in went the Jamie.

Delicious.

We tried it with rum and Jack and Beam and… Yeah, we taste tested a lot of these ritas. But it’s not really a margarita without Triple Sec, is it? No, it’s not. It’s a Nita Rita, and you, too, can enjoy responsibly.

Nita Ritas are 3 parts Cuervo margarita mix, 2 parts tequila (We recommend Cuervo Especial, but I really want to try Cabo Wabo one of these days), and one part… Well, what kind of Nita Rita do you want?

Irish Nita Rita: Jameson

Jamaican Nita Rita: rum

Nuclear Nita Rita: Bacardi 151 dark spiced rum

Tennessee Nita Rita: Jack Daniels

Kentucky Nita Rita (legal): Jim Beam

Kentucky Nita Rita (illegal): moonshine

Canadian Nita Rita: Crown or Seagrams

Jaeger Nita Rita: Dude, that’s just insane. Don’t ever do that. Trust me. It’ll end badly. Agave and absinthe’s cheap cousin do not mix.

So there you have it. The Nita Rita, invented by my wife, the incomparable Nita.

Nita hammock