It's close to 2 a.m. Monday morning as I type this, and about this time last week I had to pick my jaw up from the floor after reading the initial unconfirmed reports that Christopher Reeve had died. Can't be true, thought I. It's a mistake. But two hours later when I arrived at the office and walked into the newsroom, I discovered that the story had been confirmed and Reeve was indeed no longer with us.
|Do you think he can fly?|
Stunned doesn't describe my reaction, but needless to say, that's how it felt. Like when you played dodge ball as a kid and the ball hit you in the face, you can't do anything for a few seconds except stand there and stare blankly at whatever is in front of you.
I took a moment to send a quick e-mail to a friend that read: "Superman is dead." There was nothing else to say.
In the past week, the news programs and talk shows have focused on what has happened in the years since Reeve's accident and the argument over stem cell research and how it would play into this year's political season.
What they failed to mention, and what my friend and I agreed on, was that a generation has lost one of its icons.
For many of us between 30 and 35, Reeve really was Superman and brought the Man of Steel to life better than anyone before or since (this excludes the actors who played the role on the radio show - they all looked like Reeve to me). As a result, Reeve did more to inspire certain young boys to tie sheets and towels around our necks and jump off of anything high enough to provide the illusion of flight before gravity took over and ruined the game. Any sprained ankles or cuts and bruises that resulted were all part of the fun.
(In fact, I wanted to be Superman so much that my mother literally manufactured a duplicate costume for me to wear one Halloween. I must have been six or seven at the time. Somewhere, a picture exists - but you'll never see it.)
I still think one of the best movie moments in film history comes from Superman II. The Three Villains, outlaws from Krypton who were freed from their cosmic prison by a nuclear blast in space, had arrived on Earth and wanted to kill Superman because his father, Jor-El, was responsible for their imprisonment (and since Krypton had exploded, they couldn't just fly home). With the help of Lex Luthor (played wonderfully by Gene Hackman), they tracked down Superman through his connections at the Daily Planet. The Villains crashed through the Planet offices, trashing everything in sight, knocking out Jimmy Olsen and Perry White and about to take Lois Lane hostage. Then Superman swooped down from above and locked eyes with the Villains' leader, General Zod. Everybody froze, not daring to breathe.... and then Superman said:
"General Zod, would you care to step outside?"
A little silly? Sure. If anybody else had delivered the line. When Reeve did it, there was no doubt that Superman was one tough pray-god-you-don't-meet-him hombre and General Zod was about to have his clock cleaned.
Reeve made you believe Superman was real because he brought a genuine approach to the role, wasn't just pretending. Yes, he had writers, a director, and a large special effects crew to make it all work, but those elements would have meant nothing without Reeve's charisma. When Dean Cain wore the blue and red costume on TV in later years, it just didn't work. Cain looked way too pretty and smiled way too much - you could see that his tongue was firmly planted in his cheek, and it wasn't the real thing.
Those of us who remember the glory days of the Superman movies have lost the embodiment of the ultimate hero who made it okay to run around with homemade capes because he looked totally cool doing it first. Reeve touched many a child's imagination, and if you are one of the few who can do that (J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, and George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, are also members of the club), you'll be remembered forever.
I'm actually surprised all of this has come back so clearly. I haven't followed Superman stories in ages, or watched the movies in years. I was also never a big reader of the comic books. Superman has really fallen out of vogue as well in recent years, and the writers and editors at DC Comics even killed him off, only to bring him back in a different, more "edgy" form. Superman is too clean and perfect. Soiled cynical heroes like Batman and the X-Men are more popular nowadays, reflecting, I think, the soiled cynical America we live in. That's too bad. You'd think clean heroes would be in demand. Why reach for the higher standard when it's so easy to keep our faces in pig slop?
It's ironic it took Reeve's death to remind me of all this, and since we can choose the way we remember somebody, I'll stick with the closing image from the end of each Superman film when he flies out into space and gives the camera a smile before zooming out of the frame.
Brian Evankovich lives in California. Please be pithy if you wish to opine at firstname.lastname@example.org.