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J.J. Abrams Discusses What He Would Have Done With Superman, Updates Us On Star Wars

In a world where Hollywood would like J.J. Abrams to do everything, the director had a solid story for a Superman film. He recently spoke to Empire Magazine about what that entailed and eventually got around to the topic of this whole Star Wars thing… 

Abrams comics treatment was called “Superman Flyby” and just happened to leak online earlier this year. It would have revolved around a civil war on Superman’s home planet of Krypton which lead up to his exile.

“The thing that I tried to emphasise in the story was that if the Kents found this boy, Kal-El, who had the power that he did, he would have most likely killed them both in short order,” Abrams told Empire. “And the idea that these parents would see – if they were lucky to survive long enough – that they had to immediately begin teaching this kid to limit himself and to not be so fast, not be so strong, not be so powerful.

“The result of that, psychologically, would be fear of oneself, self-doubt and being ashamed of what you were capable of. Extrapolating that to adulthood became a fascinating psychological profile of someone who was not pretending to be Clark Kent, but who was Clark Kent. Who had become that kind of a character who is not able or willing to accept who he was and what his destiny was.”

We’re still not exactly clear on the direction Zack Snyder is taking Man of Steel but Abrams said it didn’t look far off and he was glad for it.

The interview inevitably turned to the topic of Star Wars: Episode VII and how the director would approach the franchise he loves so dearly as compared to Star Trek.

“I don’t know because we’re just getting started. So it’s a great question that I hope I’ll have a good answer to when I know what the answer is. There are infinitely more questions than answers right now, but to me, they’re not that dissimilar. Though I came at these both from very different places, where they both meet is a place of ‘Ooh, that’s really exciting.’ And even though I was never a Star Trek fan, I felt like there was a version of it that would make me excited, that I would think ‘that’s cool, that feels right, I actually would want to see that.

“How we were going to get there, what the choices were going to be, who was going to be in it – all of those things I knew would have to be figured out, but it was all based on a foundation of this indescribable, guttural passion for something that could be. It’s a similar feeling that I have with Star Wars. I feel like I can identify a hunger for what I would want to see again and that is an incredibly exciting place to begin a project. The movies, the worlds could not be more different but that feeling that there’s something amazing here is the thing that they share.”

Meanwhile, the latest Star Trek Into Darkness trailer was released this past week. What are your thoughts on Abrams take on Superman?

(via Empire and Empire)

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  • Supermorff

    Think you made a typo: Caped Crusader (paragraph 2) is Batman, not Superman.

    No real comments on Abrams’ take, though. Not yet. Maybe once Man of Steel comes out.


    That is a painfully stupid idea about Superman. It is painful and dumb, and if Snyder used any of it, he’s a moron.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Wow, I can’t believe I did that. Thanks for catching it!

  • Anonymous

    I’m excited about Into Darkness (loved 2009 Star Trek) but everything I’ve heard about his Superman movie idea sounds bad. Like Jon Peter giant robot spider bad.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree. I think not only is it a fascinating psychological study of a character that has been a little impenetrable when it comes to his psychology over the years, but makes perfect sense within the narrative of the story. An alien child with superhuman abilities would be as dangerous as anything we could imagine, physically and psychologically. Imagine the pressure and responsibility a parent would feel, having to safeguard not only their own lives, but that of every living being on Earth by teaching their child that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And what that upbringing would do to that child, already fragile with the (subconscious) knowledge of being an outsider, eventually being called upon by his conscience to use those dangerous powers, not for his own benefit but for the benefit of others. That’s a great, compelling story. We love Batman in part because he is psychologically fascinating – broken, dark, morally troubled. Superman could use a little psychological depth. And that’s not to say he should be a gritty, humorless copy of Batman. That truly would be stupid.

    Yes, we’d all like to believe that a simple upbringing on a Kansas farm in the American heartland would be enough to imbue any child (even an alien one) with the purest of morals, but the reality is most kids begin to act out once they discover their power – they just don’t have the ability to liquify someone with a stare and toss buildings into orbit when they get pissed. It’d be nice to see that upbringing and its affects really given some psychological weight so that we can finally understand what kind of person Clark Kent/Superman/Kal-El is.

  • Michael Boucher

    JJ Abrams should make a movie on Marvel’s Hyperion, enough said.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. I think it’s a totally cool idea.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not Superman being afraid of using his powers that annoys me (that part could be very interesting), it’s the idea that somehow Superman isn’t being “himself” when he’s Clark Kent. Superman was Clark Kent long before he was Superman, I don’t see why filmmakers always feel the need to imply that he’s somehow lesser, or an act put on by Superman.

    Superman actually is Clark Kent. That’s the key difference between Batman and Superman; Batman primarily thinks of himself as Bats, while Superman thinks of himself as Clark. It’s what keeps him grounded. Superman is the disguise, and everyone always seems to forget that.

  • dk2

    Except he’s not Clark Kent, he’s Kal-El, the last remaining Kryptonian in existence. He is not a mid-west farm boy, he is an extraterrestrial being with limitless speed, strength, endurance, the ability to fly, incinerate or freeze what’s before him at will, x-ray vision, and more. He was never truly Clark. He was raised being told that he was different, that “Clark” wasn’t who he really was, and he had to hide his true identity. In the comics, this resulted in some pretty long-lasting psychological scarring and mental blocks that he struggled with for a long time. He was “Clark” up until he realized he was different, around the age of 8 in the silver age comics. I hate to use Tarantino to illustrate this but,
    “Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

  • Anonymous

    Actually, what Abrams is saying is that the Clark Kent personality is indeed the real one. That the natural consequence of the Kents raising him to be wary of his power would result in a personality more akin to Clark (timid, fumbling around in social situations) than to Superman (supremely confident and self-assured, without doubt); Clark is a creation of Kal-El’s upbringing on the farm the same way our personalities are largely the result of the way our parents raised us – genuine and complex and completely real to us.

    So, in essence, Clark Kent is the real person and Superman is the “public face/persona.” It’s a reversal of what we’ve been led to believe all these years as we’ve been told time and again that the Clark personality was a facade. The idea that Clark Kent is Kal-El’s approximation of an Earthling, or that his meekness as Clark is a put on has always been in conflict with the reality of his background and the way the Kents raised him, and Abrams is just the first – as far as I can remember – to understand this. So, Kal-El’s battle isn’t with trying to create a more human existence for himself through the Clark persona (he’s had that since his days on the farm, it’s all he knows until his heritage is finally revealed to him), it’s with the inevitable maturation that everyone experiences – for him: becoming the powerful being that is his heritage as a Kryptonian, and whether he can accept the responsibilities of that birthright (power) without succumbing to its pitfalls (believing himself superior, abusing his power, not relating to/empathizing with his adoptive world, etc). He’s been raised as a human, but now his powers create a conflict with his character, as he’s been raised one way but has physically developed in another. The Kents always realized the danger of this struggle between the physical and the psychological. This is an aspect of Superman’s story that hasn’t always been dealt with correctly.

  • Anonymous

    That’s like saying adopted families aren’t real families. Sure, you know you were born in China and you still have a heritage to deal with in regards to that, but that doesn’t make you any less of an O’Grady.

    In terms of Superman, his Kryptonian heritage and parents are definitely a huge part of who he is, but he still spent almost all of his formative years with the Kents. And while they definitely told him that he was different and had to be careful, I can’t recall them ever telling him that he wasn’t their son, Clark Kent. An alien from another planet, yes, but why shouldn’t Clark Kent be an alien? (Unless this is a New 52 thing. Did they do some weird thing in the New 52 where the Kents suddenly became super passive-aggressive about Clark’s powers?)

    Also, just to kick Tarantino in the metaphorical balls, Clark Kent is far from a coward. I mean, he investigates gangsters and corrupt politicians for a goddamn living. The “meek and mild” thing is an act to keep people from putting two and two together while he saves the day, but don’t get that mixed up with the guy himself. Clark’s the one who wins Pulitzer Prizes and uncovers the truth and marries Lois fucking Lane. That doesn’t really sound like a critique to me.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry that was so long. I am getting way too invested in this.

  • Anonymous

    To me, the psychological study of Superman isn’t of a man afraid of using his powers, it’s of a near-god who has to come to terms with the fact of his own ultimate powerlessness. No matter how strong he is, he’ll always be able to hear one more person being murdered, or burning in a fire, or crushed in a cave in, or so forth, who’s going to die because he can’t be everywhere. He’s only half a god.

    You’ll notice that most of the “Great” Batman stories are about his triumph over incredible odds through perseverance, by being unwilling to give up. Bats is defined by what he overcomes, both physically and psychologically. Most of the “Great” Superman stories are about his losses and defeats. Superman is defined by what he can’t overcome.

    Add in all the kinds of harm Superman can’t protect people from. Sure, he can put out a fire, but he can’t stop a company making defective smoke alarms and space heaters which start the fires. He can stop a person from robbing a bank, but he can’t stop a bank from robbing millions of people. Like us, he’s powerless against the great social injustices of the world.

    On the other hand, Clark Kent isn’t. He – not Superman – is the one who can shut down the chemical plant poisoning an entire town. He’s the one who can expose major corporate fraud which will steal far more money from far more people than any mugger ever could. Clark Kent, the solid core of the individual, is what keeps him sane. What allows him to deal with the person he’s not able to rescue from the fire. It isn’t like he really needs a secret identity. He could theoretically be Superman full time, rescue more people.

    Want another awesome twist in there? A young Clark Kent is impressed when he becomes aware of some schoolgirl doing investigative journalism, exposing some sort of dangerous factory or something… Her name wouldn’t happen to be Lois Lane, would it? Yes, I’m cribbing off a proposal I’d read for a “Lois Lane Girl Reporter” YA novel series, but it makes sense to me. Lois inspires Clark to do something which he sees as more important for the broader world, while Lois is impressed with immediate day-saving of Superman. There’s something about that circle which just draws me in.

  • Travis Fischer

    It may not be true today, but the Golden Age that’s pretty much how it was presented. Superman was Superman and Clark Kent was just a “mild-mannered” disguise he used to blend in with the masses.

    It’s funny that the opposite was also originally true of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Eventually the two characters both reversed their positions. Superman’s innate goodness stemmed from his humble upbringing while Batman became Bruce Wayne’s true identity.

  • Peter Bradley

    JJ Abrams.. setting forth to screw up every franchise in existence. Way to not get the point of Superman. No surprise, since he clearly didn’t grasp Star Trek either.

  • Anonymous

    This is interesting, because I actually believe the reverse about Batman and Superman. I believe Batman is a more tragic character in that he doesn’t ever triumph over evil/criminality, he holds it at bay (an idea commonly seen in shows/movies about the police), usually while being harangued by the GCPD, politicians, and citizens that distrust him. He’s one man fighting against an oppressive tide of evil doers, many of them in the very force tasked with protecting Gotham. Whereas Superman has always been the champion that has overcome whatever odds put before him, whether it’s spinning the Earth backwards to reverse time(!), being resurrected from near death by an incredibly convenient “resurrection from near death cocoon device,” or pretty much negating the powers of every supervillain he comes up against. And he gets publicly lauded wherever he goes. Must be the red briefs. It is true that neither hero can save every innocent, but it seems only Batman’s writers have had much interest in dealing with the psychological fallout of that hard truth. So, I’m glad Abrams was able to recognize that the character of Superman/Clark/Kal-El shouldn’t always be the stoic, imperturbable icon we would like him to be.

  • Anonymous

    There definitely are some Superman stories that have him coming to terms with the futility of his efforts. The ones that immediately come to mind are “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and “Superman: Peace on Earth,” but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more. Also, if you don’t mind some fluffier introspection, there were a lot of Silver Age stories where he would go into the past hoping to save Ma and Pa Kent, or Abraham Lincoln, and inevitably fail.

  • Anders Vesterberg

    i still dont bloody care about jarjar abrams he ruined star trek now he will probably screw up star wars to. he should stuck to fringe and his other shows that dont have over 30+ years of history (aka canon) behind them. if they put him on superman thats another thing he will ruin. just like michael bay ruined transformer.