Keep 'Man of Steel' PG: A Comic Writer's Plea (Opinion)

Greg Rucka, who's written Superman and Batman comics, says that Warner Bros.' and Legendary's re-imagining of the classic American tale may lose the character's heart by going too gritty.

For many, the difficulty with Superman isn’t heat vision or flight, or even that a slouch and a pair of glasses in no way make a viable disguise. Their disconnect arises from his very character, the idea that a person who can do so much, who can have so much, would be selfless rather than self-serving. They reject that kind of heroism in fantasy, because they claim it doesn’t exist in reality.

Look back at Boston and West, Texas, at those men and women of flesh, blood, bone, and heart, who ran into fire and terror rather than away from it, and then tell me if that holds water.

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The last time we saw Superman on the big screen, he was an absent-father who got prison-yard shanked with a Kryptonite shiv. Now he's coming around again, another origin-story retelling of a character who is arguably the single greatest icon of 20th century fiction, presented once more for the 21st. There’s a reason you find that ‘S’ everywhere, from Indiana to Islamabad. There’s a reason little boys and girls still take a red blanket or towel and tuck it into the back of their shirt, thrust their arms into the air, and raise their chins to the heavens as they leap off the sofa into imagination and adventure.

Words like “realism” and “dark” and “gritty” get bandied about Hollywood as if the only merit a story can have is in its verisimilitude, but that’s a lie. Emotional honesty transcends reality; it’s what allows disbelief to be suspended, and yet what makes a story stay true. When Superman: The Movie was released, Richard Donner promised us we’d believe a man could fly. We did, but it wasn’t the wire-work alone.

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Superman is precisely what we should be teaching our children. Superman inspires us to our best. I haven’t seen Man of Steel, haven’t read the script, and I’ve assiduously avoided spoilers. I genuinely don’t know if this “reality” will be present or not. I want it to be brilliant. I want it to be glorious. I want it to be inspiring. I am keeping the faith.

But that PG-13 on Man of Steel is making me nervous. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know if it’s a warning that there’s another k-shiv coming for the kidneys, or if it’s just the cost-of-doing-business, or even if it’s an MPAA-bias against all superhero violence. I don’t know if this is a genuine caution to parents, or a marketing decision aimed at a demographic too-cool for Superman's brand of hope and idealism, yet embracing of Batman’s self-loathing rough justice, to assure them their ticket will be money well-spent. I don't know if that PG-13 is there out of sincerity or cynicism or politics.

I just know that if you make a Superman movie you can’t take kids to, you’ve done something wrong.


Award-winning novelist and comic book writer Greg Rucka has written Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman for DC Comics; Spider-Man, Wolverine and Punisher for Marvel. He created Queen and Country and Stumptown for Oni. His newest comic, Lazarus, from Image Comics, will debut this June and his most-recent novel is Alpha. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two children, both of whom own capes.