Superman on Trial

Superman on Trial
Superman on Trial

Superman on Trial is a BBC Radio dramatic presentation created in honor of the Man of Steel’s 50th Anniversary.  Here’s the plot synopsis from Wikipedia (which I expanded from a one sentence to a five sentence summary):

Poisoned with Kryptonite and put on trial for causing as many disasters as he prevents, Superman must relive his past as his closest friends as allies try to save him from eternal imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. Prosecutor Lex Luthor (who is also running for Mayor of Metropolis) squares off against Superman’s advocate, Lois Lane in front of acting judge, Ganthet. Luthor claims that because Superman is an alien, he should not be “meddling in human affairs.” Witnesses appear from both the comic world, like Jimmy Olsen, and from the real world, like Adam West (tv’s Batman), Jenette Kahn (then-President, DC Comics) and Dave Gibbons (DC Comics artist/Co-creator, Watchmen). In the end, Ganthet rules that because Superman was raised by human parents, he acquired human values and was thus part of humanity.

A few quick thoughts about this 1-hour programme (I spell program in the British way since this is a BBC production):

  • If you aren’t very familiar with the comics, some of the stuff in this show is a little weird.  Mostly, they don’t do a very good job of explaining who Ganthet is.  He just rumbles and sounds ominous, as if Michael Clarke Duncan were the judge.
  • Maggs’ decision to put Supe on trial by using testimony from creators of comic books demands a suspension of suspension of disbelief.  In the world of the story, the Superman tales were created as promotional/ documentary material about Superman, but the show conveniently takes the Umberto Eco “Myth of Superman” approach, forgetting that if the comics were documenting real events, Lois and Lex would both be elderly.  Once you’re willing to forgive that convenient collapsing of time, it’s an amusing development.
  • I particularly like the sections in which Batman appears, testifying both as Adam West and as the Batman himself.  In the case of the latter, Lex brings up the uncomfortable idea that Batman’s own worries about Superman’s potential as a world-changing force spawned the Superman/Batman fight in The Dark Knight Returns.  Oddly, despite the fact that Lex calls Dave Gibbons to testify, he doesn’t bring up Gibbons’ own exploration of this very subject through the character of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen.
  • William Hootkins does an excellent job chewing the scenery as Lex Luthor.  Most amusing, for my money, is his angry rant to the Luthercorp legal department at the end, in which he delivers the credits by threatening to sue all the people involved in the radio play, especially William Hootkins.
  • The end wasn’t all that satisfying to me, as it returns to the overall message of Superman itself: nurture beats nature.

An amusing audio play, well worth the time.  I’m not sure it’s worth the money though.

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