This looks like a job for Superman.
The job: Rescuing Superman.
The world's dullest superhero will - with luck - get a much- needed super-makeover when he attempts a big-screen comeback in "Man of Steel," opening Friday, with the British actor Henry Cavill as the latest guy in the red cape and blue pajamas.
This after the last big-screen reboot, "Superman Returns" (2006), grossed a disappointing $200 million domestically (the film's budget was $270 million) and was widely viewed as a snooze even by die- hard comic buffs.
"It was so boring and forgettable," says Marc Ferraro, 28, owner of Comics N' Toys in River Edge. "There was no edge to it. It was like watching a big ball bounce around."
Clark Kent's PR problem was exacerbated by "Superman Returns," but that isn't where it began.
Superman, celebrating his 75th anniversary this year, has become the super world's stodgy president emeritus. Yes, he's the first of the bona-fide superheroes. Yes, he's important and iconic - a flagship character.
But he's also a costumed boy scout, whose square personality has made him remote from the modern world. His powers have become so overwhelming through the years that writers are hard pressed to put him into believable jeopardy. Hulk, Spider-Man, and the other funky, fallible heroes introduced by Marvel in the 1960s are the real templates for Hollywood's 21st century superhero boom. Superman is more like a figurehead.
"He's very iconic looking, but he's very goody two-shoes," says Corry Brown, 36, manager of Zapp! Comics in Wayne.
He's also too well-known to retire: although DC comics did try to kill him off at least once, in 1992 (he was resurrected the following year), and he's been tweaked, rebooted and "improved" many times. The most successful modern iterations of the character have been the TV shows that have fastened on this or that secondary aspect of the storyline: the romance with Lois Lane ("Lois & Clark"), or Superman's early adventures as a super teen ("Smallville").
The new "Man of Steel" film does make every effort to retrofit Superman for 2013. The costume, now minus red briefs, has been sexed- up to emphasize ab development. The storyline, retracing his origins on the planet Krypton with his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his later battles with the Kryptonian supervillain General Zod (Michael Shannon), offers plenty of scope for action and eye-candy. And yes, whenever possible, it's "dark" and "edgy."
But Superman, at the end of the day, is still Superman. It remains to be seen whether this latest incarnation will connect with audiences, the way the character undoubtedly did when he made his debut in Action Comics in April 1938. Is it the character that's changed since then? Or have we?
"The only Superman fans are people 50-plus," Ferraro says. "And 4 and under -- only because the parents buy Superman comics for their kids, out of habit."
It might be worth asking what people saw in Superman in the 1930s, to help figure out why he's such a stiff today. Here are a few things you'll notice when you turn the pages of "Superman No. 1" (available in reprints):
* He wasn't that super. He had super-strength, super-hard skin and could leap one-eighth of a mile. He could run faster than a locomotive. And that's it. He couldn't fly (he gained that power in
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