Man of Steel in the heart of (the) Metropolis

Staff and readers at Westminster Reference Library are well used to their evening studies being accompanied by the screams of movie fans and the occasional celeb – or indeed fully-garbed Imperial Stormtrooper – passing by in Leicester Square. On Wednesday it was the turn of the Superman fans to line the red (actually blue) carpet route in the pouring rain as the latest re-imagining of the now 75 year old superhero got its first UK outing.

All star Superman vol 1 by Grant MorrisonAll star Superman vol 2 by Grant MorrisonThe greatest stories ever told, vol 2, by Jerry SiegelSuperman: whatever happened to the man of tomorrow? by Alan MooreThe Superman Chronicles vol 2 by Jerry Siegel

One of the key features of the new film is its cutting-edge visual effects (“You’ll believe a man can fly!”) including the creation of Superman’s planet – Krypton, his home town – Smallville, and his city – Metropolis. Location is often fundamental to the mood of a superhero’s story – think Batman without Gotham City, Thor without Asgard or The Fantastic Four without Latveria. While apparently most of the comic book superheroes have visited London at some point in their stories (probably due to the preponderance of British comic book artists), in the main if you remove a superhero from his or her city a great deal of atmosphere is lost.

Vertigo: the strange new world of the contemporary city, by Rowan MooreResearch for Man of Steel’s Metropolis involved effects artists scaling the perilous heights of Chicago’s skyscrapers, held only by ropes and harnesses. But what might the less well-funded comic book artist or aspiring film maker do to find inspiration for their own superhero city? They could do worse than visit the library! In fact, popping around the corner from the excesses of the premiere would have afforded a range of resources to inform and delight.

Film Architecture: from Metropolis to Blade Runner [exhibition catalogue]They could begin with a look at the precedents: Film Architecture: set designs from Metropolis to Bladerunner might be a good place to start. This exhibition catalogue is held within the library’s amazing Performing Arts collection – a browse along the nearby shelves would reveal several more books on this and related topics. Moving over to the Art & Design collection they could browse books on the buildings of Chicago, New York and other cities around the world, plus books on different architects, architectural styles and movements.

London High by Herbert WrightOf course, there are not enough superheroes based in our own beloved city (in fact, are there any?). A bit of research into London’s architecture would seem to be in order.

Airborne heroine? London High might come in handy.

Lycra-clad hero? Take a look at The architecture of London 2012.

If you’re not planning to imagine your own city, but want to become immersed in the imaginations of the best of the comic book artists, then you can visit one of the city’s lending libraries and borrow some of our brilliant range of graphic novels and comics.

Action Comics SupermanJust as Man of Steel is intended as a ‘reboot’ of the Superman films, so DC comics have recently rebooted all their classic characters – including Superman – with The New 52‘, many of which we have available to borrow. We also have Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, source of the “Look it up!” Librarian (yes, we all think we’re superheroes).
If you get really hooked, don’t forget you can meet with like-minded souls at the Marylebone Library Graphic Novel Club which meets monthly on a Wednesday.

[Ali, Clint, Psyche]


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