The 'Superman' Fanboy Dilemma, Part 3: Watch It When? Where? With Whom?

In the third of five columns on the Man of Steel, Karl Heitmueller ponders making opening night super.

With "Superman Returns" now just one month away, it's time for fanboys around the globe to figure out three things: When, where and with whom to see it. For most, the first two are no-brainers — right away and on the biggest screen possible. It's the "with whom" that can sometimes be tricky.

(Click here to watch an exclusive interview with reclusive "Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer.)

Comic book fans have been stereotyped, not entirely without basis, as antisocial — isolated in dark, climate-controlled fortresses of solitude, obsessing over collectibles that must remain in mint condition (more on collecting and its pathologies in Part 4 of this series).

What socialization does exist among the tribe often takes place among like-minded folk, people who know that "Shazam" is not Captain Marvel but instead is the wizard who gave Billy Batson his powers. Most fanboys are not clubbing on a Friday night; they'd never get past the velvet rope.

The irony is that millions of people (including those nightclub doormen) who'd never set foot in a comic store will eagerly plunk down 10 bucks to see a superhero movie. Nothing mainstreams a comic book more than a big-budget Hollywood adaptation, and this can frustrate fanboys. They feel proprietary toward "their" characters, reluctant to share "Spider-Man" with people who don't know that there's a hyphen in the name or that MJ calling Peter Parker "Tiger" has historical context.

 Part One: " 'Superman' — Truth, Justice And The Fanatical Way"

 Part Two: "How Much Prep Work Is Too Much?"

 Part Four: "Come On Feel The Toyz"

 Part Five: "What If 'Returns' Is (Gasp) Kraptonite?"

Thus when an event movie like "Superman Returns" debuts, many fans will bond together in like-minded groups to see the film the second it comes out — and the Internet has made such get-togethers astonishingly simple. On Superman sites like, there's forum after forum of people making plans to meet for the premiere in cities from Seattle to Pittsburgh to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Cape Town, South Africa. Hordes of fanboys will be lining up, maybe even days in advance of June 30, thus ensuring media coverage, usually of a mocking tone.

Thank George Lucas for that. The "Star Wars" films were all marked by news stories about obsessive fans who were a little too hyped. But then a certain amount of derision is to be expected when one chooses to dress up in a Darth Vader costume and sit outside a theater in a lawn chair for a week in advance of a film's premiere.

Unlike "Star Wars," however, there aren't a lot of costumes for the Superfan to don while waiting in line on June 30. No doubt many S-shield shirts will be worn, but other than that, what's a supreme fanboy to do? Perhaps one could shave his (or her) head, Lex Luthor-style! Or wear a Jimmy Olsen bow tie! Personally, I plan to wear red underwear. (Who knows ... perhaps even on the outside!)

As for the "Where," fans in big cities will have the option of seeing the movie not just on a nice big screen, but the biggest screen. And in 3-D. "Superman Returns" is the first Hollywood feature to use IMAX conversion technology to turn about 20 minutes of the movie into what's touted as "immersive cinematic 3D." While I'm all for seeing "SR" on a big screen, for my first viewing I'm gonna stick to a more traditional theater. I'm going to be so focused on letting go of my preconceptions and just relaxing that I don't want the movie theater itself to be a distraction from the story and the characters. I'll see it in IMAX later on (hoping, that is, that I'll want to see it more than once).

And what of the "With whom?" element of the experience?

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Steve Leach, a graphic designer from York, PA, who regularly ruminates on his Superman collection at usually prefers to see blockbuster films after the hype has died down and the crowds have thinned, noting "people act like they're watching a DVD in their living room and have no regard for anyone else. ... [P]aying $9 for the privilege of sitting in a crowded theater full of yammering nincompoops is something I just don't do very often anymore." But he's making an exception for "Superman Returns," hoping "if I see it on the first night, I will be in a theater full of fellow nerds."

The communal experience of filmgoing is, of course, one of its biggest thrills, especially for a highly anticipated, spectacle-laden film like "Superman Returns." "The Venture Bros." creator Chris McCulloch admits to being less of a fanboy than he was in his youth, except when it comes to comic book movies. Chris' plans for seeing "Superman Returns" are just like they have been for every other big superhero flick: "Midnight showing, opening night, with geeky friends. Always. I like to be the first to see it, and the crowd is always all pumped up so it makes it more of an event. More fun."

But not all Superfans are willing to share. webmaster Adam McAllister wishes he could see the film alone in an empty theater with just one friend.

As with the "Star Wars" prequels, nostalgia seems to be fueling anticipation for "Superman Returns." New York photographer and Superman fan Gary Ashley has a Florida friend considering a trip to Manhattan, all because the two of them saw Richard Donner's "Superman: the Movie" together as kids. I can relate.

"Superman Returns" Photos
"Superman Returns" Trailer
Check out everything we have on "Superman Returns."
My memory of seeing the first "Superman" is vivid: Friday, December 15, 1978, the Wonderland Cinema in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with my Dad and my best friend Nathan. The show was packed. And when Christopher Reeve first appeared onscreen, clad in the costume, taking off from the Fortress of Solitude and swooping past the screen in the film's first majestic flying shot, Nathan and I both exclaimed, "That was so cool!"

There's a shot in the "Superman Returns" trailer of the superhero flying high over the Earth that looks an awful lot like that penultimate shot in all four of Christopher Reeve's Superman films. If, as many have surmised, "Superman Returns" ends with Brandon Routh recreating Reeve's final fourth-wall-breaking smile at the audience as he flies off-screen, there are gonna be a lot of fanboy tears flowing during the end credits. Including mine.

In all honesty, I'll be surprised if I don't cry at the end of "Superman Returns." I've been awaiting the character's big-screen revival for many years, even if I was dreading some of the films that almost happened (which we'll deal with in Part 5). If Bryan Singer's done a good job, if the movie successfully captures what I love about Superman in a huge, entertaining, rousing manner, I'll probably weep tears of joy and relief. Conversely, if the movie turns out to be an overblown disappointment, sadness might well up in my geeky ducts.

My viewing priority has less to do with what theater or when, but with whom. I'll need to be surrounded by sympathetic friends who know me well enough to not judge (or be freaked out by) my potentially emotional response to the movie. I've got the roster. Some of them are actually almost as excited ... er, cautiously optimistic as I am. As to whether June 30, 2006, becomes as indelibly burned in my brain as December 15, 1978, only time will tell.

Check out everything we've got on "Superman Returns."

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