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Friday, July 11, 2014 

Stephen J. Cannell was one of those who thought Superman's only weakness was Kryptonite

Stephen Joseph Cannell was one of TV's most prolific writers/producers. I've seen a lot of his productions, including all 6 seasons of the Rockford Files and 8 TV reunion movies, both seasons of Black Sheep Squadron, all 3 seasons of the Greatest American Hero, all 5 seasons of the A-Team, all 3 seasons of Riptide and all 5 seasons of Renegade.

Unfortunately, he was one of the kind of people who took a superficial view of superheroes and how their worlds are built. In this old interview on Lukeford, he said the following about Superman:
I'd imagine that my preference for underdogs and flawed characters comes from my own beginnings as a bad student, an underdog, dyslexic, branded the 'stupidest' kid in the class. I do respond emotionally to underdogs. I much prefer the flaws of my characters to the strengths. I don't find Superman to be an entertaining character. I enjoyed watching the Superman movies because of the special effects, but as a character, Superman doesn't appeal to me because he has too much going for him. One flaw - Kryptonite - and that only shows up occasionally. The guy's good looking, jumps buildings, bend steel bars... What's the problem?
What a disappointment. For all his pluses as a TV writer, he sure wasn't helping by suggesting he read little or none of the Man of Steel's adventures. Back in the Golden Age, when first beginning, Superman's oxygen-based endurance wasn't that strong, and could be vulnerable to tear gas, something that appeared in an early cartoon produced by Max Fleischer. And in the Silver Age (and maybe even before that), he was depicted as vulnerable to magical energy, something that could still be seen for a long time afterwards. He even went through stories where giant aliens and robots gave him a hard time. So how did Cannell ever conclude that Kal-El's only weakness was Kryptonite? Evidently, he was the kind of person who made up his mind early on, and wouldn't even give anyone the opportunity to add other weaknesses, even if they'd told him what they were doing.

So here, when I was feeling touched by his story of how a Time editor wanted to deliberately write a negative take on him out of a grudge, I come away let down by his narrow scope on Superman, all because he thought the Man of Steel only had one weakness, and nobody ever tried to give him any additional ones. To think that people like Siegel and Shuster go to all that trouble to create an enjoyable pastime all so that others out there can react like snobs and only see what they want to. Yet Cannell was the one who came up with a nod to superheroics with the Greatest American Hero, the first series where he used his famous company logo, and one could argue that, wearing the costume, William Katt didn't seem to have any serious weaknesses either (except to the aliens who'd given him said suit). So what's the point of complaining Superman has only one physical weakness while donning the suit in Greatest American Hero renders its own hero all but invincible?

And watching a movie just for special effects doesn't sound like the best reason to watch a sci-fi movie. It brings to mind how, since the turn of the century, there've been way too many where effects are about the only thing some sci-fi films have going for them. If today's superhero comics were live action, effects would be the only point of interest in them too, because of how bad the writing's become.

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I don't know if Cannell ever read any comic books; he may have been talking about the Christopher Reeve movies. I'm sure a lot of people who are not comic book fans know who Superman is, and could name some of his powers. But many of them could not tell you the limits of his powers (e.g., that his X-ray vision can't penetrate lead), or his weaknesses (e.g., Kryptonite).

Further confusing the issue is that a lot of people know the characters only from TV and movie adaptations, which usually make changes from the source material, and the comics themselves have made changes (retcons, reboots) over the years.

In the Golden Age, Superman could be knocked out with a hand grenade. Over the years, new powers were added, and "power creep" led to his becoming invulnerable even to a nuclear explosion.

By the Silver Age, he was vulnerable to Kryptonite and magic. Q-Energy was added in Superman #204 in 1967.

In the early 1970's, a story arc in Superman #233-242 (IIRC) eliminated Kryptonite, but also reduced his strength. But, by 1980, "power creep" repeated itself. His powers seemed to be back to Silver Age level, and Kryptonite was re-introduced.

With all the revisions and reboots since 1985, even a lot of long-time comics fans can't keep up with what is supposed to be canon. That includes the characters' powers and weaknesses.

As a toronto magician i think so. That includes the characters' powers and weaknesses.

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