Kevin Smith on Superman, Shaving, and a Baby Rocket

Reading Time: 11 minutes

In anticipation of the upcoming Man of Steel movie, Gillette jumped on the fact that the trailer shows a rather furry-faced Kal-El and thought it would be fun to gather a group of knowledgeable folks to ask them the rather time-tested question of “How does Superman shave?” The results can be seen here, but the first up, and possibly best equipped to answer, is comic book aficionado, writer, and director, Kevin Smith.

[Editor’s note to parents: As anyone familiar with Kevin Smith will find unsurprising, this interview contains adult language. It’s been partly censored, but just be aware.]

You can see Smith’s theory in the video above, but he was kind of enough to expand on his thoughts with us. His answers on all things Superman, follow below:

GeekDad: Why do you think there’s this fascination with the beard?

Kevin Smith: I don’t know, but it’s always been — even in the world of comics. It’s one of those things that was put to rest a long time ago in comics. You talk to any comic books person like I’ve been tweeting “How does he shave? Check out the theories!” and immediately you’re flooded with a bunch of tweets going (gruff voice) “He shaves with his laser vision off a mirror, dumb*ss!” because comic book people accepted this a long time ago.

John Byrne came up with a theory that works for everybody in the world of comics. But now comic book characters, Superman of course being the latest with the Man of Steel flick, has become so mainstream and so not just pop cultural but cultural at this point that you have mainstream, “normies,” people who never really talk or think about comic books suddenly stopping and getting involved in a campaign like this and saying “Oh yeah, how does he shave?” because it’s a cute little time waster, you think about for a minute.

“That wouldn’t have happened twenty years ago, there wouldn’t have been a place to talk about Superman’s beard unless it was down at the comic book store or like when you’re sitting around talking to your friends.”

So I don’t know, for me as a long time comic book fan, it’s amazing to see that. My mother called me up and said “I saw you talking about Superman’s beard” and I’m like “Oh my Lord!” That wouldn’t have happened twenty years ago, there wouldn’t have been a place to talk about Superman’s beard unless it was down at the comic book store or like when you’re sitting around talking to your friends. But now, it’s entered the mainstream in a way like it never has before thanks to the success of the Marvel movies and the Dark Knight series and what not. And it’s the age of the comic book movie just like it was the age of the western back in the ’50s and ’60s. Now it’s like, throw a rock, hit a comic book movie. They are cinematic morality tales and they lead to something fun like this where people say “Yeah, I saw that trailer and for the first time ever, Superman had a beard.”

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Those of us who read comics, we’ve seen Superman with a beard. People who just know Superman from the movies or more mainstream kind of portrayals, this is the first time when they see the Man of Steel trailer, they see him with a beard and it really captures people’s imaginations. So I thought it was kind of ingenious that Gillette was just like “Let’s run with that, man!” People are already talking about it, let’s go with it.

But it makes a geek like me happy because this is the stuff I’ve built my whole career on, the foundation of what I do is sitting around and talking about other people’s work within my own work. So, in this instance, we just remove the pretense of the movie and I’m just expounding on how Superman can possibly shave. And the thing that really blew my mind is they got some legitimate people. Normally you get a jack*ss like me because I’m always talking about this stuff. They got some legitimate people, those Mythbusters, Mayim’s on a #1 show and Bill Nye is a damn legend. And I sat there and watched every one of their videos and I gotta tell you, I was disappointed. Not one of them took it as seriously as I did.

None of their theories make sense. Mayim’s is predicated on fantasy, she’s like “Somewhere they’re doing work on Kryptonian genetics.” No, they’re not! That’s not true at all, she’s lying. The Mythbusters, they had more fun with it and then they finished on a black hole theory, which just seems like a ridiculous time waster and he’d be sucked into it regardless of his superhuman abilities because what is a black hole if not a collapsing star? If there’s no star, no sun, then where’s he drawing his power from? And then Bill Nye, who I was really holding out hope for because Bill Nye is not just the science guy, but professionally he’s an engineer. This dude knows his sh*t. And I sat down and watched his theory and his theory was “you need something that’s as strong as his beard to grind his beard down”, which absolutely makes sense. However, what are you going to find that’s as strong as Superman’s beard?

It didn’t take into account the whole assignment, which was “give us something practical that could work.” So all those guys made up stuff and delved into fantasy and me, mine’s the most practical, man: Superman’s baby rocket. Now you could sit there and be like “Kev, Superman’s baby rocket is fantasy too because Superman is fantasy.” But in the world of Superman, I think the baby rocket theory stands apart from the other ones. I think I put in the most work.

GD: Let’s talk about your theory a little bit more then.

KS: Don’t look at it too closely, it’s gonna fall apart!

(laughter)

GD: Your theory is that you’re going to be able to take some materials from his rocket and use that to form a razor.

KS: The only thing hard enough to work on Superman would be something that came with him from Krypton. And he’s going to be able to shave with that.

GD: Fair enough. But I’m doubting you’re going to be able to run down to Sears and use some Craftsman tools to take this rocket apart. How are you going to execute your theory?

KS: Good point. Since it’s Kryptonian, he can’t just bust it like he can with normal metal. But he’s got to have a better chance breaking a piece off than a normal person. I guess a normal person might be able to put – not even an atomic bomb, but a pretty high grade bomb at ground zero with Superman’s baby rocket, make sure there ain’t no baby in it. Light the bomb and make it all shrapnel.

Superman, you have to imagine, even though it’s Kryptonian, so, hence, kind of impervious to much damage, he would be the one to be able to damage it with repeated force. So, let’s say, I’m not even going to throw super speed in and say he’s doing it super fast, that’s the cheat, everyone uses that. Let’s just say he’s punching the same place in the ship. Let’s say it’s got a fin off to the side. It’s got fins because it’s – depending on which rendering of the rocket, it usually has fins on the side like a rocket – all he has to do is keep punching that same place where one of the fins are.

I gotta imagine in less than an hour he’ll be able to punch it off because it’s repeated force even though it is Kryptonian technology. Repeated force by a Kryptonian under Earth’s yellow sun hitting is, he’s gotta be able to knock it off. Now if it’s not sharp enough at that point, then I have to imagine it’s the same thing. He lays it down on a granite boulder or something like that and just pounds it with the flat of his fist over and over again. Because you’re right, you can’t take a hammer to it to get it straight or you can’t melt it to get it all nice and hot and shape it that way. So it’s definitely taking a lot of work. But it’s still more plausible than the other [theories], I feel.

GD: So, you’re not someone that’s known for entirely being clean shaven. Is it possible you’re a little Kryptonian?

KS: Oh, God, I wish. If I was a little Kryptonian, I might have a little bit of abs and I haven’t had abs since I was nine. I know I’m not Kryptonian. But I gotta be honest with you, when Gillette was calling I got so excited because I was like “Finally! I’m getting the recognition I deserve for how well I keep my beard.” It’s a real point of pride with me.

Some people just grow the beard and let it go apesh*t, but I get in there every day and I shape it and I’m constantly working on my beard. Even though I have facial hair, it doesn’t mean I never shave. In fact, when you have facial hair, you tend to shave more, as long as you’re shaping it like I do. So I thought I was getting the call because they were like “Smith! We’ve been seeing how much care you put into the grooming of your beard.” And it wasn’t like that it all. It was like “Smith! You talk about comic books a lot!” So that’s how they [approached me].

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GD: A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to Alex Ross …

KS: Oh, listen to you name drop …

(laughter)

GD: … I know, I know, but there’s a point to this. He’s a big Superman guy and we were talking about the Man of Steel movie and I asked him if he was looking forward to it. And he was like “yeah, sort of, but if it’s not good, I’m OK with that because just wait a little bit and someone will redo it and it will be great.” It got me thinking about how we go through phases with movies and right now we’re in this sort of dark, noir brooding superhero with Nolan’s Batman and the way this Man of Steel movie looks. I know you had a crack at writing the Superman script a while back and I’m curious if your Superman story would be a little different now or if you’d stick with the Jon Peters’ giant spider and polar bears?

(laughter)

KS: I had to play the ball where it lay, that was my instruction: “Write a Superman with this, this and this.” That wasn’t me going “These are my best possible ideas!”

I think these cats got a lot more freedom. You’ve got Chris Nolan watching over it, Dave Goyer working on it, then you bring in Zach Snyder to direct and I think at that point, they’re like “Let’s reinvent everything we know and keep the elements and make Superman for the 21st century.” So they seemed to have a bit more freedom, but based on what I’ve seen in the trailer, I’m not like “That’s what I would have done,” but like they’re going in the right direction.

I don’t know, without the parameters of that job when I wrote Superman back in ’96, if I hadn’t been told do “this, this and this,” I don’t know what I would have done. It was a pretty easy gig in that they wanted to do the death of Superman. He’s gotta fight a giant spider in the third act, Brainiac is the villain. So they gave you a lot, you just have to fill in the gaps. So given a clean slate from which to start with Superman, I don’t know which direction I would go in. He’s always been a problematic character for a lot of writers because he’s all powerful.

“That’s like why we read comic books. We all want to believe, man or woman, boy or girl, we all want to believe that there will always be someone there for us in the nick of time when we need them the most.”

You know, it’s not like Batman is a guy in a suit that, with the right angle, he trips or somebody shoots him in the head, it’s all over. So when it comes to Superman, it’s like he always wins unless there’s a piece of Kryptonite lying around. And even then, there’s not enough of it to kill him and usually somebody kicks it down a sewer or gets it out of there in the nick of time and he can rebuild as long as he’s somewhere near Earth’s yellow sun. It’s kind of tough to tell a story with a character who’s unbeatable and it looks like, based on the trailers … I’m crying, literally crying based on the trailers. Not like, “Oh my God, they’ve done it right!” It’s just the emotional beats are there.

There’s that moment with Amy Adams where she’s flying in his arms, he’s carrying her and we’re over Superman and she’s looking back at what can only be the worst f**king thing that ever happened to humanity. Her expression is one of utter terror and also utter surprise, utter elation, utter hope because she’s speeding away from it at the speed of sound or light or whatever as danger is collapsing all around her. And that’s like why we read comic books. We all want to believe, man or woman, boy or girl, we all want to believe that there will always be someone there for us in the nick of time when we need them the most.

And I see that moment in the trailer and it makes me well up. I’m like “They nailed it, they nailed it!” With technology, the current day technology, to be able to show him going that fast, to show her in his arms, to show the damage behind them and stuff like that. Remember the first movie, the campaign was “You will believe a man can fly” and we did because we’d never seen effects that cool before. But now the effects are amazing right down to his cape is completely CG. You’re sitting there watching that trailer and you think “Why does his cape look so good?” and you realize it’s because they crafted it.

Technology has caught up with the ability to tell these stories and characters that people imagined years ago, colorful characters that could do superhuman things. Superman being the grandaddy of them all. It’s so awesome to see Man of Steel tackling it in a way I never would have imagined it.

I’m such a loyalist and a purist, I never would’ve brought back Zod. If I did, I would have brought him back in a broken piece of glass, just like Bryan Singer. When Bryan Singer did his Superman movie, he homaged Dick Donner and what went before. And it looks like these cats had the courage to say “Look, man. There are many incarnations of Superman, let’s go forward with this one.”

This guy’s got facial hair and that has captured people’s imaginations. Just think, all they had to do was put a beard on Superman and already you’ve got people talking about the movie — before they even see the good stuff! He looks like a f**king fisherman and people are like “I want to see that movie because he’s got a beard.” It’s amazing. The high tech sale of Superman this time around is “This time, he’s got a beard, people.” And that makes him a little more relatable and it gets people talking and having weird conversations like “Yeah, how does he shave?”

RockChalk

GD: Expounding on the clean slate idea you mention. If you had perfect world situation where you could write and direct a movie based on any superhero, is there one that you’d love to get your hands on?

KS: My immediate reaction would be to say Batman because I like Batman so much. I wouldn’t want to do one of those movies because I just like watching those movies. And even though I make films, it’s like if you go to one of those fine pastry chefs and you go “Hey, man, can you make a bundt cake?” They get all f**king out of sorts about it, like “Make a bundt, are you out of your mind?” So, I’m not the fine pastry chef, I’m the bundt maker. And these superhero movies are like people coming to a bundt cake maker and going can you make a fine, flourless chocolate gateau or something like that. It’s just out of my range of ability. I can’t make movies like this. I love watching movies like this, but making them?

Shooting action — that takes months and months and I also don’t have an eye or a natural ability to tell stories visually, which is weird because I’m in a visual medium. So it never occurs to me to want to make one of those. I love watching them, I love talking about them, I love seeing people interpret them. I try not to bitch when they don’t get close to what I think it is because I realize I couldn’t even get close. Even, if given the reins, I would crumble and fall. I wrote a Superman script in ’96 and I wrote a Green Hornet script in, I think it was 2000 or 2002 and writing is about as close I can get to it. But pulling it off is for people way more talented than me, like Zach Snyder, Chris Nolan and these cats, both of whom worked on this movie.

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