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Monday, December 3, 2012

In Defense of Superman

My last blog post focused on how DC comics are making Batman out to be a little bit of a creepier. See here. After I posted this, my cousin Matt and I began discussing superheroes. He had recently finished a blog about who the most “urban” superheroes were. While he did include Superman on his list, he had a phrase that struck a cord with me. Matt said: “Superman works in the city for the Daily Planet (or he used to), but he's sooo... Superman. When I think of Superman, I don't think of city. He always flies high above the city, removed from the buildings below.”

I think this is a common concept of Superman; he’s always floating above us, and unrelatable to the reader. He is so “goodie two-shoe” and so powerful, that there is no drama to his stories. I disagree with this. I think Superman can be one of the most entertaining comic characters ever created. So I have taken it upon myself to defend Superman.

1. The moral compass to the DC Universe and the opposite of other superheroes. Without a doubt Superman is the number one superhero of DC. He is the one that all other heroes look to for guidance. For me it is refreshing having a superhero that knows what has to be done. He doesn’t necessarily have to second-guess every decision he makes. He didn’t become a superhero because there was a great wrong done to him. He is a superhero because he can do great things. Ultimately he is a story of just accepting oneself. Is this not a goal that all humans need to accept eventually? Is this not something that all of us need to be able to do? One of my favorite storylines in comics is the Death of Superman storyline. I especially enjoyed the funeral aspect of this story. It did an excellent job of showing why Superman is so important in DC. Yes he is corny and old fashion, but in the big fight, he is the one that you want on your side.

2. Powers. First off, who doesn’t want Superman’s powers? Since I was little, I have always wanted to be able to fly. It truly is the greatest super power ever!!!! Now I will admit, his powers are a very tricky story device. If you make his powers and abilities so insanely strong, then you do effectively take all of the drama away from the story. It comes down to the writing. Two writers that I feel did an excellent job writing Superman is John Byrne and Bruce Timm. When DC rebooted its universe in the mid-1980s, John Byrne drastically revision the Superman character. He kept many of the classic powers, but just turned them down. Yes Superman could catch an airplane, but he struggled to do so. He could fly, but he couldn’t fly into outer space without a space suit. Bruce Timm, in his Superman the Animated Series, took the Byrne version of Superman and added a few things. Superman could withstand bullets, but he felt every bullet shot at him. When Superman battled Metallo or the Parasite you saw him in pain. In my opinion this made Superman even braver. Yes he could withstand what was thrown at him, but he did so feeling the pain.

3. Lois Lane. From the very start, Lois Lane was not the typically damsel in distress. She was a female reporter that would jump before looking to get a story. She is always willingly to help others. She would not take no for an answer, and she is one honest person. Not only that, she can give Superman a run for his money. Once they married off Superman and Lois, whenever Superman had doubts, whom would he turn to? Lois. Lois was his moral compass. Women are not weak. Women are shown to be strong independent women. Again this can always change from writer to writer, but if you see Lois in the John Byrne, Bruce Timm, or even Smallville representations of her, she is one kick ass person. 

4. Appreciates the Little Things. When you read the comics or watch a movie, when is Superman the happiest? It is not when he is Superman. It is when he is Clark Kent. When he can participate in the little things in life, like doing the dishes, going to work, or spending an evening with his wife. Again these are all things that everyday people should aim for. Simple living. Again Byrne and Timm knocked this out of the park when they made Clark the real person and Superman is the disguise. Yes he has all of these powers and do incredible things, but that does not define him as a character.

5. Hope. Ultimately Superman’s story is a story of hope. It encourages the DC characters to be the best they can be. Which is ultimately being themselves. (I say this purely has a fictionally character, I hate it when they try to make Superman be a religious figure. It is so stupid.) It shows that you do need a character that knows right from wrong and is not willingly to break his principles. The ends do not justify the means.

As with anything, the character will only be as strong as its writers. And over the past few years Superman has been hit or miss with his writers. I cannot recommend the John Byrne and Bruce Timm’s versions of the character enough. I think they absolutely get the character and nail it out of the park in regards to character development, the roles of the villains, and the just pure good story telling. I do hope that I have changed your mind on the Superman character and will give him a try. In conclusion, I couldn’t let a story about Superman not include Christopher Reeve. His performance as Superman is without a doubt the greatest onscreen performance of the character ever!!! One of my favorite scenes from the first movie. 


elmhurst erik said...

Good post, Pete. I've always been a Superman fan. Personally, I like the unstoppable Superman. The stronger, the better. Y'know why? Because he's freakin' Superman, that's why.

I like that there's a definitive defacto number one superhero. We all know that's Superman. So go ahead and make him clearly the strongest, clearly the fastest, clearly the guy you want on your side when the doggie poop hits the fan. Cuz when that poop hits the fan, you want Superman there to freeze the poop (and the fan) with his ice breath. Or he can vaporize it with his laser eyes.

I don't like seeing Superman being vulnerable. Screw that. He's flippin' Superman. Let the other peon superheros divulge in their weaknesses. Superman is there to demonstrate the power and more specifically the greatness of super heroes. He is the apex of superness. He is the zenith. He is the very archetype. Nuthin' can stop him. He just goes around taking names and opening cans and nuthin' stops him. You go, Superman. You go.

elmhurst erik said...

My view on Superman basically mirrors my opinion on super heroes in general. I want my super heroes to be like one of those video games where you figure out the trick to go around and just purely dominate. Our real world is fallen and full of evil. I don't need to see that reflected in the stories of fictional super heroes. I want an escape. I want super heroes to be super and do super things.

Peter Kreten said...

Erik you bring up some great points. And I love your part about wanting an escape. I totally agree that people put far too much thought into it. Why not just sit back and enjoy the fun of a superhero movie. Let's see super heroes do super things.