Nietzsche and the Superhero

Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of Übermensch and its relation to the modern superhero.

Follow TheUnknown:
By TheUnknown - 12/17/2008
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, once introduced a concept of Übermensch. What exactly he meant by that is not 100% certain, but people throughout the decades have translated it as “overman” “overhuman” and more commonly “superman”. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, one of his written works, also includes an appearance of “God is Dead”, eternal recurrence and the Übermensch.

What Nietzsche exactly meant is unknown, but a rough translation of what he said “All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the Übermensch: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment…”


It is commonly seen as a greater being; over the average human, this concept has been attributed to ideas of power superiority. It’s the difference between the average man and the superman. Eugenics and Racial Superiority aside, this idea is powerful, after his “God is Dead and We Killed Him” deal, meaning the idea of "God" (religion and spirituality) is no longer able to act as a source of any moral code or teleology (doctrine explaining their phenomena by their purposes).

The Übermensch can be seen as a goal or limit for humanity to reach. To create something beyond ourselves, to be stronger, smarter, faster, etc – simply better. This ultimate achievement for mankind has been interpreted different ways, and for this, its attribution to the superhero. Hitler’s superior race could be seen as his interpretation for the Übermensch, plus he really admired Nietzsche. Nietzsche stated that there is no specific race or individual that is the Übermensch, but some have been close, like Shakespeare and Julius Caesar.

DC’s Superman is the most common parallel between Nietzsche’s Übermensch and a modern superman. In his first pre-Action Comics appearance, Reign of the Super-Man, his conception was built on this Übermensch idea. In fact, some say that’s where the name originated from. Personally, I don’t see Superman as this Übermensch. First, he is not human and should not be considered above mankind. He could be seen as an alien invader trying to conquer humanity, but he is moral. Second, he was born as an overman; he didn’t choose to become powerful. Lastly, in his first pre-Action Comics appearance he was evil, morally deprived and searching to conquer the world, if that was Siegel’s first intention.

The modern superhero is starting to be considered as a modern retelling of the Übermensch. I see other characters such as Batman, Daredevil, even Lex Luthor as better models for Nietzsche’s idea. They are all humans, and have pushed themselves above human capacity. Batman trained to the peak of human perfection. Daredevil’s blindness didn’t “disable” him, rather allowed him to master and heighten other human skills. Lex Luthor intelligence has made him fearless of Superman, a being capable to destroy him.

These characters reach beyond a good and evil morality, they struggle with moral choices and human limits. Unlike Superman, who is a moral saint, invisible yet an obedient boy scout. As comic book characters evolve, and our society is more tolerable, the superhero genre mirrors serious issues.

Nietzsche would have never imagined that his Übermensch concept would have been compared to Superman, but then again he might have never though of someone like Hitler doing the same. I’ve heard from a lot of people that Superman is the perfect example of the “Superman” theory, I disagree. What do you guys think? Does he have to be a human? What about the growing comparison to the superhero? Could all comic book heroes have been founded on this idea? Who is the perfect candidate for the Übermensch?
DISCLAIMER: This article was submitted by a volunteer contributor who has agreed to our code of conduct. ComicBookMovie.com is protected from liability under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and "safe harbor" provisions. CBM will disable users who knowingly commit plagiarism, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement. Please contact us for expeditious removal of copyrighted/trademarked content. You may also learn more about our copyright and trademark policies HERE.
5
LIKE!
12 Comments
IonParallax - 12/18/2008, 2:42 PM
Well, for starters, excellent article.
I have to say no to the Superman idea. For 1 reason, he is NOT a man. He may be male, but he is Kryptonian, NOT Human, or Terran I guess.

Also, in the Kryptonian sense he SURELY wouldn't be the Ubermensch, because they're all equal. So only to us humans is he SUPER, but on his homeworld, he is normal.

I agree that the likes of Batman is more along the lines of the Ubermensch, but not quite there. Yes he is the peak of human physical condtioning, but he has a moral ambiguity that I believe, doesn't coincide with the idea of a true "Superman". Now, if it were Batman with Supermans moral fortitude, I would have to say yes, that IS the definition of a "Superman". But, since neither of them, by my own definition, qualify, I'll have to choose another. Also, before I make my choice, the moral fortitude thing definitely nixes Lex Luthor as the Ubermensch.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Jean Baptiste Alberte, King Arthur, Sir Galahad, Shaolin Monks. I think those are all pretty good candidates for the Ubermensch definition, especially the Shaolin Monks; peak physical fitness, moral fortitude out the wazoo, and the want to help and protect themselves and the people who surround them.

In the comic book world, I think someone like Tim Drake (human, peak physically, moral, highly intelligent) is a good candidate, as well as Captain America (even though he was augmented, he is NOT super powered) are both good choices for the title. Hmmm, I could probably come up with a better one, but for now I will stick to those. I'll reply again later with a better choice.

warpath15 - 12/18/2008, 3:17 PM
Superman started out as a powerful villain bent on dominating the whole world, in "The Reign of the Super-Man" which was directly based on the Ubermensch.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Reign_of_the_Super-Man
iNsaneMilesy - 12/18/2008, 5:45 PM
What most people dont know is he was also "insane". Also may have had an incestuist relationship with his sister.
thunder2k8 - 12/19/2008, 7:51 AM
I agree with the fact that Superman is not human, so the nietzsche Super-man doesn't fit. but I have to disagree with the statement that superman was meant to be evil. Look up The Reign of the Super-Man.
thunder2k8 - 12/19/2008, 8:04 AM
If you look at this way "Reign of the Super-Man" Does fit Nietzsche 'overman' idea. The Bald headed guy was human, very poor, and got drunk over his new found powers. Which was Telepathic. And I don't see the connection with Superman of today other than the name.
IonParallax - 12/19/2008, 11:47 AM
So, we just going to keep going with the Superman deal and not actually go into who you guys think a true comicbook (or real-life) Ubermensch is? I do believe that's part of the article too. To discuss what your ideas of the definition are and who you think fits it. Like I said, closest I can come in the comics is people like Steve Rogers...Yes, augmented to be that way, I got it. Still, peak human, moral fortitude, good guy. Ubermensch, an overman.
Hyson - 12/19/2008, 1:51 PM
You guys are so full of shit.
IonParallax - 12/19/2008, 2:09 PM
Wow, at every turn it seems like there's sand stuck in this guys Vagina.
adamant877 - 12/19/2008, 6:47 PM
I think an excellent example of Nietzsche's "Ubermensch" would be Henry "Hank" Pym, a.k.a. Giant Man/Ant-Man/Yellowjacket.
Although I think Batman would make a fitting embodiment as well, his accomplishments are staggeringly few in comparison. Hank, like most of his likeminded geniuses in the Marvel Universe, is an ordinary human being who using his cunning and creative mind, managed to surpass all of our mediocre technological advancements. He was not exposed to gamma or cosmic radiation, bathed in chemicals, given an injection, or bitten by spiders.
He's also a little more unique than Tony Stark or even Reed Richards, in that he's produced. He has a plethora of long standing scientific breakthroughs, and I can only name a few for Stark, with only a handful for Richards.
(*Who I may also argue unfairly benefits intellectually from his unstable molecular density, and has the ability to literally "expand his mind".)
I don't know, I've always thought there was so much that he could do, and never ceased to amaze me with his potential. I mean, crap, did Reed Richards ever create an android that created an equally, if not even more advanced android?!
(Didn't think so.)
adamant877 - 12/19/2008, 6:49 PM
And may I say, it's always refreshing to see an intellectual juggernaut like Hyson coming down from his perch on high to share a small nugget of his intellectual superiority!
(Let's save the big boy talk for the adults, o.k.?)
IonParallax - 12/19/2008, 8:48 PM
Adamant. I praise you for both your excellent choice at the Ubermensch AND you astoundingly charismatic and stabbing articulation at sarcasm. Wonderful!

As much as Stark has built himself an arc reactor to keep the shrapnel from lodging or severing his arteries, he's a weapons manufacturer. That's pretty much it. As for Richards, yes he can expand his mind, literally, and can compress his neurons do they fire faster so he can make calculations that even a super genius level person could not. He's A.) 1 of at least 5 people in the comics word with the same power (Reed, Plastic Man, Elongated Man, Flat Man, and Plastic BOY) also, Reed has put the world in danger and had to save it from himself far often than he has just saved the world. Although Pym did create Ultron, which is a BIIIIIIIIIIG big no-no for the rest of humanity. But, even then, it still doesn't compare to the farces Reed has come up with.
warpath15 - 12/31/2008, 8:19 PM
Captain America.

Please log in to post comments.

Don't have an account?
Please Register.