EDITORIAL: Is SUPERMAN Still Relevant?
This is a question I find myself wondering from time to time. Being a big fan, I’ve had numerous conversations and debated with people online and offline about why Superman is still such a great, inspirational character. I mean, he's been around for 75 years now and that has to say something, right?
Unfortunately, it seems like most people today tend to shrug him off as too lame and boring. A character that’s too powerful, unrelatable and at times poorly written. A character that people seem to be moving on from. Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
How I Became A Superman Fan
Growing up, I actually started out as a huge Spider-Man & X-Men fan. I read the comics, watched the Fox Kids cartoons… those characters were huge in the 90s. However, I also remember enjoying the Donner Superman movies when I was younger. I used to watch Superman II all the time, it was one of favorite CBMs growing up. But, I didn’t actually become a Superman fan until around 2002, when a little show called Smallville caught my attention. Now, say what you will about the show (I know it tends to get a bad rap being a cheesy WB/CW show) but I got sucked in right away. I was the perfect age. I was about 15 years old, which was the same age Clark was in the show. I felt I could really relate to him, and that feeling of being an outsider in High School. My interest with the show really peaked in 2005 when they started tying it more into the Donner movies. Seeing the crystalline Fortress of Solitude, the Kryptonians (Aethyr & Nam-Ek), the mention of General Zod… it made me want to watch the original movies again.
In 2006, while I was in college, Superman Returns was released into theaters. It was, at the time, the Superman movie I really wanted to see. It was a nostalgic throw-back to the original Superman films, all while being a brand new story. Again, at that time, I loved Superman Returns, but in retrospect it really doesn’t hold up very well. It’s very slow, it’s moody and Superman probably has about 5 lines in the whole film. There’s more of course, but that’s not what this article is about.
It was around this time I was becoming a bigger Superman fan, I started getting into some of the current comics (I remember, at that time, Richard Donner was writing some Action Comics issues with Geoff Johns), while also going back to some of the older issues, such as John Bryne’s Man of Steel. Even some pre-Crisis Superman, with Brainiac and the bottled city of Kandor. I loved all of it.
I remember having conversations with numerous people about Superman, but with almost everyone I talked to, Superman was met with reactions ranging from disinterest to distain. It seemed like everyone preferred Batman. He’s darker, edgier, cooler, he wasn’t born with powers, he made himself who he is, he uses fear against fear, etc. I’ve heard it all, and even to this day, I can’t help but feel Superman has been left in the dust lately.
It’s 2013 now, Man of Steel came out to very mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers alike. Personally, I absolutely loved it. I thought it was a great retelling, it had a very ‘Batman Begins’ structure to it, while still feeling like its own film. I’m very happy that the movie was a success financially and won over most people. But, like Superman Returns, I’m worried that it may not have caught on with some audiences. Which may leave Superman in the dust yet again.
Ultimately, it’s a shame because he’s such a great character to look up and aspire to be. He reflects the idea that someone can come from another land and achieve the greatest in human potential.
What makes Superman Great
In Superman/Batman #3, Batman says, "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then...he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god.”
Superman’s personality is one of the most important traits, it defines him. He is one of the most selfless hero’s in comics. He is always looking out for others. He never stops fighting the good fight. It is Superman's upbringing in Kansas that largely contributes to this, as his adoptive parents raised him to do the right thing.
His Ability to Fly
Let’s face it, this is one of the first things that come into all our minds when we think of Superman. His ability to fly. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to do that in real life? The feeling of taking to the skies with no worries, nothing to hold you back. We all wish at times we could be able to fly. I feel it’s one of the most engaging aspects of Superman.
Personally, one of my favorite aspects of Superman’s character and one of the main reasons why I find him so unique, is his disguise.
“When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S", that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume.”
We all remember David Carradine’s monologue from Kill Bill. I think this line of dialogue really nails it with what makes Superman stand out. While I may not agree with his later comment that “Clark Kent is Superman’s critique of the entire human race”, it’s still a great bit of dialogue none-the-less, and I think it really sums up Superman.
A hero is only as good as his villain right? One of the most interesting aspects about Superman is that his greatest enemy… is a mere mortal. Instead of relying on physical prowess, Luthor has to conjure up ways to outsmart his opponent. From his point of view he’s not trying to simply take over the world, but save it from an alien he deems a threat to humanity.
Addressing Issues with the Character
He’s Too Powerful
This is a common complaint that comes up way too often. It seems as if everyone still remembers Superman at his pre-Crisis days, when he could practically juggle planets. HE’S NO LONGER THAT POWERFUL. It has been decades since then, Superman has been revamped quite a few times and now he has trouble trying to rescue an airplane. If Batman can shake the Adam West years, Shumacher’s Batman & Robin and still be taken seriously as a dark character, why can’t Superman be universally accepted as someone who’s not overly powerful?
Another problem I constantly hear is that, since he’s too powerful, writers can’t come up with any interesting stories. I don’t buy that! That’s the writers fault. Superman is different, he should be approached from a different aspect since he’s oh so powerful. There are plenty of interesting Superman stories out there, some of them without even using Kryptonite as a plot device (ex. All-Star Superman).
All Brawn and No Brains
Another complaint I’ve heard far too often, that Superman is an unthinking moron. I was very happy to see a scene in Man of Steel address this issue, where Superman used a bit of strategy to take down the world engine. I’ve seen him use his brains before in the comics and cartoons, but unfortunately a lot of writers reduce him to punch first, ask later.
Truth, Justice & the American Way
What’s so funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way? It’s a value that Superman once held and is now viewed as outdated. To me, Superman has always been more of a hero of Earth, not just America. Some people were objecting to the fact that Superman Returns changed the phrase. But originally the phrase was ‘fighting a never-ending battle for truth and justice.’
Idea for a potential Superman reboot
Just a quick idea I want to share that I’ve had for a while. I always thought it would be a great idea – further down the road, if and when they reboot Superman again – to set the story in the 1930s. Similar to the book It’s Superman by Tom De Haven. I think it’s an idea that could actually work pretty well. The reason I think this is a good idea for a Superman movie is because – like Captain America - he really works great in the era he came from. Which leads me back to why I created this article in the first place. Maybe Superman has no place today. Maybe a Superman movie would be more successful when set in the era he was created. The only problem with this idea, is that it would be hard for the studios to build a Justice League movie off of, unless they reboot all their characters in the same era. But again, I’m just talking about Superman here, not the whole DC Universe.
Hopefully this article inspires people that maybe weren’t interested in Superman to either pick up an issue or go watch the movies/shows. This is my first article so please go easy on me, I’m sure there’s some things I’ve left out and I’ll get a lambasting in the comments. Either way, I really enjoyed writing this, hope you guys enjoyed reading it.
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