A shaken Clark Kent, unconcerned about his secret,assists Lateesha Johnson; she was attacked by gang members. Art by Dan Jurgens. From Superman v.2 #121 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Superman is Superman. You may be reading the wrong blog if the name doesn’t ring a bell.
Who is Superman?
Superman literally started the super-hero genre. He was the first, and continues to arguably be the most powerful and/or important one out there. He was born on an alien world, rocketed to Earth upon that world’s destruction, and was raised by mid-western parents to be a paragon of truth, justice, and the American way. He was a founding member of the Justice League and has had more movies, games, TV shows, cartoons, toys, and other things than you can shake a stick at.
Is this character heroic? Truly. Although his powers make him a bit oblivious to most forms of real danger, he still puts everything he has into saving others, many times at the cost of his personal life. Even in those rare instances where he is out-powered or de-powered for some reason, he still refused to back down when others need him. (1 point)
Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Hmmm. You heard that whole “truth, justice, and the American way” thing, right? He has been a teensy bit of a tool of the American powers at certain times. At other times, however, he has made a point to say he is a world citizen, not just an american one. Being the “other” rarely stops Superman from being beloved, however, as for some reason, only Lex Luthor seems to get xenophobic around him. There might be a little white, male, protestant privilege on display here… Still, he is getting better… (.5 points)
Does this character kill? For the most part, no. It is a point of pride with him. He truly makes every effort to not kill anyone for any reason, taking his great power as a point of departure for finding more creative and less lethal ways of dealing with problems. However, there have been a few times when seemingly impossible situations have forced him into making a decision he didn’t want to make and he ended up killing someone more powerful than himself. Having said that, depending on the era, he has also shown that he has a fierce commitment NOT to kill enemies, even when faced with impossible situations. In general terms, Superman NEVER kills, unless a writer with some agenda gets a hold of him (or a certain movie director…) (1 point)
Does this character have a spirituality? Yes actually. Matter of fact, he is a bit conflicted in this regard. He has a definate protestant, likely Methodist, upbringing, which comes up surprisingly often in the books over the years. He has even prayed on occasion, read the Bible at funerals, attends church, etc… However, upon learning more about his Kryptonian heritage, he has also seemingly embraced certain aspects of Kryptonian religion (sun worship, or Rao worship). To what extent these exist simultaneously in his heart and mind, who can say? But it certainly would make for an interesting exploration.
Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Thankfully, this has been fixed to some degree lately. For most of his publication history, Superman has not been terribly interesting. He is simply a known quantity with no growth arc possible (leading some writers to introduce killing enemies into his repertoire, as above). Recently though, the comics have striven to make him more of the other, make him younger, more reckless, and while maintaining his values, make him unpredictable and less “boy scoutish.” This has led to much more interesting stories, and Superman has been enjoyable to read for the first time in ages. (1 point)
Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes. In fact, Superman has one of the best supporting casts around. While it is true that the characters in his cast were originally used JUST as a foil for how great Superman is (Lois Lane practically invented the damsel in distress trope), it is also the case that the long publication history of these characters have also led them to have very long and dramatic story arcs themselves. Lois Lane, now far from the always-damsel-in-distress, is one of the leading reporters in the world, the very epitome of a feminist, empowered, successful woman. Currently, Superman is dating Wonder Woman, every bit his equal. He shares one book with Batman, who is arguably more popular than him. Jimmy Olsen even has a character development. (1 point)
Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Too many to count. (1 bonus point)
Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Yes. In broad terms. I am not sold on the whole “American way” thing, for a number of reasons. However, Superman doesn’t only represent America. He, ideally, represents the best humanity can be, even though he transcends them on a certain level. Sounds like my Jesus a bit. He is self-sacrificial, and wants to help, never hurt. (1 Point)
Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Here’s the rub. Superman is just too damn powerful. He is the strongest, most invulnerable, and has been shown to give the Flash a run for his money in the speed department. He can shoot heat vision from his eyes, cold from his lungs, and hear Lois screaming from the other side of the universe. He has super-smarts, x-ray vision, and a super dog. Quite simply, if writers don’e use one of the three tropes that he is weak to (kryptonite, magic, mind control), we simply don’t believe he is ever in danger. This is what causes lazy writers to use killing or introducing a bajillion other kyrptonians into the world in order to make things “interesting.” I’m not saying Superman CAN’T be interesting, I am saying that it is hard. Too hard for most writers. I’m being generous with the half point here. (.5 points)
Verdict: 7 out of 8 points
Tune in next time for a discussion of Thor…