Tag Archives: superman

Waiting For Krypton: Education Post for Media Diversity UK

Lee's depiction of DC Comics' Superman and Batman.

Lee’s depiction of DC Comics’ Superman and Batman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The opening scenes of the documentary Waiting For Superman depict education reformer/charter school advocate Geoffrey Canada as describing one of the saddest moments in his life. When he learned that Superman was not real, he was distraught because there was, in Canada’s words, “I was crying because there was no one coming with enough power to save us.” From his perspective, DC Comics’ Clark Kent/Superman “just shows up and he saves all the good people,” “even in the depths of the ghetto.” As a fellow comic book fan, I would have to question whether Mr. Canada knows the story of Superman, and the criticism thereof from the likes of one of his allies for justice, Black Lightning (Jefferson Davis, who, in one rendition, just so happens to be a public school principal) , who noted that Superman may be Kryptonian, but he is still white, and avoids the Suicide Slums (the poor side of town where Metropolis is).

I want to lay aside that criticism, and talk about the idea of power, and what it means in eyes of education reformers. As I quoted Mr. Canada above, he was distraught that there was no one with all of the power to save what Geoffrey Canada calls “failure factories,” or schools in predominantly impoverished neighborhoods that primarily feed the community drop-outs and/or felons, and yes these are communities that are of predominantly black and Latin@ American populations. These “failure factories” are what stifle economic growth, deprive corporations of an educated workforce, and communities of stability. From the perspective of philanthropists such as Bill Gates (from the documentary and his history of being active in the Education Reform movement), children receiving education is for the purpose of the workforce, so that multinational corporations can keep up with global competition. In Waiting For Superman, the topic of power is not discussed again until we see education reformer/charter school advocate Michelle Rhee at work, who was given “broad powers” to make sweeping changes. The issue of power is an interesting topic, and to see it discussed explicitly in these two instances are what caught my attention. Where does power come from? Who has it? What does it look like?

For the rest of the essay, please go read Waiting For Krypton: Race, Ableism and Education Reform

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 15, Superman

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 15, Superman

Posted on November 18, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary.

A shaken Clark Kent, unconcerned about his sec...

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.
(1 point)

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…

 
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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 4, Power Girl

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 4, Power Girl

Posted on November 1 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine.

Power Girl

Power Girl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Power Girl is relatively unknown outside of comic circles, but she is very well established in the lore of the DC universe of comics, and has a very distinguished history as a fan favorite, which, in this particular context may actually be problematic, as I will explain below. Comics can tend to be a male-dominated industry in more ways than one, so I wanted to bring in as many female heroines as I could.

Who is Power Girl?

 Power Girl is… complicated. Her name is Kara Zor-L, and she is the cousin of Superman, who was sent by her father to Earth in order to take care of the young boy as he grew. Unfortunately, things went a little wrong, and by the time she got here, Superman was a grown adult superhero. So, she took Superman as a mentor and became Supergirl. Wait, what? I thought this was Power Girl? Right. Let me explain further. All of that happened on what we call Earth-2, a parallel universe version of our Earth. Eventually, the two Earths crossed over a bit, and Kara became trapped in our world. Too bad for her, there was already a Supergirl, who was about a decade younger than her. So, adapting to her new environment, this Supergirl of Earth-2, lost on a world not her own, became Powergirl. She changed her legal name to Karen Starr, and also runs a successful and powerful corporation.

 

Is this character heroic? Totally. While she pretends to be shallow and not care about others, when the kryptonite hits the fan, she is always the first to jump into danger on behalf of others. She has joined with numerous super teams in the past, including the Justice Society of America, Infinity Inc., Birds of Prey, and the Justice League, but at the moment, she seems comfortable to stay out of the limelight and usually teams up with her best pal, the Huntress. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? While it is likely that on her home world, she would have represented the powers in some form, her new life on our world has shifted her perspective. She has a general attitude of distrust about our world, and on some level, tries to remain apart from it. She does not get directly involved however, unless innocents are in danger or if those she loves are threatened, and so she seems, at least for now, to be neutral towards the powers. Distrustful, but not opposing them, either.  (0.5 points)

Does this character kill? Not that I can think of. Throughout the years, she has largely stayed true to the tutelage of the Superman from her world, which was fairly non-violent, although he also was sort-of pro-USA and all that. There have been hints that Karen has a harder edge to her, she has never shown herself to be very willing to kill.  (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? Not really. The closest she comes is having a really intense and deep-rooted chronic existential crisis. She does not know where she belongs, or what her place is in a world where she is very much “the other.” Even the role that she had made for herself on her home world is taken by Supergirl. So, without a narrative to tell herself, she struggles with the meaning of life, constantly struggles with relationships and community, and loss is a constant theme in her life. But there is never any open talk one way or another about God, religion, or spiritual things.  (.5 points)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Very much so. The story that she has is complex, and often leads to very interesting meetings with characters she had once known in different contexts, etc. The story of being on a world that is not her own is doubled in her case, as she not only lost krypton, but lost her adopted homeworld as well. She has strong roots, but is far away from the soil that sustained them. Her constant drive to both find a way back home and protect this world from the bad guys who crossed over with her is a very compelling story.  (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes, actually. Powergirl shares her comic (World’s Finest) with the Huntress, who is every part the co-star of the book that Power Girl is. They are also doing a great job of building up Karen’s corporate employees as supporting cast members, who have motivations and lives of their own. They often play as a foil for Power Girl, but never feel just like props. In addition, those she has relationships with seem to be heroes in their own right (Mr. Terrific, the Justice Society). (1 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? No. Not really… (0 bonus point)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Mostly. I find myself empathizing with her and her “otherness” while at the same time wishing she would stop looking back and embrace what is in front of her. She does project arrogance and ambivalence to the world around her, but it is clear on every front that this is a mask for deep loneliness and longing for purpose. At one point, she is discussing her choice of attire, which can be seen as problematic, as she has a gaping hole in the chest of her costume. While most men who like Power Girl do so for this reason alone, Karen adressed it by saying she used to have Superman’s logo on her chest, and she had tried to replace it with other symbols, but now she feels she has no story and no purpose, and until she finds something to stand for, she will leave a hole in her costume to mimic the one in her soul. Poignant stuff. I can resonate with that, but only to a point. Deconstruct all you want, as long as it leads to better creation…  (0 Points)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Yeah. She has essntially Superman’s powerset. Flight, heat vision, cold breath, super strength, invincibility, super speed. Of course, as she is finding out, her powers often don’t work like they should on this new Earth. She finds herself either vastly overpowered for the job at hand, or lacking her powers when she really needs them. With no explanation in sight, this continues to be a compelling take on an otherwise boring set of powers. (1 point)

A note about image: Power Girl is somewhat problematic as a character because she had been written by men and frankly exploited because of her sexuality. The hole in the chest of her costume has become something of an inside joke in the comics, as the men therein seem virtually unable to resist looking at her chest rather than her eyes. He attitude about their varies from “well, if the enemies are distracted they are easier to hit,” to “My eyes are up here!”, but it seems that she is never allowed just to wear the costume she wants without people seeing her body rather than her self. The paradox is that the writers often use this to sell books while decrying it within the actual pages of the book. It is an unfair abuse of the character, in my opinion, although I am not sure that the solution is.

Verdict: 6 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Aquaman…

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