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Friday, 22 April 2016

Superman

Part S of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, where every day this month except Sundays, I'll be talking about things I love - one thing for each letter of the alphabet.


Superman's kind of out of vogue these days. What was essentially the first superhero became more of a background character as the Marvel juggernaut exploded into the world of cinema and became the new market leader. The biggest complaint about Superman is that he's too overpowered, and that you never really believe he's in trouble. People also say that the Marvel characters - Captain America, Iron Man, Spiderman, Wolverine etc - are more relatable because they're more human. They're usually ordinary people that come under extraordinary circumstances unlike the characters of DC, who are essentially presented as gods. I argue that while Superman is indeed unlike humans in his abilities, his psyche and even his origin story is human to a fascinating level.


Most people know the origin story. Superman came from the advanced planet Krypton where the people's desire for progress literally tore the planet apart. Already this parallels the priorities of our society. We make scientific advances at an alarming level and although some stop to question the morality or the consequences of such advancement, no amount of deliberation slows down that process. I view that first element of the story as a grim prediction for our future.

The next part of the story is that the wise scientist of Krypton, Jor-El, predicted his planet's impending doom and realised there was no way to stop it. He decided to give up his only child and send him off to a planet that was very similar to his own. Armed with all the knowledge that Krypton had ever accumulated, Jor-El decided that his son could ensure our planet didn't follow that path of destruction. He could be the bridge between the worlds, uniting humans and giving them something tangible to hope for.

The third part of the story is in his upbringing. Found by two farmers in Kansas, they brought him in and raised him as their own child. He had the most humble, human experience growing up that you can possibly get. Then of course he started to discover his powers. And this is something that the movie Man of Steel put a big emphasis on - his parents, both human and kryptonian, discouraged him from using them. They wanted him to really know what it's like to be human first. To feel helpless, to have to go to school and get a job, to have a teenage crush. In the movie, his father Jonathan Kent gets trapped in a car with a hurricane approaching. Watching from the safety of a bridge, Superman - or Clark as he's called on Earth - steps forward to rush in and rescue him. But Jonathan holds up his hand to stop him. He wanted Clark to learn that lesson of being human. It's a lesson that Jonathan sacrificed his life to teach. And it's what gives Superman his most human trait of all.

His Morality.

Superman struggles with what's right and wrong. He refuses to kill his enemies, but fears over allowing them to keep terrorising the world. He wants to be with his crush Lois, but knows that doing so would put her in danger. Superman has been given the task of being a messianic saviour of the world, and while he has all these abilities at his disposal, they don't really help with that task. He has to be the planet's leader as well as its defender.

There are plenty of other things that make Superman human or otherwise intriguing. I love that for all the power this guy has, his arch nemesis - the being that gives him more trouble than any other - is just a plain old human. Lex Luthor has nothing special to boast other than being rich, greedy and clever. And yet he finds ways to exploit every weakness Superman has, both physically and mentally. This is something quite rare in the superhero universe.

One of those aforementioned weaknesses is Lois Lane. I've heard a lot of people say that Lois is a terrible character because she gets herself into trouble all the time and has to have the big strong man come and save her. I see it the other way around. Superman depends on Lois. He loves her and needs her in his life. Lois is the most important human in the world because while Superman is off carrying the world on his shoulders, Lois is carrying him on hers. Superman does save her physically a lot of the time, but in return, Lois saves him emotionally. Plus there's the fact that for a character created in 1938, a feisty woman who puts her career first is actually quite progressive.

Then there's something about him that's completely opposite to human - Kryptonite. The one thing that can actually hurt Superman physically happens to be completely harmless to humans. I find a nice poetry in that and although I agree it can be used far to easily in the plot of a Superman story, any good writer can make it work.

Side note - how cool would it be to have a Fortress of Solitude? Part laboratory, part library of knowledge, and part just a place to escape the world and think. It's the perfect place for someone who, despite having the adoration of almost everyone in the world, really in the end feels alone.


And finally, there's this. I'll just let Bill explain it because he does a far, far better job than I ever could.


11 comments:

  1. A thoughtful and thought-provoking post!

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  2. I too love Superman. There are very few writers who get it right, but I think that's a lot the fault of the editorial staff at DC Comics. Superman is great because of his emotional vulnerability. This creature impervious in all other ways that is desperate not to lose his adopted home planet as he has his birth one. He wants to fit in so badly when he could just spend his time as a god. That's tragic and inspiring. The ultimate outsider wanting to fit in. This becomes most obvious when you know his origin as being written by two Jewish immigrants. People are strangely anti-Superman. But the character wouldn't have endured for 75+ years now if it wasn't compelling. There are so many great allegories that can be told with his mythology. Glad to see there's someone else who can appreciate the big blue boy scout.

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    1. And I'm glad to see someone as articulate as you lend a supporting opinion :)

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  3. I have a Fortress of Solitude. Except I call it "The Bathroom."

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    1. Sounds pretty good, but when I have my pants around my ankles I prefer not to be alone ;)

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  4. Yeah, what Pickleope said. I like Superman, I just think some of the writers have fallen short on his potential as a character. Now if you want to talk about a lame superhero, let's talk Batman. I mean, he doesn't even have superpowers. He's just an angry billionaire that builds a ton of crazy gadgets and drives recklessly around the city in a car that I'm pretty sure is not street legal.

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    1. Ah dude, I can't agree with you there. I think Batman's pretty darn cool. I do agree with you on the legality of his car if that helps.

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  5. I fully support you blog.Superman struggles with what's right and wrong. He refuses to kill his enemies, but fears over allowing them to keep terrorising the world.Conveyancing Braintree

    ReplyDelete

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