Why Superman Matters

#1 Posted by kennybaese (1094 posts) - - Show Bio

Note: I originally posted this on my Tumblr. You can find that post here.

Superman is a character that no one likes anymore, and that kind of saddens me. This, by the way, is coming from someone who, until rather recently, was a member of the “Batman rules, Superman drools” group of comic book fans. Now, I still love me some Batman. Batman’s awesome. I mean, he’s the goddamn Batman. He can call his car the “Batmobile” and make it sound all badass instead of just goofy. At the same time, Batman’s awesomeness doesn’t make Superman the worst. Far from it. Superman is cool, and indeed very very important, for completely different reasons than Batman, both in comic books and in popular culture.

Superman seems to have declined in popularity over the last couple of years as the cynicism of (American) society has risen to all new highs. People in authority can’t be trusted; those that seem the most altruistic always ultimately end up being the ones that are out to screw you over the hardest. The current political climate certainly seems to bear that out. Superman stands as the ultimate big brother, the squeaky clean, purely altruistic, optimistic, and genuinely caring being whose only desire is to protect us. He is at once a man of the people (both as a blue collar farmer from a small town and a white collar reporter in the city) and a sun god that can’t be hurt and that can send any given threat packing with a few well placed punches and a careful application of some heat vision.

In some ways, a lot of ways really, he’s what the perfect American leader (theoretically) should be. It’s not that surprising then that with the current popular distrust of most people in power that Superman comes off as the most full of shit. There are plenty of people out there trying to sell themselves as the ideal person to lead America, but Superman exactly is what that person should be. His perfection is almost inhuman and it makes people roll their eyes more often than it makes them cheer. This death of optimism is why (I think) Superman’s popularity has decreased so much over the last couple of years. No one wants to be Superman anymore, but everyone wants to be Batman. Being faster than a speeding bullet doesn’t hold the appeal that beating insane people to a pulp in the dirty back alleys of the most corrupt city in America does. While I love Batman to death, this is really kind of sad.

This attitude has bled over into superhero comics in general. The superhero genre got its start with Superman. He popularized the idea that heroes shouldn’t kill, and that running around in tights and a cape helping people not only makes for good stories, but good role models as well. Without Superman we wouldn’t have the superhero. For that, if nothing else, the character deserves some respect. While Superman was hardly the first comic book hero, he’s certainly the first that people could really look up to. The pulp heroes that came before certainly weren’t worthy of anyone’s admiration. While Batman has stepped out of the shadows of the pulp characters that inspired him, he definitely keeps one boot planted firmly in the darkness. Superman, however plants himself in the sun.

And that’s ultimately the important thing about Superman. Where Batman stands as this symbol of obsession to the resignation that you’re going to have to get dirty in order to make things clean, Superman stands for a brighter kind of hope. He stands as a shining symbol of power applied kindly. There’s a line in the Man of Steel trailer that played in front of The Dark Knight Rises in which Jor-El (Superman’s Kryptonian father) says in voice-over, “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall, but in time they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” That’s the beautiful thing about Superman. He’s a symbol of hope that Batman could never be, one that stands in the sun with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye that says everything will be fine.

That people are commonly too cynical to appreciate that these days is a little disheartening. I understand why, the current state of America (and the world really) certainly doesn’t help. Maybe it’s time for something more optimistic, then. Maybe it’s time to put aside the darkness and embrace the light. Sure, these might be heavy ideas to place on the shoulders of comic book characters that theoretically exist only to provide entertainment, but entertainment has proven time and again to be much more important than most people give it credit for. I think that Superman is a shining example of that. I, for one, am tired of being afraid of the shadows. Now, I’ll be out here enjoying the sun. Join me, will you?

#2 Posted by CBninja (160 posts) - - Show Bio

Very well said.

#3 Posted by supermanfan1234 (206 posts) - - Show Bio

Nicely said,vey nicely said.

#4 Posted by Supes1903 (137 posts) - - Show Bio

Nice job, well done!

#5 Posted by UltimateSMfan (1364 posts) - - Show Bio

Nicely done!! so very well said!

#6 Posted by Jekylhyde14 (746 posts) - - Show Bio

Great blog! You echo many of my sentiments. In fact, I wasn't a fan of Superman until around four or five years ago and I've run into so many people like us in the last few years who used to hate the character but now back him completely. I think that's evidence that things are changing and that Superman is picking up steam again. He hasn't reached Batman heights and it feels unlikely that he'll do so anytime soon. Yet, there's a new group of Superman fans out there and that's encouraging.

To wax philosophical a bit, it does feel like there's a growing political sentiment that altruism is at best naive and at worst a lie to rip people off. The general public often seems more comfortable in the hands of the openly cynical and selfish, I think, because it more closely resembles the world they understand and grew up with. When you get screwed over, ripped off, victimized, and worked to the bone you're entire life you begin to believe that this is just the way things are and anyone preaching change for the better is either stupid or selling something. With the state of hypocrisy in politics being what it is, it's hard to convince these people that they're wrong or that there is hope for change. What it's going to take is change on an individual level. I can't claim to have bee perfect or without sin all my life but I can choose to try and approach each decision with my best intentions. If I remember, one day at a time, to gear my choices and actions towards selflessness and sacrifice then maybe I can do a little bit of good. I won't be perfect all the time but if I can at least pull it off a majority of the time then things have a chance of changing for the better. That's what Superman has taught me because he's a fiction made up of our most noble traits and ideals. I have to believe that one day people will be ready to accept the truth that we're all in this together and will leave the cynicism of every man for himself behind...

#7 Posted by Dernman (14725 posts) - - Show Bio
#8 Posted by SandMan_ (4528 posts) - - Show Bio

I rather have Supes powers anyday of the day than to be Batman.BTW,awesome blog.

#9 Posted by TitanTempest (347 posts) - - Show Bio

I respect him not because of his powers, but because of his influence in society and comics, he is definitely a hero and I can say this with assurance, he matters!

#10 Posted by kennybaese (1094 posts) - - Show Bio

Thanks everyone. Reading back through this, the ending is super super cheesy, but whatever.

@Jekylhyde14: This is, more or less, the realization I came to not to long ago. I love Batman and the character makes for great stories, but for the most part, the character doesn't stand as that great of a role model. There are elements that are worthy of admiration: he's a man who made himself into something more, but he's also a man ruled by obsession and a little bit of a fascist when you come down to it. Superman is something that no one can ever be, but something everyone should strive to be, which makes him (in a lot of ways) difficult to identify with. But as an ideal, I think that what he stands for is incredibly important and it gets downplayed as childish far too often.

#11 Posted by X (225 posts) - - Show Bio

You know i grew up watching Superman cartoons and I was home schooled bullied,(by actual kids not just brothers) and i always related with Superman cuz he always does whats right no matter what it does to him and u know growing up with that ppl tell me "wow ur a boy scout" and im like thank you. one person who knows abt superman said "man u 2 are similar minus the powers lol" so for me Superman will always be that role model the shining example to me thats y hes my favorite... Nicely said sir

#12 Posted by Jekylhyde14 (746 posts) - - Show Bio

@kennyshat:

It's difficult to be genuine this day in age. It taps into something innocent inside of you. People do regard it as childish but you always have to consider what exactly the alternative is...

I think the journey they took Batman through around the end of Post-Crisis continuity best represents what that kind of paranoid cynicism eventually leads to. He couldn't trust his friends which which caused Ra's Al Ghul to get the drop on the Justice League in Tower of Babel. He still hadn't learned his lesson by Infinite Crisis and that's why the whole Brother Eye and OMAC situation went down like it did. The inability to trust and believe in the best in people causes the type of aggression and paranoia that makes countries stock pile nuclear weapons. We watched Batman tread down that same path despite his best intentions. It was as much Superman's fault as Batman's for stepping into the background during that era. As a hero, he needs to be front and center because he's supposed to be an inspiration for the best in us.

#13 Posted by Kal'smahboi (3482 posts) - - Show Bio

@kennyshat: Very well said, sir. When did it become unpopular to root for the good guy?

#14 Posted by Warlok (8 posts) - - Show Bio

He's just out of the spotlight at the moment. He shall return.

#15 Posted by kennybaese (1094 posts) - - Show Bio

@Jekylhyde14: See, that stuff is what makes Batman a really interesting character. His distrust of people, his insistence on control, his borderline fascism, in spite of the fact that he's supposed to be one of the good guys is what makes the character interesting. He lives in shades of grey. Superman, on the other hand, is a character that is (almost) purely white on a black and white scale. I think he's at his most interesting when he's placed in a world populated by shades of grey (something that the Azzarello and Bermejo book Lex Luthor: Man of Steel did to great effect). Outside of comics, however, Batman is something kind of terrifying, a terrible role model. Superman isn't. Sure, you'll never be able to fly or lift cars above your head, but the kindness the character embodies is really important and something that Batman lacks.

#16 Posted by SuperJimmy (20 posts) - - Show Bio

Whenever people say everyone wants to be batman, I have to say "no", coz that's not what I want to be (not even by a long shot). But other than that, I agree with you.

#17 Posted by kasino (1490 posts) - - Show Bio

what current untrust, that started since the dawn of time when talking about those in in power...so like two paragraphs should be rephrased to the untrust people have for government in general not emphasized on trust that dwindled recently as 00-08 been a far much unnerving period in American history

I think the problem with Superman is his best stories is you have to CARE about Superman, either he died/dying/losing his powers now how would you handle that

and don't know about great leader more like big gun, unless Lex is portrayed as the president he is doing what the government ask, with current events he can't be brought into them like a Nuke vs Water Gun as during the world wars he just can't cross over to current events

I love Supes but totally for different reasons, walking god. Punch/Throw/Save the day. give me an invasion/complicated plot that takes more then the normal amount of punching and throwing/doomsday or anything that could have a battle with him . Don't make me worship(El means God) him embrace what we know he can do, save the day through punching/throwing at superspeed. Certain writers make him a super genius but no one thinks of him that way so can't do the detective thing.

and of course you rather have Supes powers and the most human aspect as Bats would put it, but which makes him totally not human, is that with that power he hasn't taken over the world or at least taken down all crime

#18 Posted by TheAmazingImmortalMan (2662 posts) - - Show Bio

Great Blog post my friend nicely worded

#19 Posted by G_Money_Christmas (881 posts) - - Show Bio

Just very recently I started reading Superman books. I never really was interested in him at all. I was a Superman hater like so many, even though I hardly knew anything about him. It may have been in part to do with the fact that I had been reading so many Batman stories I got tired of the darkness and cynicism of it all and I needed someone who was on the opposite end of the spectrum. I'm not sure, but I think I can actually say that my favorite hero has switched to Superman. Awesome blog post, I agree with everything you said.

Hopefully Man of Steel will do good enough and bring Superman some popularity and the recognition that he deserves.

#20 Posted by Crash_Recovery (850 posts) - - Show Bio

@TitanTempest: This

#21 Posted by Lvenger (18258 posts) - - Show Bio

@kennyshat: Great blog post. Absolutely wonderfully said. Though I must admit, being a British citzen, the whole American symbol thing has never appealed to me. What I love about Superman is the fact he represents some of the best attributes of humanity all rolled into one and is the ultimate symbol of good imaginable. He's provided me with a moral example to aspire to. That's the beauty of Superman to me.

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#22 Posted by Deranged Midget (17599 posts) - - Show Bio

@Lvenger: I have to agree regarding Superman being an "American symbol". I find that he represents the entire world, not just one spot on the map.

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#23 Posted by Lvenger (18258 posts) - - Show Bio

@Deranged Midget: That's why I liked Superman renouncing his American citizenship in AC 900. It showed that he was dedicated to humanity not one country in general. But no douchy Americans whined about it and an issue later, we have the President of the United States calling on Superman in addition to a hokey American speech in an issue of Grounded. I hated DC backtracking on a great move.

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#24 Posted by Deranged Midget (17599 posts) - - Show Bio

@Lvenger: Yeah, it seems as if DC is too sensitive when regarding fan and critical response in order to keep a decision solidified into history.

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#25 Posted by Dhor (282 posts) - - Show Bio

greast blog! one thing i hate about Superman stories and movies in general is the fact that they just use him for his powers and not his personalitty. There are tons of characters with the same powers as Superman, but his personality is what makes the difference. I love the line "in time they will join in the sun" and strongly belive that if any comic book character could really change the world if he existed, that would definetlly be SUPERMAN. Unlike Thor,MM,Appolo or MR majestic Supers stands for something. Hopefully MoS will play the card of the ideal Superman represents better then the rest

#26 Posted by Holaso (76 posts) - - Show Bio

Lifelong Superman fan here. Glad you all can finally join me =D

#27 Posted by Stormbox (2001 posts) - - Show Bio

Cool post, even though ive never read superman i never hated on supes and never understood the hate for him

Btw, would you guys recommend action comics to a new superman reader?

#28 Posted by G_Money_Christmas (881 posts) - - Show Bio

@Stormbox: Yes

#29 Edited by kennybaese (1094 posts) - - Show Bio

@Deranged Midget: @Lvenger: I would agree that he definitely embodies more than just American ideals. Being an American myself, I approached it from that perspective, especially when comparing Superman and Batman, because there are some concepts surrounding those characters that carry a particular relevance to current American politics. Looking at it that way proved interesting to me personally, especially given all of the politically charged conversation I've been having with friends of mine lately. However, I didn't mean to imply that Superman cannot be a universal symbol, just that the American symbolism (I almost typed "symbology" and was berated in my head by Willem Dafoe) surrounding him was something that I connected with personally while I was writing.

#30 Posted by Lvenger (18258 posts) - - Show Bio

@Stormbox: Most definitely. Action Comics is brilliant. I'd definitely give it a read.

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#31 Posted by Lvenger (18258 posts) - - Show Bio

@kennyshat: Of course. Given that he was created in America, there's the obvious patriotic aspect to him. Plus iconic pictures that play up his American appeal such as this

and the fact he stands for 'the American Way.' I wish he'd change it to freedom or liberty. Liberty would be better IMO

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#32 Posted by Stormbox (2001 posts) - - Show Bio

@G_Money_Christmas: @Lvenger: Thanks a lot guys, ive just ordered the first volume and i hope its as good as you say

#33 Posted by G_Money_Christmas (881 posts) - - Show Bio

@Stormbox: Yeah, and I love the cover of it, too. Understand, though, it can be pretty confusing at parts...

#34 Posted by kennybaese (1094 posts) - - Show Bio

@G_Money_Christmas said:

@Stormbox: Yeah, and I love the cover of it, too. Understand, though, it can be pretty confusing at parts...

Yeah, it's definitely a Grant Morrison book. But it's still pretty great.

@Lvenger said:

...and the fact he stands for 'the American Way.' I wish he'd change it to freedom or liberty. Liberty would be better IMO

That would be a little better. I feel like I read a story once where he said the "Universal way" or something... but the American way does seem a little silly these days given the character's global influence. I think "liberty" or "freedom" would work equally well.

#35 Posted by Lvenger (18258 posts) - - Show Bio

@kennyshat: I actually thought about Superman changing his motto to the universal way last week. What story was this?

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#36 Posted by kennybaese (1094 posts) - - Show Bio

@Lvenger: I can't remember. Was it maybe 700? I feel like I read it before that though. I dislike the "universal way" line a little because it implies that there's a way of life that is perfect for everyone and that Superman knows what it is. I guess he probably never would go as far as imposing that on others, but given that it's a base set of why he does what he does, he would act based on it. If any of that makes sense.

#37 Posted by Mercy_ (92501 posts) - - Show Bio

I'm not a huge Superman fan, but this is an excellent piece and I agree with every word said. Well done, sir.

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#38 Posted by BigMaraSpence (74 posts) - - Show Bio

@kennyshat: Not to run it into the ground, but that was perfect. I raise my glass to you!

#39 Posted by SmashBrawler (5493 posts) - - Show Bio

Great job, man. Superman most definitely matters, and always will, no matter how dire things look for him. Next year is full of promises for the Man of Steel, so let's hope his 75th Anniversary marks his return to greatness as well!

#40 Posted by SandMan_ (4528 posts) - - Show Bio

Superman will always matter. He's freaking Superman after all.

#41 Edited by PurpleCandy (773 posts) - - Show Bio

@SandMan_ said:

I rather have Supes powers anyday of the day than to be Batman.BTW,awesome blog.

I would have Superman's powers with Batman's clothes :P

@kennyshat:

Oh yeah and I can see why general people pick Batman over Superman, but if they are completely cynical they might aswell read Deadpool (for a smart-mouth mercenary he dosen't have alot of faith in humanity), Deathstroke or Winter Soldier ( I think he has a pinch of cynical in him). I don't see why COMIC readers would just flat not like Superman, his comics are pretty interesting wether New 52 or Pre-52

#42 Posted by Barkins (440 posts) - - Show Bio

The original post of this thread was very inspiring and well written.

It communicates the reason that all of us come together and stand behind superman, because we want someone like him deep down. He's the role model that cannot become corrupt and will never fall, we all believe in him because he has the courage to care about everything when he could very well care about none of the silliness around him. The world will always need superman. I've always been a fan of both superman and captain marvel for the same reasons, the heart of the hero is what makes them and the rest is just special effects.

#43 Posted by SandMan_ (4528 posts) - - Show Bio
@PurpleCandy: Superman Speeding Bullets
 
#44 Posted by GodDamnIronMan (1553 posts) - - Show Bio

@kennyshat: Very Good and meaningful post

#45 Posted by theTimeStreamer (2841 posts) - - Show Bio

only thing keeping superman around is nostalgia and that is fadding fast. we need good NEW stories. god help him if the new movie bombs.

#46 Posted by kennybaese (1094 posts) - - Show Bio

Thanks again for all of the feedback to this article guys. It's really appreciated.

Oh, and I was rereading All Star Superman the other day and the Jor-El quote in the trailer for Man of Steel is pulled almost word for word from the last issue of that book. It's after Superman dies and talks to his father before coming back.

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