In Defense of Superman

In Defense Of Superman: Why the World's First Superhero Still Matters

By: Matt Spaulding

By: Matt Spaulding

I've been thinking a lot about Superman lately. Generally I don't think much about The Man of Steel, I'm a Batman guy. But more and more lately I've been giving thought to Superman and what he means, what his place is in the world, and why people should still care.

Superman doesn't get the love he deserves. He certainly used to (the success of Superman the Movie and Superman II certainly prove that) but not any more. As a society, we've become "too cool" for the man in blue and red. He's old fashioned. He's too morally straight. He's too good. We want relatable. We want conflict. We want psychological realism.

Except we don't. There was certainly a time when people wanted (and please excuse my use of a tired, gag-inducing phrase) "dark and gritty." But that time has passed (well, mostly.) If the success of the MCU is any indicator, people are more interested in heroes who just do good. The time of the antihero is pretty much gone. Look at Captain America. He's certainly not a grim hero. He's a guy who stands up and does what's right no matter what. He's a down-home American boy.

So why doesn't the same apply for Superman? Why, when people are ready to stand up and cheer for Captain America are they ready to shoot down Superman as "too good"? What's wrong with The Big Blue Boy Scout? 

There was a time when I thought the same things about Superman. A little personal information: I'm an atheist and a skeptic. I battle depression. I'm quick to get hot under the collar. All these traits led me down a path for a time when I was like "oh, Superman, what a goody goody. No one wants a hero who just does the right thing all the time. That's not realistic. Give me Batman. Give me Green Lantern. Give me Spider-Man. At least these guys make poor choices and do questionable things like real people do!" And, at the time, the world seemed to agree with me. 

But I've gotten older. I become more and more compassionate for all my fellow people every day. I want more people to do the right thing, to treat each other better. And the world has changed right along with me. We've watched war go on and on and on without end since September of 2001. We've become more and more aware of the corrupt nature of politics, the economic inequality of the American people. the continued existence of racism, sexism and homophobia in our culture. In short, the world is full enough of morally ambiguous people doing morally ambiguous things. We're ready for heroes. Real heroes.

And that's where Superman, the most overlooked of the real heroes comes in. My very first thought after the tragic terrorist attack in Paris a couple weeks ago was "damn, we really need Superman right now." And I still stand by it. In Man of Steel it was established that the "S" stood for hope. And we sure need a lot more hope in this world. 

On top of hope, we need a symbol of what is right and just. Right now, our government, as well as others, continue to engage in very questionable tactics to "bring justice" for the horrible things that have happened. And while I don't want to turn this article into a political argument, I must say that I don't think "justice" is bombing entire villages of people to retaliate against a select few people. Enough innocent people have already died in this world. Justice isn't killing more of them. And Superman would agree. Superman doesn't believe in collateral damage. The world needs to look to the example of Superman to do the right thing. 

Another argument against Superman is "he's too powerful." Well, on this, I often tend to agree. Historically, Superman has been given more and more power since his creation, to the point he did become quite ridiculous for a long time. But perhaps it's time you revisited Superman. In the New 52, he has been dramatically powered down so that he more closely resembles his original incarnation 75 years ago. Sure, he's strong, but he's not completely invulnerable (in one issue, he was taken out for quite a time by a crashing train). And of course he can still fly and use heat vision. But, overall, he's been treated in a much more....ummm...less powerful way is the only way I can think of to describe it. 

I've also often heard it stated that Superman isn't a real hero because he knows he can't be hurt or defeated, so going in to those dangerous situations doesn't make him a hero because he has nothing to worry about.. Wrong. That argument confuses "heroism" with "bravery." I wouldn't argue you that Superman isn't brave. By definition, bravery is doing something good for someone else despite being afraid for your own safety. Superman certainly needn't worry about his own safety. But that doesn't make him not a hero. A hero is simply someone who does the right thing, someone who saves the day. And THAT, Superman certainly does.

If you've made it this far still thinking you want a little conflict in your character, a little "emotional realism," fine. I don't blame you. It makes sense. Everyone has more than one level. Even Superman. Consider the great tragedy of Superman, one that has often been explored in comics: despite all he can do, all his great power Superman still can't save everyone that needs saving. He wants to, he really does, but it is just impossible. Superman still has to regularly make life and death choices. While he's busy saving people from a tsunami in Japan, there are people in Colorado dying in a mudslide. While he's stopping the eruption of a volcano in Hawaii, there are people being bombed in Baghdad. I've seen the argument over and over again that, because of all his powers, everything is "too easy" for Superman. Making those decisions doesn't seem easy to me. Can you imagine the burden this would put on you if you had to decide who to save? Superman can, and it tears him up inside.

Let's also not forget that Superman is a very loving person. He cares deeply about those closest to him. That leaves him, like every other hero, vulnerable to attacks on his personal life.

It's time to embrace Superman again. The world is harsh enough without our heroes being harsh right along with it. Superman is the best of us. Despite being from Krypton, he's the most human person in fiction. His compassion and his incredibly straight moral compass may strike you as old fashioned and lame, but I submit to you that they are the very reasons he's the most relevant hero in all fiction. If everyone tried to be a little more like Superman, the world would be a much better place for it. 

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