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Saving Superman

March 9, 2015

Can you feel the pain? I know I can with that layout.

Another week, another example of DC not really getting the central appeal of one of their core characters.

Marvel’s Kevin Feige one talked about Superman as “DC’s greatest asset – which they have no idea what to do with”. Whilst that’s not exactly true – All Star Superman and a few runs in the late 2000’s are examples of how to do the character right in my opinion – there have been more hits than misses. Especially in the new Nu52, where he’s been flying from one crappy storyline to another.

Perhaps, and I mean this in the kindest way, nobody gives a crap about Superman. I love the character and even I have to admit, the Superman element is the most boring part of him. Adding a new superpower, to what is a powerset so unbeatable Marvel’s expy of him had to have mental health problems to keep him from ruling their universe with ease, isn’t going to make readers come flocking back.

To be honest, I’ve barely even heard anything about fan reactions to this – there was some collective eye rolling and a few sites tried to muster up some sort of enthusiasm for it – but on the whole, nobody cares.

That’s because, for the most part, what attracts people to Superman is the exact opposite of what attracts them to say, Batman. Whilst a lot of scholars have said Superman is a power fantasy, I feel they’re a little off base these days. That may have been the case back in the 40’s, when he was the creation of two Jewish writers, keen to create a mythical being that stood for Social Justice* and against tyranny, but he’s evolved a little since then. As is the American way, he’s be co-opted by Christianity to become a sort of modern day Jesus analogue, if Jesus ran around getting into fights*.

Now I can’t ever recall people saying they liked Jesus because of his power set. Supermans’s sort of the same – he greater than that. Outside of those people who want to validate themselves by ‘proving’ their favourite hero could deck all the others, they’re notable only in that he was one of the first superheroes to get the whole deck of superpowered cards.

So that means people must like Superman because he represents something more than that; an idea. Something to strive for – that one day we could be that good of a person. Whereas Batman is a Conservatives, wet dream- a paranoid controlling billionaire solving things the state can’t deal with! – Superman, at heart, stands for a more socially conscious and caring conservative ideal.

He’s definitely working class too, being the ‘farmers boy’ done good, which in America is about as wholesome as they come. Even his passion, journalism (a strictly middle class career by most modern standards), is driven almost by almost trade unionist ideals, of sticking up for those who can’t defend themselves and bringing power to the people.

So if he’s so emblematic of great potential and ideas, why do people seem to focus on the very opposite? I think it’s to do with the idea that’s permeated comics’ unconsciousness; that he’s a boring character. In a way it’s a self fulfilling prophesy, because as writers in the past have tried to move Superman away from being ‘boring’, they seem to stumble, making him even more two dimensional in the process.

To fix that, well, I’ve heard plenty of theories on how. But I think they come down to two approaches; bring him down from the plinth that he’s been put on, or else make it all about seeking the humanity inside the Olympian. The first approach has been tackled quite well in the 52 weekly series from 2006, the latter in All Star Superman and The Black Ring arc of Action Comics.

Honestly, I’m very happy to eat humble pie if it turns out being able to glow in the dark is what gets people reading Superman comics in greater numbers again. But it feels like a cosmetic change. A hollow one at that.

*…you could almost say that Superman was one of the original Social Justice Warriors.

* Oh wait…


From → Comics, Rant

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