Do you see the guy currently dominating this banner? Who is it? Is it Superman? Damn right, it’s Superman! But it has come to my attention that some people who are new to comic books think Superman is lame.
I’m only going to say this once. Superman is cool.
The main reason that many people think Superman is lame is because of how he has been mishandled in movies and TV shows. Furthermore, people tend to think that Superman is actually this really great, squeaky clean guy and, thus, has no depth of character or anything interesting to offer. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Superman stands for all that is truth, justice, and the American way, so this often makes people think he is something of a corporate tool. I don’t know why—nothing about Superman says I like working for “the man.” I tend to blame people like Frank Miller, who write good Batman comics, but did tend to portray Superman as really buying into the establishment. But Superman was never actually like that. In many of the original comics Superman was a man of the people; before there were Lex Luthor or aliens to fight, Superman primarily targeted corrupt businessmen that hurt blue-collar people, which makes sense, because Superman’s adopted parents are blue-collar people. Clark grew up in Kansas with hard working, salt-of-the -arth kind of people, so when Superman started as a hero he primarily targeted the type of people that would hurt people like his parents.
Another interesting thing about Superman is that he is Kryptonian. Now I know that seems pretty obvious but several cool things come out of the fact that Superman isn’t human. Superman is technically an immigrant with his own culture, language, and religion. After Superman goes to the Fortress of Solitude, his home away from home created by his birth parents to help guide him and teach him, he’s not only taught about how to control his powers, but also about his Kryptonian heritage. Now, Clark has lived most of his life in the American Midwest and was probably raised as a Christian. Yet he leaves the Fortress of Solitude speaking Kryptonian, knowing everything about Kryptonian culture, and worshipping the Kryptonian god Rao. His heritage has a profound impact on his life and it is clearly something he wants to share with people, but can’t without revealing his identity as Superman. Furthermore, many times the people he does share his heritage with don’t get it. Lois Lane is a perfect example of this. In many comics, when Clark tries to explain more about his alien side to Lois she seems confused and a little uncomfortable. But other characters not only share in this part of Superman, but also participate in it. Wonder Woman actively enjoys learning about anything Kryptonian and often compares it to her own Amazonian training. Batman actually learned to speak Kryptonian so that he can speak to Clark in his own language (and because it’s useful during missions).
Most superheroes have two identities, but because Superman is awesome he gets three: Clark Kent, Superman, and Kal-El. Clark is who he grew up as and was for most of his life, but it is also difficult for him to be Clark, because of how hard it is to always fake being human. Superman is his public persona, who always tries to do the right thing and to be a good person, but that doesn’t mean Superman doesn’t get pissed off. He doesn’t always want to be the world’s golden boy, but he knows he has a responsibility. And finally, Kal-El is the more alien side of himself that Clark doesn’t often get to share with people. There have been many arguments over which of these personas is “actually” Superman, but truthfully in order to really understand who Superman is you have to understand all three personas, because they are all an aspect of his personality.
And finally, here’s a thought that I’m sure Blackout31 would agree with me on: Superman could be considered a disabled character.
Superman’s powers are also one of the many reasons people don’t like Superman, because when you have a character that powerful who is going to challenge him? But Superman’s greatest power is actually his greatest weakness. He has to actively keep himself in check from hurting anyone or using his powers for random things. In his day-to-day life, Superman’s powers handicap him and limit him in many ways. One example is Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane. Larry Niven, who wrote “Man of Steel Woman of Kleenex”, writes about how Superman is still most certainly a virgin (at least until he meets the more superhuman women) and could probably never be able to have sex with Lois, because he would kill her if he lost control. On top of that, there is likely no way Superman could ever get Lois pregnant, which means the happy couple could never have children. Superman could kill his mother by looking at her wrong, or level the Daily Planet with a flick of his hand. Imagine how hard it would be to live like that.
Another complaint is that Superman can only be defeated with Kryptonite. Wrong! Superman is also vulnerable to a Red Sun (this includes artificial rays) and magic. Magic users like Zatarra and Captain Marvel (the DC version) can actually hold their own against or even beat the Man of Steel. Furthermore, Superman has a whole host of villains that match him for strength and power, so despite his mass amounts of powers, Superman isn’t invulnerable, and has been killed several times in the comics.
Superman also has many complex and interesting relationships. His friendships with Wonder Woman and Batman are notable. The Trinity, as it’s called in the DC universe, show three friends from various different backgrounds all adding to each other’s strength. Bruce Wayne bought the Daily Planet when it almost went bankrupt, and Wonder Woman is often a confidant and one of the few people Superman can spar with without holding back.
Probably my favorite relationship is the one between Lex Luthor and Superman, which is best portrayed in the TV show Smallville. Lex and Clark were best friends, turned enemies, and it is one of the main reason that Superman hates facing off against Lex Luthor and at the same time gets so pissed at him, because he still thinks of him as a friend. In some versions of the comic Lex actually still considers Clark a friend, but hates Superman—awkward. More awkward, Lex is also the father of Clark’s son Kon-El, aka Conner Kent. Yeah, I’m not even making that up.
Superman’s relationship with Conner is also complex. At first, he wants nothing to do with him. Lex actually plays the role of father better, but eventually Clark takes on his role of raising Conner and does really well.
Even Superman’s job shows how complex he is, and yes, part of the reason he works as a reporter is so he can know when something bad is happening and can save the day, but the other reason is that writing is actually something Superman has to compete with human beings to be good at. Lois is a better reporter than Clark. Clark is still good, but he actually has to try to be good when other things (like sports) could come so easily to him.
So for those of you out there saying Superman is lame, ignore the movies, pick up some comics, and read. Some I would suggest are For the Man Who Has Everything, by Alan Moore (this same comic was made into an awesome episode in the Justice League cartoon as well), Red Sun, All-Star Superman, The Death of Superman, and Superman/Batman: Absolute Power. And I know I mentioned Alan Moore already, but basically anything he writes about Superman is gold. I’d also watch any of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited TV show.
Then you’ll understand why Superman is the greatest superhero.