In anticipation of the much anticipated animated adaptation of “All Star Superman” in stores this year, and the upcoming Zack Snyder/Christopher Nolan re-boot of the Bryan Singer re-boot “Superman Returns,” we have taken the time to voice our love for the character Superman and ponder on his more unique and endearing aspects that will surely be ignored in favor of the man of steel lifting tanks and destroying buildings with one force of breath. We hope Zack Snyder can invoke much of what made “Watchmen” so excellent and stow what made “300” so absolutely vapid and dunderheaded. Or at least find a balance. With that we continue to our “Superman Tribute.”
There was a journalist over five years ago who wrote an article about Superman who mocked the Man of Steel openly, and oh so sternly explained that among Superman’s fans, you’d be hard pressed to find any who would openly admit to being a fan of Superman in public. Oh how wrong he was and how wrong he continues to be. I’ll admit as a fan of Superman, that he is not the most popular hero in modern pop culture. In a world of cynicism, violence, and dread, the more enduring characters are all the darker ones with demons and shades of turmoil, all donning Bat costumes, garnering giant white skulls on their chests, or waving around claws from their knuckles.
But in spite of the changing mindset of today’s culture that is steeped in pessimism, Superman continues to be the most prevalent fictional character of all time. He’s a household name. He is so common he’s practically become a terminology all on his own, used to describe literally anyone with strength above the average person. Whatever meaning it holds, it’s used to personify someone with an amazing gift who has displayed great strength in the face of turmoil. “He just lifted that heavy beam, what a Superman he is!” or “You just made it through heart surgery, you’re a real Superman.” The name Superman has become a pervasive presence and can even garner its own book with various definitions and connotation of the word Superman. Regardless, the word Superman is a common convention in every language that has seeped from the Man of Steel’s creation. Superman has been a common fixture of any childhood and can be seen in just about every facet of pop culture. He is so universally loved and so admired, but is not a character that is too stylish or hip to adore. That’s thanks to many of the modern depictions of the character that either portray him as a pawn for conformity (i.e. Frank Miller), or just a dumb jock who gets in the way and damages things in the process of helping others. I am a fan of Superman. I have been a fan of Superman since I was four years old.
I was introduced to the character’s official storyline in Action Comics where in an effort to calm me down during a tedious afternoon errand run, I was given two comic books from my dad to read. One was Superman, and he’s continued trickling in to my imagination and creativity for fourteen years and I admit openly to anyone with an open mind that Superman is my favorite fictional character of all time. He’s also been one of my major sources of inspiration in a truly challenging life. Superman can represent many things to many people, and he’s often been mishandled by creators who either want him as a representation for Christianity or a symbol for America. Superman can be many things to many people, and as a creative character, he is much more than just a powerful thug punching tanks and lifting mountains. Superman is not about destruction. He shouldn’t be about destruction. Superman is about preserving life. Many folks use Superman to represent brute force or power. But while he is a powerful being given some ridiculous abilities in the past, he’s been a ubiquitous figure in pop culture because of the values he was given and the power of his character. He is a figure of amazing power, someone who could bring down a world within a day, but he instead uses that ability of supremacy to help people, and maintain the fragility of life that he is so enamored with but can never truly be apart of.
He’s the symbol of an orphan making good with their life, he is the symbol of the immigrant coming to a new land who makes a success out of himself not only as a hero, but as a professional journalist who abides by the law, and he is also someone filled with astounding courage and bravery who uses his gifts to help others. While neither of us are capable of changing the orbit of Earth, or prevent an avalanche from crushing helpless citizens, we all have some extraordinary abilities that we can use to benefit mankind. You don’t have to be a superhuman being to be a Superman, and that’s what Superman strives to inspire and why he is constantly misunderstood and poorly depicted in modern culture where he’s a buff thug with a heightened libido, or an angsty teenager constantly on the verge of sobbing when he should be helping people. There are Superman fans. They’re out there. And they are numerous. And Superman has inspired so many of them to live better lives and help others in their journey to find themselves, and in various ways, Superman is so much more fulfilling than a God from a religion, because he is without a bias, or without a perception of race.
Some depict him as naive and childish, but in actuality he is an optimist, even in the face of human cruelty. He’s been spoofed, lampooned, mocked, derided, bashed, used as a tool to represent homosexuality, Christianity, the pro-life agenda, westernization, the war, the economy, the Regan-era, racism, and he’s been changed and altered to fit modern mindsets with very little success. In spite of his failure to reach a world that has succumb to the moody, dark and dreary anti-heroes who kill without thought and have no perceptions of life, Superman is and will always be there to help people, inspire people, and use his incredible powers to keep humanity from going astray. Even in the nineties where figures like Spawn and Wolverine were the norm and the poster boys for that age of grit and gloom where every single hero sported humongous guns, and blood shed, Superman managed to maintain his stance on heroism. With the constant cinematic reboots, and horrific television adaptations, DC Comics and Superman’s handlers are currently trying to retro-fit the character for a sensibility of the modern age where the public no longer wants superheroes of hope, but superheroes of pure misanthropic carnage, and unfortunately Superman will continue reaching stumbling blocks along the way with malarkey like “Smallville” and respectable variations in “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.”
Whether he’s an over sexed teen, or an alien head basher, the true fans know what Superman strives for in the end. Many people have insisted that Superman is out of style, but in reality the values Superman has always pushed toward readers in his goals to connect humanity through his abilities are what is out of style. The world needs a Superman. They need the symbol because it inspires inner strength and bravery whether they know it or not. They need the character, because he inspires greatness, he strives for preservation, and in his fans he gives them something to take away and live a better life with. And fans like me will always gladly admit that they are his biggest fans, like it or not. Like any of the great fictional characters such as Atticus Finch, Holden Caulfield, or Tom Joad, Superman has influenced many of his loyal legions of fans, and is a continued source for knowledge and the wisdom that powers or not, we have the responsibility to civilization to benefit others, and not waste what we have while we’re here. We have to give until it hurts. Anything less is not Super.