By CM Team | CultureMass Staff Published: 06/13/2013 2:00 pm EST
This week, Superman returns to the big screen in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. To celebrate, the writers of CultureMass are looking back at some of our favorite stories to feature the timeless hero, and examining just what Superman means to us.
Superman can be a very hard character to like. He is a near-selfless, all-powerful, overactive boy scout with a sense of naivety that is almost laughable. That is what makes it that much more incredible when Kal-El is handled by a writer who sees past these limitations and doesn’t just make a bigger meaner foe for Superman, but shows true weakness and humanity in the character.
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel is my favorite Superman comic book. Brian Azzarello explores the duplicity between protagonist and antagonist motivations. It not only shows what it’s like to be on the other side of the age-old conflict, but enables audiences to view how others in the know view the Man of Tomorrow and what he represents. Through Lex’s actions, readers see why the world needs someone like Superman, and the honor and passion that he holds, even through the eyes of a deranged madman.
“My World Without Superman.” Just having written this, the phrase frightens me. But let me think about it. What would my life be like without ever being introduced to the Man of Steel? Well, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with belt buckles (today I am the proud owner of 25). Years ago, my father gave me a buckle with a silver Superman logo. I took so much joy strutting around like a child again, as if I were saving the world one more time in my blue, red, and yellow underoos. Also, I would never have the burning desire, after running across a street or a through a park, to rip open my shirt exposing an imaginary bright red “S” underneath. Embarrassingly enough, to this day, it happens at least once a week.
All kidding aside, if my world was without Superman I wouldn’t strive to do right by him. What I mean by this is Superman holds onto the ideals I’d like to, but fail miserably at keeping. He’s noble, selfless, courageous, powerful, and able to hold down two personalities simultaneously (I can barely keep one in check). He’s the most powerful man on the planet and yet, he’s the most humble. He reminds me to do the right thing, even when it’s the most difficult. Superman would never shy away from something because it’s too hard, he’d go right through it. Hello! He’s Superman. My world without him would be a sadder place. Who would I look to the sky for? Thankfully, it’s you Superman. It’s you.
My world without Superman wouldn’t have introduced me to a comic which, to this day, still echoes in my mind: Adventures of Superman #500. Yes, the one where Superman returned to life after death. Way back in 1992, when DC killed off the last son of Krypton, I was crushed—my go-to guy was gone. I followed the “Funeral for a Friend” storyline, waiting, wondering. Finally, there was a response to my subliminal pleas. What sticks with me most from Adventures of Superman #500 is twofold. One—how Superman’s Earthly father, Jonathan Kent, brings him safely through the afterlife. Two—the sequence of panels at the end, where one of the four forms Superman has taken melts the memorial plaque honoring his death. When the young father asks, “Are you…?” the Cyborg Superman retorts, “Yes. I’m back.” Yeah baby! In whatever form—animal, vegetable, mineral—Superman, and all he stands for, is back! And my world is a better place because of it.
It’s hard to think about my favorite moment of my favorite hero Superman. He’s been the best in my eyes since I was a kid and I’ve followed him through comics, movies, television, and each and every piece of paraphernalia I can manage to get my hands on. My friends and family have even thrown me Superman birthday parties (and still should). But the comics are where he began, and I have read enough to know a few of my favorite moments. Let me preface that explanation with my feelings towards the Man of Steel.
To me, Superman has always represented that which we cannot achieve but should always strive towards. Yes I sound like a sound-bite from Jor-El but I am one hundred percent sincere. What I’m talking about is not his abilities but the mentality and personality behind his strengths. Whenever I get into a debate about why someone “hates” Superman it’s always because he’s “too strong” or he’s “too good”. I don’t (can’t) counter with, “You’re wrong,” I just say that these reasons are why he is my favorite. He is bigger than life, majestic in every sense of the word. Superman is what we wish we could be. True, they are taking him in a different direction in the New 52 series, but he’ll always be the one I grew up with—the Superman that knows what he can do and does the things no one else can, not because he feels a sense of superiority but because he knows that if he does it, no one else has to. He is the foundation of what it is to be a superhero.
Now, having said that, when I think of my favorite Kal-El moments, the ones that come to mind first are when he loses a bit of control. When you see the humanity come through him emotionally and his anger or sadness take over and he makes mistakes in a big way. I love seeing this raw side of him. Some writers and artists have been able to capture this perfectly, most notably so in the graphic novel Kingdom Come. Alex Ross was not only able to capture the grandeur of the DC Universe in his illustrations, but the story itself showed us a side of Superman that clashed with the real world in one of the most brilliant ways imaginable. The precise moment I am talking about is right after the big battle of the century, after the humans are so afraid that they launch an attack claiming more than a great deal of lives. Superman, in a fit of rage, puts a new fear into the people of the world as he starts to tear apart the building around them. I like these moments because half of the time he can be talked down, this time by Norman McKay, but sometimes he can’t, making each time he’s pushed to that extreme a gamble.
Superman has always been more to me than just a comic book character. For me, he exists as the embodiment of compassion and strength. I’ve always tried to live my life by treating others as I would have them treat me. I attempt to treat people with love and understanding. I try to put others before myself; however, I often fail at this. It’s easy to become self-serving and impatient, but the Man of Steel has always inspired me to do better. He shows us the meaning of self-sacrifice by giving so much of himself to uplift and defend others. Superman inspires us to do better, but most of all he inspires us to never give up.
I often think about Marlon Brando’s lines as Jor-El in Superman The Movie, “They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason, above all—their capacity for good—I have sent them you, my only son.” This concept has become more for me than just a quote from a movie. It’s become a truth. Superman exists to demonstrate the true meaning of more than just a hero, but a superhero. He stands in the face of adversity and does what no one else can. He protects those who cannot protect themselves. Superman doesn’t do this to obtain a sense of superiority or power, he does it out of compassion and responsibility.
The first time I saw the Man of Steel trailer where Superman takes off into the sky, defying gravity, I couldn’t help but tear up. The excitement I have to see my hero on the big screen again is unwavering. Unfortunately, Superman does not receive the appreciation and respect he deserves simply because he hasn’t had “cool movies” like Batman. I’m hoping Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel will change the public perspective of Superman. However, I hope Superman becomes more than just “cool” to the people. I hope they can share in my admiration. I hope they can appreciate him and respect him. I hope they’ll believe a man can fly.
I’ve never been a big Superman fan. I mean, I loved Superman 3 as a kid, mainly because of Richard Pryor. The thing I remember the most about that movie is Superman turning coal into a diamond. Science! A few years later, I met a guy who told me I needed to read Red Son. He explained it was a Superman title, and though I was a bit skeptical (I’m definitely more on the Batman side of the Superman vs. Batman debate), I decided to read it anyway.
Pardon my French, but Holy Frakballs! It was one of the best comic stories I’ve ever read. Red Son supposes that Superman crash landed in Soviet Russia and was Russia’s greatest champion. All the things he did were for the good of Mother Russia as opposed to the United States. He still had his enemies, Lex Luthor chief among them. The kicker, and here’s the spoiler, sweetie, is that when the world goes further and further into the future and Jor-El sends his sweet son to Earth away from their planet’s destruction, Kal-El is actually a descendent of Lex Luthor, who is being sent into the past! Brilliant twist, forever changing my perception of the way a superhero story could be told. Watching the trailer for this new Superman, there is an undercurrent as exciting as getting to the end of Red Son. There is a starkness in the trailer for Zack Snyder’s film and the journey Clark takes, the responsibility he accepts, that reminds me of Red Son’s Superman. It will be nice if the movie proves to be as good.
Superman is, simply put, the gold standard. He’s the superhero by which all others are measured. It really doesn’t matter who came first, who’s been the most successful; when you mention the word “superhero” to someone, the first thing that flashes through their mind is probably the classic “S” shield. This status as an instantly recognizable international icon is a good indicator of just how flawed it is to think Superman ever needs to be “modernized”. At times, people complain that Superman’s ideals of “truth, justice, and the American way” are hokey and antiquated. Perhaps a better term is “idealized”, and to the extent that many in this increasingly cynical world just can’t buy into all the rhetoric, even if it’s coming from something as fanciful as an alien in blue tights flying around and shooting heat beams from his eyes.
And yet, this is precisely what creators have attempted to do throughout the years. While more “hip” portrayals of the Man of Steel may garner a lot of attention at the time they’re released, none of these portrayals or looks has ever managed to replace the classic image of Superman in our minds. Why? Because this classic Superman is what the character is meant to be, not matter how unrealistic he is.
Perhaps no modern comic has better explored this idea of Superman’s relevance to modern audiences than Action Comics #775, a story written by the great Joe Kelly with art by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo appropriately titled “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” (which was later adapted into the animated film Superman vs. The Elite). The comic reflected a growing trend in comics of the early 21st century and popularized by writers like Mark Millar, who explored morally ambiguous heroes who didn’t stick to the shadows like traditional anti-heroes, but instead were the public faces of superheroics, and characters today’s kids were meant to respect and, disturbingly, look to for guidance. It seemed that, in this changing comics landscape, old-school heroes with archaic sensibilities were getting squeezed out. In Kelly’s story, Superman confronts the Elite, a band of publicly adored “heroes” with a tendency to brutally kill their enemies. Despite the public opinion, Superman still believes that their methods are not merely extreme, but completely unnecessary, a lesson he teaches the team soundly by the story’s end. Not only are the members of the Elite left with little footing to stand on, so are readers who might have been thinking it was time for Superman to become more “modern”. Any attempt to “modernize” or “update” Superman to accommodate the views of a cynical public is misguided and doomed to fail. The inescapable truth about the character is that Superman, as always, stands for idealism, hokey or not.
I grew up watching the Christopher Reeve Superman film every day. I dressed up like him. My brother even took me to show-and-tell at his second grade class when I was four and had me go from Clark Kent to Superman in front of the class.
I devoured stories about Superman growing up. He was a man incapable of hurting innocent people. He always looked for the good in people. An optimist’s optimist. But he was also an alien. He didn’t belong. People took advantage of his morals. Lex Luthor deliberately used Superman’s strengths (his empathy) as a pressure point.
Superman is a God among men. I remember always getting upset when others told me he wasn’t interesting enough. “What are you saying?’ I would argue. “He’s an alien who is a God to the people of our planet, and all he wants is to help us. Why? What’s the motivation? The story of Superman isn’t that he’s good. It’s why he’s good.”
And in “The Death of Superman”, when he makes the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Earth, there’s real emotion there.
A God has died trying to keep us from harm in a world he doesn’t understand. If that’s not the ultimate form of heroism, I don’t know what is.