This World Needs Superman

I didn’t always feel a natural affinity for the big man in blue. Growing up, I read a lot of Marvel comics. My mother had a giant duffel bag of comics she kept hidden in the laundry room; I would sneak in and grab them one at a time until she eventually caught me and allowed me to read them. I didn't know anything beyond the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. I always used to parrot back to anyone that asked if thought Marvel was better than DC. As I’ve grown up and expanded my library, my opinions have completely reversed, and Superman was the character that did that. 

I remember sitting in the movie theater with my mom and watching Brandon Routh portray Superman in Superman Returns. I remember feeling completely in awe, enamored with this beautiful man who believed in something real. That feeling sparked a small fire which still burns today.

Superman was created in 1938 by the Jewish team of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. They sought to create a hero that mimicked the feelings they felt as the sons of immigrants who ran away to escape antisemitism and persecution. They lost relatives to the war machine, and worse, to the megalomaniacal hands of Adolf Hitler. Shuster even saw action during the war! Superman’s roots in Judaism and the deep alienation many Jewish people felt during this time (and still today) is essential to the character. 

An alien from the planet Krypton, Kal El believes he is the last son of this dead planet for many years. His spaceship crash lands on Earth as a baby. He is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent and they name their new son Clark Joseph Kent. Clark, a mild mannered young man, grows up to become a reporter for The Daily Planet and the god-like superhero that goes by the name Superman. 

Clark often feels like it is his duty to keep the truth and culture of his people alive. As the survivor of a genocide, he struggles often with assimilating to earth culture and dealing with this grievous loss. The main conflict Clark faces is learning how to be exactly what the people of Earth need, as his responsibility is far greater than anyone else's. The dual identity he is forced to have in order to keep a semblance of a normal life and protect his loved ones causes the majority of the issues he deals with. 

Recently, there have been headlines splashed across most internet comic book tabloids: Superman is old-fashioned, boring, and not modern enough for today’s audiences. I strongly disagree with this message, whilst still understanding where it’s coming from. 

Superman has always been as progressive as the authors that write him. The men and women who have penned him have always attempted to make him stand for something, to brand the morals and core values that are associated with the franchise and with the character. Those that have tried to corrupt the inherent goodness of Superman have not been very successful. Those who do just don’t understand the character at all. 

Clark Kent is a white, straight, cis-gendered man, and many are tired of that story. I don’t blame them, and if readers and fans believe that the revitalization this character needs is a change in identity, then let’s do that. As long as Clark remains that sweet (some would say milquetoast) man with a Kansas farm charm, then I’m all for it. The core values of the character never revolved around what he looked like or how he sounded but instead in what he did, what his parents taught him, and what he does with his powers. 

He says yes ma’am and no sir and folds his underwear. He kisses his mother goodnight and always holds the door open for Lois Lane. He is wholesome, sweet, and kind. Clark is the type of man who believes in a cosmos where everyone is equal. If that’s old fashioned and boring then I guess I am too.

But all of this is not to say he is without flaws. He is self righteous, dismissive, destructive, and at times, impulsive. The beauty of characters like Clark, Connor (Superboy) and Kara (Supergirl) is that they are not the paragons of perfection we make them out to be. 

They are flawed, intrinsically so, and those flaws make them as human as we—the readers—are. It makes them real, nuanced people who struggle with similar things that I do. I may never have to decide how to save a man’s life, but I do feel alienated, or lonely. I’ve made mistakes—big ones, even—and I’ve felt fear. There are times I lack bravery, and the strength to see myself over mountains or to push pass slights that are imagined or otherwise. Superman reminds us that all of that is okay. All of that is what it means to be human, and alive. 

I can’t imagine why someone would look at this character (who’s main role in his universe is not only to be a protector, but one that inspires hope beyond all measures) and say that he’s outdated and boring, that he’s too ''OP."

I am a human being who enjoys gore. I listen to true crime podcasts religiously, and have always enjoyed the macabre. Sometimes I listen to Norwegian black metal, a genre of music that was made famous off the backs of Christian church burnings, album cover suicides, and murder. I can name several disturbing facts off the top of my head about serial killers and have usually done so with glee. It's easy to fall into habits be they damaging in nature or even comforting to our scared souls. However, as I get older, I am finding my fascination (our fascination as a collective people) with death and destruction difficult to stomach. There are school shootings nearly every day, terrorist attacks just as often, and political unrest so toxic that it’s hard to even have a conversation with someone who believes something different than you. I have let my cynicism take over my life. I don’t even watch the news anymore because I expect pain and devastation. 

What I’m learning about myself (something Superman is teaching me) is that I believe in apple pie, in monogamy, in truth, justice, and the American way. I still believe in hope, in a light to guide you from the darkness, in my fellow human men. The members of the House of El are teaching me that it’s okay to want to believe in human beings. In love. In a universal sense of we will do the right thing every time because as a race we have the true-and-honest-potential-to-be-good. 

The story of a man who is not from our Earth but chose it willingly, fully understanding our faults as a human species and still wholly committed to our protection? Because he believes in our potential to do the right thing? I don’t understand how someone can’t see the beauty in that, and can’t apply it to their own life. This world still needs Superman because we are at a pivotal moment. We stand teetering on the brink of what could be the worst disaster both ecologically, economically, and politically. If our world had a Superman? One who fought constantly for universal good? Who put his own terrible demons aside to save lives? I have to believe that our world would be better off. 

I have never been a devout believer in anything, but this reverence I feel stretched tight against my chest like uncoiled guitar strings? This is akin to faith. 

 

(Photo courtesy of Pinterest)