Bending the Man of Steel, or, Was Superman Ever Cool?

The following is a direct response to The Difficulties in Making Superman Cool Off My Mind Thread. Do read it here at: if you haven't already.

I had a horrible knee-jerk reaction to the first major point "Superman is Too Good."

But I did truly think the other three were spot on. I’ve shown many friends and family members the article and they are all in mutual agreement. Better stories? Supes is in definite need of them (and please no more hitch-hiking across the world on foot preaching month in and month out watered-down politically correct diatribe please, another Grounded event might just kill the character IMHO).

Also yes, Superman is in definite need of a few bad men, (and women! Please, more women!) Helspont is more in the right direction but he's already a established character from another universe. How about some truly iconic nasties who can go toe to toe with the Man of Steel rather than just talk or punch him to death?

Let's explore the second issue before tackling the monumental first one (the elephant in this particular writer's mind as it were) though. Superman being too powerful is a difficult one the purist in me does not wish to dignify with a response much less agree to, but yes, if he is truly the fastest, smartest, strongest, most bonkers powerful being in space, its about time he started acting as such and if he does there is precious little use for the rest of the DC canon.

Superman should be faster, more powerful than, and able to leap higher then the respective speeding bullet, powerful locomotive,or tall buildings presented to him. In short he should be tremendously powerful and in a league of his own. This is in effect what makes him super. But Supes should not be invulnerable, powerful should never be mistaken for all powerful, and frankly, there is only so many ways kryptonite can be used in a plot before we all yearn for a more meaningful weakness.

Personally, I thought there was a lot of potential in Flashpoint Superman, but we didn't get to see much...
Personally, I thought there was a lot of potential in Flashpoint Superman, but we didn't get to see much...

I don't want to neuter Superman, I want his powers to mean something. I don't want to muck with what makes the character great, but his powers shouldn't be the only thing that defines him, that's where we get drivel like the old Aquaman, Wonder Woman, etc.comics, stories concerned only with each superheroes "niche" and never letting them grow out of it. Aquaman is doing fine now isn't he? Wonder Woman too come to think of it? What's wrong with Supes?

I believe the answer goes hand in hand with the first issue, the cringe inducing statement that Superman is too good. I disagree, I say Superman is written (especially these days) like a cheesy putz who stands for "good" in a time when our very concept of the word is floundering in post modern arguments, passing

trends, and political land mines. In short, Superman is not (as currently written) too good, he is too preachy. More to the point, present-day superman stands not for good, but a flimsy, meaningless, unrelatable version of it.

That may be laying it on a little thick, but let me extrapolate.

What does Batman stand for? He stands for the people, he wishes to inspire positive action in people, by defending them from those who would harm or maim.

What does The GreenLantern(s) stand for? Peace and (comparative) order in the galaxy, a law enforcement society who wishes to see sentient rights respected throughout the cosmos.

What Does The Flash stand for? Family. Both his own family and the community he lives in, by extension, the entire global community is one he wishes to see protected and left in peace.

What does Wonder Woman Stand for? Justice, a somewhat crude, old fashioned sense of absolute justice perhaps, but she will fight to see the innocent protected and the evil that would prey on them vanquished.

These are the somewhat simplified goals of each DC icon, guided by their outdated origins but ultimately existing in a relatable, likable, exciting incarnation in the modern comic book world. Let's take a look at Supes by contrast.

What does Superman stand for? Well in his original incarnation he was a Gee whiz Messiah, a down to earth protector with the slightly chauvinistic but well meaning morality of the30s. In WW II times he was the anti Nazi. In the seventies he was a confused but still palatable golden boy. What does he stand for now?

If I am to believe the Grounded storyline he is a whiny Zen-like hippie who gives bad advice, punches out Alien visitors even though he is one himself, and in a huff defies a major government and runs off to “represent the world” rather then try and communicate with anyone.

If I am to believe the current Action Comics, he is a self righteous know-it-all who hates big business and has incredibly trendy political views. He’s also kind of a dick.

And in Earth 2 he's dead. Prettty much killed off without ceremony too...
And in Earth 2 he's dead. Prettty much killed off without ceremony too...

This I believe, is the nexus of the problem. Superman is no longer relatable, or even likable, I think the last story I read were I actually liked him was All-Star Superman and that alone should say something about how overdue we are for a really Super Superman. A man who inspires people, a hero we can depend on and relate to, an everyman who believes in something and moves worlds to pursue his ideology. To quote the (keeping my fingers crossed oh boy I hope its good, this could be incredible) Man of Steel Movie Trailer, Jor El speaks with confidence when he says:

“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time you will help them accomplish wonders.”

Does anything in Jor el’s words ring true for our modern day comic book superman? I don’t think so, if so his comics would be incredible and enjoyable, not flat and disappointing. I think he’d have a following of truly inspired fans both old and new, I think he'd having something to actually say. Today I feel he has none of these things. He’s good because he’s “supposed to be”, enforcing morals most audiences can easily digest, but ones I largely am not even interested in. He comes off less heroic now as he does petty and/or just smug. As an orphan in the new 52, he is supposed to be lost and confused in the world, his moral compass eschew. Okay, I understand that, but he’s done nothing truly compelling since the new 52 started, and is just as boring out of costume as he is in it.

I agree that Superman needs a lot of work if he’s going to be a modern cultural icon as opposed to the symbol for a bygone era he has become. But we are not going to have this catharsis by merely trying to make Superman “Cool.” Change his suit, his powers, and his rouge gallery all you want, we know he needs it, but unless you begin with what originally made him the man you wanted to root for, you’ve already failed.

Is Batman’s costume and intellect the only things that make him cool? No, its his fervor, his message, his one rule, and the lengths he goes to just to make the world safe for people who often just stand by and criticize his methods.

Superman needs to be the same way, not dark and despondent, brooding even, but he does needs to struggle against his limitations (limitations beyond merely the fact he can't punch this guy), define an ideal, uphold a universal ideology and pursue it even in the face of adversity. The people maybe confused (and even hateful) toward him, but he is not the one who should be confused. Superman should inspire and stand tall in a world that has forgotten

how to. This is why he has endured over the years, and why having him play second fiddle to trendy morality or un-relatable enemies just doesn’t work. He needs to stand for something more.

Say what you want to about the hair, here's a Superman who I can look up to!
Say what you want to about the hair, here's a Superman who I can look up to!

In Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, Lex Luthor in temporary control of Superman’s powers pauses in his quest for global domination and begins looking around him in wonder. As tears well up in the misguided man’s eyes he chokes on an explanation that gives us some truly insightful justification for Superman’s “goody-two-shoes-ness.”

"It’s so obvious!" He exclaims, “I can actually see and hear, feel and taste it. The fundamental forces all yoked by thought alone. I can actually see the machinery and wire connecting and separating everything since it all began…"

His face twisted in a moment of stark revelation the tyrant blinks back tears as he continues: “This is how he sees things all the time, every day, like its all just us, in hear together. And we’re all we’ve got...”

In a nutshell, a few heartfelt words have clearly defined hero and villain, and Superman's dilemma is a truly touching one as old as time itself. This is something the comics need to be doing to make Superman appeal to the masses again, don’t tell us he’s Super, show us. Don’t have Clark preach, have him speak with true conviction, don’t tell us he’s one of us, let him walk amongst us a moral but relatable immortal, and perhaps we’ll begin to appreciate him for what he is,

rather then what many writers merely try (usually quite poorly) to convince us he is.

To quote Man Of Steel’s Jor-El again,

"What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?"

That aspiration is the Superman we know and love and it is the superman many writers have begun to abandon in a misguided attempt to appeal to comic

book (or should I say comic book movie) trends. Superman should not be following a crowd, he should be leading one. Society does not inspire heroes, heroes inspire society. Don’t spoon feed me idealistic niceties, take a stand for what you believe in Superman, do this, and maybe we will race behind you, perhaps one day we’ll even join you in the sun.

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I think we're on the verge of a new era for Superman, i just hope its an exciting meaningful one, where Supes can be the role model and Icon he was always meant as rather then just a pale tombstone on the grave of idealism...