Is being an icon of morality actually bad for Superman? A recent post from @sc got me thinking about this. Does being a moral figure head limit Superman and stories that can be told about him? If so, do you think New 52 Superman was made more brash and less of his former self in order to break the idea that he's a moral icon so that more freedom can be had when writing about him? I'll try to give you a few questions to answer with regards to this:
1. Is being a moral icon actually bad for Superman?
2. Do you think DC thinks it is bad for him so retooled him in the new 52 to be more brash so that more freedom can be had when writing about him?
3. Do you think more good comics can be consistently written about the Superman we saw in Allstar or the Superman we saw in New 52 Action Comics 1-18?
Personally, I dont think I've ever had much trouble in thinking of something interestng or cool about Superman as he was in Birthright (which is my main reference for Superman, even moreso than Allstar) but I'm curious about what you guys think.
Here's SC's post and, well, it's everything you'd expect from SC:
(After having been asked if being a moral icon is bad for Superman...)
I think it has helped but hindered. My personal favorite thing about Superman is that even despite being fictional, he was instrumental in the weakening and decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 40's. The way technology and society was set up in the past, peoples ethics and morality was more uniform. No internet, no television, travel wasn't nearly as fast as it is today, communication wasn't either, ethical and moral dilemmas still existed but it was more localized and untested. The conditions could allow for a strong icon like Superman to work as a shining beacon of morality, ethics and justice.
In modern times though, because of the internet, live television, video technology, faster travel and communication, video phones, cheaper, and smaller technology, people are confronted with more complicated and larger problems, and so more ethical and moral dilemmas. Bob Geldof was a UK rockstar who at some point in the past, because of the technological advances in video recording/capture and broadcasting, was able to through BBC news media, witness and experience the struggle of Ethiopian citizens experiencing famine and starvation. Its not that such things didn't happen before, but for the first time in history, people in first world comfort could see how other people had to experience reality from the comfort of their living rooms and that was a catalyst for wanting to help. Bob Geldof had a significant role with charity events like Band Aid and Live Aid. Many optimistic people from that era and even today, the idea of people around the world starving to death is horrible, and they want to help, but the problems and thereby solutions to such things… well they are quite complicated, involves politics, distribution of resources, distribution of wealth, ideas about economics, and human rights, and rights of corporations and are hundred by things like corruption, and greed and policing/enforcement, public opinion which can be fickle… I am getting a headache just thinking about it.
In modern times peoples opinions and ideas about what is ethical and what is moral has far more variety and diversity than ever before. So the conditions have changed greatly since when Superman was conceived and also for a greater bulk of Superman's existence as well in many ways. Since the conditions have changed its going to be hard for writers to actually be able to present Superman as ethical and moral to as many readers simply because readers opinions and ideas are so different from each other. Consider JMS Grounded storyline and how polarizing it was for so many people. If we made a thread about Superman's attitude on abortion, homosexual marriage, religion, euthanasia, foreign aid, and about the plight of the homeless, famine, starvation, the depiction of Allah in cartoons? Lots of people are going to have different and strong ideas about what Superman should think. Modern Superman writers usually understand this so they usually try and avoid putting Superman into a situation that could alienate large sections of his fan base, because on one hand Superman is suppose to be this shining beacon of ethics and morality but on the other hand, Superman is also suppose to be a shining example of humanity accessible to every single human, to do your best, be your own Superman.
Those two ideas do not necessarily have to conflict, and in the past in simpler times they did not, but in modern times its much harder and is also a reason why Man of Steel was so polarizing. For many people their ideas of Superman is that he should never kill. To kill is unethical, and an idea about Superman they hold is that he always, always finds another way. To force him into a situation where he can't find another way is not being true to Superman's ideals. For others, its unethical for Superman to not kill if the situations requires it, and that Superman showed strong ethics and honor, by killed Zod, not because he wanted to, but he had to for the greater good and that he had to do what many police officers, solders in real life often have to do because there isn't always an alternative and now he is going to be burdened like they are burdened by that action.
So modern day writers can either try and write a Superman that isn't controversial and risk the character not resonating as having strong ethics and morals except for in a very generic ad watered down way, like how many cartoon characters are just good because they are good, or they can risk having Superman make hard decisions about serious and controversial issues, deal with ethics and morality something that will demonstrate the characters relevance in modern times, but at the risk of alienating people if Superman's actions don't seem ethical or moral at all. I forget to mention that Superman as a fictional character can adapt, adapt to the times, but the modern era is a setting where its really difficult to present any character as being universally appreciated for ethics and morals because of their decisions. Also doesn't help that there are many more characters people can relate to, or identify over Superman as well. Some of them arguably are more willing to tackle controversial subjects that Superman might not be able to.
Sorry long post, but yeah I wouldn't say that being DC's moral poster child or a well know pop cultural iconic and poster child for morals and ethics has hurt Superman, there are positives and negatives. Positive's include helping the character shut down the KKK, popularizing the character, making the character a source of inspiration for millions and millions of people, helping people through hard times by being s ounce of strength, some negatives would be - limiting the characters story telling potential, making the character hard to relate to in modern times for many, making the character hard to adapt into situa