Super Powers Superman fliesI guess as we get closer to Man Of Steel (they can’t even bring themselves to call it Superman) we’ll be talking more and more ABOUT Superman. After all he’s my favorite DC superhero. I’m currently watching the old serials and there will be other Superman reviews as we get closer to the release date.

I’ve also made it clear that Cracked.com is a great website. The majority of Article Links come from that site. That said, there are a lot of contributors and sometimes somebody says something that, even in passing, tends to annoy me to the point that I don’t want to link to the article no matter how good it is. Now this article doesn’t tick me off, but contributor Soren Bowie isn’t my best friend right now (like he cares). In a recent article Bowie continues the perspective that Superman is boring and that you can’t write an exciting Superman story. I think he’s wrong. So go read that first, see what he says and I’ll tell you what I say.

On June 14, I will pile into a dark theater like millions of other people to watch a flawless demigod knock fist holes in the face of injustice before hucking it across space like a stone on water. I will not, however, be holding out hope that Man of Steel will be anything more than that.

I’m expecting it to be less than that, actually. From what I’ve seen we’re not getting the superpowerful Man Of Tomorrow we’re used to. Oh, I’m sure he’ll be superstrong, fly, and all the other powers. However, I’m not getting that sense of the dynamic and flash that I’m used to when it comes to Superman.

Despite the extraordinary combination of Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan (two men whose superpower seems to be making superhero movies), I don’t expect much from the new Superman.

Neither do I, because of the guys mentioned. Snyder is coming off of Watchmen, a very cynical look at superheroes, the origin of the current superhero deconstruction we see in comics nowadays. So deconstructed that what they were deconstructed is now gone. Nolan isn’t much better, as his version of Batman tried dragging the Caped Crusader into a real world, and unless you’re making your crimefighters into Neighborhood Watch in costumes (you know, like the real life superhero community) that just doesn’t fly with Superman. Already you’ve mentioned two guys who do not get what makes Superman work. I’m betting you’re about to join them.

So what are Bowie’s three reasons?

Point 1: The Diomedes Dilemma

Super Powers Superman

“Look how much I’m winning!”

Diomedes is essentially Achilles without the existential crisis. He is younger, smarter, and more consistent. He defeats everyone he faces, and when he runs out of Trojans to kill, he starts fighting and injuring gods instead. Not even Achilles can make that claim. The Trojans, cowering in their walls say, “He fights with fury and fills men’s souls with panic. I hold him mightiest of them all; we did not fear even their great champion Achilles, son of a goddess though he be, as we do this man: His rage is beyond all bounds.”

Bowie’s case is that we hear more about Achilles than we do Diomedes. (In fact Firefox’s spell check doesn’t know who he and wants to change it to “diodes”.) The thing is it’s not the story. Yes, Homer may as he says talk more about Achilles. Thing is, I think it’s more that “Achilles heel” has become a popular expression. So basically it was Achilles dying when he supposedly can’t and the clever way his opponent defeats him through the fine art of “lucky shot” and not his killing that made him famous. Diomedes actually sounds more interesting, but I’m not into the whole mass killing thing and frankly trying to pick out a hero in the Iliad is only slightly easier than picking out one in today’s professional wrestling. I think Helen is the only victim here.

We love Spider-Man and Batman because they are driven by complicated, selfish emotions like guilt and revenge to do extraordinary things under the constant looming threat of death.

Um, no, no I don’t and way to insult Batman by calling him selfish. If anything, the brooding loner bit, one of the reasons I hate Wolverine (who is kind of a hypocrite like that), annoys me to no end. I don’t want selfish heroes and revenge isn’t a proper hero motivator unless your name starts with Arnold and ends with too many letters for me to remember. I wrote about how similar Batman and Spider-Man are. I love both characters. But not every character needs to be Batman or Spider-Man, something DC seems to be forgetting while shoehorning tragedy and loved one death as motivation down our throats.

And while you may have never heard of him before now, you can still see the Diomedes archetype pop up again and again in pop culture: Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe, Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and especially Superman in the DC universe.

OK, I’ll give you Snake Eyes, but Leonardo? You really haven’t been paying attention. It’s the same kind of nonsense whenever I hear how “perfect” Optimus Prime is…from the same people who complain about Optimus being stored on a floppy disk because he accidentally let some virtual creatures die. You know, the same Optimus Prime who has been struck down by Laserbeak more times than he has Megatron! And by the way, Superman has had his butt kicked plenty of times before Doomsday dropped by. I even reviewed such a story this week. It does happen.

"I told you I don't want any encyclopedias!"

“I told you I don’t want any encyclopedias!”

Bowie claims that there is nothing for Superman to grow from because he already has his strong ideals. I don’t follow. So he has a base to  work from. You don’t think defending those ideals isn’t interesting? One of the complaints Bowie has is that Superman can’t act alone. He doesn’t. Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Ron, Steve, Cat–all names of people who work with, who keep him grounded and help make Superman relatable via Clark Kent. “Clark” shows Kal-El’s (for lack of a better term) human side, the reasons he isn’t using his powers like the Plutonian does or hasn’t become a basket case like Sentinel. Protecting the people he cares for, sometimes putting those ideals to the test and trying to find the exceptions to the rule that will allow him to keep those ideals to save the day–there’s your character arc.

Is it still heroism to leap into a burning building when you know it can’t hurt you?

YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Definition of heroism (n)

    Bing Dictionary

    her·o·ism
     [ hérrō ìzzəm ]
    1. great courage: remarkable physical or moral courage
    Synonyms: valor, bravery, courageousness, fearlessness, boldness, pluckiness, pluck, gallantry, daring, intrepidness

As fellow Friday Night Fighter Notintheface and fellow Reviewers Unknown contributor Writrzblok noted on Twitter, he is still being a hero. He is still saving lives. The “remarkable…moral courage” of the definition above. He could just get to the Daily Planet on time and not get yelled at by Perry. He could go make a ham sandwich because he’s hungry (when a writer won’t insist he doesn’t eat because he’s an alien). But he does what is right. And not just leaping into a burning building. He’s fought killer robots powered by his weakness–you know, the glowing green rocks that could kill him while the robots trash the city), aliens who were his equal (and could kill him while trashing the city) , he challenged his whole race during the “New Krypton” nonsense working undercover to undermine Zod and Kara’s mother because he believed in letting Earth live, even after they started going all Marvel Universe Mutant-Haters on the Kryptonians, some of which gave them good reason to be afraid.

Standing up for what you believe in takes courage, too, when people don’t want to hear it and may hate you for it, and as both Superman and Clark Kent he has done just that many times. Invulnerability only gets you so far.

superclark couldntsave

“If only I had been a doctor instead of a reporter.”

Point 2: Superman Stops Being Superman as Soon as He Has Artificial Limitations

Many writers have tried to weaken Superman or take away his abilities in order to make him more interesting, but they always run into the same problem: The second Superman is no longer tempering his own limitless power for the sake of humanity, it negates everything he stands for as a hero.

Somebody needs to stop reading JLA: Act Of God because that’s bullcrap. You really think that what makes him a hero is his superpowers? Is the Plutonian a superhero despite conquering the world because he had a bad day? Powers do not make a hero and there is more to Superman’s heroism than his powers. They don’t try to limit his powers to make him more interesting. They do it because his powers are so strong that they have trouble coming up with opponents who can go toe-to-toe with Superman, because they think that’s all there is to Superman. “Punch first think later” isn’t Superman’s mantra (although there are writers who seem to forget that). Heck, that battle with Spellbinder from earlier this week had Superman trying to think of a solution other than violence because he was always ready for the Man of Steel. That’s also almost every Lex Luthor story ever!

Quick, what are Superman’s special abilities? Flight, X-ray vision, super strength, solar power, invulnerability, super speed, but what about the intangible power he possesses? Arguably the biggest part of what makes Superman Superman is that he maintains an incorruptible moral fiber and an urge to help humanity despite his overwhelming superiority. Like standing on top of an ant hill while they all bite you and each other, Superman has the patience to try to help them every day. Given the potential to control the world, Superman never succumbs to ego, or entitlement, or even objective detachment, because he has a sort of super humility. Despite everything he’s seen, he stays compassionate toward a species that’s not even his own, but that compassion only means something as long as he possesses the power to destroy everyone on a whim.

Again, bullcrap! “Not his own.” My foot, not his own. Superman was born on another planet but was raised on Earth. HE CONSIDERS HIMSELF AN EARTHLING in a properly written story and those years where he would go on and on about Krypton and swear oaths to Rao was foolishness. If a kid is born in Africa but raised in America is the kid African or American? Ask the kid. Quite a lot will say “I’m an American”, which is one of those arguments in the current illegal immigration debate. He doesn’t try to take over the world because he had loving parents who taught him to use his great gifts to help others. That’s why he does it, and there have been a number of stories where he tries to do that whether weakened or powerless because he still feels a need to help people.

Yes, we do read and watch Superman stories to see him use his powers and battle giant monsters and robots and stuff, but doesn’t that mean we’re reading and watching Superman stories?

THIS IS HOW YOU DO SUPERMAN!

The only time the New 52 Superman acted like Superman. Naturally, the writer was immediately removed from the comic.

Point 3: There Are People Superman Can’t Save (and That’s a Good Thing)

Superman can’t help but set a precedent he can never live up to. From the first time he stopped a bridge from collapsing or diverted a tornado from a town, he instilled a false hope among Americans. That means that every day, even if he never bothered to put on glasses and go to work again at The Daily Planet, Superman is still letting down hundreds if not thousands of people.

And all of the other superheroes in or near Superman’s league like Captain “My Name’s Not Shazam, dam…oh crud I just changed into Billy again” Marvel, Captain Atom, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern (who has to protect an entire section of the galaxy, not just one country on one planet), and so on. They can’t save everybody every day and as another comic I recently reviewed demonstrated he’d become cold, detached, and stressed if he tried. But “letting people down”? This is Metropolis, not the city of Townsville. They never expected Superman to be at every place at every moment. We have an entire planet of super-powered beings who have dedicated their lives to fighting evil. And yet murders still happen in Gotham and Star City, buildings catch on fire and collapse, wars break out, and nobody asks “why wasn’t a superhero here?”; at least nobody who isn’t being written as an idiot (or at least shouldn’t be unless he’s G. Gordon Godfrey trying to undermine the standing between citizens and superheroes).

Add on top of that everyone who is dying of societal problems that are beyond his capacity to fix, and suddenly a really interesting portrait of Superman starts to emerge. Nearly every writer who has ever tackled a Superman story arc has tried to test the limits of his powers by pitting him against an alien being who’s even stronger and more super, but they are completely ignoring the potential all around them for an engaging narrative about Superman struggling and failing to help everyone all at once from broad, systemic issues.

No, those stories HAVE been told. In fact, I have a comic reprinted recently in which Superman talks to a therapist about that…a therapist who sees other superheroes with that same problem. In the comic I linked to up there (where the point 2 image came from), the pain of knowing that with all of his powers he couldn’t save Ma & Pa Kent from dying of a space virus or whatever it was actually CURED his split personality. How’s that for for dealing with a loss his powers can’t help? Are you sticking to one point in time?

He stands for truth, justice, and the American way, but justice and the American way don’t always see eye to eye. There’s no way Superman can stop homelessness, disease, teen suicide, or domestic abuse. How could he? One of his powers isn’t lobbying local politicians. That’s why the most interesting Superman arc isn’t about Lex Luthor building a secret island or bad guys coming from another galaxy to wipe out civilization. It’s about a country of people who live at the edge of Superman’s capacity to help, but because of that part in his super brain that wants to protect humanity at all costs, he nearly destroys himself trying. It wouldn’t be about Superman, it would be about the people struggling and dying in a world where he exists, but he still can’t save everyone. Give me that movie and I would watch it over and over just to see the greatest version of a human driven to the breaking point like an engine with no oil. Superman could be our test-drive hero. I would watch the hell out of that.

You go ahead because you wrote there isn’t superhero story. It’s a slice-of-life story set in a world of superheroes. Apparently you want Superman to have a nervous breakdown because he can’t solve every issue in the world. I know we joke about Superman being an analog of Jesus Christ but he isn’t, he knows he isn’t, everybody except for that one Superman cult knows he isn’t (really, they created a cult of Superman sometime in the 90’s) and NOBODY EVER ASKED HIM TO BE! You want him to solve problems nobody can solve with or without superpowers. Maybe if he becomes Injustice Superman but he shouldn’t and never will.

You don’t want to watch Superman, sir? Feel free. Do NOT deny ME or Superman’s other fans their right to see their superhero. By the way, Superman’s been around for 75 years. Your more cynical Not-Superman wouldn’t last 75 issues. Apparently you want Hancock. Go watch Hancock or Watchmen or whatever. I and many, many others like our Superman just the way he is.

About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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