Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Defense for the Man of Steel

Everybody knows the origin story of the Man of Steel. He was born Kal-El on the alien world of Krypton. His father, a scientist known as Jor-El rocketed his only son to Earth moments before his planet's destruction. He crash-landed in rural Kansas and was discovered and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who raised the child as Clark and imbued him with a strong moral compass. As he grew into adolescence, he started to develop superhuman abilities such as super-strength and the ability to fly. When he reached maturity, he resolved to use his powers for the benefit of mankind. By donning his signature red cape and blue-and-red custom with a stylized red-and-yellow "S" shield on his chest, he become the one and only Superman!

Apearing for the first time in the pages of Action Comics #1 in the summer of 1938, Superman was created by two high school students from Ohio named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He is considered by many to be the first superhero (even if that might not be technically true) and is widely considered a national cultural icon. He, along with characters such as Batman and Wonder Woman helped to create the superhero genre and establish its primacy within the American comic book industry.

However, Superman has had a lot of criticism leveled at him the past few decades. Many have called him "bland", "over-powered", and even "unrelatable." In fact, I used to be one of these people. When I was younger, I wasn't too found of Superman. I always saw him as nothing but a "Big Blue Boy Scout" and preferred characters such as Batman and Marvel's Spider-Man.

As I grew older, however, my opinions on Superman started to change. After reading Grant Morrison's series All-Star Superman and Joe Kelly's story "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, & The American Way?", I started to see how cool Superman really was and how interesting a character he could be when paired with the right creative team.

Sadly, there are still a number of people who continue to criticize the character for reasons that when you get down to it, aren't actually true (the majority of the time anyway). So, I thought I'd give my very own rebuttal to some of the major criticisms thrown at the Man of Steel.

The most common argument I hear about why Superman isn't a good character is that he's over-powered. While he might have more or less powers depending on the time period when the story was published, Superman's most famous powers are flight, super-strength, invulnerability to most attacks, super-speed, vision-based powers (including x-ray, heat-emitting, telescopic, infra-red, and microscopic vision), super-hearing, super-intelligence, and super-breath. Now, I know what you're saying, "Cody, that is a lot of powers," and I won't disagree with you. Superman has always had a lot of powers and is one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe. However, I find the idea that a character can't be good because he has too many powers to be ridiculous. Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen has the ability to virtually do whatever he wants and is still just as interesting as the other, powerless characters in that story.

Also, while he has a large number of powers, he also has a number of weaknesses as well. First, his powers are nullified when he is exposed to green Kryptonite. If he's exposed to this stone for a prolonged period of time, he will eventually die from the radiation. Secondly, he loses all of his powers when exposed to the light of a red sun (For those of you who don't know, Superman derives his powers from the light of our yellow sun). Finally, he is vulnerable to magic-based powers and attacks.

The second major criticism thrown at Superman is that he's too bland and unrelatable. Generally, I've seen this criticism come from people who have very little experience with the actual character and are going off what they've heard from others or have only read stories from writers who didn't know how to properly handle the character.

Superman is a brave and kind-hearted hero with a strong sense of justice, morality, and righteousness. These traits were, as I mentioned before, instilled in him by his adoptive parents. He's a character who believes that since he has been blessed with these great powers, he also has the responsibility for good and the betterment of humanity. In many ways, he represents the philosophy of "With great power must also come great responsibility" a lot better than Spider-Man. That responsibility also extends to the code of honor that he has adopted, hoping to show the people of the world that good still exists and to never give up hope.

However, that sense of responsibility can be a negative thing as well. Since he tries to do whatever he can to save humanity, he has a habit of taking a failure to help someone rather personally. In many ways, he is kind of a perfectionist when it comes to being a hero. He always sees areas where he can do better. He also struggles with his code, knowing that it would be easier to become a super-powered version of Judge Dredd and simply do away with his enemies, but not wanting to resort to that because he has to be better than that because of his status as a symbol of hope and righteousness.

Wanting to do the right thing, struggling with doing the right thing when the wrong thing would be much easier, taking failure rather personally at times and being a perfectionist at what you're good at. I don't know about you, but I believe those seem to be very relatable qualities to me.

Now, I will be honest. Like many comic book character, the quality of Superman greatly depends on the creative team behind him at that moment of time. Sometimes, you will have a Grant Morrison or a Joe Kelly who understands the character and will utilize him properly. Utter times, you will have a character like Frank Miller who misses the point and bring those very things that people hate to light and make him unbearable. I have read a number of stories staring the Man of Steel that just make my head hurt and cast it aside for something better.

However, that fluctuation in quality is true for almost any comic book character. For example, Batman can be awesome when handled by someone like Scott Synder or Dennis O'Neil. However, he can be god awful when he's handled by someone like Doug Moench or Frank Miller after The Dark Knight Returns.  It's all about having the right creative team to use the character properly and understand the fundamental elements of the character.

I know some people will remain firm in their dislike of Superman. That's their opinion and they have a right to that opinion. My view of the character differs from theirs and that's okay as well. My motivation behind this post as to explain why I liked Superman and why I disagree with some of the criticisms. However, if someone does change their mind about Superman and gives him a second chance, I'd be perfectly fine with that as well.

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