Monday, 9 April 2018

I Don't Like Superman

Prepare for a controversial article!

As a response to my friend Barloq's excellent article "Waiting for Superman" I am writing my own  opinion on why I'm not fond of the character.

As a kid I grew up with Superman. He was a fun Saturday morning cartoon character, and was usually involved in a simplistic right vs. wrong narrative that was easily digestible to a children's narrative. It was enjoyable, but not something I seriously kept up with in my teens. Sure I watched the superb animated series Justice League Unlimited but I've never read the comics or taken a serious look at his mythos.

From what I have seen though, Superman is the biggest villain of all time.

Superman engages in pointless fisticuffs with lesser villains he should easily be able to overpower. He engages in city destroying battles which undoubtedly leave hundreds if not thousands dead. He regularly causes massive and expensive damage to the American, nay, the world economy in his destructive duels. Then he creates a league of super powered fighters answerable to no one whom he can hardly control which simply enlarges the problem of supervillains into a never ending turf war between who can cause the most damage that particular week.

Now before people jump down my throat with "ugh he should just kill everyone is a bad argument" no that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is, consider this; in his usual big punch ups with super villains you see Superman cause considerable collateral damage, and I don't just mean to buildings. If you really want you can delude yourself and say "well no one is getting hurt/maimed/killed from all this stuff" but if you believe that I have a beach house in Atlantis for you to buy. The simple truth is, from all the ridiculous arguments we find on the web, we know Superman is more than a match for any conceivable supervillain he comes into contact with, with only a few notable exceptions. That he engages in such destructive slug fests is ridiculous when you consider all the lives he endangers, which goes against his own supposed moral compass.

Let's put it this way, you really expect me to believe a character who can punch people into the sun would sit around engaging in fights with lesser crooks and cause untold collateral damage? Seeming so unconcerned with all the pain, loss, and suffering he causes with these over the top fights? That's not only reprehensible but simply the antithesis of what the character is supposed to stand for. He can win these fights without killing people easily, but that he would choose not to beggars belief.

Now I know this isn't fair to the idea of Superman and what he is supposed to represent. It is a fair representation of not only the awful writing that has gone into framing the character, but the lame imitators that crop up.

Though let me tell you about a good imitator. The web comic One Punch Man. In this story the titular hero is so powerful he can end any fight in one punch, just as the online fanboys claim Superman is clearly capable of doing. This sounds boring right? Well here's the thing, the drama doesn't revolve around One Punch Man engaging in these fights, its regarding the other characters who do not have this power and who struggle to defeat monsters who the main character can casually brush aside. One Punch Man is looking for an opponent who can put up a challenge rather than being a beacon of justice, but how he deals with the struggles of those weaker than him and the crazy politicking in the Heroes Association, is what makes the story.

In a weaker Superman imitator, I'll go with Merlin from the Safehold series, you simply get a character with no limits. They have nothing limiting their power, how they use it, or any real weakness. Only a relative moral compass that pushes them to use it purely for their own interest and when its unleashed nothing can stop them. Rather boring, there's no tension, and why should I even care about his struggles when I know he simply can't be beat?

One of the few interesting things about Superman is that he does have weaknesses, and these can be exploited. I'm far readier to buy the idea that even Batman could go toe-to-toe with Superman if he had a kryptonite ring lying around.

However, what makes Superman interesting isn't his physical weakness to an alien rock, its his moral compass.

In my friend Barloq's article he points to the famous five panels in All-Star Superman where he saves a girl from jumping to her death. Not by catching her as she falling, but simply standing with her and addressing her hurts and acknowledging her pain. It's a powerful message of understanding on a personal level, and one that people should think of when they think of Superman.

Instead, 9/10 people will think about him punching people through a brick wall.

What is annoying about that is that the compassionate, loving, and understanding, really Christ-like figure Superman is made to represent shouldn't be using violence as a first resort, but a last resort. He has all the power in the world, but he simply can't save everyone. As Barloq points out that would weigh on anyone. You have all the power but still can't do everything.

This image of Superman engaging in mindless wanton destruction with petty crooks is one which makes him look awful. He appears callous to the suffering his actions cause, unconcerned with the ruined homes and shattered cities his destructive fights leave in his wake. That supervillains walk free and cause havoc is of little consequence, so long as he can engage in big thematic punch ups!

All of that runs contrary to the image of a hero who seeks truth, justice, and the American way. A man who holds all that power has a great responsibility, and that responsibility is when to use this power. Superman ought to realize he can't do everything, and he can't save everyone. How he can use his power to maximum effect would be the more interesting, the more human story of a powerful figure trying understand and protect humanity.

In the end, when I say I don't like Superman, I'm saying I don't like what the character has become. He's almost a self parody of himself in many iterations. Claiming to stand for truth and justice and the law, but causing so much suffering in carrying out. That Superman seems like a monster, an alien who acts simply to fight the symptoms that plague mankind ineffectually rather than confront humanities weaknesses. He is liked every flawed Rand hero you can imagine, selfish in the pursuit of his own glory. The Superman who simply saves a girl by addressing her hurts before she jumps is one who understands human weakness, and wants to save the world by example.

The second kind of Superman, who wants to inspire the world, and only use his awesome power in cases of extreme emergency, is the kind of hero I would like to see. However, instead I am sure we will continue to get a bland hero who only knows how to solve problems by punching them. And that is a character who is not only boring, but one who doesn't deserve to be called a hero.

So for now, I continue in my dislike of Superman.

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