Man Of Steel: In Defense Of Superman

On June 14, the latest in the very long history of Superman on the silver screen will be released. Unlike…

Brian Sweeney



On June 14, the latest in the very long history of Superman on the silver screen will be released. Unlike the last Superman film, the 2006 Bryan Singer-helmed “Superman Returns,” which was an alternate sequel to Superman II (1980), and pretended Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987) just didn’t happen, the new Zack Snyder directed, Christopher Nolan produced “Man of Steel” is a complete reboot of the franchise. The well-known origin, last son of destroyed planet Krypton story, is there, as is a young Clark Kent being raised by Ma and Pa Kent as their own in Smallville, Kansas.

The difference, as can be gleaned from the trailers, is that this young Clark Kent is scared when his true alien history is revealed by him by Pa Kent and not wanting to be an alien on Earth, saying to his stepfather (Johnathan Kent played here by Kevin Costner), “Can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?” This is who Clark Kent is. The Clark Kent that the majority of people do not know exists.

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There is a Superman Problem amongst many people, in that he is “a boy scout.” He is the superhero who always does the right thing and “fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.” The main school of thought by the populace at large is “Batman is cool, Superman is just a douche.” Superman is the product of an innocent, by-gone era that has no place in 2013, where the threat of real mass destructions and terror lurk among us every day. On 9/11, watching the Towers fall, there was nothing that could have stopped them. We watched in real time the surprise destruction of two buildings heretofore only depicted in television and movies. The “post-9/11 world” has no place for a superhero that is black and white.

The rigid moral code of right and wrong has been smashed in America’s face and was replaced by murky, grey areas. While Batman has always lived in those grey areas, knowing that there are things that need to be done in order to get to the greatest good, Superman is, again, a “boy scout” who always will do the right thing. He’ll put on his blue and red tights, save a child’s cat from a tree, blow out a forest fire and then fly off to wave to the President who is giving him a thumbs up. No complexities. Boring.

I will admit it, Superman is hard to write for at this point. The fact that he has had adventures in, literally, every form of media since daily, weekly, monthly and yearly since 1938, makes it hard to find an angle to approach the character that hasn’t already been done not just once, but many times over. The term “superhero” as we know it now, was coined for Superman. He was the original.

Superman is invincible, except for Kryptonite, of course, and therefore is, in all honesty, kinda boring. By making a character have only one real weakness, you render the stakes to a very, very low bar. However, if you actually know more than just the broad strokes of the character, you know that this is not true, and that Superman is always a viable character no matter what the time period, or what is happening in the world.

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When people find out that I am into comics, I often get asked what I think about David Carradine’s monologue from Kill Bill Vol. 2 about Superman. The truth is, I take extreme umbrage with it. I am surprised Quentin Tarantino does not understand the true nature of the Superman mythos. So, to use a phrase from Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules in Pulp Fiction, “allow me to retort.”

In quotes, will be parts of Bill’s monologue, followed by my comments.

“Superman did not become Superman, Superman was born Superman.”

This is bull. Superman’s Kryptonian biological make up is enhanced by earth’s yellow sun. On Krypton, he had no powers. The yellow sun, gives him his powers. He’s able to fly because of the difference of gravity between Earth and Krypton. Krypton’s was far greater. The whole Kill Bill explanation is a bunch of shit, because, Superman is his disguise. HE IS CLARK KENT. He was raised as a normal human child in Smallville, Kansas by Ma and Pa Kent. They instilled all his values and everything he believes in. He didn’t begin to really get his powers until puberty, and it was then that he was told that he was not of this Earth.

He is the last living being from the planet. The last of his race. His “naivete” and “boy scout” actions come from his Midwest upbringing.

Quentin Tarantino was wrong.

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Also, Bill says, Batman is actually Bruce Wayne. This is wrong. Bruce Wayne is an act put on as a bumbling, shallow billionaire. Bruce Wayne is the actual disguise, Batman is the real person. There are several occasions where Batman will stay in the Bat-Cave doing Batman stuff and Alfred has to tell him he’s been awake for 72 hours and must get some sleep. If he didn’t have to keep up appearances, he would never step out as the Bruce Wayne character at all. Batman is a psychopath. Do not get me wrong, I LOVE Batman. But, he is a psychopath. A psychopath is “A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.”

That is Batman.

He has a code, though, of course: he only fights criminals. His parents were murdered in front of him as a child, and at that moment, Batman was born. He swore that he would do everything he could to rid Gotham City of any and all crime so that no one would ever again have to go through what he went through. He still, to this day, holds onto that moment and has never let it go, nor tried to. It is what makes him focused, and it is a focus on one thing alone, whether or not the people in his life suffer due to his extreme anti-social behavior in personal relationships.

“His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him.”

This is true, but Ma Kent is the one who made the costume for him from the blankets. The suit was not already made, they were just blankets. That’s the original origin story. Since then it has been told with slight variations probably over fifty times, and that’s a conservative estimate.

“And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward.”

This is not true. Clark Kent is a reporter, a daring reporter. Even when Superman has lost his powers in the comics, and he was just Clark Kent, he was still showing bravery trying to stop crime as a human. It could be argued that Clark Kent’s greatest wish is to be human. No matter what he does, he is the ultimate orphan, the ultimate outsider, and will always be different. No one else is possibly able to understand what he goes through, because he is the last of his race.

Bill adds:

“Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

This is not true at all. Clark Kent existed before Superman did. Superman did not come about until after Clark graduated from college and he moved to Metropolis to work at the Daily Planet. It makes sense that he would try to portray an image of a bumbling, unsure person, because it is the direct opposite of what Superman is viewed as. Just as Bruce Wayne is a dumb, trust fund baby in the Paris Hilton model so as to have people never even equate the Batman with him.

Superman may not be dark and brooding and grim. Hell, he’s nowhere near as cool as Batman, I will clearly admit that. The difference is Batman is a one-dimensional character. He has that one aim “rid Gotham of crime.” He is silent and lurks in shadows. Also, he’s a human being, so it’s easier for us to be like, “I could be Batman if I was a billionaire and went around the world training in every single martial art and weaponry, etc.” Superman, we can never be Superman. No one can. What he is though, is a symbol, of what all of humanity should strive for. Any time you help someone else, you are being Superman. And that’s really cool.