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Yes Lois, the World Needs a Superman

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It’s not perfect, but Superman Returns was a great movie that satisfied the fanboy in me while raising interesting questions about what role, if any, a Superman can play in the modern world. It’s hard to be a Superman fan. I’ve always liked the character, the concept, but I know that most people don’t find him as cool as Batman or heck, Wolverine. (In fact, my all-time favorite comic book character is Spider-Man – Supes only comes in second, heh.)

The main complaint against him is that he’s too boring and too powerful. A Boy Scout. A product of simpler times, a character who’s out of step with the modern world and a more sophisticated audience. Whether you like the character or not, love Superman Returns or hate it, I think we have to consider how huge an accomplishment this movie was. Never mind the long and winding road that finally led to Superman’s return. The biggest challenge is getting a cynical public to actually care about a character like Superman.

Over the decades, what we’ve seen is a backlash against heroes. Many of us no longer believe in them. We’ve seen too many idols with clay feet; we’ve heard too many lies. The sad thing, however, is that we have forgotten the capacity to believe that people can be good. Marvel humanized heroes, showing that they were far from perfect, but the appeal of a character like Spider-Man is that he strives to do the right thing even during the worst of times.

It’s one thing to humanize heroes; it’s another, however, to turn them into vigilantes, anti-heroes or just plain psychos. But that’s precisely what happened to many of them when the public clamored for grim and gritty heroes.

Faced with a character like Superman, instead of awe some might react by trying to bring him down to our level, to show that he can’t possibly be better than we are, that, after all, the hero is a fraud. Or you might see him as truly alien, someone infinitely powerful, someone who cannot know the passions and frustrations of mere mortals, someone we can’t relate to because he is simply too perfect.

These interpretations of Superman and more have been created over the decades. But the character endures. His is a myth that is known by people all over the world, whether they know him through comic books, animation, the movies, the Internet, or old TV shows. In that sense, Superman, more than Batman, more than Spider-Man, has transcended his comic book roots and maybe, just maybe, his American origin. In fact, you’ll notice that the movie mentions truth and justice, but not the American way.

This is not a knock against the US, and of course Superman is still clad in the colors of the American flag and retains the values he learned from growing up in a farm in a rural American town. But now, more than ever, Superman belongs to the world.

I’m conflicted about some of the decisions made with this movie, particularly the twist, but the aspects that struck me the most was that technology was now able to more satisfyingly depict on the big screen just how powerful Superman is, yet the same CGI magic (and the story, of course) was also able to show how vulnerable, how far from perfect this Man of Steel is.

You also have to see how this movie depicts the way Superman flies – how effortless it is, in stark contrast to the aggressive manner in which previous Supermen rocketed to the sky. This Superman floats in an almost ethereal fashion; flying is as simple, as normal to him as walking.

I’d like to think of this movie as the end of one trilogy, as it’s supposed to be the sequel of Superman: The Movie and Superman II. I can’t wait to see where Bryan Singer takes Superman in the next movie.

In the 70s, the first Superman movie told us that we will believe a man can fly. In the Zeroes, we need to believe that not only can a man fly, but that this man can be a hero. He is a hero not because of his powers, not just because he was born a hero and destined for this role, but because every day he chooses to be a hero. He is here to save the world – even if in the end it might be a world that hates him and thinks it has already outgrown him.

Superman exists to make us believe that, one day, we too can take flight.

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About Joey Alarilla

  • Good article/review. The aspect of Superman that always intrigued me was that he, unlike all the other “superheros”, was a superhero first and a person second.

    What I mean is that someone like Batman isn’t always Batman, he’s only Batman when he puts on the costume. But with Superman, he’s always Superman, the only time he isn’t is when he puts on a costume to become human.

    I always liked that angle, so Superman stands out from other comic book heros to me because of that.

  • Congratulations: you perfectly expressed exactly what it is I love about the character. I could write endlessly about Superman in response to your article, but I’ll keep it short and say that you nailed it.

  • See, I always think of Superman being that darn powerful and STILL doing good. How easy would it be for him to rule the world? Why wouldn’t he? That’s why Superman is important to me.

  • thanks matt, that’s true, superman could become the most powerful dictator if he wanted to — but he doesn’t.

    he’s a hero not because of his awesome powers, but because he decides to use them for good.

    thanks boxclocke, that’s why it amazes me when some people say superman is a boring character, that he has no depth.

    thanks cameron, that’s part of what makes superman unique. i always get a kick out of that twist too.

    i know there’s a debate over how much of an alter ego “clark kent” is — that is, the clark kent he pretends to be in public and the clark kent he is when he’s with lois and his loved ones. again, this shows how much depth his character has.

    more than most superheroes, superman has to resist the temptation to abuse his powers and impose his will upon the world. some might call him a wimp for doing that. i call him a hero.

  • Great review, Joey. You know what made me go watch Smallville all over again (on DVDs)? That particular telling of the Superman mythos looks into the human aspect of Superman, highlighting that somehow his formative years as a youth were a great influence to his choosing to be a hero every single day.

  • hey angelo, thanks! i believe clark kent is as much an important part of the mythos as his superman persona. and hey, i love lana heh 🙂

  • the world needs spiderman cause he’s a teenager that has problems in life and make’s really the toughest choices to giveup his dreams in his life but he alway’s stay strong for everyone he love’s not ever in life superman.

  • hi,just my two-cents worth…(^^;)
    “to choose to become a hero” yeah, that’s superman’s greatest appeal, for me anyway. everyday, the struggle to do good, just for the sake of doing good. this ideal, is pretty much dead in this cynical, sarcastic, “ultra-cool” world we live in. and superman, well, he shuns “coolness” to be good. wimpy, right, but for one who has all the power of the universe, and to choose to be, well, wimpy, its kinda jumps over to being cool. to be good, and powerful. that’s superman.