Kryptonite Free Blogging: Why Superman Matters

I’ve heard most arguments about why people aren’t fans of Superman.  They say they don’t get him.  He’s too powerful and too perfect.  He’s old fashioned, a cliche, and a self parody.  There isn’t anything special about him because there’s nothing he can’t do.  He can do anything except when there’s kryptonite involved and then he turns into a pool of water.  He’s not as relatable as Spider-Man.  He’s not as tortured or edgy as Wolverine.  He’s not charismatic as Iron Man.  He’s not as Batman as Batman.  The only distinction Superman has, is he was the first.

I think most people only see the surface of Superman.  They see the cape, the overabundance of power, and the happy endings.  Like a manicured and photo shopped magazine cover they only see perfection.  And perfection has no place in reality.  I understand where these criticisms are coming from and people are allowed to have opinions.  However, with Man of Steel coming out this Friday, I hope this movie will introduce Superman to a wider audience who has never given him a chance.  I hope it does Superman – the greatest superhero ever – justice.  For those who doubt Superman, we will be having a Superman related post everyday this week. Get excited. For those who love the character as much as I do, hopefully these posts will be a reminder of why Superman is such a great character.  As for those who aren’t a fan, maybe I can change your mind.

What does Superman mean to me?  Why is he my second favourite superhero, even if I never watched Superman: The Animated Series growing up and read my first Superman story after high school?  The short answer: after reading and watching his stories, he inspires me like no other superhero.  He sets the standard for every other hero.  Just because he is the most powerful hero, doesn’t mean he always knows what to do or what is always right.  Having more power doesn’t always make your life easier.  In fact having more power makes life more difficult – you have more responsibilities and obligations, more critics and pundits, more is expected of you and people have less empathy when you fail.  Superman accepts these challenges head on.  He can do whatever he wants; in fact, most people wonder why he just doesn’t do whatever he wants.  Instead, he chooses to use his powers to help others.  Why not use them for his own benefit?  Or rather, if he chooses to help people, why doesn’t he do more?  Why doesn’t he stop all wars, solve world hunger, and solve cancer all by lunch time?

In my opinion this is one of the main reasons why Superman is such a great character.  The dichotomy he represents.  Here is a being who can shoot lasers from his eyes, move planets, and sneeze tornadoes, and he doesn’t see himself as a god who must rule over earth.  Instead he sees the goodness of humanity.  He wants us to solve all of the problems which plague us on our own.  He is there for us when we stumble and fall.  That’s his character, he is the best in all of us.  He will never stop fighting for us, no matter what.  It doesn’t matter what he goes through, he’ll come back, stronger than ever because he believes we can do better.  Superman doesn’t do good for the sake of doing good, he does it to inspire others to do good as well.  If he starts by helping us, what’s stopping someone else from doing the same?  My favourite quote about Superman is by Mark Waid in his introduction – from, in my opinion, the greatest Superman story ever told – All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.  Waid states, “Gods achieve their power by encouraging us to believe in them.  Superman achieves his power by believing in us.”

Every time someone tells me Superman is boring because he’s invincible I clench my fists.  Just because Superman is invincible doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel pain.  He grew up on Earth and was raised by loving parents.  He cares about his adopted home world more than himself.  He has family, friends, and hopefully Lois (again soon).  Not all of his problems can be fixed by punching the bad guy in the face.  Some of Superman’s best stories are ones where he is put in moral dilemmas.  What if he’s forced to kill?  Or he has to choose who to save?  No matter how tough the decision, Superman always makes the right one – not the easy one, or quick one, or the best for him.  The right one. Because at the end of the day, that’s the only one worth choosing.

Kryptonite…what can I say about it that hasn’t been said?  It’s used as a plot device.  It’s an example of lazy writing.  How can the greatest superhero’s arch nemesis be a rock?  This argument always stumped me.  I had no comeback. The only thing I could do was change the course of the conversation away from kryptonite.  However, when after thinking about it, the existence of kryptonite is important.  All I had to do was stop looking at it as a rock.  Kryptonite is a meteor rock from Superman’s home planet of Krypton.  There are different colours and variations, however I will be focusing on the main kind.  The green kind.  The kind which is deadly to Superman.  Kryptonite makes Superman more relatable. Not by giving him a way to be hurt or killed, but rather it reminds us of our own weaknesses which we deal with.  We have our vices, our temptations, and habits which are bad for us.  Kryptonite takes away Superman’s perfection, just like how our own weaknesses chip away at us and prevent us from being our best selves.  We may dismiss kryptonite as a stupid rock, but think about how we see other people’s weaknesses: unless they are major, do we not give the same dismissive stance?  How can Superman be beat by a stupid rock, it’s just a rock right?  Yes, it is – but to understand how and why, we have to understand where it’s from.  Not so different from our own lives, we can’t overcome our own weaknesses without understanding them first.

For me Superman is all of our hopes, dreams, desires, and ideas.  He is also our fears, vulnerabilities, and worst thoughts.  Superman isn’t above temptations, jealousy, and angry rages.  He thinks about what might happen if he took over the world and made it a utopia; he questions if what he does is right, and yes, he wonders if there is a place for Superman in a world when comic book movies are raking in the cash.  He is insecure at times and questions himself, just like us.  We want to look at our heroes and be able to say those three words – just like us.  It may not be apparent right way with Superman but we are just like him.  Grant Morrison explains why Superman is just like us better than I ever could:

“American writers often say they find it difficult to write Superman.  They say he’s too powerful; you can’t give him problems.  But Superman is a metaphor.  For me, Superman has the same problems we do, but on a Paul Bunyan scale.  If Superman walks the dog, he walks it around the asteroid belt because it can fly in space.  When Superman’s relatives visit, they come from the 31st century and bring some hellish monster conqueror from the future.  But it’s still a story about your relatives visiting.”

Superman turns 75 this year.  He has a new movie coming out Friday; he has died, been resurrected, had his powers reformed, gone through countless reboots and costume changes.  Still, Superman persists.  We can sully his name, chain him with green kryptonite and kick him down a bottomless pit.  He’ll come back from it because that’s what he does, that’s who he is.  He debuted in 1938 in Action Comics #1. Superman’s always been a hero about action: about setting and living the example, not just preaching it.  Here’s to the hope that he will never stop giving us an example to live up to.  And it doesn’t matter if we ever reach perfection.  Perfection is overrated anyways – the important part is to take the steps necessary to reach it.  Superman can fly, we can’t, however that doesn’t mean we can’t walk the same path.

It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Nicole

Things I know about Superman: He recently stopped wearing his underwear on the outside of his outfit.  He can fly.  He no longer wears a belt (maybe he misplaced it at the gym?).  He enjoys the occasional soft pretzel with mustard.  And he has a lady friend named Lois, which is sometimes tricky business.

Real talk – that’s the extent of my Superman knowledge.  So, I’m going to grab my tea cup, fill it way up to the very-almost-spilling top, and read every last detail of the articles this week.  Hopefully my Superman expertise will mega grow (and yours.  We can share Superman smarts.  It’s like comic homeschooling).

Irving Chong (@Irving_Chong) and Nicole (@_nicoliooo) are co-creators of This is Why we Can’t Have Nice Things even though it doesn’t make sense why they’re friends.

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