Batman is my favourite superhero. This isn’t a debate, as a kid I used to dress up everyday as him, play with my countless Batman action figures, and watch the animated series every night. It’s not that Superman never interested me – I just had the only superhero I’d ever need. However, as I started getting into comics in high school I read more stories from different heroes. While Batman will always be my favourite, Superman is a close second. In fact I enjoy Superman stories more than those of any other hero.
I have no trouble listing off my favourites. There is Superman: For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. A story which takes a look at Superman’s earlier days where he was figuring out how he fits into the world and how to be Superman. The story contains four chapters and every chapter has a different narrator and different perspective for the Man of Steel. Johnathon Kent sees him as his son, and like any other father/son relationship, Kent wonders if Clark is staying out of trouble, making friends, and overall happy. Lois Lane views Superman as someone too be good to be true. She wonders what compels him to use his powers to help others. Lois doesn’t fully understand it but she approves. Lex Luthor sees himself the hero of the story. He views himself as the only man Metropolis will ever need. He will prove this by beating Superman, not in direct confrontation but by showing Superman that he can fail. The final chapter is reserved for Lana Lang, Clark’s high school sweetheart and the first person Clark ever revealed his powers to. In his time of self doubt, not only do his parents help him find his footing again, but Lana does as well. While she may not know what it is like to bend steel with hands or run faster than a speeding bullet, she does know what it’s like to have her whole world planned in her head and then yanked out from under her feet. Just because Clark can do anything in the world, it doesn’t make it any easier to be who he wants to be. Lana reminds him that the boy she knew who was so noble and caring is still somewhere amid the costume.
Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen gives us a different version of Superman. Secret Identity is a story which takes place in the real world, where Superman is nothing more than a comic book character. The Kents, a couple living in a small town in Kansas, decide to name their son Clark (I’m glad my parents don’t share the Kent’s sense of humour). As expected, Clark is teased as he grows up and he actually comes to resent the jokes, but learns how to deal with them. One fateful night he discovers that he has the powers of Superman. Secret Identity follows Clark’s journey from teenager to old man; from when he begins to test his powers, to learning how to help people in the best possible way. Along Clark’s story he contemplates going public with his powers, is on the run from the government, and gets set-up on a date with a Lois as a joke but they hit it off. He eventually tells her the truth and finds comfort knowing that he has someone to share his secret with. Him and Lois eventually start a family and he worries about his children. In order to protect them, he strikes a deal with the government. We see his daughters grow up with powers also as his are fading away. They help others when they can, just as he did growing up. In a world so much like ours, a Clark so much like an average high schooler gains the power of the world’s greatest superhero, and decides to use them to help others. Clark may have found the Superman related gifts annoying but without them he may have never found the inspiration needed to be a hero.
As fondly as I remember For All Seasons and Secret Identity, if I had to choose a favourite Superman story I would not hesitate to pick, All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. The story announces it will be the essential Superman story from it’s one page origin recap of Superman. Six words, and four panels. That’s all that is used to recap his origin, “Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.” This is a story of Superman’s last adventure, where he accomplishes everything there is to be done. His cells are overloaded by solar radiation when he saves a group of scientists who are studying the sun. He must complete the Twelve Great Feats he’s told me must accomplish before his time comes.
The Twelve Feats are:
- Superman saves the first manned mission to the Sun.
- Superman brews the Super–Elixir.
- Superman answers the Unanswerable Question.
- Superman chains the Chronovore.
- Superman saves Earth from Bizarro–Home.
- Superman returns from the Underverse.
- Superman creates life.
- Superman liberates Kandor/cures cancer.
- Superman defeats Solaris.
- Superman conquers Death.
- Superman builds an artificial heart for the Sun.
- Superman leaves the recipe/formula to make Superman 2.
In addition to accomplishing these feats and saving the world, Superman finds time to reveal his identity to Lois, play with Krypto on the moon, create a world where Superman doesn’t exist to see if it would be okay (the world creates a fictional one), and finish his last will and testament. As great as these moments and adventures are, they still aren’t as meaningful and representative of Superman for me as the following – the best part I have read in any comic book:
After stopping a runaway train in Metropolis, Superman hears a teenage girl named Regan and her doctor talking on the phone. Regan is on the ledge of a building and doesn’t believe that her doctor is held up. She drops her phone, closes her eyes, and is ready to step off. Superman appears to comfort her. He tells Regan that her doctor did get held up and that things are never as bad as they seem. He tells her, “You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.” In a single line, Morrison captures what makes Superman the greatest hero ever. Superman refuses to give up on us, even if we have. He sees strength when we feel like we have none. When he has little time left, he takes a moment to remind a girl who has lost all hope that she matters and that no matter what she feels at the time, she can overcome it.
It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Nicole
Since this is day 4 of my Superman education and we are getting alarmingly close to final exam time, and I also quite enjoy being moderately keen/obsessively well prepared for such events, I have a few lingering questions:
- Is the Super-Elixir like kombucha?
- Do all suns have hearts? Does Superman become a surgeon and put the heart in too? Or is he only involved in the creation phase?
- Whatever happened to Lana?
- And Regan? Did she find a more punctual doctor?
- What is the unanswerable question? Is it like a rubix cube? Self discovery? A hypothetical? Or do you have to write the answer in HB pencil?
- Where did Superman get the moniker “Man of Steel”? Is it his abs?
- Is Superman into hugging? Can he see who does and does not appreciate hugging?
- Does Superman ever get injured? Do we see his rehab? Does he have a physio? Or does he heal at super speeds?
- Is Kryptonite a real thing? Do we have it on earth? What does it actually do?
- Was Superman chubby as a little dude? Did he gain some of his empathy from actually surviving a tumultuous childhood and awkwardly agonizing teen years?
- Will Superman ever get old? He’s 75 – will someone be brave enough to write a comic where Superman has Arthritis? Or type 1 Diabetes? Or Alzheimer’s? When Lois passes away in their adorable old-age home?
- “What would you get Superman for his birthday?”
- Superman has many hypothetical/coma induced children of the male variety – why no daughters? Is this alluding to his own daddy issues? Does he ever have a real child?
- Lex doesn’t seem like too bad of a guy. He’s pretty creative. How did he end up being a villain? And whatever happened to Lex?
- What is the “mysterious power source”. Who was right in that squabble? I’m still unclear.
- Imagine actually living in a world of cardboard? Ohh, the forts you could build. That’s not really a question, I know.
- Do Lois and Superman get married? Do they invite the rest of the Justice League? Do they invite Lex? Does Superman wear a tux? Does he just fly himself and his bride to their tropical honeymoon oasis? Or do they fly WestJet?
- On that point – does Superman have a preferred airline? A chosen car company? A favourite restaurant? A reliable barber? Do him and Lois have a go-to plumber for such issues?
- Who makes dinner at Casa Lane-Clark? Who mows the lawn? Swiffers the floor? Do they use Scrubbing Bubbles to clean the bathroom?
I could continue. I don’t know why I need to know these things – but I do. You never know what might come up on an exam.
Buuuuuut no one wants to be that kid in class who keeps asking questions when it’s already recess and everyone is trapped inside because blabbermouth-teacher’s pet-smarty pants keeps talking and talking and talking and you are ready to kick them in the shin. I’ll stop. You are free. Go play some four square.