Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An Explanation

I guess my reaction to the subject matter of my previous post deserves some kind of explanation, and though I can't give a very good one in under 4,000 words, I'll do the best I can.

If you didn't know, and I don't suspect I've given anyone reason to, Superman is my favorite superhero. He pretty much always been, with the exception of a year or two in 1989 after Tim Burton's Batman came out. Without delving too deeply into my psyche, I would say this is because Superman has the traits that I aspire to, namely being a leader and, well, being the best.

From a literary and dramatic standpoint, I can see where Superman creates problems: he's a boyscout, there has never been any real limit or guidelines to his powers, and he only has two weaknesses (Kryptonite and magic...but the magic thing has never been all that clear). While Batman has a psyche that creates all sorts of themes (I'll argue that Batman is completely psychopathic, which, to me, is part of the appeal), Superman's themes revolve a lot around being an alien and dealing with being a savior. He became Atlas, to steal from the myth, and more or less did that to himself, but it's hard to make the most powerful being in the universe a sympathetic character. He's perfect. In other words, he is boring.

And yet...he's Superman! Has it really come to the point that we can't find a story about him that's worth telling, that's worth creating for the big screen? Everyone has some relationship with the man of steel. I absolutely refuse to believe otherwise. Hell, almost everyone my age at least watched one episode of Lois and Clark. I'm not saying you have to care, I'm not saying you even have to like him (Cake Man, for one, isn't terribly fond), but have we finally left the age of heroes?

And by this I mean to suggest that this is, and has been maybe for decades, the age of the anti-hero: the everyman with the burden of a gift, with the deficiencies of self, whose actions are all a little selfish, even when selfless. Is it that we're looking for heroes that are like us? Instead of looking up to heroes that are somewhat better?

I remember when I used to watch the X-Men Saturday morning cartoon on Fox Kids, and I'll be the first to admit, Cyclops was nowhere near as interesting as Wolverine, but the burden on Scott Summers' shoulders as leader was no less real than Logan's inner torment. But then, it's a bad example. He is one of us, after all, a human, even with a mutated eye beam gene. Or something.

But Superman is not one of us, and his backstory, his legacy even, are the very things that will always make him an outsider. We can't aspire to be Superman, because we're all human. We're not from Krypton, we don't have powers enhanced by Earth's yellow sun. We can never hope to be faster than a speeding bullet. We can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, and though we can fight our own battles, maybe even choosing to stand for truth, justice, and...well, you know, there will always be that limit, that barrier. When we fail to be super, we will always have an excuse.

Is it because we're learning that there is no one fighting our battles for us? Our leaders are untrustworthy? Has the idea of power been soured by politics and war to the point that the more powerful a hero, especially when he's absurdly powerful, the more unappealing?

There are no answers, but maybe I understand Superman in a way that he's, honestly, not usually portrayed. I understand that while he's pummeling monsters and stopping bad guys (World War III is coming, DC fans), he has his own struggles -- concerns distinctly alien, but ones that make him human. He was raised as one of us. He can't be all that different.

An appearance in a JLA movie is no consolation either. But that's an entirely different entry.

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