April 18 1938, the day that Action Comics #1, with that iconic image of a man in blue lifting a car high above his head, was released to the public. 75 years later, we are left to reflect on that alien in tights, the ultimate immigration story, and ponder what he means to us culturally.
One of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, wrote an excellent piece for Wired back in 2006. I urge you to read it. But one of the big points of comparison he makes is, in contrast to Batman and Spider-Man, Superman is not here to protect us from villains, but more the dangers of the unknown.
“Compared to most A-list comic characters, he has almost no memorable villains. Think of Batman, locked in eternal combat with nocturnal freaks like the Joker – or Spider-Man, battling megalomaniacal weirdos like Dr. Octopus. For Superman, there’s pretty much only bitter, bald Lex Luthor, forever being reinvented by writers and artists in an effort to make him a worthy foe. Superman’s true enemies are disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, jet planes tumbling from the sky, enormous meteors that would crush cities. Superman stands between humanity and a capricious universe.”
I think that is what I like most about Superman. Certainly he has his foes that are of the more traditional violent sociopathic sort, but ultimately, Superman is here to save us from our real world troubles. The parallels with religion are numerous. A baby destined to be more than a man. A purpose to uphold all that is good and righteous. Superman is not the dark brooding character who stalks criminals in the night. Superman is a sign post. A point of measurement that we all compare ourselves against. He makes us want to be better. This year we will have a new take on Superman in the guise of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. It will no doubt be an action packed adventure of epic scale, but I hope it doesn’t lose what makes Superman super. That incapacity for evil. Inherent goodness. That is what the world needs more than ever these days. A reminder that to be good is not only good in itself, but super.
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