Why Superman Deserves More Respect

Long criticized for being one-dimensional (and way too-powerful), Superman deserves more respect from fans

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TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / Getty Images
TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / Getty Images

The one foe that Superman has never vanquished in his long career – the iconic character celebrates his 75th birthday later this year — isn’t Lex Luthor (come on), Bizarro, or the alien consciousness known as Brainiac. No, his greatest enemy is something much more mundane: namely, a simple lack of respect. While movie audiences and comic fans swoon at the sight of fellow DC Comics characters Batman or Green Lantern — to say nothing of Marvel Comics heroes like Iron Man, Spider-Man or Wolverine — poor Superman is continually being dismissed as boring, out of touch, or just a plain-old d–k. Even within his own stories, he’s too long had to put up with being mistaken for a bird or a plane. This, to be blunt, is just plain wrong. Let us be clear: Superman is the ultimate superhero, and it’s time everyone recognized that fact.

It’s not that Superman was the first superhero, as such. You could, after all, trace his lineage back through earlier pulp characters like the Lone Ranger and Zorro, who used dual identities to battle corruption and crime; or Doc Savage and Philip Wylie’s Gladiator, heroes with abilities beyond those of normal men, and see how Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel came up with their Man of Tomorrow. Nevertheless, there’s something in the way that those influences mixed together, the alchemy that resulted that, whether by accident and/or design in synthesizing a character that really has everything a superhero needs to be successful.

(MORE: The Top 5 Alternative Supermen)

Think about it. Superman pretty much embodies the template for the perfect crime-fighting hero Secret identity? Check. Brightly-colored costume? Yup. Super-powers? Oh boy, does he have some awesome powers (and some that are admittedly less-than-awesome). Desire to do the right thing, even at the cost of his life? Just ask poor Lois Lane (or, these days, Wonder Woman). Anguish that comes with being an outsider who can never fully be integrated into the society he protects? Dear reader: He’s an alien who, on a daily basis, has to deal with the fact that he is the final survivor of his entire race – and whose entire social circle consists of people who only know him through work and pile their own overwhelming expectations on him. Compared with Superman, Spider-Man has it easy.

As if that wasn’t enough, Superman has proven to be an almost endlessly flexible character, and one who’s proven himself to be easily recreated to serve different purposes for different audiences throughout his existence. Siegel and Shuster’s original “bold humanist response to Depression-era fears of runaway scientific advance and soulless industrialism” (to quote Grant Morrison, current writer of Action Comics, in his 2011 book Supergods) was transformed into a patriotic war hero in the 1940s. Subsequent years found him functioning as the patriarchal head of a metaphorical Superfamily and a transformative avatar of identity fluidity in the 1950s and ’60s, and a successful Super-Yuppie in the 1980s. And that’s just in the comics alone. Other representations include Christopher Reeves’ comedic Clark Kent in the 1970s’ movies and the almost comically emo Clark of Smallville.

(MORE: Warner Bros. Wins Superman Lawsuit – Just In Time for Man of Steel)

Throughout those various portrayals, though, the core of Superman stayed true: That he was, at heart, an almost-impossibly good man, a hero that never gives up, and always does the right thing. That lack of cynicism or self-interest is is often pointed to, sneeringly, by those who find the character too one-dimensional (and also complain about him being too powerful). But such thinking misses the point of Superman and the very notion of superheroes: These aren’t realistic characters; they’re idealized characters, ones created as purposeful and eager rejections of realism in favor of adventure and wish-fulfillment and worlds filled with evil geniuses and impossible monsters. Any counter-argument against such a staggeringly simple premise feels small-minded and sad, to me: You can imagine any number of dangers and ultimate evils, but you have a problem with a good guy who doesn’t give up? I ask. You just need to imagine harder.

Superman is the alpha and omega of superheroes; the template for the modern superhero, and illustrative of the extremes to which the concept can be idealized. He is, ultimately, the pure superhero made fictional flesh. And, honestly? He really deserves a little bit more respect for that, thank you very much.

21 comments
AlexKentKalelReynolds
AlexKentKalelReynolds

Superman is underappreciated because human beings, in their infinite egoism dont like to think that there's actually the possibility of an alien species far more advanced than they are- when in fact, in all likelihood there are probably several "superman" species traversing the universe with far more intellect and abilities than any human could ever conceive


alvinruler
alvinruler

Superman is a icon. He represents hope for humanity. Superman was born as superman. Superman's his alter ego is Clark Kent. Ka-el/Clark Kent is reliable. He is an orphan,reporter,journalist,farmer, student, hero.

alvinruler
alvinruler

Superman is not overpowered. Superman's weaknesses inclued kryptonite, magic,advance technology,telepaths,psionics,divine powers,demons,Gods, and characters similar to his strength.Superman is based on mythology. Superman was killed by Magog,Batman,Doomsday, (Lobo has defeated him, Atlas has defeated him, protex has defeated him).

Superman is not a Moses figure or Jesus figure.

Superman's origins are John Carter,Peruses, Flash Gordon, Achilles, Tarzan and Hercules.

Superman is a composite character:  John Carter + Peruses,+Flash Gordon +Achilles + Tarzan + Hercules+Buck Rogers+Helios+Apollo+Heru+Horus+Ra=Superman

vdsawyer
vdsawyer

The reason those other heroes are more lauded is because those heroes face a very real threat of dying.  They actually have to make tough moral decisions and don't have some overbearing sense of good.  When Batman steps up you know that he could just get shot and be done but risks his life anyway.  The mutants of the X-Men frequently know in their head that they shouldn't get involved but follow their hearts and do it anyway.  

The best portrayal of Superman was the cartoon from the early 2000s.  He could get hurt by things far less lethal than kryptonite and frequently helped friend and foe alike simply because he doesn't want to see people getting hurt needlessly.  He gets angry and actually cares for certain people over others.  He even has to be saved by humans frequently.  Superman at his best is when he is less alien and more human.  It's on Netflix as a watch instantly btw.

middleroad
middleroad

I disagree, superman is a boring character. You want proof, look at superman returns, the writers couldn't come up with an original storyline to save their life. Only Kevin Spacey made it the least bit interesting with his exellent portrial of luthor. Another lex tries to up the realestate market by lethal means? come on, can we get less 1980s? Superman has way too many powers and way too few weaknesses. His personal character is so boy scout its laughable. How many successful superheroes can do only one or two of the things he can do? Superstrength (hulk, thing), speed (flash, quicksilver), flight (iron man, rogue, storm, many others), laser eyes (cyclops), invulnerability (colossus, lobo), supersenses, etc, etc. He was a superhero for a retired generation who needed a guy who could do it all with no moral hangups, beat all those commies with ease and protect us fro the red nukes, that's not us anymore. The only good thing i heard DC do with him was when they changed his powers to superman red/blue. that was clever. Face it, he's boring and unmatched as a hero, and anytime he's on the big screen he needs to 'dumb down' his ablilities to give the bad guy a chance.

ShinigamiRuii-Su
ShinigamiRuii-Su

i praise this person who has the heart to understand the purpose of this hero called Superman, Thank you for sharing this with us.

technodemocrat
technodemocrat

The best part about Superman is the few rare occasions were he does get angry. ( example: Superman annual #11  by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, I just love that panel where Superman says " Burn" to his opponent, and then just zaps him. ). Batman is angry all the time, so it's no big deal for him. But when Supes gets pissed, ooh boy, people need to get out of the way. Kal-El is packing some serious firepower.

There is no such thing as bad characters, only bad writters that don't have the skills to write for challenging characters.

[n]

darthbaron
darthbaron

I think the problem with Superman are the writers at DC.  Superman is a galactic level hero who fights minor villians on earth.  If he were a Marvel hero he would be fighting villians like Galactus.  DC does a poor job of giving Superman storylines that truly show what kind of hero he is.  The best one, in my opinion, was the Death of Superman story years ago.  Superman is fighting Doomsday to a standstill but he is clearly going to lose this fight if something doesn't happen fast.  When Superman realizes that if he dies there will be no one who can stop Doomsday, he stops pulling his punches.  After that he kills Doomsday in a few blows.  I'm reading this as a kid and I'm blown away by it.  Superman was trying to subdue Doomsday the entire fight because he did not want to kill, even at the cost of his own life.  Only when he understood what would happened if he lost to Doomsday did he kill him.  I loved Superman every since I read that story.

JohnLavernoich
JohnLavernoich

I agree with Greame -- Superman does deserve more respect as a fictional and pop culture icon, partly because without him, Batman, Wonder Woman, and all subsequent super-heroes would have never been created (not to mention the fact that he helped to make the comic book the art form that it deserves to be).

alvinruler
alvinruler

@middleroad Superman is not overpowered. Superman's weaknesses inclued kryptonite, magic,advance technology,telepaths,psionics,divine powers,demons,Gods, and characters similar to his strength.Superman is based om mythology. Superman was killed by Magog,Batman,Doomsday, (Lobo has defeated him, Atlas has defeated him, protex has defeated him).


RajinderSDhillon
RajinderSDhillon

@middleroad That isn't the character's fault, it's the writers. ANY character can be brilliant, depending on the writer. If you want to talk about overpowered, look at BATMAN. He's been amplified to Superman levels by now, to the point where he wins every fight he's in.

TylerLubin
TylerLubin

@ShinigamiRuii-Su junior cmon, superman is way too overpowered and has too much abilities. his kryptonite weakness is stupid, his storyline shows him always being alpha. hes never a loser (except in doomsday) and batman could kick his ass. Batman! so dude, calm down

middleroad
middleroad

but some characters don't make good movie characters no matter what. Hulk is a prime example. He is both the villian and hero rolled into one with no ability to talk, only grumble. Doesn't make for a great movie plot. Superman is too tough. Every single movie its kryponite, kryptonite, kryptonite. We can't have slugfests in the movies like when doomsday killed him. So the plot always ends up being superman acts like an idiot and lets some nobody get the upper hand and then smacks him last minute with one or two of his 500 powers which he could have used in the beginning and avoided the whole thing.

SAiNTisHERE
SAiNTisHERE

@darthbaron And regardless, it was a bad ass fight. And that's what counts. Good toilet read.

SAiNTisHERE
SAiNTisHERE

@darthbaron When you regenerate to the point of life again, you were never truly dead. His body was still alive enough to heal itself. Dead is Dead. There's no coming back. Unless you use the Lazarus Pit of course. lol.. Oh, and I read them as they were published as well. 

technodemocrat
technodemocrat

@middleroad I'm with you about not all comic book characters being adaptable to other mediums. The Hulk looks cool on the page, because there's a contrast between the black of the ink-lines, and the green of his skin. On the silver screen that doesn't happen, so he ends up looking like a giant green marshmellow.

My site on comics & politics if anyone is interested:

http://technology4democracy.com/

darthbaron
darthbaron

@SAiNTisHERE @darthbaron Yes, thank you.  I know that.  I read the comics when they came out not years later, so no research needed.  But thanks again, you make a fine comic book lawyer.

Digiteck
Digiteck

@SAiNTisHERE @darthbaron He did kill him once. But Doomsday was just regrown in a lab again from what ever was left of him and then he killed Superman... who then also came back... but that's a whole other comic book thanatological argument