The Case for Superman

dawnofjustice

With the new Dawn of Justice movie coming out, Batman and Superman are once again pitted against one another. And it’s the age old question isn’t it? It’s a standard issue icebreaker: “Who do you think is better? Batman or Superman?”

The answer, of course, is most usually “Batman.” After all, Batman is the gritty cool character who speaks to the inner nineties angst demon that dwells in us all.

I, though, would like to plead Superman’s case, because I do honestly believe that Superman is both the better hero and the more compelling character. Blasphemy, right? I mean, how could boy scout Clark Kent (who has often been perceived as overpowered) be better than the indomitable strength of human will that Bruce represents?

But before you visit any of the internet’s illustrious pitchfork emporiums, allow me to address any naysayer arguments and to present my case:

1. Superman is boring. His stories aren’t as interesting.

Now, I’ll admit. The run of the mill Superman story isn’t as good as the run of the mill Batman story. But here’s the thing: Imagine the PC vs Apple debate.

Out of the box, Apple products are much more user friendly. They’re always pretty and no matter which model you buy, you are guaranteed a certain sweethearts of quality. Batman operates in the same manner.

Out of the box, Batman is written as an interesting character. Orphan. Parents killed in the street. Playboy billionaire. Vengeance. Hell, the story almost writes itself. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? As long as you stick to the stock recipe, it’s pretty hard to screw the story up (bat-nipples are one way, but that’s a topic for a different day).

In case you forgot what they look like.
In case you forgot what they look like.

Now let’s take a look at PC products. They’re not as user friendly as Apple products. Furthermore, of you don’t really know what you’re looking for, there’s really no easy way to know if the computer you bought is really up to snuff. There’s no guarantee. But in the hands of the right manufacturer? Boy, that PC is going to be better than that MacBook could ever be.

Superman (if you haven’t already caught on) is the parallel here. Yes, out of the box, Superman is a pretty flat character. But Superman has got subtle nuances that make him incredible, and in the hands of the right creators, Superman stories are absolutely incredible. The difference here is that a good Superman story is extremely hard to pull off.

Need proof? All-Star Superman, Red Son: Superman, Kingdom Come, and Iredeemable are all breathtaking stories that easily prove my point.

Also, there’s this:

superman2

2. Superman is an alien. He’s not one of us but Batman is.

Superman: Birthright (though not one of my favorite Superman books, nor one of Waid’s better works… Which is really like saying that one Krispy Kreme donut is less delicious than the others) addresses this point in a manner I wish the movie had adopted.

Check out Clark’s sketch… Also from Birthright.

Clark comes home expressing a desire to learn and adopt more of his birth parents’ culture, all part of the process of developing his Superman persona. Pa Kent doesn’t care for this much, and he’s a sporting a shade of jealousy. When good old Pa tries destroying the Kryptonian craft, Clark finally confronts him.

“Haven’t we been able to give you enough?” Pa says (and bear with me because I’m paraphrasing here). “We’re your parents. Why do you care about them so much?”

“Didn’t you volunteer for military service when you were seventeen?” Clark asks. “Even though your parents didn’t want you to?”

“Well, yes…”

“I want to help other people too. I’m not becoming Superman because I want to be more like Jor-El. I’m doing this because I learned from you.”

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At the end of the day, I think we all feel like aliens. We can feel lonely even when we’re surrounded by people. Even when we’re surrounded by family. It doesn’t matter where we’re from. What matters is what we do and what we strive for. I don’t want to be cliche, but as I write this, I’m reminded by an episode of the animated Justice League… The Christmas episode during which Clark brings J’onn home to Kansas to celebrate Christmas.

3. Well, Kryptonite is a stupid weakness. It’s a rock.

superman5

Yes. Kryptonite is dumb as fuck. But let’s be frank. Throw a big enough chunk of the stuff at Batman, and it would kill him too.

But that’s not my point. I don’t actually perceive Kryptonite to be Superman’s greatest weakness. In fact, All-Star Superman, Morrison’s iconic Superman title, eliminates this weakness altogether. In fact, Kryptonite did nothing more than tickle him. Still, the story managed to be one of the most compelling portrayals of the character.

Of course, if Kryptonite isn’t his weakness, does he have one? Yes, he does, and it’s a weakness that’s for more dangerous because it directly affects us. His weakness is his humanity. Injustice portrays what happens when the world pushes Clark over the edge, but I think Waid’s Iredeemable run does a much better job.

Irredeemable is the story of a Superman foil named the Plutonian (otherwise known as Tony). Tony is also a superpowered alien, but instead of ending up in a small farm in Kansas, he moves through America’s broken foster care system while also (many times fruitlessly) trying to control his burgeoning strength (a la Lenny from Of Mice And Men).

Waid's Plutonian.
Waid’s Plutonian.

Now, just like Superman, Tony has story hearing, and Irredeemable does a very good job of exploring the consequences of this. Can you imagine hearing every little thing that’s said about you, behind your back, ever? Every little whisper? Now imagine that you’ve become a celebrity. Imagine what’s being said about you then. Despite alien origins, both men are still human. Just because these men are alien superheroes doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t (though we expect them to be) above these very human trappings. Yes, they have a responsibility and they should strive to be better, but we shouldn’t abuse this notion.

Now the consequences of Tony’s snap are immense, and it illustrates yet another nuance of the Superman character. One particular scene comes to mind: after the snap, Tony decides to raze Singapore. A former teammate begs Tony to allow him to evacuate the civilians first. Tony’s answer? Choose ten. Do you want to know what it’s like to be me? Choose ten.

plutonian2

4. Superman is overpowered.

True, true. But the higher a person stands, the harder they fall.

The harder the hero falls? The more the people on the ground suffer.

An overpowered character does not necessitate a compelling story. It does necessitate a skilled writer at the helm. The rougher the path, the greater the reward.

In conclusion…

I’m not making the argument today that Superman would beat Batman in a fight (though I do believe he would). That’s an entirely different post for another day.

To be honest, with Snyder at the helm of the Dawn of Justice movie, I’m concerned that the push we’ll get a darker and grittier Superman. Now, sometimes, the perfect storm will dictate that we need this dark character (take  look at, obviously, Irredeemable or Red Son). But these are all alternate universe. The core of the character will always be lighter.

Why do I think he’s  better character?

To put it in as a few words as possible:

He’s a God who truly believes that he’s nothing more than a farmer’s son.

superman1

Follow me on Twitter (@tdallaskane) for updates and more!

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