Why the World Needs Superman...
I hate when people say they don’t like Superman. It’s like saying you don’t like Elvis. You might as well say you don’t like the first, best idea of something. Every rock and roller who came after Elvis has a part of Elvis in them – they couldn’t exist without Elvis. There are no Beatles without Elvis, no Springsteen, no nobody. Likewise, there are no other superheroes without Superman.
Superman, where superheroes are concerned, was the first best idea. Two guys from Cleveland said, hey, what if there was a dude who could do almost anything? They created Superman. The very next best superhero idea was Batman, who is the exact opposite in that he doesn’t have any powers at all. Every superhero creation thereafter was, is a variation of Superman or Batman.
But what’s really galling are the people who don’t like Superman because he’s not… dark; because he’s earnest, honest, and pure.
This is the why of Superman.
Superheroes are spurred to action, driven, or compelled by some motivating event or force. Batman is motivated by the murder of his parents and Spiderman is motivated by the murder of his uncle, but Superman – he’s merely an orphan from another planet. Here on Earth, he just happens to be extraordinary. He was raised and loved by two adoptive parents. There’s no vengeance lurking in his character, no deep seated need to set things right.
So, why does Superman do good, why does he save people? You ready for this one? Because he can. He could rule over the Earth, make little puny, chump-ass, Superman-butt wiping slaves out of all of us, but he doesn’t. He’s motivated only by benevolence. He doesn’t have to lift a superfinger, a finger by the way that could effortlessly flick our heads off, but he does.
And what makes him all the more extraordinary, is that he does this in spite of human beings being total assholes.
When I was a kid there were two moments in the first Christopher Reeve movies that are seared into my brain that I believe formed, partly, who I am today - or, at least, who I'd like to be.
The first comes in the great scene in which Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane interviews Superman on her balcony. The no-nonsense reporter asks Superman why he’s here, meaning on Earth, and he walks right into it: “to fight for truth, justice, and the American way,” he says. She rudely snickers at this seemingly naive answer. Superman turns suddenly very stern, locks eyes with her, and replies, “Lois, I never lie.”
Boom! Shut your cig hole Lois!
I’ve never forgotten that. And it still holds true today – that the minute you show people some raw earnestness they’ll try to slice you open.
The second moment is in Superman II during his epic battle against General Zod and Zod’s two other fellow Kryptonians, the three of whom all have the same super powers as Superman. It's three against one in the heart of Metropolis (a thinly disguised NYC) but it’s pretty much a stalemate until Zod stumbles upon Superman’s Achilles’ heel, and no, it's not Kryptonite. “I’ve discovered his weakness,” Zod informs his crew. “He actually cares for these… people.”
Wow. What a punch to the gut. You can hurt him by hurting people?! Heavy. Again, just because he cares. And, then, in a stunningly dark assessment of human nature, the citizens of Metropolis turn against Superman, calling him a coward when he flees Metropolis to draw Zod away from them. He cares even when he shouldn't.
The Clark Kent / Superman Alter Ego Conundrum
The other thing that gets under my skin is when people say “Who wouldn’t be able to tell that Superman is Clark Kent? He’s only wearing glasses! Blah blah blah, I’m typical blah blah, I don’t think about anything interesting and I have no insight blah blah, I’m a dunce. Blah blah.”
Clark’s “disguise” really shouldn’t be an issue. It’s not that people can’t see that Clark is Superman; it’s that they don’t want to see it. His humility blinds them from it. People don’t want to see greatness in the quiet, unassuming guy sitting next to them at work. In fact, they downright refuse to see it.
The very fact that people point to the so-called “lameness” of Clark’s disguise only points up their own lameness.
In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol 2, David Carradine has a great monologue about Superman in which he, and I’m paraphrasing, observes that “Superman’s costume isn’t a costume. Those are his clothes. Clark Kent is his costume. Clark Kent is how Superman sees us.”
I think that’s great, but not entirely accurate. Clark Kent is Superman’s way of showing us who we should be: honest, ethical, good, humble.
That we can’t see that simple truth is our problem. Each of us needs Superman to remind us to be our best possible self, to be good, to do good without the promise of reward, simply for the sake of good, even when it seems like other people don't deserve it.
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