While I cannot hope to capture the hearts and minds of the iFanbase in the same way Messrs Romo did, I didn’t think I could contain my own thoughts to a single comment, and figured I’d spare the thread by just writing an entire column. I completely understand if this is ignored, for Mike’s words were poignant and wonderful, but I just couldn’t resist adding my 2 cents and I also secretly hope this outpouring of Superman affection is enough to elicit a screed from the ever-opinionated Jimski.
During our recording of the podcast we were running short enough on time that I tried to be succinct in my Superman comments. The question was from Phil and was asking how to deal with Superman-induced malaise brought upon by substandard comics. Mike Romo gave a great response, I said something in the middle, and Jimski bashed the very idea of Superman, ignoring the fact that arguably the superhero genre would not exist without him.
My response was to advocate the Conor principle of continuity by simply finding your own. Pull all your Superman books off your shelves, arrange them in chronological order, and decide which ones “count.” Pick your favorite origin, your favorite relationship with Lois, so forth and so on. The continuity need not be set in stone (or more appropriately steel) but it should be yours and you should own it as such. This applies to any character, and should of course be subject to constant reinterpretation, since new stories will constantly be told.
My next suggestion was to read a book called It’s Superman. I sent this book to Conor and he did an iFanboy Mini on it back in the day. My one line pitch for this book is “If John Steinbeck wrote Superman.” It’s a novelization of the Superman origin set in the Great Depression, right around the time Superman was first being published. The setting really sheds a different light on the mythos. Most reinventions of the Superman origin try to update and modernize the character, even making Ma Kent a UFO hunter. While I don’t disagree with these updated interpretations, remembering that Clark Kent was a farmboy from Kansas raised in the 1920’s really puts a different spin on our hero. He’s a boy with almost no education and arrives in Metropolis as naïve as Dorothy crash-landing into Oz. The whole book is just great and obviously I heartily recommend it to those looking for a little Kal-El reinvigoration.
Mike’s article dealt a lot with how pretending to be a Superman might make us feel, and how that yield a fondness for the character beyond what the stories themselves convey. I completely agree that in the adolescent mind this is significant, but as an adult I need more. I like to think of it with the same cup-to-faith metaphor used in the movie Dogma. To paraphrase: when you are young, your cup is small and easy to fill [with faith], but as you grow older the cup gets bigger and takes more to fill up all the way. I think this applies perfectly to Supes. As a child we can put on a blanket and fly around the neighborhood, and while Mike is still a child at heart not everyone can submit to pure emotion, some of us need to justify our adoration of Superman with intellectual rigor (which is not to say Mike isn’t intellectual, he’s just the hearted Tin Man to my brained Scarecrow).
So how can anyone support Superman intellectually? Mike touched on it briefly but it all comes down to the immigrant’s dream. Many of the modern Superman-as-myth interpretations have focused on Kal-El as a Christ-like savior of mankind. This is especially prevalent in the death and rebirth cycles seen in the comics and most recent films. This interpretation has always bugged me for several reasons, but first and foremost being that there are other savior characters in the same source book and one in particular (Spoiler: Moses) fits the Superman mold much better.
It’s almost too easy when you break it down. Two Jewish boys, sons of immigrants both, create a character whose born into a world about to be destroyed, placed in a basket and sent down a path to be raised by another group. He grows up unaware of his heritage, but always feeling out of place, until he eventually rises up to bring his people into the promised land.
Granted Superman has yet to enact that final part of the Mosaic story, but ultimately the story of Superman as an immigrant is extremely compelling. Mark Waid put it best in an essay he wrote for The Philosophy of Superheroes when quoting an essay by Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine … and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
What both Waid and Romo get is that Superman is trying to give back to humanity as much as he’s setting an example for us mere mortals to follow. It’s the symbiotic nature of Superman’s relationship with man that keeps it pure rather than exploitative, and that balance is nothing to shrug at.
And this goes beyond just the American immigrant dream. This story encompasses the ENTIRETY OF HUMAN HISTORY. Unless you are reading this piece from the fertile cresenct of Africa, at one point your ancestors, or maybe you yourself, said “Things aren’t as good here as they could be over there.” And based on the mere promise of improvement they moved, and it is that continual desire to do just a little better that has led us to become the dominant species on the planet in no time flat. There have been negative consequences to that progress, but regardless, every person who has struck out from their home to do better elsewhere is living part of the Superman mythos themselves.
Personally, the reason I connect with Superman is because I can empathize with a guy who feels like there’s a lot he can do, but there are only so many hours of the day and if he doesn’t spend some time at home just relaxing he’ll go nuts. How is that not relatable? We’re all out there every day trying out best to make the world a little bit better (at least I hope we are). And I know there’s a little part of me that laments needing to sleep 1/3 of each day just to continue to function. Superman has the ability to do much more about certain problems than most of us, but he’s still limited by his singularity and his desire to have some semblance of a life. But regardless of his limitations he maintains his dedication to give back to a society that has given him so much.
So that’s how I feel about Superman. I could probably write double this amount going into more nuance and particulars, but I think I’ve said my piece and hope this Super-lovefest has done it’s part to counteract the good-natured naysaying of my co-host. While you’ve probably already spilled your heart to Romo, I invite you to spill your brains here.