I Remember Superman

Unknown-2My earliest memories of Superman involve a Halloween costume, a Superman costume, to be exact. The year was 1974 and the costume was one my creative-too-a-fault hippie parents made for me from scratch. It was a time when your parents either made you a great costume or you wore some plastic aberration society called a costume. My folks did their best to cobble together the most genuine Superman costume any five-year-old could want. It was perfect, complete with flowing red cape and a handmade felt Superman logo. Unfortunately, this painstakingly realized replica was perhaps a bit too on the money, as it involved a pair of actual tights (they may have been my sister’s). That’s right, my “Man” of Steel costume involved an actual pair of blue tights.

I didn’t think much of it when I donned that well-intentioned costume for the first time. All I knew is that I looked exactly like Superman from the comics. After all, he wore tights with underwear on the outside, which was exactly what I was wearing. Who could question such costume authenticity? My bubble of boyhood joy was popped when I arrived at nursery school (now called pre-school) in costume and was immediately singled out by a kid named Sammy who proceeded to point out to the rest of my plastic-clad peers that I was wearing, as he put it, “Pantyhose.” Kids can be cruel, especially when their envious of your kick-ass Superman costume. I was devastated, of course. I went home, took off my costume, tucked it away in a drawer and made a conscious decision that Superman was no longer for me.

Though I embraced many other comic book heroes shortly thereafter (many who wore tights) that rash rejection of Superman Unknown-3remained in place until 1978. Sometime that year Superman: The Movie came out in theaters. I saw it opening weekend and the pains I once associated with good ol’ Superman vaporized as if they’d taken a hit from the Man of Steel’s heat vision. It was as perfect a movie as I’d ever seen up to that point in my life. Superman took me away and my young, far less jaded self ate it up like candy. I didn’t even mind the film’s cornier moments, as corniness means little to a 9-year-old kid. True to the comics and the lore of the Son of Krypton, this was Superman as his creators originally imagined him, an idealized superhuman defender of good, decent folks who represented the best of what humans could be.

And while even I knew that turning the rotation of the Earth in the opposite direction wouldn’t likely reverse time, young me didn’t give it a second thought. This was a superhero story; science, be damned. Lois Lane, the love of Superman’s life, had to survive that earthquake and that was far more important than any sort of real world logic. This was a Superman movie aimed squarely at me, a kid. And why wouldn’t it be? Superman was a kid’s hero. Up to that point, no one had really thought of Superman as anything more than a comic book hero in the classic sense of the term.

But somewhere along the way, superheroes started having real world problems, and so did I. And the kids who ate up the simpleminded superheroes of the past started demanding that their heroes be more identifiable, more real, and not just some one-dimensional ideal. Heroes, ironically, had to show some level of mortality. We grew up and, in part, so did our superheroes. I can re-watch Superman: The Movie now and appreciate it for what it is and the nostalgia that it gives rise to, but the childlike wonder I brought to the table back then is perhaps a bit dusty at this point.

images-5And so, for me at least, if today’s Superman (the new movie and the comics) is to resonate and be relevant, then he needs to bring something other than perfection and invincibility to the table. When I look back at recent comics depicting Superman and the ones that most resonate. I think of Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman in which Superman is ostensibly diagnosed with a terminal disease. Or I think about the Superman in Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, where he’s basically retired. These depictions of Superman emphasize the mortal side of the superhuman. They wouldn’t work for my kids, but they speak to me. My kids, despite being exposed to perhaps more human darkness than I was, still exist in a world where a superhero isn’t someone with real world problems or with mid-life angst. The Superman they’d like to see still exists, he just happens to exist in that movie from 1978. They’re aware of Superman, but whether or not they care about him is up for debate.

Superman gets a bad rap as far as superheroes go, as people make the blanket statement that there’s nothing interesting about a character with limitless power and who lacks human faults by definition. They think he lacks that human something that more “human” heroes like Spider-Man or Batman have. But Superman’s core internal conflict, as I see it, can be viewed as undeniably human. As someone who has experienced the pangs of mid-life crisis and the search for self that comes from seeing the other side of forty, Superman seems to work as a sort of analog to the man in search of identity. Simply put, the Superman that most interests me is the Superman who feels like an outsider in the very world he’s sworn to defend. Sure, he’s dedicated and altruistic, but he bears the burden of saving mankind from itself, while at the same time, he’s an alien who can never show the world the sadness that comes with having no real home. What could be more human than the pain one feels at being unable to show one’s true self, warts and all, to the world?

UnknownThis sort of darkness and angst aren’t likely to appeal to my kids, but superhero movies for kids seem almost anachronistic at this point. And while kids are still tying towels around their necks and pretending to fly around the house, one has to wonder if the idea of a Superman movie for a new generation is even possible. My gut tells me Man of Steel is directed much more at me than at my son. It’s been thirty-five years since I sat in that theater and watched Christopher Reeve become Superman. Now I’m middle-aged man just hours away from lining up to see a Superman feature film yet again. I’m pretty curious to know what sort of Superman I’ll see. Which one do you want to see?


Gabe Roth is a writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles. He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.


  1. I think the movie will be something leaning towards the outsider and his place in the world. I do want to see a Superman movie with intelligence and because Superman is viewed as the best super hero of them all it lends itself to such interpretations, as I see it. I’m thinking there might be a few nods to All Star Superman.

  2. Wow I kinda feel like I’m getting Super-saturation over the last week. When was the last time Big Blue got so much attention?

    I’m looking forward to MoS, in fact Im going to see it tomorrow (Don’t Judge Me!!!). What I’m hoping for is a Superman who’s strong, who can take action. Not float around in space and spy on Lois Lane. I don’t want to wait a whole movie for him to kinda sorta solve the problem he’s been having for the last 2 hours, I want to see him try, to DO something instead of moping around. It looks that MoS has that, Superman looks like he actually confronts problems here, and tries to overcome them. Mostly I just want a good story, but because it involves Superman my expectations go up just alittle because what the character can do.

    I’d also like to see something new, there’ve been 5 Superman movies made not counting MoS. As far as I know most of them involved Lex Luthor pulling a real estate Scam and Superman flying around… Well at the end he stops Lex Luthor after getting around Kyptonite. Something new, something to make me feel like I’m seeing it with fresh eyes even though I’ve seen most of the mythos and watched all the cartoons and movies. I guess like a kid would feel, seeing this for the first time and just in awe of the character and his world.

    The Dark Knight trilogy made me feel that way, even though I’d been a Batman fan for years , watching the movies made me feel as though the character was new and there was all this potential there to reinvent everything I loved about him. I don’t doubt MoS will have lots of CGI eyepoping goodness, explosions and all that. But I need to feel excited about Superman again, like his potential is stretched out in front of me and the sky’s the limit. GL didnt do that, ASM didn’t do that, so I hope MoS will.

  3. The first Superman film in ’78 left such an impression on me at age 7. I had the posters and all sorts of toys. Christopher Reeve will always be Superman to me, but I can enjoy the new while recalling my fondness for the past. Superman has been one of my all time favorite characters for longer than I care to remember most days, but I can still enjoy the newest version and having my 9 year old son along helps to. He is into the character for the fun of it, much like I was 35 years ago.