Saturday, 16 February 2013

"I don't need to see sweat patches under Superman's arms. I want to see him fly."

The title for this blog post is taken from Frank Miller. Miller, known for his gritty hard-boiled depictions of superheroes, most notably Batman in the 1980s, is totally right. I don't want to see the reality of Supersweat, I just want to believe a man can fly... and shoot beams from his eyes... and blow frostbreath... and...
Oh, yeah! He can breath in space. That too.

In the trailers for the upcoming Man of Steel movie direct by Zack Zynder, we are getting the Supersweat, oh, so much Supersweat. With his lumberjack beard and pensive look, Superman is going all existential on our asses, pondering and agonising over his role in the world and whether he belongs in it. Great. We had 9 seasons of Smallville for that. Look, obviously Superman's sense of isolation and his concern over his 'place in the world' are important and vital aspects of this character.

However, they are not the most important, nor the most prevalent. Superman is a character who has existed for over 70 years and he has adapted slightly for each decade. Starting off as an actually kinda scary over-aggressive counter-industrialist terrorist/antihero, he develop into the All-American hero (a role which he occupies to this day), before becoming a father figure on television through George Reeves' authoritative, yet slightly chubby, depiction.

He's a family man when he found Supergirl and with Jimmy Olsen as his sidekick (not to mention pets such as Krpto the Superdog and even Comet the Super-Horse- okay seriously, a super horse, why?), to dying and being reborn as electric being without a corporeal form and, uh... electric powers and so on.
Yeah, this totally happened.

My point is that I recognise that Superman is a character that has evolved over time and this is just following the trend of dark and gritty 'realistic' superheroes established by the massive success of The Dark Knight trilogy of movies. I mean, originally, Superman couldn't fly but just leaped really high and far like the Hulk, which is why it's "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to LEAP tall buildings in a single bound".

I remember reading in an interview with Charles M. Schultz, the beloved creator of Peanuts, that he actually preferred Superman when he couldn't fly and that making him do so, made him too unbelievable or something. But that is the beauty of Superman, the fact that he is unbelievable, that he is the essentially the most powerful superhero there is.

Grant Morrison, if you don't who this is I feel sad for you, said in his book on the history of superhero comics that Superman is the Heracles or Achilles of the 20th century, a mythical hero that encompasses all our best attributes. Morrison says that although parents and censorship boards always say that children cannot distinguish between reality and fiction, it is actually adults that have problems with reality and fiction. Adults want to know how Superman can fly and writers create some pseudo-scientific explanation regarding converting the sun's rays into kinetic energy and so on. Children know Superman can fly because he's Superman and not real.

And this is why I love Superman. He is not my favourite superhero, I always swayed between Spider-Man and Batman (with Iron Man, the Hulk, Cyclops, Green Lantern and the Flash making valiant pushes for my affection), but as a character he is perfect. People often say that he is boring because he has basically every power ever, but that is more a fault of writers who do not know what to do with the character who is essentially a god in a cape.

A bullet-proof god.

Morrison suggests that the power of Superman as a character, the thing that makes him so special, is that he is a perfect hero. He has no flaws, unlike Spider-Man (which is a big part of Spidey's attraction- the fact he has problems and fucks up from time to time), and he will always look after you and keep you safe. What is wrong with the most powerful person in the world saying he will keep you safe with every breath in his body, just because he is a good guy?

I don't want Superman in an existential crisis and hobo beard, I want to see him fly.

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