Superman week, day one – The Man of Steel
Welcome to Superman Week! This week I’ll be looking at different aspects of the Superman legend, starting with the man himself. I’m joined this week, by Ibrahim Moustafa (Artist of High Crimes) with Jordan Gibson coloring. That’s right, every day Ibrahim and Jordan will have a special, exclusive, piece of art to go along with that day’s essay. So let’s get this started!
Superman is both one of the world’s most recognized characters and one of the most dismissed. But that’s all right. He’s down with it. He understands. And that’s the point. Superman isn’t better than you he is simply the best we strive to be. It’s not a question of lording it over anyone, simply knowing what is right and what is wrong and doing the right thing – no matter the cost.
Some how a number of people find this boring or unrelatable. Those people kind of worry me a bit, if I’m honest. A man, an outsider, who can see us for all our flaws and still wants to use his incredible potential to help us rise is the sort of thing that we should cherish not deride. Superman is, at his root, the ultimate expression of hope. He is an idea that has literally changed the world.
That’s not hyperbole, by the way. You can easily argue that the presence of Superman has made the world a better place. Superman spawns other superheroes, bringing in a new heroic myth. Children of all sort pick up on it and use it as a behavioral template. Something to aspire to. Those kids grow up and they’ve imprinted on Superman, as well as other superheroes along the way. The idea of doing good, putting justice first, and fighting for hope end up rooted far firmer in the minds of people while they make their choices throughout their own lives.
So yeah, Superman is pretty important. But who is he?
He’s the ultimate outsider – holding up a mirror to our own flaws by his behavior. He’s someone who can see us, humanity, for what we are. Despite that he wants to help. He wants us to remember we’re worth helping.
He’s also us – raised as a human, Superman is also Clark Kent. There isn’t a division between them so much as there is between the Clark in Metropolis and in Smallville. The Clark he was as a teen is just who he is. But he had to hide that and so he plays himself down, sinking into obscurity on the one hand, and on the other getting his name out there as a reporter. Odd, isn’t it? For a secret identity it’s pretty public. Because even when he has to hide for his own good he can’t not help.
He’s what we want to be – that person who knows the right thing without having to stumble. The human who understands, deep in the bones, that their risk is outweighed by simply doing the right thing. There will always be a cost and you have to work out how to shoulder it, but you shoulder it instead of shirking it.
Superman is aspirational not inspirational, remember. These ideas aren’t outdated and they aren’t boring. Helping people, fighting for hope and the right thing – those had better not be out dated.
If you think they are, I can only worry about your life and outlook.
As for boring you can write an exciting Superman story pretty easily. You take the internalized drama of doing the right thing, and make it external. So say Superman has to fight a robot. Because hey, kids, robots.
But don’t make it just a robot. It’s a robot built by a guy who built his first robots as a way to make replacement limbs for people cheaper. But he spent all his money making robot limbs that private companies wouldn’t fund that he went a bit wonky and built a robot to just take the money he needs.
Punching the robot is not the answer here. There will be punching as well, yes, but it isn’t the point. The point is helping that dude in the robot. And helping, and inspiring him, to help others again.
Superman is about the belief you have in yourself and the belief you carry for the rest of humanity, and how we need to extend that outward and all grow as a species.