(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)
If you are ever sad. If you ever find yourself wondering whether the world is really a good place. If you are lost and cold and alone and absolutely terrified. Remember this: somewhere on Earth, there is a sprinkle factory. And I am the Columbus of bad decisions.
I got a degree in screenwriting. I once mixed peanut butter Cap’n Crunch and red wine because I assumed it would taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I regularly purchase lottery tickets. I am uncontrollably sarcastic in tense situations. And, when asked who my favorite superhero is, I always answer the same way.
It’s always been Superman and it always will be. A good Superman story is hard to find. They’re rare to the point that I can make a comprehensive list of them off the top of my head. But when one does come along… Well, let’s just say a good Batman story is entertaining and bad ass. And it makes you think “Batman is cool.” A good Green Lantern story is generally fraught with emotional peril but, at the end, you’ll wish you had a power ring. A good Superman story fills you with awe.
It’s the mythology of a sun god who wished he was a man because he saw something so great in us. Mayflies masquerading as giants and, to him, we were. It’s the story of a hero who could move whole worlds and see through stars and hear a whisper on the other side of the planet… who fell in love with a storyteller. It’s about a man and his dog.
Every single day, you can turn on the news and hear about something bad happening. People do terrible things to each other all the time. And, on the worst days, you might just sit down and get cynical. That’s the worst thing you can do. Get low, thinking thoughts like “maybe we are inherently evil. Maybe there’s just something wrong deep down in our hearts.” We are the ignorant. The fools. The bad guys.
And then there’s Superman. Looking down at the world with an unfathomable sadness. Waiting for us to join him in the sun. All the while, truly believing something only an impossible man could believe.
“If you knew how you are loved, not one of you would raise a hand in rage again.”
There’s a psychology to storytelling. It’s really quite simple. When presented with something light, we look for darkness. When presented with darkness, we look for the light. It gives a story depth. I’m going to tell you a story.
Jonathan Kent saw a spaceship crash in a cornfield and he didn’t do what most of us would’ve done. He didn’t report it to the government or the police. He didn’t get rich off becoming the guy who made first contact with an alien race.
What he did was so much stranger. He looked inside. And he saw a child. Now maybe that child was an alien. Maybe it was a science experiment. Or, maybe it was a sign from above. But one thing was clear: the child was alone. And no child should ever be left alone.
Once you name a thing, it’s yours. So he named it. Martha chose the name “Clark.” Jonathan chose the name “son.” And he gave to that child his whole heart. That’s not what you’re supposed to do when a strange child falls out of the sky, left all alone in the middle of a Kansas cornfield. But Jonathan did it anyway.
Jonathan raised the child. He saw a boy become a god. And though that god could look through men like they were nothing more than a puff of air, he taught the god to see. To see the truth in things. To see humanity as worthy of the greatest gift any man or god can bestow. The same gift Jonathan himself had given without a second thought: love.
In a world without a Superman, we made one for our fiction. To guide us and make us feel brave. To let us hope. To make us mighty.
You will believe a man can fly. And why shouldn’t you?
I often get told that Superman is boring. I ask “why,” expecting the exact same answers. And, honestly, I always get them. He’s overpowered. He’s “too good.” He doesn’t understand the fundamental concept of underwear.
That first one always gets me. Because a good Superman story isn’t about punching things into submission. It’s about the things that Superman can’t do. And how he tries to save the world anyway.
Imagine, for a moment, what it really must be like to be Clark Kent. You can hear everything. I don’t just mean that you can hear (and smell) your co-worker’s latest bout of the coffee shits (seriously, can you imagine the restraint it must take to not just walk up to Frank and be like “hey, Frank, you need to cut back on the coffee because it’s doing horrible things to your butthole”). I mean everything. Every person who screams or cries or whispers to no one in particular for help they secretly know isn’t coming. You can’t help them all. You do what you can, of course. You try your best. But not everyone gets to live.
For every fire you put out, another raged half a world away. For every child you saved from abuse or neglect or an oncoming car driven by some drunken asshole, there are ten others who suffered the consequences of your impossible choice. You look at your parents, your friends, the woman you love, a newborn baby, a puppy… And you know. Not just think, but know that you will live beyond them. The world will crumble, the sun will fade, time will lose all meaning and sound will be nothing more than a memory in the dark. But you will still be there. So you try to memorize their heartbeats so you can mourn a perfect rhythm.
Power has nothing to do with it.
There’s nothing wrong with being a good guy. Standing tall for your beliefs is a rare thing. But it’s the right thing. Keep your conflicted brooders. I see them every day. Give me a hero.
What’s that? You don’t want an existential conundrum in every comic book? That’s fine, too. After all, Superman’s villains are some of the most compelling and iconic in the industry. A megalomaniacal genius in a ten thousand dollar suit who fancies himself the hero of the story. An evil god-king bent on the enslavement of every being in the universe. An imperfect clone. A fifth-dimensional imp who could end the universe on a whim. A hyper-intelligent collector and destroyer of worlds, the nightmare of whole civilizations. A sentient sun who would poison the sky, given the chance.
The challenges are numerous.
Now is a pretty great time to be a Superman fan. In case you didn’t know (c’mon, how?) there’s a new Superman movie coming out this week. Maybe it’ll be great, maybe it’ll be terrible and I’ll just sit in my room watching the awesome trailers over and over again trying not to cry.
The point being that if you want to get into Superman, now is the time. Read For The Man Who Has Everything, or Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow? or What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? See how he struggles in Kingdom Come. Look at him from a different angle in Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. And grow to love him in All Star Superman. Hell, if you want your Superman to be intelligent, cocky, and back to Golden Age power levels, read the first arc of Action Comics in the New 52.
And go watch Man of Steel on Friday.
(Author’s Note: This post is adapted from a Reddit comment I made several weeks ago that got a lot of attention. I wanted to sit down and expand on it here.)