For the longest time my favorite comic book hero was none other than Batman. The idea of this character was just too enthralling. A psychology distraught billionaire with an endless amount of income to buy anything he wants, decides to dress like a bat and fight crime in the odd hours of the night.
There were not many characters like him (so I thought). As for #Superman, I have always had a fascination with the mythology and god complex theories that always seem to accompany his comics (that “S” symbol on his chest for instance). He was a heroic character that I ceased to acknowledge had been designed around the concept of identity and cognitive crises — something that the character tackled well before Batman.
The truth is, Superman — whether you realize it or not — has had a long-lasting impact on all of our lives, and will continue to do so as more renditions of the character begin to unearth among the current superhero genre obsession we seem to be living in right now. The pop culture footprint left by Superman has been forever cemented by the last son of Krypton.
He is more than just a character with superpowers. Surely, on the surface he maintains that image, and those who merely glance at the paperback covers of a Superman comic are likely to see just that. However, for the few who do pick up a copy and choose to explore their imagination are likely to see Superman for what he is: an influential allegory of hope and identity in the symbolization our lives.
“I want to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the Superman, the lighting out of the dark cloud man.”
The great German cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a profoundly reflective view of super strength in an essay titled “Superman.” Totally unrelated to DC’s character, as the essay was written in 1883 (beating Superman’s debut in the Detective Comics by about half a century), but Nietzsche perfectly sets up our preconceived mirages of what a “super-man” means.
“Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman — a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end; what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and going under.”
While we can talk for an innumerable amount of hours about the physical features and capabilities of Superman, Nietzsche was far more concerned with the psychology of such a character. If we are taking evolution as fact, then Nietzsche suggests that we are perhaps not done with evolution. If humans are descendants of apes, then how do apes today see us? Are we Supermen and Wonder Women from their perspective? According to the essay, a super human is someone who establishes moral values and sternly maintains them even in the face of danger, understanding that suffering is a necessity even when it rarely presents itself.
Enter: none other than Superman. It is hard not to see the discernible direction that Friedrich Nietzsche had on Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The qualities of Superman are the ones we wish to obtain because he is, by our definition, the perfect and most advanced specimen.
Plain and simple: Superman has the powers we wish we had. We’d just absolutely love to fly out of school and sun at some beach in minutes. We’d love to have super hearing powers to know when our parents were walking to the kitchen while we made our planned robbery of the cookie jar. OK, I’m mostly talking about when we were kids, but the truth of the matter is that the Superman powers we wished we had as kids are not entirely far off from the Superman powers we wished we had in our dubious endeavors of adulthood.
A theory that I’ve always proclaimed is that we, as human beings, never truly ever grow up — we just dilute bits and pieces of our imagination as we gradually get older. We associate with Superman as children and adults because, out of all of life’s misgivings, we see Superman’s powers as a way of solving all of them.
Is that the only reason why we love Superman? Seeing the superhero for what he is requires an even deeper understanding. We love Superman because, like us, he is flawed. Even an alien with superpowers that be enough to solve anything cannot escape problems.
For all intents and purposes, Superman is a character with a vast amount of identity issues. He is named Clark Kent after being discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent in rural Smallville. He doesn’t find out that his real name is Kal-El and that he is an alien from the extinct planet of Krypton until much later, as a young adult. Superman is the quintessential figure who does not belong.
Just like us, Superman goes out of his way to fit it. He hides his amazing super strength and super speed for a life of normality. He assumes the role of Clark Kent at The Daily Planet as an insecure and nerdish writer, because that would not earn him any second glances. Even after all of these attempts to feel normal, Superman still feels unwanted and introverted in his role as “just another guy” in this world.
Christopher Reeve will forever and for always be the one and only Superman. He strikes just the right amount of balance between the subtly uncertain Clark Kent with the elegant Superman who still has a lot to learn; it's the Superman that we know and love today.
And just like Superman we’d all like to have just one weakness: our kryptonite. However, that is not life, is it? Life has a tendency to throw one curve ball after another and just when you think it’s all over, that’s when the real pitching begins.
While we’d all certainly like to forget Bryan Singer’s ill-advised Superman Returns, the film does have one key scene that is portrayed in pure cinematic poetry. Superman, confronting Lex Luther and his culprits, is subjected to his powerlessness persona when kryptonite comes his way. The scene is brilliantly staged; the figure that we have so often annexed with strength and vitality is brought to his knees and beaten bloody into defeated measure.
Seeing that scene reminds us that while we wish we were Superman (or at least have his powers), Superman suffers from the same plights that plague our existence. It also begs the even more strenuous question: If we even did miraculously achieve the power of Superman, would that be the answer to all of our problems? If you truly interpret the character, you can easily see that there is nothing to interpret. Superman, or Clark Kent, takes everything one day at a time in an effort to restore a sense of hope in humanity.
Need more reasons why he is just like us?