Similar to my Spider-Man post, it's time to talk about the original, the greatest, the man who stands for truth, justice & freedom, Superman. And that's not just a fancy description, but that's the honest truth, it's what Superman does, it's who he is, it's not about the powers or the looks, it's not about who he fights or how he fights, but why he fights. He fights because he knows humanity can be better, that he honestly believes that they were worth saving, all they need is a symbol, he can be that symbol. That is his true power, showing the best that humanity can be while also being the god that they need to admire. In the live action adaptations we've seen so far, each one of them maintains some form of the basic elements he needs. Christopher Reeve is easily the best portrayal we have so far, yes from a production value stand point he is the silliest, but he also maintains the charisma, honesty and good nature of Superman. Brandon Routh perfectly captures the values and emotional shortcomings of the character, but failed to deliver on the action and struggles he's known for. While Henry Cavill showed his struggles to balance the line between man and god and how he can overcome any obstacle, but also lossed the good nature of the character.
So let's talk about him, starting way back at his origin, the destruction of Krypton and what that means for him as a character, the true value behind this disaster is that it doesn't hold any value to who he is. Don't get me wrong, it's a key moment in his history and it does hold weight to him, but it doesn't effect him as a person. Clark doesn't find out about Krypton until he's already an adult, when he's already decided who he wants to be in life, what role he's going to play thanks to his powers, meaning his reaction to Krypton doesn't effect who he is as a person, he's already decided to become Superman. If Uncle Ben never gets shot, Peter Parker never becomes Spider-Man, if the Wayne's aren't gunned down, Bruce Wayne doesn't become Batman. If Clark Kent never learnt the truth about Krypton, he would still become Superman. All the revelation for Krypton does is give Clark some personal clarity and give him more context to his situation, but it doesn't change the path that he was already on.
Now when it comes to discussing Clark Kent, there are two different versions, there's Clark the reporter and Clark the Kansas Boy. Kansas Boy Clark is a simple man, he cares about his family, wants to be happy and doesn't really ask for much in return. He doesn't demand glory or action, just the every day pleasures and dreams of your average joe. Even with his godlike powers, he was raised on a farm, there was no drama or end of the world scenarios, he found pleasure being just a regular guy and not having the pressure of the entire world. Then there is Clark Kent the reporter, or what it really is, fake Kent. People often make fun of how no one can see the difference between Superman and Clark Kent, they look exactly the same, just one of them wears glasses. The disguise isn't in the glasses, it's in his personality. Clark Kent the reporter is a doofus, he's clumsy, he's always late and he's a coward, people don't see past the glasses because they don't see how someone this pathetic could be Superman. It's like when people see those old pictures from hundreds of years ago and think they look like celebrities, yeah they may look like them and we might even joke about it, but no one actually believes that it could be them. This is what Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Movie did best, his portrayal as reporter Clark was so dorkishly lame that you would never believe he's Superman.
Then there is Superman, the man with the power of gods, can fight any fight and is the most powerful superhero ever. But Superman isn't the greatest superhero just because he's the most powerful, but also for what he stands for. What are Superman's ideals? What are the rules for Superman? Well on the most basic level, Superman is nice, he is kind hearted, he doesn't go out looking for a fight, he will always give the bad guys a chance to surrender, a chance to be redeemed. Like Spider-Man, no issue is too small, everyone is worth saving and he would sacrifice himself for a complete stranger. He's compassionate, he's understanding, he's incorruptable and will always do what's right. That may seem a little basic in a hero, but considering we live in an age where anti-heroes are the big ticket and everyone needs to have that little bit of a dark edge, Superman being the one hero who will always do the right thing is surprisingly refreshing. And yes there have been some great stories where Superman goes dark (Injustice God's Among Us) for the most part he has remained the boyscout we all know and love.
Then there is the reasoning behind his no kill rule. It's easy to say a superhero won't kill because it's the wrong thing to do, but to have an actual personal reasoning behind it is what makes it interesting. In Superman's case, the fact that it's the wrong thing to do is pretty much the only reason, but it goes deeper than that. Like i said, Superman is a symbol of good, his main goal is to inspire people, to show them that they can be better, and the main way how he can do that is to show it is possible to defeat evil without having to lose your humanity, you don't have to stoop to their level and killing isn't going to solve the problem, it's just going to make you part of it. He's so far into the role that if Superman were to kill then he would lose all of his credibility, all the effort he's put into his image and suddenly his words and message holds no value. It's also his way of showing that he's not above the system, he doesn't have the right to take a life more than anyone else did, he still wants to be treated as an equal, as a human, that's why if he was to ever kill, he would willingly go to jail for it, because he deserved it. If you want to see the best portrayal of this rule, i recommend Superman Vs The Elite. So with that being said, why am I okay with Cavill's version of Superman killing in Man of Steel? One: he was in a life or death situation with no otherway to beat Zod, and two: he was a new and young Superman, he only just decided to bear his resposibilities, he doesn't entirely know who he wants to be and hasn't figured out his views on killing.
Then we come to his shortcomings, and i don't mean Kryptonite or magic, but i mean the real problems he has. One of the biggest complaints i've heard against Superman is "He's so overpowered!" which is a statement i dispise. Saying he's overpowered is basically saying you can overcome all of life's problems simply by punching them. Superman is a god amongst men, he's from a different planet and has more power than anyone, but he was raised in Kansas and on our cultures and morals. He's an outcast of two worlds, not really fitting in anywhere, wanting to be the hero we need, but also the man we can accept as one of our own. Truth betold, Superman is a man with two planets but no home, but it's more than that, some humans are scared of his power and think that it's too much and he feels the exact same, he's scared he'll one day do something he'll regret, whether intentional or accidently he's cause havok and destruction that'll show how wrong he is for this world. In Justice League Unlimited, Superman talks about how he always has to treat the world like it's made of paper, afraid he's going to hurt someone or destroy something, always having that constant fear 24/7. That is Superman's biggest downfall, he cares too much. In Superman Returns, there's a great scene where Superman is floating above the Earth and just listening to the world, listening to the cries for help all across the planet and he knows he can't save everyone, he's a god amongst men and yet he feels powerless. Say what you will about the film, it's pretty boring and the plot sucks, but man did they get this character right.
In the end, Superman is the greatest Superhero because he's the only one who thinks on a long-term global scale, the way he saves humanity isn't just by punching bad guys, but helping us want to improve ourselves so we're worth saving, that's what makes him a Superman.
Recommended Stories: Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000), Justice League [Unlimited] (2001-2006), All-Star Superman (Comic), Superman Vs The Elite (2012).