In a world that is constantly dealing with tragedy upon tragedy, where we expect terrible things to happen week after week — so much so that we've become largely desensitized to violence — it's important to have a beacon of hope reminding us that we can do better.
For me, that beacon has always been Superman.
Superman Is An Optimist And That's OK
I understand some may find Superman to be an outdated entity, based on the fact that he lives by Midwestern ideals and carries resolute optimism, which struggles to find a place in a world that rejects those notions almost entirely.
But I would say that holding the perspective that the character is "old fashioned" is a fundamental misunderstanding and simplification of the Man of Steel. It's not the fact that he's bright and infallible that makes him the gold standard of superheroes; it's that he's unwavering in his beliefs in the face of even the greatest adversity.
A lesser hero would be tempted to stray from his course, to ebb with the tide of society's dystopian outlook, adjust his methods to match the increasingly violent world we live in. Instead, Superman remains steadfast to his faith in humanity that we should be — and can be — better.
What's So Funny About Truth, Justice And The American Way?
Take the classic Superman story, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" from Action Comics Issue 775 by Joe Kelly, Lee Bermejo and Doug Mahnke. It's the story of a new group of ultraviolent heroes called The Elite that dispatch bad guys with murderous prejudice. Disapproving, Superman winds up bringing them down and showing the world that there's always a better way than violence.
It's an exemplary Superman tale because it distills the essence of the character, showing him champion his values within an increasingly violent world. The issue wound up being shockingly prophetic, releasing only months before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, an event that would give way to an an ever more unstable global landscape that is unrelenting to this day.
We've seen the cynicism of the modern world seep into recent depictions of the character — Zack Snyder's interpretation comes to mind — with the misconception that adjusting the character to fit our world is the way to keep him relevant, when in fact, the very nature of Superman's unwavering philosophies amid drastic changes in the world is what makes him relevant.
Even if Superman isn't your favorite character, I have to believe that most people don't read superhero comics or watch superhero movies without the hope that the world could learn something from these fictional characters.
As such, I would urge everyone to celebrate Superman Day — June 12 of every year, coined by DC Comics themselves and celebrated across the world — as a time to reflect on the people that we are and the people we want to become.
The town of Metropolis, Illinois hosts a Superman Celebration every year — it's this weekend, in observance of Superman Day — where they bring in dozens of guests related to Superman in some way, offering Superman-related programming and film screenings, costume contests and more.
Metropolis is also home to the Super Museum, a repository of all things related to the Man of Steel. It's sort of like The Flash Museum that resides in DC's fictional Keystone City, except it's real and devoted to the Man of Tomorrow.
But you don't need to be in Metropolis to partake in the festivities. Superman Day can be celebrated any number of ways, including revisiting your favorite Superman stories in various media, or by simply helping out your fellow man in some way. Volunteering, visiting your family, or that old Boy Scout chestnut of helping an old lady across the street.
It doesn't have to be a global game changer, because that's not what Superman is about. He's about each of us, individually, trying to make ourselves the best we can be for the betterment of everyone.
Superman doesn't need to be your role model, your own personal icon, or even a character that you particularly care about beyond him being this massive figure that looms large over pop culture. But taking one day of the year to reassess our priorities and our actions — Superman Day — is just one more way that a literary character can teach us to live the best lives we can, just as he teaches and inspires those within his own fictional universe.
Happy Superman Day!