Kal-El. The Last Son of Krypton. The Big Blue Boyscout. The Man of Steel. Clark Kent. The Man of Tomorrow. Superman. We know him. We've seen him. He is the granddaddy to all superheros and an iconic figure in American pop culture. Everything about him-- from the curl in his hair, to the square jaw, down to the blue tights-- has become easily identifiable as Superman. He's the hero of all heros. The man of all mans. The greatest superhero ever. But why? Why do we love him? Why has he had the staying power to last 78 years and counting? Why has he come to represent everything we love about comics, super powers, and just heros in general? Well, let's find out, why don't we?
Before we get started, let's get in the Superman mode:
As you can see, I'm a HUGE Superman fan. HUGE! I have multiple Superman posters in my room, a Superman belt buckle, Superman boxers, a Superman necklace, half a dozen Superman shirts, and even Superman pajamas. I have lived and breathed Superman ever since I was a little kid. I adore him. He is definitely my favorite superhero and the one I strive to be the most like. That all being said, my opinion may come off as biased but I'm trying my hardest to be objective here.
Good luck there...
Either way, some people have asked me why I like Superman so much; why is he such an icon of the genre? People say all the time "Oh, he's boring", "Oh, he's so square", "Oh, he's too overpowered," or "Oh, he's too outdated". I get this A LOT! Everyone is always going on about how he isn't edgy enough or underdeveloped, how he's too one-dimensional or predictable. "He never has good stories". "His villains are all the same". "Why can't he be more like Batman?" Enough! Enough is enough you guys, I am going to set the record straight. Don't get me wrong, I love Batman. He's my second favorite Superhero. But no one will ever match Superman and I'll tell you why.
A Brief History:
The Superman we know today debuted on the cover of Action Comics #1 published on April 18th, 1938, and became an immediate success; such a success that the character-- though going through many iterations since then-- hasn't drastically changed over the years. In case you don't know, Superman was born Kal-El to Lara and Jor-El on the planet Krypton. The doomed planet was set to explode soon, so his parents shot Kal off into space before he could suffer the same fate as them. He landed in Smallville, Kansas, on the farm of Jonathan and Martha Kent, two humble farmers. From there he was raised as "Clark Kent" by the couple, who taught him to be moral, just, and kind, but above all, to conceal his otherworldly abilities and to only use them only for good. He developed and honed his powers in his youth and, when ready, he took up the costumed mantle of Superman, dedicating his life to "trust, justice, and the American way."
His powers have gone from every end of the spectrum over the years but there are a few that stand above the rest. Yes, at one point he had the ability to hypnotize people, turn back time, and even rebuild the Wall of China with his eyes, but those are all products of his time. The defining powers he has are incredible super strength, sonic flight, invulnerability, super speed, x-ray/heat/microscopic/infrared/telescopic vision, super hearing, superpowered/freeze breath, super-intelligence, and nowadays he has the solar flare ability. It is generally accepted that his powers are derived from the Earth's yellow sun radiation, the atmospheric pressure, and his natural Kryptonian DNA.
Now we've got that out of the way, let's get into why we love him so much.
What we as an audience connect with first in a character is their personality-- their quirks and ideals, their way of treating others and their desires for themselves. We love Batman because he's cool and collected, because he can evaluate a situation and react accordingly. Sure, we love him because he's a ninja who beats people up at night but we wouldn't keep coming back if that's all he was. Superman is no different. If I wanted to watch a bunch of mindless destruction I'd watch a Transformers movie. Superman is different. He's a well-fleshed out, multi-layered hero with strong convictions and a defined personality. But what makes Superman "Superman"? What are the traits we love about him so much?
Even in the world's darkest moments, Superman sees the brightness. He is a relentless optimist who pushes himself further than thought possible. He doesn't give up, he never gives in. Even when the weight of the world is on his shoulders, Superman perseveres. He believes in the best of people, in the best of the world. Think about this for a second: his super-hearing gives him the ability to listen in on every conversation around the planet. Every moment of every day he's fighting to concentrate on the world around him because he hears the pain and the suffering everywhere else. He knows he can't save everyone and that's an eternal struggle. But if he thinks about "saving just one person", he can make a world of difference to them. His optimism shines through everything he does and everything the world does to him.
Superman may be the strongests superhero on the Earth and one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy, but at his core, he's just a small town, farm boy from Kansas. Sure, he has the power to become overlord of the universe, but he chooses to live as a medium wage journalist. Let's face it, there isn't much fame or prestige in being a newspaper writer. But he does it anyway because that's the kind of man he is. Sure, he's confident. Sure, he's powerful. But he isn't prideful. He knows there are those smarter than him, faster than him, even stronger than him. He lives a simple life because he's a simple man. No kingship or presidency for him, he just wants to be accepted by his friends, loved by Lois, and to please his parents.
Nothing Superman does is for himself. He doesn't gain power from his actions, he doesn't gain wealth, he barely even gains worldwide acceptance. He saves lives and cares for others simply because he wants to, because he feels responsible for others. He has the power and with it, he feel obligated to help others. But in the end, he's a superhero simply because he cares for others more than himself. He puts them above him. I mean, he gave his life for the people! If that's not selflessness, I don't know what is. He spent his last moments alive beating Doomsday to death in order to save Metropolis, knowing full-well that it meant the end of his life. He does what is right no matter what may befall him. He sacrifices everything for the world: a normal life, relationships, jobs, interests, and yes, ultimately his life.
If you were an unstoppable, all powerful, nearly all knowing God among men, what would you do? How would you act? Would you let that power go to your head? Would you perhaps treat people like they're beneath you or somehow not worth your time? Well, I know, personally, I would most likely run into this problem. We are selfish creatures and tend to get a little full of ourselves. But not Supes. Superman was raised by Ma and Pa Kent to treat everyone with love and respect. When have demigods ever stopped to save cats from trees? Or talk down jumpers. Or even pick up trash. Superman does all of that and more. He takes time out of his day to do the little things for people because he cares about them, because he's kind. People say "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely", but that doesn't really apply to Superman. He uses his powers only for good and only for others.
He is Just Like Us
Clark Kent isn't a billionaire playboy, he isn't a super genius, he isn't a military hero or scholar. He isn't a scientist, a renaissance man, or even a community leader. Clark is a simple farmer turned journalist who lives, for lack of a better word, a simple life. He doesn't wear lavish clothes or drive exotic cars. He doesn't have a flashy personality or an insane backstory (well, being an alien is pretty cool). He's just a man, really, who wants modest things. He has girl troubles and financial struggles. He grew up in a small town dreaming of something bigger. When it comes down to it, all Superman is is a man looking to be happy and make those around him happy. He likes to have fun, takes pride in where he lives, and enjoys his job. Underneath all the glam and colored tights, he's a man trying to do right by himself and those he cares about.
He has Simple Desires
In the Justice League Unlimited TV show episode "For the Man Who Has Everything" and the comic by the same name, Superman is granted his deepest desires through visions given to him by a plant called the Black Mercy. In this vision he doesn't see himself as a king or a ruler, he sees something he has always yearned for: home. His whole life he has been a man without a home, always feeling out of place. The vision shows him a happy, peaceful life on Krypton where he is married with children, lives near his parents, and gets to enjoy the company of his loved ones. Deep in Superman's heart, all he wants is to be at peace, to be free from danger and conflict, and to be with his family. He doesn't crime fight for vengeance, for pleasure, or for glory, he does it so some day he can create a better world to raise his family in.
He is Powerful
Some people view this as a weakness but personally, it's one of my favorite things about him. He is so frickin' powerful! The limits to his strength are unknown but, as far as we know, he can lift upwards of 200 quintillion tons. That means he can move planets if he wanted to. Smashing building and punching meteorites isn't all he can do. I know I already went into his powers but let me just remind you of some of them again. He can run nearly toe to toe with the Flash, has survived nuclear blasts, can regenerate after death, has super longevity. and has been known to be able to punch through space time and in Superman the Movie, could turn back time with his flight powers. Superman is arguably the strongest superhero ever, one of the strongest beings in the galaxy, and has come to epitomize what "over powered" means. With the insane grab bag of powers that he has, he is an incredibly visually pleasing hero, has some of the widest array of villains, and deals out justice on a MASSIVE scale.
Check out one of the best moments from Justice League Unlimited just to get a feel for his power:
Or perhaps this video from Justice League War showing what would actually happen if he fought Batman. I'm not too hot on his characterization (too smug and cocky), but his display of powers is nothing short of impressive.
Just to get an inside look at Superman's most powerful moments, check out Variant Comics' video here to see some of his strongest moments.
Needless to say, Superman is a BEAST and we love him for it!
He is Iconic
Plain and simple, Superman is the most iconic superhero ever. He is! His crest can be recognize in every country of the world and has become the symbol for the genre as a whole. From the way that he stands, to the way that he flies, even down to the dual identities of Clark and Supes, everything is iconic. His personage has transcended the genre and become an identifying aspect of all western culture. Children recognize his silhouette! He is the most marketable, most instantly recognizable, most universally praised superhero of all time. It isn't a debate. Other heros go through their phases of popularity, but Superman is a staple and a hallmark of everything super or hero related. He is quite literally the grandfather of the genre. Nothing will ever match the decade spanning, genre defining, culture propelling status of Superman. He has ascended beyond a comic book figure and has become a symbol of all that is good in the world, an icon, and every child's hero. Lunchboxes, posters, pajamas, shoes, commercials, books, movies, documentaries, fan pages, tattoos, comics, shirts, glasses, ties, and anything you can imagine have all been dedicated to the Man of Steel. And he deserves it.
There you have it! Why Superman is the greatest superhero ever. Sure, it's up for debate. Sure you can say he's old fashioned or plain, but to me, he is the greatest. But what about you? Do you agree with me or do you think someone else deserves that title? Let me know in the comments below, I'd love to hear!
Check Out Next:
The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?" is a great documentary breaking down the cancelled Tim Burton Superman movie, which would have starred Nicholas Cage as the titular character. You can find it here.
If you enjoyed like and would like fun, nerdy articles every Thursday, follow me here on Movie Pilot and don't miss another diatribe about every geek. Check out my other articles, I promise they aren't all about Superman.
'Til next time!