I’ve decided to start putting forth my opinions a bit more on here. I may eventually move to podcasts with this particular idea, but for the time being, I’m just going to do it here. I’ve noticed here that there’s a lot of news coming through of the Batman/Superman film and it’s very pro Batman and anti Superman look. The occasional how Batman is a better hero/character post or article shows up and it very much feels like somehow there’s something wrong with Superman or in preferring him over other heroes even (gasp) Batman. Now I’ve never been a fan of Batman, but there are great versions of Batman out there, Kevin Conroy from the Timm-verse IS how Batman sounds. Batman is an easy character for a lot of people to get and can be adapted to many different media easily, so more people have their version of Batman. Superman is harder for a lot of writers and fans to get into and it blinds people to one basic fact… Superman is Awesome.
And here’s why.
He was there first.
His was not the first secret identity, his was not the first costume and seeing how influenced it seems by the story Gladiator by Philip Wylie and he was far from the first comic book hero. But he was the first to bring it all together to make it work. In one small story Superman establishes his powers, his origins, the dual identity of Clark Kent, the story also introduces Lois Lane and the beginnings of the triangle made for two.
Maksed heroes were often called Mystery Men, but over time they became known as Superheroes and he is why.
He’s a good guy.
This is often overlooked, or in fact seen as a disadvantage. Batman is a superhero because he wages a war against criminals because of the loss of his mother and father. Spider-Man is a super hero because of guilt. Green Lantern is because it’s his job and the list goes on. Why is Superman a superhero? Because he can be. There’s very little angst or sense of vengeance, there’s just a guy who was well raised by loving parents who wants to help. He’s seen as unrelatable because there’s no tragic back story or movie-style motivation, I don’t get that. Isn’t real life full of people who do something, simply because it’s there to be done and you can help. Superman does his thing, because the way he see’s it if more people could do the things he could do, they’d do what he does too.
He’s a role model.
Another side of him is the part that inspires others. The logo on his chest means hope, not because of some ret-con, but because he’s that kind of character. People stand up a little taller and smile that little bit more around him. Batman can be considered smarter, Wonder Woman is more fierce in battle, Martian Manhunter is more powerful and Aquaman is a king, but they all look to him. I can’t say off the top of my head how many times he’s been the actual leader of the Justice League, but it’s him you think of in that role. He’s the guy you’d like to be and gives you an ideal to strive for.
There’s more than one.
Ok, this one requires you to go with me a little as we talk about the different ages of comics. I’m going to list them, but please realise that I’m making huge sweeping generalisations about this and am not being in any way shape or form exhaustive.
THE GOLDEN AGE:
This is the period between 1938 and 1946 although it can be considered to have gone on longer than that. The start of the Golden Age is considered to be Action Comics #1 and the period ends after the second world war. This is the first surge of Superheroes/Mystery Men and many of the more famous characters have their starts here. After the second world war ended, the interest in superheroes waned until..
THE SILVER AGE:
This is the period between 1956 with the introduction of the second Flash in Showcase #4 and runs to about 1969 or so. This is the resurgence of the superhero and the genre’s full embrace of science fiction. The comics started here continue to this day and the rest of the really popular superheroes of today came from here.
THE BRONZE AGE:
This is a period between 1970 and 1985, although that can be considered a bit looser a definition than the rest of the ages listed here. There was more of an emphasis on plot and art having a more realistic/relatable feel with social realism and consequences the actions involved.
THE MODERN/POST CRISIS AGE:
This is the era just around and after the publication of Crisis on Infinite Earths, this took the bronze age feel and took it to a darker place. Dark Knight Returns, V for Vendetta and Watchmen were produced at this time.
The point here is that that’s four different ages of comics, five if you count that current age of whatever it is, each of these ages had their own distinctive Superman and each is a very different beast, while each still being recognisable as Superman.
GOLDEN AGE SUPERMAN:
Golden Age Superman started off as a street level social crusader. Rather than the more restrained family friendly future versions, the Golden Age version was a bit more rough and tumble. In Action Comics #1, he hears of a domestic disturbance and when he arrives just belts the wife beater in the face. “You’re not facing a woman Now!” This is Superman as a bad-ass, standing up for the little guy and taking his first steps against Luthor. As the years went on and more and more powers were added Superman became what he became later, but here he was simply strong, fast and impervious to harm. He could be hurt, but you knew deep down he wasn’t going to be stoppped.
SILVER AGE SUPERMAN:
Ok, here’s where my knowledge fails, I’ve not read too much Silver Age Superman, but what little I do know is very different from the Golden Age, this was more high concept science fiction. This is the era of Kandor and Brainiac and also the strengthening of the mythology introducing more and more characters and concepts that are now considered essential to Superman. The Silver Age brought us Krypto, Supergirl, The Legion of Superheroes and also a greater power level than before. This was a Superman with a family, Superman with a rogues gallery and a Superman who could move planets. Like most Silver Age stories, they were silly, but as a result there’s a lot of fun stories to be found too.
BRONZE AGE SUPERMAN:
The Bronze Age was a transitory period, it held onto some of the Silver Age silliness and yet pushed the character into the bronze age, with a greater sense of realism and changes to the status quo. No longer a reporter, Clark was now an anchor for WGBS TV and was the face of the news. Lana and Lois both vied for his affections and villains either got more depth or like Brainiac were completely reimagined. This is the Superman from Superfriends and the version that made it’s iconic appearance in the 1978 Superman: The Movie.
This version of Superman is also unique in that it ended. This was done to make way for a planned reboot for Superman and Alan Moore was given the chance to say goodbye to the current version of Superman with a degree of style in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. Superman was gone and went off to his happy ever after with Lois.
Then there came a Crisis!!
POST CRISIS SUPERMAN:
In an effort to reinvigorate the character, boosting flagging sales, Marvel Comics superstar John Byrne was brought in to reboot Superman along with DC Comics writer Marv Wolfman. Byrne reinvented Superman and his supporting cast making sweeping changes to established characters. Now after Crisis, Superman was an adult before donning the costume, so now there was no Superboy. Johnathan and Martha Kent survived into Clark’s adulthood and now were part of his daily life to offer advice and support as well as a place to feel more normal. Lex Luthor was no longer a mad scientist and was now a corporate titan, hiding his crimes behind lawyers and a public face. This was a villain that few could see as a villain and even fewer could prove.
This is where I came in. Starting with Man of Steel #1, this was a brand new start for Superman if were brand new to the comics the character starred in, here was a nice little starting point with an ‘all you need to know is in here’ feel to them. Here Superman and Clark Kent were both doing well, no longer the lily livered coward of the golden age, or the disguise of later years Clark was a person in his own right. Superman didn’t have a secret identity as far as the world knew, so Clark was just someone he knew. This was a Clark capable of change, going from not knowing his origins, to knowing his entire world’s history. He went from Lois Lane’s rival, to winning her over as himself and not Superman. They even married. There was a supporting cast that was as rich and varied as anything Spider-Man had, including supporting heroes like Rampage or Gangbuster. Post Crisis was a new start and there was a great feeling that here, the hero could grow, change and even in the 90’s be killed.
NEW 52 SUPERMAN:
The same thing was done again and I’d talk about it here more, but to be honest I’m holding judgement till I’ve given the New 52 comics more of a fair shake.
HE’S A TV/MOVIE STAR
The Fleischer cartoons from the 40’s
The Adventures of Superman from the 50’s
The Superman movies of the 80’s
The Ruby Spears Cartoon of the 80’s
The Superboy Series of the 80’s
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Superman: The Animated Series
Superman Returns (If I have to mention it)
Man of Steel
All of these films and series portray a different version of the character (except Superman Returns, that was just copy what was done by Reeve and Donner) and while each have their flaws, each has something to like about them. I’ve not mentioned the 40’s serials, the radio show, the graphic audio productions or the musical. Whatever medium of entertainment you enjoy, chances are Superman has been there and been there in style. Case in point, Superman vs Darksied.
Yes he does look ridiculous, strongman suit and long cape, all bright colours and unforgiving spandex. Yes the glasses and hair aren’t really going to fool anyone. Does that matter? Superman blends high concept science fiction, serialised drama and action/adventure in a variety of ways. Moreover, he also gives an ideal to strive for. None of use can fly unaided or have X-ray vision, but we can all try to stand up a little taller, be a little kinder to each other and stick up for the guy who needs your help. If the sky was falling and he showed up, you’d be glad to see him. If the sky wasn’t falling, you’d still be glad to see him. He’s that kinda guy. He’s a good guy. One of the best quotes I can show what Superman is, in the way we can all be is actually from Preacher, with a man telling his son what kind of person he should be.
You don’t take no s#*@t from fools and you judge people by what’s in ’em, not in how they look. You gotta be one of the good guys son, because there’s way too many of the bad.
There are several podcasts which deal with the different versions of Superman.
Golden Age Superman by John M Wilson
This is a look at all Superman titles from Action Comics #1 in 1938 onward. I’ve listened to a few episodes of this and found it both entertaining and informative.
Superman in the Bronze Age
This is a look at Superman between 1970 and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow by Charlie Neimeyer.
From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast
This is a podcast covering the issues between Man of Steel #1 and Adventures of Superman #649. Covering a Superman period of some 20 years, it covers each appearance by the Superman rebooted by John Byrne and his adventures until Infinite Crisis. It’s funny, informative and at the moment my favourite Superman related podcast. Jeffrey Taylor is on good form and Michael Bailey is the Godfather of comics podcasting and is always worth listening to, especially when talking about something he is passionate about.
The New 52 Adventures of Superman
John M Wilson again, with friends showcasing the current Superman comics, full of analysis, comment and a fair chunk of humour, this has been my reintroduction to the New 52 after walking away from it a couple of years back.
Superman Archives: Reprinting the early Superman issues, which contain many of the early Action Comics tales.
Superman Man of Tomorrow Archive: Reprinting several classic Silver Age issues.
There were several Superman in the trades with selected stories from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
Then there are a few trades of note that are just favourites of mine.
Man of Steel Superman for All Seasons
Exile Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite
Finally, the end of the article, the is no comic character that can’t be written well given the chance. The arguments against Superman as a character can be rebutted by the right story. The guy has been in print for 76 years, there is going to be a story that you’ll enjoy as you can see there’s a lot of them listed here and even more that aren’t. Superman is awesome, a fact that I maintain because it’s been proven to me. My argument is this.. You have a favourite Superman story, if you don’t agree, maybe you’ve not found it yet.
Ok, this was far too long.