Just two years ago, I would have scoffed at Superman. “He’s over-powered.” “He’s boring.” “Lex Luthor is the real hero, he isn’t some over-powered alien, he’s just a man.” All things I thought and fully believed. (Needless to say past me was kinda dumb.) But now I think I actually understand the Big Blue Boy Scout, even appreciate him, and I haven’t even read a Superman comic. Well, that’s not wholly true, I’ve read Red Son, but that’s really just “Communist Superman is bad because he will be fascist Superman.” But as far as a canon comic, or story where Supes is at least an actual hero and not “well-intentioned super-powered Stalin” I haven’t read anything. All that is going to change come June 24th, however, because my personal favorite comics writer, and I would care to argue, perhaps the best, if not one of the best around today, Gene Luen Yang, will be writing Superman, and I couldn’t be more excited. And it’s that news that has me thinking about how I went from thinking that Superman was an overpowered Mary Sue, to eagerly adding Superman to my pull list.
The easy answer is I have no freaking clue. What I mean is that there was no single moment, no specific work, no amazing argument that made me realize how great Superman is. It was more of an evolution, a gradual realization that Supes isn’t some over-hyped Mary Sue and Batman isn’t the end all, be all of heroes. I’ve come to understand that Superman works for the same reason Captain America works: sincerity. Superman is a simplistic power fantasy, an ideal all-powerful hero who would right the wrongs of the increasingly scary world he was created in. Amongst the ruins of capitalism, while liberal democracy seemed to be failing as fascism and communism rose, a man in a red cape allowed an escape into a world where an ordinary person had power, where a single man could right wrongs and do good. All of this played totally straight alongside mad scientists, colorful supervillains, and the pure outlandish that would only be liked today ironically. Yet, all that is the very core of Superman, as much a part of him as his symbols and mythos, hell maybe even more so.
Once again I bring up Captain America, another character who should be a massive joke, but isn’t, because he’s best when he’s not played ironically. At the core, the very heart, the most important element of both of these characters is a strong belief in what’s right and hope. Hope that even though there is wrong in the world, humans can right it. Hope that even in the face of great evil, good will triumph. Hope that humanity is for the best and will eventually choose the right path, no matter how hard or challenging it is to get on that path. It is popular now for our stories to be dark, gritty, and cynical, and there’s a place for those kind of stories, hell I love those kinds of stories. However, Superman isn’t any of that, because he’s the hero we all too often need, not a person, but an ideal.
Explaining exactly what I feel is so great about Superman is hard. In fact, I’m almost feeling that I’ve failed here, so let me leave off with this: in All Star Superman there is one page where a girl is ready to kill herself. She’s standing on the ledge of a tall building ready to jump, ready to end it all. This teenage girl is ready to die, and then Superman shows up. He tells her, even using her name, Regan, that her doctor really did just get caught in traffic. In a world where supercomputers, aliens, alien supercomputers, mad scientists, evil billionaires, and numerous other threats to humanity exist; this man who is like a god, who can crush tanks with his bare hands, who can fly any where, who chooses to protect humanity from these massive threats. That man stops what he’s doing to save one single life from ending itself. He stops, tells her it’s going to be ok, and holds her while she cries. That is Superman.