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Selkie

What does Superman represent to you?

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Tonight I had a really interesting conversation with a comics-loving friend of mine. We were discussing the upcoming comic-based movies, and how we'd both have preferred a Bryan Singer X3 to another Superman movie. While talking about why that's the case, I commented about how, ignoring what appears on the actual comics page, the X-men concept has more interesting core elements than Superman does. At which point, my friend said "Yes, Superman is about ......., but he's rarely actually written that way."

 

You know those moments of blinding revelation, self-revelation or otherwise? This exchange sparked one of those moments. His interpretation drew from the same elements mine does. His was an well-thought out and praiseworthy interpretation that revealed a lot about himself.

 

It was absolutely nothing like my interpretation at all.

 

When I explained to him how I see the character, he could completely understand and see my interpretation as a valid one, albeit one that's different from his. I was amazed at how wildly different our views were when looking at the same elements of the same character. And in talking with my friend, I finally clarified in my own mind why I never have liked the character.

 

So, in the interests of spirited discussion and perhaps a moment of self-revelation for a board member or two, talk to me about your personal thoughts about Superman. What do you see as the core elements, themes, interpretations, points of identification, aspects you dislike? I'm interested in your personal interpretation, not the standard "Superman is about the Jewish immigrant experience in America" (unless you happen to be a Jewish immigrant to America and identify with the character on that basis). I've read Like a Bird - and if you haven't, I recommend it - so no quoting Seagle. This discussion isn't even about any specific storyline in the comics or movies - it's about what this cultural icon represents to you.

 

In the meantime, I will be off in a quiet corner reflecting about how much better a person my friend is than I am....

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Selkie-Really funny you're posting this very good topic. Actually, I thought about it after reading "It's A Bird" this past weekend also. I wasn't blown away by "It's A Bird", I found it over-rated, but it was also very thought provoking and was still a good read. I was thinking, I'd never want to write Superman, and I never would. The only good Superman stories were already told, and they number few. So, I was thinking, well, what superhero would I like to write? I drew a blank. I grew up reading Uncanny X-Men and Iron Man, Daredevil, Batman, etc. but I had no stories to tell for them either. I thought about it and realized I was wrong! I may not be able to write superhero stories, but that's not the problem! The best X-Men, Iron Man, DD, Bat stories have already been told, and that's why I love the characters! But, I hate Superman and don't want to write him because the best Superman stories have yet to be told! I started thinking further and realized the ONE superhero book I would actually want to write would be "Superman". Not long-term, but an out of continuity mini-series.

 

Superman is an outmoded ideal of the "American Dream". He's the "alien" who has immigrated to America and obviously he becomes the SUPERMAN because in America, anything is possible! Except, he makes it because he's actually an alien. He has advantages over every other person on Earth and he doesn't need to worry about money, food, shelter.

He represents all that is wrong with American foreign policy. He is an alien who doesn't quite understand our world. He lives in a reality of black and white. He suffers from blind obedience drilled into him by his adopted parents during the height of the Cold War. He believes that all America's actions must be right, because American society is the ideal way of life for humanity ("Land of the Free"! Capitalism! Mass-Consumerism mentality!). But, this isn't referring to the Proletariat, no, he protects the interests of the ruling class in America. And, he puts the importance of America over any other country.

He'll fight for that blind obedience, and he does. He solves problems by using his massive gifts to do violent actions to force those who do not conform to his utopian ideas into submission. He doesn't rationalize or talk out his problems, he sees something which triggers "WRONG" in his brain, and he uses his superpowers to beat the enemy into submission.

Does Superman ever go and talk to that robber he put in jail and see why he was stealing in the first place? Maybe the robber was stealing because he's been laid off work and his family is starving? But, Superman doesn't question. He believes in the SYSTEM, and protects that SYSTEM, for the SYSTEM will do right, because the SYSTEM is good.

 

I don't relate to Superman in any way, shape, or form. I relate to Batman, I relate to Spider Man, I relate to the X-Men, Hell, I even relate to Mr. Capitalism Iron Man! But, I don't relate to Superman....and I think that is why I have a Superman story to tell. Because I don't like the character and he's been portrayed wrong by every writer (Rick Veitch came the closest though).

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That's pretty interesting, guys...

 

Christian's view is similar enough to the way I feel about ol' Supes that I'll leave it at that.

 

I will add that the Alan Moore take on the Uber-mench type super hero in Miracleman (Marvelman to you UKers), and the further development of the series by Neil Gaiman gives an interesting reflection on the whole "Superman" thing:

 

Basically, the tights and capes gang have cleaned up so much that there is no more crime. The heroes evolve into god-like creatures and mankind lives in a Utopia. Everything is hunky-dory. And then the cracks begin to show...

 

Well worth checking out.

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Some things don't translate well or at all. Superman is not the same as ubermensch. And what Nietzsche meant by the latter is not that same as what the Nazis meant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Superman is the all-American Mr. Perfect. He is what he is, perfect, and can never grow, change, or have interesting foibles. He had to be an alien because no human could be that perfect. And his strength and speed and all that are just an extension of the physical strength and perfection that any (1950s) conception of a "real man" should have.

 

It's not an accident that he's from Kansas, which during the `30s was probably considered a quintessentially American state. Now it's considered out-of-it and perhaps somewhat bigoted.

 

Supes is really a big bore, epitomizing the emotional poverty of the early to mid-20th century American masculine ideal.

 

I relate to Superman as much and as well as Christian does. The character does very little for me. Superman is possibly the best example in the comic world of two dimensional characterization.

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Josh said everything I wanted to say.

I'll just add that he is a very very poor storytelling vehicle, since because he's practically invincible, the threats he as to confront become either ludicrous or so big that it's impossible to relate to it.

I find it interesting to contrast Superman with Lucifer. Both are about extremely powerful beings able to overcome almost any opposition. Yet Lucifer (the comic) is infinetly more subtle and filled with interesting moral, religious and emotional conflicts.

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You people are dead inside.

 

Superman is the eternal opitmist, the Christ figure who would willingly die for any of us(were it not for the fact that he's fiction). He's the sun god, the brightly burning beacon of hope for us all.

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I can't explain what Superman means to me. In a way I agree with the opinion that Superman is flatter than flat because of his invincibility, but I believe Clark Kent is a totally different story. I'm much more interested in Clark than Supes and I'm pretty sure Superman affected people differently when he was first written than he does now. Unfortunately I don't read/watch enough Superman to contribute intelligently.... but I guess for me the concept of a Superman is the human potential for perfection (intellectually, physically, and spiritually)but that perfection in itself is imperfect because Supes does have weaknesses. There's also the idea that in order for people to continue dreaming and reaching out for a goal they can never actually obtain it because once they do there's nowhere else to go, hence why Superman is so "perfect", so that people keep on trying.

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There's also the idea that in order for people to continue dreaming and reaching out for a goal they can never actually obtain it because once they do there's nowhere else to go, hence why Superman is so "perfect", so that people keep on trying.

I don't know how anyone could hope to be anywhere like Superman, but somehow I think you are getting at the motivations for Lex Luthor, Man of Steel.

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I don't know how anyone could hope to be anywhere like Superman, but somehow I think you are getting at the motivations for Lex Luthor, Man of Steel.

No need to point out how little I know about the Superman universe now :tongue: I know Lex, but not as well as I know Clark, and that's already kind of little! Regarding people aspiring to be like Superman, it's in line with what Tom said about Christ. People aspire to be like Christ even though most of those same people know they can't be exactly like him, I think Superman is meant to represent the same thing... just in a really different way.

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I think it's very easy to label Superman with the "everything that's wrong with America" label - but a necessary corollary of that is that he represents everything RIGHT about America too. The ideals Superman represents - Truth, Justice, and, yes, the American Way (not the real, corrupted and abused American way, rather a naive but optimistic idealisation of what it could be, in a better world) - are universal (even the last one - forget the jingoistic national tag, and see past it to what the sentiment actually means - equality and liberty for all), and it's a great shame more isn't made of them. It's too easy to paint Superman as an icon of Government oppression - the superpowered God-figure looking down on us, making sure we keep in line - but while that's interesting (and used very well in Dark Knight Returns), it's sad that it's the sum of what the character has been reduced to for so many people. Superman is the first Superhero, and as Tom says, he's a beacon of optimism and hope - he represents the best we can aspire to be. The fact that he's an alien is irrelevant - after all, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, even Batman (admit it...he's barely more plausibly human these days than Superman) have powers and abilities far beyond the reach of any comic-reading kid. The fact that Superman has chosen humanity is surely enough. Superman represents generosity of spirit, self-sacrifice, bravery, heroism and altruism - if you genuinely can't relate to those things, or find them utterly boring, I feel sorry for you.

 

I don't find him a particularly interesting character to read about because he's too often written in a bland, reactionary or outdated manner - but as an idealised version of what we could be if only we were nicer (naive as that is), he should be a comforting figure. I wish he was written that way more often.

 

I think it's too easy to react against him, in a knee-jerk manner (the Dark Knight Returns view of Superman which Christian, Josh and Prudence apparently subscribe to), and I don't find it interesting anymore. It's been done, and it's a valid take on the character...but it's not the only one. Where is it written that Superman doesn't try to understand/rehabilitate the criminals he fights? Why should it be taken as read that he'll support "The SYSTEM" regardless of right or wrong? That's baggage you bring to the character courtesy of your views about contemporary America, and while they're valid enough, there's no reason that should be all he can represent. Sure, the 'All-American Icon' aspect of Superman is off-putting - but it's a product of the era in which he was spawned, and it's a sign of bad writing, not of inherent flaws in the character, that he so rarely transcends those things. Batman engaged in just as much All-American Action Hero-esque Jap-smashing and Nazi-bashing as Superman did during the WWII-era comics, but he's not still viewed in that light today. What's so special about Superman?

 

That's why I'm going to side with Tom on this one. Screw all you haters. Superman's great.

 

;)

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I'm with Tom and Mark. Also, may I add that Alan Moore was essentially telling Superman stories during his run on Supreme, which was just great. He celebrated, lampooned, and lovingly looked at the Superman legend with Rick Veitch changing the penciling styles to reflect the mood. Whenever there was a flashback in the book to, say, the 50s, Veitch would draw it that way (and Moore would *choke* write the dialogue that way! Golly!). At one point, for example, Supreme visited some realm of the Immateria or whatever to see other versions of Supreme, including Supremouse and Grim 80s Supreme (a Veitchian take on Miller that was HILARIOUS).

 

I agree that the character has much greater potential than he's usually written but he's been around so damn long it's hard to breathe new life into him. (I could do it, though, heh.) And I agree that the status quo take on him is a valid one, but I see Supes as basically:

 

A god in the mythological sense, or a demi-god. I think Miller was exploring this in the sequel to Dark Knight Returns. Mythological half-god heroes don't have the same adventures as mortal heroes, but they have interesting stories nonetheless; Hercules is not the same as Ulysses; Hercules stops rivers flowing while Ulysses' stories are about clever escapes from things greater than himself; but the point is, the canon of mythological story-telling allows for them both. Superman is basically the story of a god-man intervening on behalf of mortals against supernatural threats, in my personal view.

 

So, selk, what was your friend's interpretation?

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Mythological half-god heroes don't have the same adventures as mortal heroes, but they have interesting stories nonetheless; Hercules is not the same as Ulysses; Hercules stops rivers flowing while Ulysses' stories are about clever escapes from things greater than himself; but the point is, the canon of mythological story-telling allows for them both.

 

Well put, Charlie. Extremely well put. That sums up how I see Superman (and his place in the mythology of comics) rather better than I did myself, now that I think about it. Mind if I steal it?

 

Moore's Supreme is a far better example of what could be done with Superman in a modern context than I've encountered in almost any Superman book, frankly. Someone at DC should have been paying more attention.

 

Superman's near-invulnerability doesn't necessarily make him boring - it just means setting him against low-level criminals isn't likely to make for a particularly thrilling story, in much the same way as pitting Batman in a stand-up knock-down brawl against someone like Darkseid probably isn't going to work all that well. Kudos to a writer who could pull it off, but it shouldn't be the norm.

 

I have very high hopes for Morrison/Quitely's All-Star Superman, in this regard.

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Steal away, Mark! Thing is, I think all these other interpretations of him are valid, as well. I mean, it was the creation of two Jewish immigrant kids well-versed in mythology, their own Hebrew school-mythology as well as those of other cultures, so the mythological aspects jump out at me. But the Americana elements are important, too.

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I don't think anyone's said anything in this thread which doesn't have at least a grain of truth to it - which, of course, was the point of the question. The only statement made which I really would disagree with strongly is Josh's "Superman is possibly the best example in the comic world of two dimensional characterization." I can see what he's getting at, but I really do feel this perception is due to failings in various writers to have worked with Superman over the years, not a flaw inherent in the character. Comic characters have no character in and of themselves - they're just an abstract idea. It's only when they're written into stories that they take on characteristics. If Superman's an idea you're not interested in, fine - but to claim that he is implicitly any more 2-dimensional than almost any other superhero character is hard to justify.

 

On a purely personal level, I feel very little affinity for Superman. I don't read any of his titles, I own only a few stories about him (and those are ones I've picked up for the writer/artist, not the character), and haven't really enjoyed many of the ones I've read. I do think he's an important character within the comics world, though, and it's in that sense that he really means anything to me. That, and the fact that without Superman, Supreme would never have existed (nor, arguably, would any of the superhero characters we read about today - at least, not in the forms we're familiar with).

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I have no affinity for the character so he doesn't represent anything to me.

 

I like more the DC Vertigo characters than a character of my teen years like Superman. I think the ground idea of Superman is modernized in the Tv series "Smallville". I like the series very well but I´ve to commit that reality bites and sometimes somebody hasn´t the mental strength like Superman (I would if I had such powers; it´s always about loss and found). That makes him surreal for me and sometimes I´m laughing about his ideals because he stands alone with it like Jesus (in lifetime when he was cruzified). Maybe that makes him more human than humans. He (Clark and boyscout Superman) lives in his role not to be an alien that he becomes more human than somebody who doesn´t think about that.

Call him the first human alien hybrid superior aka Übermensch from outer space (meaning his love for mankind, his neighbour, the plants, the earth, the universe, other dominant aliens we are afraid of and so on and on). I think a good more reality near Superman ist in "Red Son" which is also a based point in "Smallville" where the voice of Jor- El tells Clark "to rule the nations".

 

Ideals for people are always good. But I like the tricky way of chain smoking Constantine more, the loveblind magician Tim Hunter and the despoting of the "Sandman". I love to think that every one has some kind of power and not all kinds of power like Supi and they´ve got human faults. Superman is more god than man and that will never make him human. It´s his mighty superpowers and that makes him untouchable, uninteresting and gives me no question what could happen to him. What on earth could anyone do to him? Not that kind I like. O.k there´s kryptonite, but what else can beat him? He should wear a Batman constructed anti kryptonite armor and nothing could stop him. But I also don´t think that this idea would make me interest in Superman again...

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I have no affinity for the character so he doesn't represent anything to me.

In very few words this says it for me.

 

Mark, you won't convince anyone who doesn't already agree with you. You can say the problem is with the writers rather than with the character but if it's been written boringly FOR DECADES, isn't it reasonable to start suspecting that the character, without modification, is a unidimensional bore? And how can any real person aspire to be always cheerful and in control and altruistic, in a way that is only possible for a person who doesn't get tired or sick and who has virtually no fear of injury? The guy has NO BAD QUALITIES, I don't know how to spell it out more clearly than that. Good guys with no "bad" qualities are among the most uninteresting types of characters I can think of. The villains in the stories with them are almost always more interesting.

 

Can you honestly say that the Superman character is inherently as interesting as John Constantine? I don't think so....

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Superman represents generosity of spirit, self-sacrifice, bravery, heroism and altruism - if you genuinely can't relate to those things, or find them utterly boring, I feel sorry for you.

How does he represent those things? Since he has infinite energy and can't be hurt, how much self-sacrifice, bravery or heroism are involved in what he does? (You're right that the character does manifest altruism, since nobody can make him help others, but that doesn't give him any of those other qualities that are commonly and wrongly ascribed to him in most of his more noteworthy actions.)

 

 

I think it's too easy to react against him, in a knee-jerk manner (the Dark Knight Returns view of Superman which Christian, Josh and Prudence apparently subscribe to), and I don't find it interesting anymore.

It's also easy to slap a ready misinterpretation on opinions that disagree with one's own. The artwork in the The Dark Knight Returns annoyed me so I never bothered to read it carefully, so I'm not clear what view it takes of Superman. More to the point, my basic opinion of the Superman character predates the TDKR by at least a decade.

 

Far from reacting strongly against Superman, the character is so uncompelling that I could only be bothered to offer an opinion on it after being asked to do so.

Edited by Josh

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He sacrifices a normal life to be the people's protector. He sacrifices his identity, hiding as Clark Kent, and his love for Lois, to pursue his career as Superman. Bravery? Not everyone he faces is mortal; it's him that has to tangle with persons that have the same strength and speed as him. Heroism? Ever read Kurt Busiek's Astro City story about the living hell that is Samaritan's life? That's a Superman story, basically.

 

You never read Dark Knight Returns? Wait - isn't the first Miller Dark Knight book called Dark Knight Returns? What was the sequel called?

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Superman is....(to me)

 

-the immigrant who has done well in a foreign land and been accepted

 

-protector of life

 

-voice for those voices that go unheard

 

-an ideal to aspire to

 

-never willing to quit and take the easy way out

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See, Josh? That's where I think you're wrong, when you say Superman has NO BAD QUALITIES. It's simply "poor writing" which has made Superman have no bad qualities. He's the ultimate authority figure lording his protection of the current system on all citizens.

You want to have a people's revolution? Sorry, Superman knows that Communism is inherently evil, so he'll crush it down. There's no way to fight against Superman.

He doesn't understand ordinary people. He doesn't understand what motivates us. He'll free Sudan from its evil military, but then what will he do? By freeing the Sudanese villagers FOR them, he has made a mistake, he's not perfect. He can't be all good. It's an impossibility. The people need to do it for themselves, not have it forced from the outside.

We don't need a demigod doing things for us. Humanity is strong enough to do things for ourselves. He's so far above humanity that we can never aspire to be like him, and we don't want him or need him. We need to aspire to being the best humanity has to offer, not some alien ideal.

When has Superman ever sat down and talked his issues out with others? Why would he need to? He's the most powerful entity on Earth! Doesn't this sound very familiar with American foreign policy?

Oh, and Mark? My ideas about Superman weren't stolen from "Dark Knight Returns". I forgot he played the role of authoritarian government figure in Miller's story. My idea came from "Superman:Red Son".

By the way, I'm not being hard on Superman (I like certain Superman stories a lot), it's what he represents to me that I hate and the same applies just as stridently to Capt. America or any patriotic American figure. Just look at my new quote and you'll see why!

 

Oh, and by the way, why can't Superman represent what America should be? Because he doesn't! As far as I can tell Superman is supposed to exist on "our Earth", and our Earth looks like our Earth. If Superman is meant to represent what America could be, then Superman obviously has a lot of work to do on himself before he can be the Super Man.

 

 

Mark-First of all the question is what Superman represents to you, not how is this character currently portrayed in comic books.

1.I can relate to Spider Man because he needs money to live, he faces heartbreak just about every other day, he was unpopular in school.

2.Tony Stark/Iron Man is a man who fights for what he believes in, just as I fight for what I believe in. He has a bad heart, he's an alcoholic, but yet he doesn't let that stop him, because he believes in Capitalism. He would die protecting Capitalism, because that's what he believes is the best system. We are diametrically opposed politically, but yet, I have more in common with Iron Man than any other superhero.

3.Batman is haunted by his past. He's obsessive. He's out of his mind. He's driven, to try and make the world a better place, even though he knows he can never win. If he gives up, he'll completely lose it, so he can't ever admit that he's doomed to fail.

4.The X-Men were created to represent the oppressed minority in society. Who doesn't relate to the outsider?

They all are humans who face problems. Of course they are given super powers, which we humans can never relate to; but they all face problems every day of their lives, just like us. That's how I can relate to the above.

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For a long version, read Christian or Josh's posts.

 

For the short version:

 

To even think about what Superman represents to me would be to think about the reasons for and against eating a giant cardboard box: useless, frustrating, boring, and empty.

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:lol: -If only I hadn't read "It's A Bird", I would've had that as my answer! Then, everyone would think I was cool....but now everyone thinks Wolfram is cool....and, they're right.....

 

And, all this talk of "it's what America could aspire to be" has made me want to see a "What does the Black Panther represent to you?" thread. He's a much more interesting character to talk about "aspiring" and "could have beens".

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