Superman: Jesus, But With More Punching
Superman fans are strange.
Because as near as I can tell, they want a Christ Figure who will beat people up for them.
Wait – I might have to go back a bit.
DC used the recent, landmark release of Superman #700 to close out their previous Big Superman Story, something involving a New Krypton, while also introducing the next story – J. Michael Strazcynski’s year-long “Grounded”, which is set to feature Superman walking the Earth (yes, like Caine in “Kung Fu”) to better get in touch with the common man he’s trying to protect.
Superman fans have not taken this well (sadly, I feel I write the phrase “Fans have not taken this well” an awful lot).
And I would’ve agreed with them – it sounds like a godawful setup for a story, after all, especially since the “common man calls out superhero for some crazy shit he couldn’t possibly be accountable for” bit was pretty hilarious when an old black guy gave Green Lantern grief for not doing more for civil rights.
But then I read a quick “Superman through the years” blog post, where long-time (and we’re talking DECADES long) Super-fans are crying foul over EVERY change to the character from his Silver-Age roots, be it the 70’s Denny O’Neil modernization, or the 80’s John Byrne modernization, or Mark Waid’s early 00’s modernization, or Geoff Johns’ late 00’s modernization or…
Their point is, Superman was just FINE the way he was from the 40’s to the 60’s (from when he was beating up slumlords and the Japanese, to when he was screwing with Lois Lane’s head and tormenting Jimmy Olsen because he had that kind of time in his day), and every new writer’s attempt to do something different with the character is irreparably damaging him.
At first I thought, jeeeezus, these guys are a little too attached. I mean, yeah, it’s Superman, but shit, every character is allowed to change a little, right?
Then I finally sat and watched Superman II.
I’d never seen Superman II before – and if we’re being honest, I’ve never seen all of the first one, either. If I’d been a few years older, this might’ve been a cultural touchstone for me, but when I was nine, Tim Burton’s Batman came out.
But watching Superman II, I couldn’t help but feel warmed by the hero I was presented with: selfless, self-assured, hoping for the best in everyone he meets, and yet not disturbed by the worst (except for maybe that truckstop sunovabitch – but that dude just picked the wrong day to be an asshole). He was just…just the greatest!
I could finally see why people are so attached to the guy. He is a heck of a lot more personable than my guy. And remembering how reverently a lot of writers (like Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, who I’ll get to in a second) talk about the character, I realized the major difference in the fanbases.
Batman fans admire Batman. They think he’s awesome. They know if they met him they’d be terrified of him, but at the same time, there’s the unspoken agreement that if they got killed? He’d totally avenge their murder and bring the perp to justice.
But Superman fans? They know their hero would never let them die in the FIRST place, because he loves them. He loves them all, so much, for who they are and what they can be.
It’s pretty great being a Batman fan, but it’s not terribly comforting. But to be a Superman fan is to be LOVED by an awesome Jesus, who not only cherishes your unique snowflake existence – he will fight giant super-intelligent apes for you.
Which, I suppose, means any change to the character, the mythos, or the basic plot threatens the warm feeling these older readers first got from Superman way back when, and seriously – they NEED that warm feeling (because the world is wrong, I tells ya, just WRONG!).
Which is why the outcry over the “Grounded” story is even more interesting. It’s pushing the “Superman gets to know his people” trope – which one might assume, given the attachment level, Superman fans should want to get on board with. But they’re not into it at all.
Because they KNOW Superman gets their problems. And for the character to stroll through small towns and chat up locals like a politician diminishes that innate “I Love You All”-ness of the character.
Meanwhile Batman’s the guy punching Jesus with Kryptonite gloves and telling us “The world only makes sense if you force it to.” Like I said, not exactly a comforting deity to get on board with.
*A few quick thoughts on Morrison, Millar and Waid: These are the only writers that have penned a Superman I really dig, where you can really feel the absolute love for the character pouring out, and yet outside of the Justice League comics, none of them have been allowed to write his regular monthly adventures.
They wanted to – go read their amazing group pitch* for revitalizing the character back in 2000 – but they were slapped down over what I’ll charitably call “editorial confusion” (and more accurately call “editorial assholery”).
So if you get a hankering for Superman stories the way they really should be told, check out:
- Waid’s year-one Superman: Birthright (the first time the Clark Kent disguise really, really made sense)
- Morrison’s All-Star Superman, and
- Millar’s DC Animated tie-in Superman Adventures.
They’re all just perfect renditions of the icon – and FUN, a feeling often missing in the regular monthly books.
*Tom Peyer was the fourth voice in that pitch, but while the other writers were all able to salvage their ideas for these later stories, I’ve never seen a Tom Peyer-written Superman story. Weird, that. Wonder why?