Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Superman, the Man of Yesterday

I'm going to go ahead and say it: I think Superman is outdated. I'm entirely open to thoughts and discussion on this front, but in the last few it's struck me just how poorly suited Big Blue is to a modern audience. What is Superman? He was the first true superhero, published back in 1938, something the world had never really seen before. He could lift cars and fly, and he had an infallible black-and-white sense of morality. He was the epitome of "the good guy" in an age where that's all there were, the Good and the Bad. In comics this was almost highlighted by the four-colour printing process, a hero with very clearly defined morals printed entirely in primary colours. But that just doesn't fly anymore.

I've spent the week since watching Man of Steel reading online articles in response to the film. The response is atrocious. I have seen article calculating the property damage done to Metropolis in the film, forums arguing about Superman's heroism versus The Avengers' modus operandi, and a massive online debate about how Superman...shaves. This is how we treat our heroes today. We look at everything they do in the stories we pay millions upon millions of dollars to go see, and we pick at it. We pick apart every little detail because we want to be one up on them, we want to be ahead of the curve and smarter than everyone else who went to see that movie. We don't actually want heroes; we just want to criticize them. The way I see it, the moment you willingly go to a movie about a guy who flies is the same moment you forfeit any and all rights you may have had to critique the realism  of said film. But what it comes down to is this: the modern moviegoer doesn't know how to see superheroes as allegorical, mythological symbols anymore.

Superman wasn't meant to live in our world. The universe that holds Metropolis, Gotham, and Coast City isn't our reality; it's a reflection of our reality, a distillation of the world we see around that was purified with the intention of teaching us something. Unfortunately, we've lost that. Now all we can do is look at that and scoff because it clearly isn't "accurate". We're missing the point that these places and characters were written as myths and legends. Some of them can adapt, it's true. Batman has done a marvelous job of that, becoming the kind of gritty, earthy street hero that every modern movie buff can drool over. But Superman doesn't have that knack. He's never been as adaptable as Bats, who had a tool and contingency plan for everything. We're experiencing Kingdom Come all over again; Batman's gimmicks have pulled through and retained their power, but Superman is lost by the wayside, yesterday's symbol in tomorrow's world. He's obsolete, he's black-and-white in a world that only sees in shades of grey. We just received the greatest Superman film ever made, true to the character and packed with symbolism worthy of the First Superhero, and all we've managed to do with it is wonder how he shaves.

75 years ago we called him the Man of Tomorrow, but tomorrow is yesterday's news.


  1. Nice ideas, and better execution. I saw the movie and did some thinking as well, but I found that most of my thoughts were better articulated here:

    Some of what he says is the nitpicking you hate, but I was really interested in some of the stuff at the end about the philosophy of Superman, since the last two movies have inevitably fallen into the trap of making Superman save the world by performing feats of wonder and strength. Since Superman is already a "mini God", this is incredibly boring.

    1. Thanks for that link, Imrahil. That was something that troubled me as well, Superman's absolute lack of concern for EVERYBODY who was clearly dying in the massive urban destruction in the film. It really didn't fit the core values of the character, which is that everybody matters equally. It may simply be that the people making this movie were leaning more towards "How can we make this look like the ultimate Superman film", and neglecting somewhat the question of "How can we make this feel like the ultimate Superman film". This is another part of why I think the character is too black and white for this modern age. We're picking on this aspect of the film, but if he HAD tried to save everyone, if he just stepped in with an infallible sense of morality, I think it would look just as ridiculous to us. So, is there a middle ground for a modernized Superman? Or has his time come and gone?