Monday, August 15, 2011

Blogathon 08: Who is Superman? Part Six

[Concluding my look at different interpretations of Superman from the past decade...]

My favourite Superman is Joe Casey's Superman. His Superman speaks back to the idea of virtue I mentioned in my second Blogathon post. He could use his massive strength to hit things, to fight violence with violence, and he doesn't. He doesn't take the easy way out and simply punch things back. He uses his brain, he finds non-violent solutions, and he saves the world without throwing a single punch. My favourite Superman is a pacifist Superman.

In Adventures of Superman #616, Superman says the most revolutionary words ever put into his mouth: "No violence. I won't resort to that. I'm a pacifist, Dr. Welbourne." For me, that's when Superman changed and everyone else's version was somehow lacking. This was a smart, forward-thinking concept, a place to take the character that felt completely in-line with everything that guys like Grant Morrison talk about, but putting it into direct action. Of course Superman would be a pacifist! If he's here to set an example of how to be better, of how to rise above our petty basic urges, and move into the future as enlightened, advanced beings, why would he always hit stuff? We've known violence is primative for a long time.

Seagle offers a similar view in a section on 'power' that shows that Superman is just another in a long line of 'might makes right.' He enforces his concept of 'justice' and 'morality' through violence and his superior strength. It doesn't matter if he's fighting on our side, his methods reveal him as a primative creature. If anything, Azzarello's version of the character is a logical extension of that argument. And, for all of Morrison's arguments and depictions of Superman as a loving protector, All-Star Superman still ends with him beating Lex Luthor by punching him out.

I've long wondered why no one else has followed Casey's example. For an entire year (and a little bit before that even), he had Superman not throw a single punch. He managed to defeat any enemies that came his way and save the world/Metropolis/whatever. Hell, as Casey pointed out, he thought it was his explicit statement of Superman's pacifism that went too far; meaning, if he didn't say it, would anyone have noticed? If it's possible to have Superman be a pacifist without any serious disruptions, why doesn't everyone write him that way? Why not have the character live up to his potential and example?

The idea that Superman says he's a pacifist is going too far is key here. You can only change the character so much. Funnily enough, Casey's final year on Adventures of Superman reminded us how much the character has changed when he comes face to face with what is essentially the original Golden Age Superman. A strongman in tights that fights against corrupt authority, a reminder that the modern boom of heroes that do that is really another example of "Superman did it!" Superman has changed over the years and will change again. But, what makes pacifism too much of a change? Where is the line of how much you can alter the character? People said Azzarello went too far, or that Frank Miller simply mocks the character and that's not really Superman. I've heard some reactions to Casey's pacifist Superman that were the same. But, if it falls within the broad criteria that make up the character, how is it not Superman? If it's not Superman, who is it?

To me, Casey's pacifist Superman is more Superman than any version of the character since his original inception. It's a character more in sync with my interests and worldview. He still fights for truth and justice, he still wears the costume, he still has amazing powers -- all he does is use them differently. Add in some of his fighting corruption past and you've got the making of a superhero I'd read about every month.

But, that's not how others perceive the character. They want him to have big fights with larger than life adversaries. They want Lex Luthor to be a mad scientist instead of a businessman. They want Lois and Clark unmarried. They want, they want, they want...

Who is Superman? I'll leave that to Tim Callahan: "Superman is the essence of man, all the power anyone could wish, but still burdened by the responsibility to help others and the need to find someone to connect with. He IS easy to relate to, because he is a stylized version of all of us."

Superman is whoever you want him to be.

In 30 minutes, I'll begin my issue-by-issue look at Iron Man: The Inevitable by Joe Casey and Frazer Irving.

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