Monday, August 15, 2011

Blogathon 05: Who is Superman? Part Three

[Continuing my examination of different interpretations of Superman from the past ten years in an effort to maybe say something about the character...]

The Superman I grew up with was a human one. He was still an alien from Krypton, of course, but there was an emphasis on the human elements of the character. After all, he did grow up here with his powers kicking in as a teenager. That basically puts him on the same level as Marvel's mutants. The longer he's Superman, the less human he would be, yes. His powers grant him a different vantage point -- and, more importantly, so does how other people treat him. The more he's treated different, like a god, the more he would begin to see himself that way even if he didn't want to. Our self-image is shaped by how others perceive us and why would Superman be any different?

It's that outside perception of what Superman is and what he should be that locks him in so much. We look at his powers and his differences and make him different. We look at him and see the potential for a mythic figure, so he's that, too. We make him a character that's impossible to relate to and then complain that we can't relate to him!

In It's a Bird..., there's a short bit about Superman as a teen where he chooses to walk all of the way into town to see a movie, knowing that he will miss part of it, rather than fly. He knows that flying would mean exposing himself and would change how others perceive him. He would no longer be the Kent boy, someone they've known for his entire life; he would be a freak, an alien, an other. It's something so obvious, so built into what he is and who we are. Of course we don't relate to Superman -- he's the other, he's the alien! He's the benevolent outsider who protects us, but he's still an outsider. He will never be 'one of us,' not entirely.

Grant Morrison embraced that idea to a degree in All-Star Superman, treating Superman as someone that is outside of humanity and that being a good thing. In that story, Superman doesn't try to belong or fit in, near the end of his career and comfortable in his role as protector. I do like Morrison's version of the character. In concept at least. There is something very exciting and lovely about a god-like figure that loves us and wants us to love one another and is here to help us see that. SuperJesus. He's positioned above us while still enough on our level to love us. It doesn't entirely work for me always, though. It's an argument that requires us to resolve the paradox of him being better than us and no better than us. He's superior and, yet, not. It's a sort of false modesty that I find grating and patronising, honestly. It almost puts Superman in a position of owner to us, his lovable pets without wanting to recognise that.

We don't see Clark much, only a few times, and he's a bumbling, slightly overweight man that people sort of humour and look down on. A bit of a goof. Lots of people have discussed the depiction of Clark and what that says about humanity, about how Superman supposedly views us. In a sense, Clark seems to me to be a test. An example of humanity at a possibly lower point and a way for Superman to see how people treat that sort of person. Clark keeps him humble in a way. Lex Luthor hates Superman because Superman is better than him; he scorns Clark because he's obviously inferior. The Clark we see in All-Star Superman, based upon the Silver Age depiction of the character rather than other modern interpretations, is the balancing act that makes Superman's position of above-and-yet-not work. Superman is above us, Clark Kent is below us (at least from our perspective), so it works out to a balance.

In 30 minutes, more of this.

And we're up to $185 for the Hero Initiative!

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]