April 28, 2011

WHY SUPERMAN MATTERS

I admit it. I have always been a fan of Superman. Not necessarily of the comic books (I own many of them) or the movies (I own those, too), but of the actual concept.

There's an old German edition of Superman from 1974 that I still own, and it was one of the very first comic books I ever bought at a flea market. It was called Superman & Batman, it was flimsy and printed on a very weird paper. In the back of it, in the editorial pages, there was a form to fill out, the kind you'd find every now and then in those type of comic books, the kind where the reader can answer questions like What superhero would you like to be? and Why would you like to be that superhero?

And in the little squiggles of a young kid it has these answers.

(1) Superman

(2) Because I will save everyone.

I wrote these lines. I was five years old. In the end, for all my anger and all my frustration at the injustices of this world and life, it was always Superman I looked up to. Some of you may now accuse me, and perhaps you'd think even rightfully so, of me having a god complex. But that was never what Superman was all about for me. I'm from a small town. I have parents very much like the Kents. They bicker and argue and are stubborn and strong and taught me one thing above any other.

That there's right and wrong, and that it is very easy to make that distinction.

And you may say that this is too simple. You may say that the world is a much more complex place, and it has neither the time for such simple thoughts, nor have these simple thoughts a place in this world.

And I say to you, that is bullshit. There is truth. And there is justice. And they are simple concepts, because they are true. And just. And easy to understand, even if your are a little child. There is only one truth that matters. And it's that you stand up for those who have been beaten down, that you show kindness to those who have never known it. Not out of pity, not because it is easy, not because it may make you feel good about yourself, may make you feel empowered and allow you to look down on those who are not.

The concept of the Superman, as written down by Nietzsche and misread by so many people tyrants and despots and prejudiced men and women everywhere is not that you are somehow better, somehow more powerful, not that might makes right.

It is this, it is compassion. It is what Superman over the decades grew into. Not a Man of Steel, he is often seen as boring, because, hey, let's be honest, he is the Godfather of all superheroes. He is - if not god - the closest thing to a god what modern pop culture has ever been given. There was a time when he could move mountains, when he could stop time and fly faster than the speed of light.

But these things were never what made him Superman.

It is that - with all this power - he chose to see right from wrong. To not look down on those who are less powerful than him, but to stand for those who are in need. His parents taught him that. And it is a simple concept. Truth. And Justice.

I will also quite openly tell you that I have my issues with the Superman comics of today. They appear to be written for the most part by people who focus on the wrong things, and maybe understandably so, but still...

But yesterday I bought the anniversay issue of Superman, the No. 900. I did so out of a whim and perhaps out a little sense of nostalgia. Whatever the big "in continuity" story was didn't hold my interest. It was some kind of crossover bullshit that I cared nothing for. But when I flipped through the issue, a little story caught my eye, and it is that story that made me buy the book.

It's by David Goyer, and if the name means nothing to you, he's a guy with a lot of adaptation credits for comics-to-movie things like Blade and also Batman Begins and Dark Knight. Some of his things are very good, some of them are truly atrocious.He is also credited for writing the Zach Snyder reboot of Superman, which by all indications will belong to the latter.

But this little short story, a few pages long, was everything that Superman is, what Superman should be. I have scanned in a few pages of it, not all of it, and if you go out and buy Superman No. 900, do so for this particular story.

This... this is what Superman is.

What we should be.

What superhero would you like to be? Superman.

Why? Because I would at least try to save everyone.