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What's so super about Superman?

No, this is not a joke.  I'm being serious.

One of the things that helps make a story is to have the protagonist be larger than life.  It opens the door to great adventure, because you, as the writer, can throw more things at them and they will rise up and handle it.  At the very least, you want your characters to seem competent.

The reason is simple -- suspence.  You want to keep the readers wondering WHAT THE HERO WILL DO NEXT, not WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT.  Allow me to illustrate using one of my favorite examples -- Die Hard and Passenger 57Die Hard is what I regard as the perfect action movie.  Aside from one logic problem, the movie does everything right.  The hero is out of his element and completely ill-prepared for the threat he will be facing.  The villain is intelligent and driven and a real challenge for the hero.  World continues on, unaware and uncaring of what the hero is attempting to do (from the hostage rescue expecting to lose some of the people to the news report that blows the wife's cover).  The first time I watched the movie, I kept thinking, "Bruce Willis HAS to win...right?"  Hollywood doesn't pull downer endings, but I honestly couldn't see how he could pull it off, and between the damage to his feet and such, I just couldn't imagine how it would work.  Die Hard is the perfect action movie.

Now, let's take a look at Passenger 57.  I never had any doubt how it would end.  I kept waiting for things to get to a point where the action I was expecting would kick in.  Much like this summer's Salt, there was tension, but no suspense.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a problem when he created Sherlock Holmes.  Holmes was so smart, he could solve most anything easily.  So he created an antagonist, Moriarty, to keep things in line.  Adrian Monk can solve several mysteries early in the episode (the kidnapped violinist, for example, he could have figured out in the park had he been paying attention).  Instead, Monk has a series of crippling phobias and neuroses, restricting his actions and distracting his mind.  Captain American is simply a peak-physical condition soldier, not a superman.  And so on and so on and so on.  Superman was seen as too powerful, and the result was the creation of kryptonite, his one weakness (well, technically, he has another, Kryptonians are weak against magic, but only those of us who actually know and appreciate the Helen Slater Supergirl movie remember that).

So, that said, what is so super about Superman?  I'm not going to provide a link to it because the site is outdated and, if you're a Windows user with a crap antivirus program (which would be all of them.  I know!  I don't know how I got so funny, either!), you're likely to get hit.  But there's a website called Superdickery that features comic covers and such that can be...reinterpreted in ways that may not have been intended.  I say "may not" because, while there is some stuff that is more like YouTube poop than actually carrying a double meaning, some of the things on the site are intentionally misinterpreted because, if you actually examine them...well, see for yourself....



And you thought YOUR friends were bad.  I wrote a while ago about Spider-Man being a selfish prick, but at least, when he gets anti-social, he just sulks and curses his own existence.  A lot of the above stories are Superman trying to either measure the loyalty of his friends or just simulations (they're actually perfectly safe) to teach them Important Life Lessons.  The only difference between him and the Jigsaw Killer is that Superman's victims aren't horribly maimed and psychologically scarred afterwards.

Now, this isn't just personality-wise.  It also has to do with Superman stories of late.  I remember in the 80's there was a Superman story where he, as Clark Kent, was in a rocket that crash landed on a planet with a red sun.  He was completely powerless but eventually rescued.  Turns out, his glasses survived the crash so the rescue team recognized him and took him home.  In other words, a horrible plot contrivance was his ultimate salvation, he was completely helpless.

In many ways, this is typical of Superman stories.  Superman is like Mickey Mouse, where the situation is bad and if he just lasts long enough, things will right.  Superman does more than Mickey, but he is still at the mercy of arbitrary fate instead of actively engaging things.  Is it because writers are consciously trying to stretch things out, or is it simply the only thing that can work for the most powerful man in the universe?  I think it's the former.  I mean, Captain Marvel doesn't have to put up with this shit.

These two facets of Superman stories have collided in the past couple of years.  The recently wrapped World Of New Krypton storyline, for example, Superman spends the entire time as a voluntary flunkie of the bad guys, even as they kill others, Kryptonian and human.  Indeed, it's Mon-El and Supergirl who do the heavy lifting and put things right.  Superman gets slapped by a woman who is upset Superman chose to try and save thousands of lives in a cataclysm about to hit the city instead of trying to save her husband from having a heart attack, and he believes she has a point.  Superman then goes on JMS' favorite metaphor, a walkabout.  He's going to walk across America without using his powers to help or do anything.  He even doublebacks once or twice.  He sets off on this at the end of an issue that starts with him promising to never leave Lois Lane again.  Say whaaaaaaaaa--?!?

So, one part fate dictating the stories, one part Superman behaving as anything but a higher human being and simply as a superior being, full of arrogance and lacking any heart.

I ask again...what's so super about Superman?

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
4shatteredstars
Jan. 22nd, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
I've never been impressed with Superman. Neither was the Sugarhill Gang.

"I said he's a fairy I do suppoose
flying through the air in pantyhose
he may be very sexy or even cute
but he looks like a sucker in a blue and red suit
I said you need a man who's got finesse
and his whole name across his chest
he may be able to fly all through the night
but can he rock a party til the early light?"

Make Mine Marvel.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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