What makes Superman super? the “man”

Once again, via Mark – possibly the best essay on Superman I’ve ever read.

Superman isn’t a Jesus analogue because, unlike Jesus, his moral vision is not imposed. The word of Jesus is the word of God and therefore what he says goes, dictation straight from the Almighty. Superman is the exact opposite: a man whose moral vision comes not from a source exterior to humanity but from humanity itself, via Ma and Pa Kent, who are themselves immensely decent people. He ultimately isn’t a received savior, regardless of the origin of his powers; he’s Superman, the apotheosis of what human virtue can be. He’s an aspirational figure first and foremost.

(…) Superman isn’t Superman because of some tragedy which informed his growth. Pa Kent does not die because of a failure on Clark’s part – indeed in most versions of the story, Pa dies when Clark is already Superman. Clark’s knowledge of Krypton doesn’t make him a superhero either; again, this is something he finds out later, too late to traumatize him. Clark is Superman because he decides to be Superman without being prompted. That’s more complex and nuanced a story than “somebody did something to me.” Superman’s story, which informs his entire character, is one of someone who chooses to be good of his own free will and agency, with no influence other than moral upbringing.

This complements my own observation that the best Superman is where Clark Kent is the person and Superman the persona, rather than the way around. I love the moral paragon argument above, but I take a more cynical view that the most interesting Superman stories are ones in which, just like the rest of us, he lapses. Fundamentally, Superman is not Jesus, he’s the opposite as MGK points out. That should also extend to the question of his infallibility. Free will and reason itself are subjective processes, and Superman is Superrational. Which for mankind, isn’t super at all.

An interesting corollary is the question of whether Superman’s goodness is the yin that drives the yang of Luthor’s badness. Read MGK’s essay on Luthor – great analysis of the character, and I fully agree that there’s no villain his equal, because other villains are just… villains.

I’ve enjoyed Batman as a character but he just doesn’t have the same depth of fascination for me – and I’ve long understood that no one could ever “become” Batman.

Superman vs Batman

Steven links to a “rock solid” argument that Batman would beat Superman in a fight, with caveats about “winning”. I find it highly circular, however (aren’t all tautologies “rock solid” by definition?).

The premises – that Supes is dumber, that Batman is more canny, that Supes is more moral – create a very restricted scenario. I can provide a much more compelling argument about the outcome of any hypothetical match, without any axioms whatsoever. All we need to do are make the following observations:

* Superman can fly, has super strength, and heat and xray vision
* Batman has access to Kryptonite, money, and technology

So, the scenario:

1. Batman prepares complex, expensive scheme involving technology and kryptonite
2. Superman arrives on scene, and from aerial position uses xray vision to locate threat, and thus maintain sufficient distance to avoid effect of Kryptonite
3. Superman melts Batman’s technology using heat vision

There’s no scenario in which Batman can deliver the kryptonite to a threatening distance to disable Superman. The fact that Lex Luthor routinely achieved this in the comics, however, is more a failure of imagination on the part of Superman’s writers than Superman’s abilities.

In fact, I will postulate that Superman’s powers effectively render him invincible even to kryptonite since there is no scenario in which kryptonite’s radius of influence can exceed Superman’s area of influence via heat vision and xray vision, or ability to escape via flight and super strength.

This is the problem with Superman, in a nutshell: he’s super. Essentially, he is a god, something barely ever hinted at in the TV and movies and rarely addressed in the comics. There’s really only one ending to the story of Superman, no matter what universe or storyline or timeline you are in: Superman decides to rule the Earth. The tyranny will come, it must come, inexorably. The logic of this is quite simple:

– Superman routinely uses his powers to intervene in human affairs
– Superman routinely makes choices, therefore, about what human affairs to intervene in
– People close to Superman benefit disproportionately from Superman’s intervention

Therefore, Superman is already making decisions about life and death on behalf of the human race. And doing so with no more omniscient wisdom than the most erratic Greek gods – namely, none. He’s ruled by human impulses and acts on them with godlike power. That means that for all his alien-ness, he is still susceptible to the basic law of human civilization: absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Hellsing looks interesting

Mark talks about Hellsing and manages to pique my interest – not necessarily because of the blood and gore, but because of the description of Alucard:

One of the big problems with the series for me is actually that Alucard is way too powerful. There are several villains who crop up in the series, but most don’t even come close to Alucard’s power, and even the one climatic battle in the series is kinda lacking in suspense because even when it seems like Alucard has been defeated, he always manages to come back somehow.

For some reason, I am reminded of Aang in Avatar here. In his Avatar state, Aang is essentially invincible, but those scenes are incredibly exciting instead of dull – especially the final episode, where Aang fights the ultimate villain of the series, and (not to spoil it too obviously) wins, big time. Another example of this is the Terminator (original movie), where Arnold is literally unstoppable and his eventual demise is almost purely providential rather than because of any strategizing by the overmatched human protagonists.

Regardless of whether its a hero, villain, or something in between – there’s something very satisfying about a character who wields sheer power. Handled deftly, it can be a fresh change from the usual “hero tested beyond his limits and then succeeds against all odds” formula.

In fact the ultimate example of this is probably the character of Superman – in my opinion the best stories are those where he has to use his powers, not the ones where he loses them, faces a more powerful being, finds himself weakened by Kryptonite, etc etc. Superman being, well, super is what makes Superman fun.

the mask of Batman

I’d mused earlier that Clark Kent, not Superman, is the more interesting character (and unfortunately, the various incarnations of Superman on the movie screen have seen fit to ignore my opinion).

Kevin D agreed with me, but made an offhand comment that the dynamic is inverted for Bruce Wayne/Batman. I have to disagree. Bruce Wayne as the mask, rather than Batman, makes the character much more shallow. The genius of the Batman movie reboot with Christian Bale was that they made Wayne the focus, with Batman being a mere persona, just another tool in his arsenal (a psychological one).

I am more interested in Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent as characters than in Superman and Batman. A Wayne/Kent story would be ideal. A Batman/Superman story would be 2-dimensional and dull. Both these men are more alike than the differences in their costumed personas indicate.

I’ve no doubt this has been explored in the comics at some point but frankly these characters are more interesting to me on a screen than on a page.

nameless movie game

I don’t even know what to call this other than “Aziz’s brain works in odd ways” but it occurred to me that there are movies which reunite actors from totally unrelated films. For example, we know Christopher Reeve was the iconic Superman, and Michael Keaton was the original big screen Batman. So with all the talk of a Supes vs Bats movie out there, some people fantasize about a Keaton-Reeve casting. But it’s been done! The movie was called Speechless and costarred Gina Davis.

Likewise the mom and dad from Seventh Heaven (on television) were both sidekicks to Captain Kirk in Star Trek movies (mom was Gillian from IV:The Voyage Home and dad was Decker from I:The Motion Picture).

Can’t think of any other examples off the top of my head but do chime in if you’ve got one.

Batman and Superman

A very cool visual cameo in the movie I am Legend starring Will Smith (click to enlarge):

Batman Superman

As AICN notes it probably isn’t a viral tease for something already in production, but given that both franchises are successfully rebooted and are doing well, there’s certainly a possibility. I wouldn’t accept anyone else playing Batman besides Christian Bale, as he owins that role. As far as Supes, Brandon Routh did a good job of channeling Christopher Reeve (almost too good) but I’m not particularly invested in that representation. The interpretation of Supes as Kent being the disguise never sat well with me. I prefer the route taken on TV (Lois and Clark and Smallville) where Clark Kent is who he is, Superman is what he does. We haven’t had a Superman of that sort on the big screen before and that would I think be the better complement to Batman in a combo film.