Adam Graham's Blog: Christians and Superheroes - Posts Tagged "superman"

Superman Adventures: From Reality to Myth

Reading both Superman: The Dailies, 1939-1940 and Superman in the Forties, I was struck how Superman's mission has changed.

In early Superman stories, Superman was very much involved in the ordinary struggle of human beings as a sort of modern day Robin Hood. In the first two issues of Action Comics, Superman prevented an innocent woman from being executed, smacked around a wife-beater, took on a gang of ruffians,and ended a war by forcing the munitions manufacturer into military service. Twenty-four year old Jerry Siegel theorized that war was caused by munitions suppliers wanting nations to go to war.

Also included was a text story that was required by law in which Superman went to war with a patent attorney who was cheating his clients out of their patents.

In the comic strip, it was much the same thing. Superman battled racketeers, gamblers who ruined an honest fighter's career, an abusive orphanage administrator, and thieves selling weapons to a nation at war.

However, modern superhero stories are concerned far more with big supervillain battles against aliens, mutant lizards,and other such spectacular foes. While it's true that some issues do focus on a social issue such as human trafficking or drug use, but these sort of story lines when our heroes deal with the type of things that actually effect our lives are pretty rare. The villains they battle with are often so removed from the things that actually threaten us that it's astounding. Why aren't real life problems a bigger concern. I'd offer four reasons:

Reason #1: Our problems are too small. Simply put many of the everyday human problems we face are too small. Imagine, putting Superman on a Child and Spousal abuse case. How quick would that be? How hard of a challenge would it be for Superman to defeat the abusive spouse. Having our heroes take on supervillains rather than the type of people who do harm to us in real life we actually give our superheroes a challenge rather than ensuring a quick triumph. It's also not exciting to imagine a superhero spending weeks just to solve the complex problem of one guy in need as Superman did in one issue.

Reason #2: Our problems are too big.: Conversely, the reality of some problems are too big for comic superheroes to take on. A key example is the whole issue of war. As mentioned before, early Action Comics showed that ending war was clearly a job for Superman. Superman in the Forties contains a special 1940 two page comic done for Look Magazine where Superman ends the War by flying in and dragging Hitler and Stalin before a war crimes tribunal and resolves the whole thing. However, reality set in and Superman's role in World War II stories was limited. While if Superman were real, he could end the war in a second, he wasn't and it would take th death of millions to end it. Once America became engaged in the war, it would have been a mockery to imagine Superman swooping down with red cape and boots and making it all better would be absurd at best and disrespectful at worst. And most big problems are like that. They're too big to solve by Hulk smashing something or a few webs. And in order to avoid absurdity, there are some issues that are not addressed at all.

Reason #3 We seek escapism not catharsis : If you or someone you know had been oppressed by the rackets, there had to be a great sense of catharsis of seeing your oppressors really get what for. However, comics have an entirely different set of readers, most of whom don't need catharsis by are seeking escapism. Far out there alien villains are for better for that purpose than real world menace.

Reason #4: We Can't Agree on What Problems Should be Addressed: The things Superman went after in the late 1930s were things most Americans agreed were bad. Gangsters, brutal wife beaters, gangsters,and abusers of orphans were all classes of people who there was little sympathy for. However, many others today are divided. Certainly, some comic books have taken social stances (most left wing), but those stances always have to be tempered lest superheroes are stereotyped as a left wing outlet. If that happens, movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight won't happen in terms of their popularity that cuts across partisan lines. Liberals may like their favorite comic book character standing up for environmentalism and the gay movement, but would probably not be appreciative of a character being pro-life and against teacher's unions. The danger of pulling superheroes too deeply into politics checks even the most strident comic book artist.

This also brought to mind something I was reading in Paul Asay's book,
God on the Streets of Gotham: What the Big Screen Batman Can Teach Us about God and Ourselves. Asay wrote about his own father's decision to banish superheroes from his life. He is quite understanding of why his dad did it and why other Christian parents may do it because some kids may view superheroes "as a replacement for Christ."

However, my thinking about this issue of the type of battles our superheroes fight these days calls to mind a great contrast that kids and adults should keep in mind in addition to the differences between the Son of God and a fictional character. With Christ, there is no problem we might have that is too big, too small, or too hot to handle. He is intimately concerned with our lives in every detail. 1 Peter 5:7 says to cast your cares upon him for he careth for you.
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Published on October 16, 2012 06:47 Tags: christianity, superman

Review: Superman in the Forties

Superman in the Forties Superman in the Forties by Jerry Siegel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This volume contains 192 pages of Golden Age awesomeness. To begin with, we get the first two Superman Stories from action comics in the 1930s. In them. Superman saved an innocent woman from execution, stopped a wife beating, and saves Lois from a psycho kidnapper. And that was just in the first ten pages. Next up is preventing a war.

We get a peak at Superman, both as a rough and tumble no nonsense Superhero whose rough interrogation methods would make Jack Bauer winces to the still strong, but also wiser and gentler role model we knew in the 1940s and 50s.

Along the way, we get to see Superman's first tangle with the Ultra-Humanite, Lex Luthor, and the Toyman, as well as an early encounter with Mr. Mxtztplk. All these characters are vastly different from their modern counterpart with Mxtztplk being more mischievous than truly a danger to the Man of Steel. We also get to see the first appearance of Krytonite in the comic books (after it'd been all over the radio series for two years). In the comics, it appeared as a gem on a phony swami's hat.

As Superman progressed, his writers gained humility. When Jerry Siegel began writing Superman at age 24, all war was the cause of manipulators, and Superman could end and avoid was in a single issue. When confronted with a real life conflict, Siegel imagined a year before Pearl Harbor that Superman could end the war in Europe in two pages by dragging Hitler before the League of Nations. Experience brought humility. However, when America entered the war, the writers knew they couldn't just have Superman end it. Thus Superman focused more on helping others with compassion and intelligence rather than using brute force all the time. (Though he could still use that when called for.)

Throughout the book, Superman cared about the concerns of ordinary Americans, from taking on warmongers and spies to giving what for to a crooked patent attorney, Superman was focused on helping out people in need. This book contains stories of that genuine American hero.

As a patriot, I loved the war story, "America's Secret Weapon," and the final story, "Christmas 'Round the World" was beautifully moving.

While DC has taken to releasing its Archive Collections (Hardback) and Chronicles (Paperback) chronicling the adventures of the Man of Steel, this book is more of a best of compilation from the 1930s and 40s. Its perfect for someone who wants a little Superman as he was meant to be in their library or who wants to see some of the more interesting stories of the era. In addition, the current Chronicles Collection is only up to 1942, so many of the stories in hear from 1944 and after won't be in Trade paperback for years.

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Published on October 31, 2012 19:10 Tags: superman

The Justice Introverts, The Fantastic Extroverts, and The Avengers

I've been reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking which focuses on introversion and the power of Introverts. I always score very high on Introversion tests, so I find it interesting.

As I thought about this topic, I wondered where my favorite superheroes would lie on this Introversion/Extroversion Axis.

Of course, Superheroes can be tricky to pin down. The nature of the Superhero business requires characters to do things that are more naturally introverted such as keeping few close relationships less someone learn your secret identity. It also can require some more public outgoing behavior.

In addition, Superheroes are often dualistic with two identities with two very different identities. Where does Superman begin and where does Clark Kent end?

Introversion doesn't have to do with selfishness or necessarily shyness. It has to do with what energizes you. For introverts, it's time alone and in thoughtful activities like reading. For extroverts, it's time with people. Introversion can be accompanied by other traits such as thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

Thus, it's quite possible to be a Superhero AND an introvert. I'd say many of the DC heroes definitely fit that bill because their origins go back farther and original comics drew from an earlier time in what Susan Cain calls the culture of "Character." Oftentimes, early comic books didn't have our characters with a lot of flashy personalities and identity problems. We loved the original superheroes because of their character, their quiet strength and humility, and much of that has carried over to the present day.

One final challenge is that there have been so many versions of these characters and writers have changed personalities. I will only write about the characters as I know them, so no "New 52" stuff or other recent comic innovations.

The Justice League: Animated Series

Batman (Introvert): The coolest and most popular Superhero of the modern age is probably one of the most introverted in his modern version. The Justice League Animated Series makes this clear. Sometimes the other heroes will go about flouncing around, jumping into action with little thought or consideration. In the middle of all, Batman sitting down in the batcave, with an actual solution. Batman can hold his own battle, but he is the clear brains of the Justice League series. Like many introverts, he wears a mask (named Bruce Wayne) who does all the smiling socializing necessary to maintain a secret identity, but Batman is at ease and happy down in the Batcave figuring everything out.

Superman (Introvert): There's some debate over this, though perhaps it stems from a misunderstanding of Introversion/Extroversion. Someone on a comic forum argued Superman Adores his wife (that's back before DC made Superman unmarried so they could pursue a relationship with Wonder Woman)." Many introverts adore their spouses. That's not the point. There's a difference between an introvert and a misanthrope. I tend to think Superman is an introvert, partly due to nature (Krypton seems a place that valued personality less than Earth.) and nurture (being raised on a farm miles from others.) Superman's always been a bit of a loner and so has Clark Kent, even from childhood with few close friends and this has continued to adulthood. I mean Batman may have the Batcave, but when Superman needs to recharge he flies up to the North Pole to a place called, "The Fortress of Solitude." I rest my case.

Martian Manhunter: Maybe, he'd be more sociable if there were other Martians around, but he's a very quiet and thoughtful person who rarely says anything that's not important and is more given to contemplation than chattering conversation.

The Flash (Wally West) (Extrovert) : Ultimate extrovert, always joking around and having a good time, though it was once suggested by Unlimited hero that his jovial attitude was only a mask. I hope not because the Justice League needs some balance.

The rest: Green Lantern (John Stewart) (Introvert), Hawkgirl (Slight Extrovert), Wonder Woman (Extrovert).

The Fantastic Four

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that the team of Superheroes that forsook secret identities would be majority Extroverts (with one key exception).

Johnny Storm (the Human Torch), ever the outgoing lady's man who thrives on public speaking, social interactions, and public performances is the obvious Extrovert.

Sue Richards (the Invisible Woman) is far more outgoing than her Introvert husband and always up for going out and social occasions.

Ben Grimm (The Thing) may be self-conscious about his appearance, but when he gets out, he shows all the boisterous enthusiasm of any Extrovert.

Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) is the team's only Introvert. He's the guy that the rest of the team has to pry out of the lab. It is true that in one early issue of the Fantastic Four, he did encourage the Four to go to a reception held for them by Congress. But this was more out of a sense of duty and patriotism rather than excitement about a social outing. Ironically, it's the Introverted Reed who rises to leadership.

The Avengers

Here we base our perceptions on the two or (in the case of Iron Man) three movies containing the most popular characters as well as the other bits about them we've picked up from the Marvel Universe:

Iron Man (Ambivert): Tony Stark is kind of hard to figure out. On one hand, he's a party animal in social situations and loves being the center of attention and can be recklessly spontaneous such as blowing his secret identity at the end of Iron Man. On the other hand, he handles solitary activities and works well alone. He's not only a combination of man and machine, he's a combination of Introvert and Extrovert. He's an Amnivert (and that's a real word.)

Thor (Extrovert): Thor is not one for quite reflection. He's the pure man of action, ready to march into war. He's not stupid, not reckless, but he is a social leader, much more comfortable with comrades by his side than alone.

Captain America (Introvert): The Marvel heroes have huge respect for Captain America, but it's not because he's the most outgoing people person. It's once again that quiet strength of character and dedication to duty. He first appeared in 1941, and is come from the same cloth as Batman and Superman. He's not the life of the party, but its quiet strength and inspiration.


Due to the sheer volume of material I've read, I've got to offer an opinion on a couple of characters not usually included in any team.

Spider-man (Introvert): There have been some conflicting portrayals of Spider-man, whether this is due to him being an amnivert or him being an "Extrovert wannabe," or whether the writers have had trouble writing him consistently is a fair question. There are several things favor him being an introvert. His geekiness, his quiet enjoyment of science and solitude loom large. On the other hand, Spider-man can be somewhat impulsive and reckless in battle. While humor or comedy is not the sole province of extroversion, his flip, wise-cracking comments to all-comers may suggest extroversion to many.

I think Spider-man's extrovert traits are proof of a concept that Cain shared in the book. No one is a complete extrovert or introvert. Anyone who fell into either category according to Carl Jung would be in an insane asylum. Spider-man's multi-faceted personality makes him such a fascinating and engaging character and also keeps him sane.

However, I think the evidence is quite clear on Spider-man's introverted tilt. While Spider-man may be wisecracking with the bad guys, if we watch cartoons or read the comics, we see him having deep introspective sensitive thoughts in his private moments. And when Spider-man
has had a bunch of drama (either in or out of costume), there's nothing he enjoys more than swinging across the Manhattan skyline, enjoying the pleasure of peace and quiet above the maddening rush of the city.

Daredevil (Extrovert): Superman may retreat and enjoy the tranquility of the Fortress of Solitude but not Daredevil. As a blind man, he's expected to weak and helpless and it drives him nuts. In Daredevil Vol. 1, #25, he declared that it felt like being Matt Murdoch was a mask. At his best, he's a swashbuckling adventurer and outgoing lawyer. The limits of his handicap and the requirements of being a superhero notwithstanding, Daredevil is an Extrovert at heart.

So, of the seventeen heroes I looked at, eight are extroverts, eight are introverts, and one is an amnivert. With these diverse personalities, they all play key roles in keeping the world safe from evil.

In that way, superheroes may set an example for introverts and extroverts in the real world.
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Published on November 01, 2012 22:38 Tags: batman, daredevil, spider-man, superman

Superman and Us: Saving the World

One more comment on Superman in the Forties before I return it to the library.

As I mentioned in my review, in Action Comics #1, after stopping wife-beating, preventing an unjust execution, and saving Lois, Superman set out to prevent a war. Jerry Siegel believed that war was exclusively caused by munitions dealers and by intimidating the arms dealer into enlisting, Superman prevented the war. That was in 1938.

Real war came the next year. In 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, Siegel wrote a story for Look Magazine where Superman stopped the war in two pages.

However, when America entered the war, everyone knew Superman couldn't fight it. This was helped by Superman participating in war games and despite his efforts, his army lost because of the determination of American soldiers to prevail. Superman proclaimed his prime in America's fighting men who were America's true secret weapon.

Siegel himself served in the military and Superman was endowed with a little extra dose of humility. There were limits, there were problems so big he couldn't solve.

But this didn't make Superman impotent in the face of real suffering. It just required a different solution. This was best illustrated in the story, "Christmas Around the World." In that tale, Superman brings Christmas to towns in war torn countries and helps reunite four child war refugees with their parents.

Superman's efforts are only superhuman in the amount of time his mission took. Such relief efforts have been done since by people who have come with supplies and gifts to troubled lands. Superman had learned that he couldn't help everyone but that he could help someone.

Of course, more modern writers and producers have drawn a subtly different lesson: Superman can't help.

In the movie Superman IV, Superman undertakes to destroy all the world's nuclear weapons, but ends up realizing as a result of facing Lex Luthor's ridiculous clone of him, that humanity needs to solve the problem for themselves. Similarly in the graphic novel, Peace on Earth, Superman tries to stop world hunger but fails and instead urges people to share knowledge with needy people.

The big difference here is that rather than finding a smaller way in which he can make a difference, Superman is left to shrug his shoulders and say, "It's all up to you."

Perhaps, this in part because of the obvious parallels written into the superman mythos creating an analogy between Superman and Christ. It is as if the writers want to say that God is impotent in these matters and it's all up to us.

However, we're left with the same problem Superman faced: the problems are too big, particularly if they're too big for Superman.

Some times, the use of statistics to emphasize the scope of a problem like poverty is simply overwhelming. If you say, "X number of children in our state will go to bed hungry," I think it makes people overwhelmed. And if you start talking world hunger with hundreds of millions and billions thrown in, good night.

It's hard to see when you start talking numbers like that how a few boxes of pasta or a few dollars can make a difference, and statistically you may be right.

However, the food you provide makes a difference to one or two real people who may go to bed full rather than hungry. What Superman taught showed in "Christmas Around the World" is that we may not be able to solve a big problem, but we can help some of the people involved.

I think we would do more good if we shifted our focus from the big global problems we can't solve to the individual people we can help. Sponsor a child, provide a Thanksgiving Meal, write a check, give an hour of time. Do something small that helps one or two people and if enough of us do that, we'll make a dent in the big problems.

I had the privilege this week to do food sorting at the Idaho food bank. We had four large boxes full of food from a food drive, from the little bit that people were able to donate here and there. A little by everyone makes a lot.

Jesus told his disciples that "the poor you will have with you always" (Mark 14:6) This wasn't meant as a blithe acceptance of reality because he also told to help the poor. Rather the statement serves as a reminder that the problems of poverty will always be present on Earth because of the problems in the human condition. However, we can help those in poverty, if we don't let the bigness of the problem overwhelm us.
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Published on November 07, 2012 09:35 Tags: poverty, superman

The Rise and Fall of the Superhero Marriage, Part One: The Fantastic Marriages

The earliest superheroes were not married and for the most part, romance wasn't on their mind. Superman, Batman, and the like were more concerned with doing the hero thing. The same could be said of the Green Hornet, the Shadow, the Lone Ranger, Sherlock Holmes, Nick Carter, and many characters from the same era.

They were single minded in their pursuits. In the case of superheroes such as Superman, it was a single minded pursuit of justice and crime-fighting that left little time for romance.

Some of this lack of interest in the opposite sex probably fueled some unjustified charges of homosexuality against some comic book characters.

However, romance of sorts came to comics. As Superman waged a never-ending battle against the forces of evil, Lois Lane waged a never-ending battle to get Superman to marry her. This happened in the comics and on TV but all turned out to be a dream. Those annoying wake up calls didn't stop Lois. She even got her own comicbook in 1958 that pursued that goal.

It was mostly playful stuff right of a sitcom with Lois Lane much like Sisyphus constantly rolling a stone uphill only to have it roll back down saw her schemes go awry.

The Fantastic Marriage

In 1960s, the Superhero world changed for with the introduction of the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four were first and foremost a family team from the beginning. They had amazing superpowers but they were real people as well. Like any family, they fought and had personality conflicts but beneath it all, they cared for each other. The team was made of Reed Richards, his girlfriend Sue Storm and her brother Johnny, as well as ex-football star and pilot Ben Grimm. They are hit with Cosmic rays and become (respectively): Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Girl (later Invisible Woman), The Human Torch,and the Thing.

While Sue's affections wavered during the course of their adventures with her crushing on Sub-mariner and Ant Man, she did end up marrying Reed in Fantastic Four Annual #3.

Lee had really captured the need for human companionship and marriage even among superheroes and he used it a lot in his work. It also occurred in the FF as Ben Grimm's rock hard personality is softened by the loving blind woman Alicia Masters. Not every romance story worked as well.

Other Superhero nuptials occurred in the 1960s including the Flash to Iris West in 1968, and another two superhero wedding between Marvel characters Yellow Jacket (aka Hank Pym) and the Wasp (1969).

However, as Stan Lee took a break from the torrid pace of writing, one character who had been on the road to matrimony was thrown off of it. Marvel killed off Spider-man's love interest Gwen Stacy because they didn't know what to do with the relationship other than marriage, which they weren't ready to pursue.

Other marriages weren't made to last as Superhero divorces started to occur. Hank Pym struck his wife in anger culminating a series of events that had him drummed out of the Avengers and leading to his divorce from the Wasp.

Other marriages broke up, but just as in the real world, marriages continued to happen. After years of heartache, heartbreak and frustration, Spider-man proposed to Mary Jane Watson leading to the marriage in Spider-man Annual #21, a marriage that fans would come to love and one editor at Marvel would come to hate. (More on that in the next post.)

Finally, Superman himself got married. There had been Superman marriages before but in the twisted continuities of multiple alternate Earths and various characters on Earth One and Earth Two in the pre-Crisis DC Universe, it really is hard to track who was married to who.

The series tracked with Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman which was built on the growing relationship between the two characters. In the TV series, Clark was portrayed as a virgin who saved himself for marriage. While a lot of crazy stuff went wrong in the TV show, one has to admire their dogged determination to get married despite clones, witches, and all these sorts of obstacles.

There are three big superheroes that have the highest name recognition: Superman, Batman, and Spider-man. By the mid-1990s, whatever craziness happened in the rest of the Superhero world, two were quite happily married in the comic books. However, that wouldn't last for long.

To be Continued....
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Published on November 12, 2012 08:59 Tags: aquaman, fantastic-four, marriage, spider-man, superhero, superman

The Decline of Superman, Part One: The Problem

As someone who has hosted an old time radio Superman podcast for five years, you'd think I'd be happy that Superman is returning to theater next year seven years after the forgettable Superman Returns. You'd be wrong.

Both the early trailers, pictures, and sneak peeks we've gotten of the plot indicate we're in for a darker Superman story and everything I see on the official website seems to bare that out..

Paul Asay, a big-time Batman fan shares the concern:

Man of Steel will be directed by Zack Snyder (he of 300 fame) and produced by Christopher Nolan—a guy who worked such dark wonders with our modern Dark Knight. I wonder whether a similar remake may be on the docket for Superman—an angsty, dark, traumatized hero. He’d become Batman, only with X-ray vision and without the cool car.

I hope not. As much as I like Batman, I think we need heroes like Superman, too—heroes we can embrace without reservation. Sometimes, we need heroes that are too good for us, too good for our age. We need heroes that don’t reflect ourselves, but represent something better, something purer.

The soon to be 75-year old Superman franchise has been in decline for a decade or so at least. Not only was the 2006 film sub-par, but the Superman comics have been lagging as well.

The best of them is Action Comics, which ranked #12 in October being outsold by not only Batman and Detective Comics but also Justice League and Green Lantern. (Yep, Green Lantern is outselling Superman's best title.)

The Adventures of Superman ranked #31 behind Aquaman (#27). Yes, Aquaman is now outselling the Adventures of Superman. The title is on its third creative team since the New 52 relaunch.

Keep in mind that at his height Superman had like five titles based on his character including, "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen," "Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane," and "Superboy."

Of course, what makes this ironic is that the Man of Steel still has a lot of fans. His merchandise still flies off shelves and many have fond memories and positive opinion of the big guy.

So what's behind the decline of the Superman franchise? We'll take a look in upcoming blog posts.
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Published on November 26, 2012 21:31 Tags: comic-book-sales, decline, superman

Decline of Superman, Part Two: Do We Want Heroes to Look Up To?

In the 2007 Marvel/DC After Hours fan-written You Tube series using action figures, Lex Luthor tries to get Superman to help him destroy the Marvel Universe. He explains that in his opinion Marvel has destroyed everything.

"Your job is to be an inspiration for people, someone they can look up to, someone they can aspire to be like in steadfastness, in character, in ideals...

"Now, we have an entire culture who thinks who they are is just fine and how dare anyone suggest they can improve themselves...No one wants to look up to you Superman, they don't want to strain their necks."

Truer words were never spoken at least not by action figures being used as puppets in a fan film although putting the blame on Marvel, but rather on a Wider culture.

Paul Asay ponders a similar point:

…is Superman really too strong for us? Or is he too good?

“Deep down, Clark’s essentially a good person,” Batman says of Superman in DC’s Hush. “And deep down, I’m not.”

That’s one of the things that always attracted me to Batman. Because deep down, I know I’m not, either. None of us are, if it comes right down to it. We all know, at 3 a.m. we’re staring at the ceiling, we’re not as good as we pretend to be or even think we are most of the time. We’re selfish, sinful people. Batman’s not “super.” He’s flawed. In a way he is, in Ryan’s words, a wreck. But he does what he can with the tools he’s been given and becomes a hero through force of will—giving all of us a little hope that we can be a hero, too.

Superman’s not like that. He’s better than us—better, perhaps, than we could even aspire to be. If Batman appeals to jaded adults like me, Superman is a hero for the 7-year-old set—strong and brave and incorruptible and good. He’s a John Wayne relic that you never worry about falling or failing or disappointing you. He’s a hero for people who did, or do, believe in such things.

And then there's Astro who writes;

Characters like Spider Man and Wolverine and the Batman we've all come to know more fully embody the, frankly, childish emotional upheavals we’ve all dealt with, especially the more emotionally and intellectually stunted among us...

Superman, at his core, is a mythological figure much more than he is a character. The stories told about him SHOULD represent the struggles we all deal with -- allegorically...The emotions he feels transcend angst and pettiness, cross into the realm of faith. They are of a higher order, and when you're writing the character you have to play only to those higher order emotions; largely removing jealousy, anger, self hatred, fear, whineyness, arrogance, and all the other negative emotions that make great drama, and are the bulk of a modern writers' repertoire.

Superman is bigger than all that... Superman stories are PARABLES, instructive in their tone, constructive in their direction....

To a populace who would rather not think of all the ways in which we are broken, or failing to live up to our ethical potential, Superman reminds us; a being of pure good, self assuredly doing what he can to save the world without complaint and without hesitation. Couldn't we all be that way? And if so, why aren't we?

Superman makes us UNCOMFORTABLE. Superman makes us ASHAMED of our laziness, of the small compromises we make every day, the transgressions we commit against what we know to be right in the name of expediency, convenience, greed, pettiness, anger.

So, I submit to you, dear reader; perhaps the problem isn’t with Superman. Perhaps the problem with us.

To some extent, these writers have a point. Certainly, they're right on with the comic book reading community.

For a long time, comics haven't been targeted towards kids. That's no big secret. The primary audience for comics has been cynical Gen X and Gen Y males who have little interest in a character whose known for moral goodness.

However, in the wider culture, I think Superman remains much more an enigma. Superman hauls in big time money in merchandising rights from watches to T-shirts to ball caps. People love Superman.

But perhaps we love Superman the way we love Santa Claus. Asay may have hit on it when he referred to Superman as a hero for 7 year olds.

Superman acting with unadulterated goodness while wielding great power seems like something just for kids. It's an adult world and we're cynical about moral excellence. As adults, we've come to believe that everyone has skeletons in the closet and that no one can be trusted. We've been let down time and time again by politicians, musicians, and athletes. When we see a seemingly morally upright person we're waiting to find out the weird stuff just like the recent scandal involving General Petraeus.

Maybe we can't believe a character as good as Superman was created to be. There's certainly part of our society that likes the idea of a tarnished Superman. Yet, I can't help but think that all the Superman memrobilia owned by adults, even adults not into comic books, indicates that on some level, we'd like to believe in the ideal of Superman.
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Published on November 30, 2012 06:43 Tags: decline, superman

The Decline of Superman: Undermining the Man of Steel

In my previous post I wrote that Superman is still quite popular with the general public despite the decline in movie and comic book fortunes.

So what's wrong with Superman in these two great mediums?Let me suggest that it's the fault of DC and film producers, and further, I think there are three things that they're doing wrong that are hurting the fortunes of the character:

1) The Message from DC: Batman Rules, Superman Drools

Let me preface this remark by saying that I love Batman. I've seen every episode of Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Adventures, and I've watched countless Batman animated and real movies. I read every Batman daily strip. Batman is awesome.

However, DC has often chosen to build Batman's reputation at the expense of the Man of Steel. In the signature modern Batman tale, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Superman becomes a government stooge who takes on Batman who is the real hero fighting back against government oppression.

In Justice League: The New Frontier, Batman has become a hunted vigilante while Superman signed a loyalty oath to the United States government to placate the public. (Note: Declaring to the United States in the 1950s is always a bad thing to liberal writers.)

In Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, the two are basically completely even in terms of their fighting abilities. Only Batman is cooler.

Even as I'm watching the Justice League Animated Series, I'm struck with how much Superman gets thrown about and often at Batman's benefit. In the most recent episode, Superman got to attack a dangerous machine, but the damage he had done was only a set up for Batman to throw a batarang to do the real damage.

And of course, the inciting event for Justice League was Superman being tricked by alien invaders into disarming the Earth ahead of their planned invasion.

The message seems to be clear: Batman is cool, intelligent, and can take on anyone while Superman means well but he's kind of a tool.

And they wonder why Superman comics aren't selling.

2) They Don't Get the Character

The reason that so many writers get Superman wrong is this. There are two things they usually don't understand: Superman naturally and Superman metaphorically.

Superman has developed quite a bit over the years, so the Superman in people's mind is somewhat different than the one originally developed by Jerry Siegel in the beginning.

The vision that people have of Superman is that he's a man whose powers may come from Krypton but whose heart and values come from the Kents. Superman is a product of outer space and the heartland.

As Superman was emerging in the 1940s and 50s, Americans were moving away from places like Smallville into cities where the sense of community in small towns was often lacking and the moral climate was less favorable In the midst of this, Superman brought this heartland goodness into the culture and climate of a modern American city.

At the same time, Superman came to present a Christ-like figure. Pastor H. Michael Brewer spent the entire first chapter of his book Who Needs a Superhero?: Finding Virtue, Vice, and Whats Holy in the Comics making the case that Superman's story parallels Jesus, writing, "Superman does really stand for Jesus, who comes from the world above, sent by his Father, bearing both his Father's name and nature."

The imagery has certainly not something that has gone totally unnoticed. Indeed, the best of the comic book and screen writers have hit upon it. Perhaps, most notably in the Death of Superman story in the 1990s that saw Superman give his life to save Earth from Doomsday. Of course, an early promo for Smallville played into this as well.

However, modern cultural biases have presented a serious problem.

Our view of rural and heartland America has changed quite a bit in recent years, particularly within large cities themselves. People in places like Kansas are often viewed with contempt for political and cultural reasons.

At the same time, Christ is less revered. Certainly messianic imagery works in a culture with Christian roots, but the portrayals are often inconsistent at best.

As a result of these cultural biases, it's very hard for Hollywood and the Comic book writers to understand and appreciate the character. That's why you end up with a compromised Superman.

And we'll discuss that in our final article.
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Published on December 04, 2012 21:05 Tags: superman

The Decline of Superman: Let Superman Be Superman

Continuing our list of the things that D.C. Comics and screen producers are doing that tend to sabotage the fortunes of the man of steel.

The final item is:

3) Compromising Superman

One thing Superman can't be is compromised but that's what film creators and comic artists have done.

A couple key issues illustrate that.

First, in 2006 movie, Superman Returns, rather than standing for, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," Superman was said to stand for, "Truth, Justice, All that stuff."

Defenders of the producers were quick to point out that Truth, Justice, and the American Way were not part of the original Superman credo. Originally, it was "Truth and Justice." During World War II, the American Way was added in and it was done again in the 1950s during the Cold War.

This was true as far as it goes, but I'd suggest that there are two ways it compromises on Superman mythos.

The first is that American Way was far more ingrained into the Superman ethos. It was used in the 1988 Ruby-Spears Superman Cartoon series. As recently as 2001, Action Comics #775, one of the greatest Superman stories of the modern age was entitled, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" 2001 is long after the cold war. More importantly as Superman Returns held itself up as a sequel to the original Superman movie from 1978, the phrase was used there.

The second point is that it lacked any sort of principle. Consider the times when Superman didn't stand for "The American Way" specifically. In the post-war radio series Superman stood for tolerance, in the 1960s cartoons, he stood for, "Trust, Justice, and Freedom." In the 1990s TV series, he stood for "Truth and Justice."

All of these are real ideals. "All that stuff" isn't an ideal. It's a marketing ploy to make the movie appeal to international audiences and others who are uncomfortable with patriotism. The result? Superman Returns was out grossed by every flag-waving Spider-man flick. Having a Superman movie that uses something other than "the American Way" as a credo could work? Having a Superman movie that compromises itself to win box office approval? Not so much.

Another example is the issue of sexual integrity. Throughout the Superman mythos, he's been a character whose primary concern has been others. Most of the time, there was simply no time for serious romance. In the last few decades,that's changed. In many cases, this added to the mythos and complexity to the character.

However, it can also have some negative consequences when premarital sex is introduced to the scene.

In Superman II, Clark Kent gives up being Superman so that he can be with Lois Lane and has sex with her. A bad move. Only when the world faced really serious danger did he come to his senses and take up his responsibility. If nothing else, that certainly warps the Messianic imagery so central to who Superman is.

Of course, the sex scene in Superman II ends with Superman having an illegitimate son in Superman Returns that he doesn't see until the child is several years old. Yes Superman Returns dares to feature a Superman who is an absentee father who abandoned the world as well as his son.

However, in the 1990s Superman TV show saw a reversal. The issue of sex was broached in that show and Lois finds out as she and Clark are making plans for their wedding that Clark/Superman has saved himself for marriage.

Then of course, we have Smallville which features Clark Kent having premarital sex with both Lana Lang and then Lois Lane. The series ends with Clark and Lois still unmarried but forever in a relationship.

Now clearly even in Smallville and the Superman movies of the 1980s and 21st Century, Superman certainly is not as promiscuous as your average man, but that misses the point of the Superman character.

Superman is not a little bit better than the rest of us. He's a character whose supposed to embody moral excellence and virtue. He's supposed to be someone who is too good to be true-but actually is.

What is most often presented is a compromised character who is defined by other characters such as, "Superman is less dark than Batman." "Superman is more decent than, more noble than other characters."

Yes, if we're grading on a curve than that's enough. But Superman is supposed to raise a high standard not jump over the low hurdles laid out by other characters. Sadly, when Superman is just "Other heroes lite," he's fails as a character.

The answer to the problem with Superman may be simple, "Let Superman be Superman." Not dark, brooding, chained up, cynical, or any of the rest but optimistic, decent, honorable, and principled.

The power of the first Superman Movie was that it succeeded in restoring in adults, the wonder of childhood and the optimism and integrity of a simpler time of life.

And if Superman's ever going to come back, it will be because comic and film writers decided to let the Man of Steel be the hero he's meant to be.
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Published on December 10, 2012 22:48 Tags: superman

Book Review: Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever told (80s Edition)

The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told by Jerry Siegel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book with a title like this has a lot to live up to. Whether these are indeed The Greatest Superman stories is tough to say unless you've read every Superman story out there. But this book's title is at least plausible.

The book comes with two introductions and an afterward. The first into by John Byrne gives an overview of the series leading up to Crisis and the reboot. I suppose it could be argued that his intro was a tad self-serving but it was good.

The next intro tells why this book could probably stand as a definitive collection. Superman's most influential creators including Jerry Siegel, Julius Schwartz, and Curt Swann were part of the process of choosing the stories.

The book lives up to its promise with Superman deling Lex Luthor in Superman #4. Superman's first encounter with the mischevious Mr. Myxpitplk in Superman #30, Superboy's first encounter with Bizarro in Superboy #68, and Superman's first meeting with Darkseid in Forever People #1. There were also soaring imaginary stories from the silver like "Superman's Other Life" (a pun on a long forgotten radio show called, 'John's Other Wife," The first, "Death of Superman" story, and the the Utopian "The Amazing Story of Superman Red and Blue."

The final four stories in the book came from the 1970s and 80s and left me with mixed feelings. It fell like DC was trying to give Superman some marvelesque angst, which I don't like. On the other hand, some raised interesting questions such as "Must There be a Superman" from 1972 which portrayed the dangers of people relying too much on Superman to solve problems they really ought to fix themselves. However, all four stories from that era were worthy classics such as the sensational 1985 "For the Man Who Has Everything" which portrays an alien named Mongol immobilizing Superman with a creature that gives him the desire of his heart. The only post-crisis story, "The Secret Revealed" by Byrne left me with mixed feelings due to Byrne's portrayal of Luther as an evil businessman which was, in many ways, more over the top then the old portrayal of Luthor as a mad scientist. This issue is a bit more brutal than earlier Superman stories, buts it inclusion understandable.

In addition to not being as big a fan of the later issues, there was a small point. One thing also may have titled the selection process. According to Robert Greenberger excerpts, some of the newspaper strips that Siegel thought worthy as well as Action Comics #6 couldn't be reproduced in the book. Since then, some high quality prints have come out of both. Had current technology been available, the line up a little altered.

Overall, this is a must-have for Superman fans filled with great stories, no clunkers, and a chance to see the progress of the character. If you can find it used online at a price you can afford, buy it.

View all my reviews
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Published on March 27, 2013 08:01 Tags: greatest-stories, superman

Christians and Superheroes

Adam Graham
I'm a Christian who writes superhero fiction (some parody and some serious.)

On this blog, we'll take a look at:

1) Superhero stories
2) Issues of faith in relation to Superhero stories
3) Writing Superhe
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