Superman II: The Richmond Cut
Part 1 got a pretty healthy, and encouragingly varied response on reddit (even if I did, a bit embarrassingly, stoop to feeding the trolls at one point). One point was reinforced in the reactions: the idea that Superman is a character open to many many interpretations, nearly all of which are valid. Hell, even Man Of Steel, of which I was not a fan, managed to inspire some new fans. Which, ultimately, is what matters.
Let’s clarify a few things: it may not need to be said, but I don’t actually believe that Dan DiDio is actually the Earth-One Lex Luthor. Nor do I bear any ill will towards him. But as an entity, DC doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. As Chris Sims has pointed out in his columns for Comics Alliance, they seem to spend a lot of time trying to convince us that Superman is “a serious adult character for serious adults in the serious adult medium of comic books.“
(And if you don’t read Comics Alliance, you’re missing some of the best, if not THE best, comics news and opinion on the internet. Chris Sims earns his title of “Batmanologist“)
So where does this defensiveness come from?
Spend enough time on the internet, or in the comics-related corners of it, and you’ll hear the same chorus; “Superman is boring,” goes the argument. “He’s too powerful. Nothing can hurt him except Kryptonite.” It’s a cliched, reductive argument (he’s also vulnerable to magic! They always forget about magic!) that stems from a “could Wolverine kick Batman’s ass?” mentality.
(Or, quite often, from people whose knowledge of Superman comes exclusively from Superdickery.com and have never read a comic in their lives, but I just feel sorry for those people)
Nothing can hurt Superman? Let me tell you about one of my favorite Superman stories. It comes, ironically, not from a Superman comic, but from DC’s Hitman, by Garth Ennis and John McRea.
In the story, protagonist Tommy Monaghan is surprised to find Superman hanging out on a rooftop…brooding. They get to talking, and Superman ends up telling Tommy about how he rescued the crew of a nuclear-powered space shuttle after an accident – or so he thought.
That’s what can hurt Superman. The knowledge that he’s one guy – an impossibly strong, fast, and powerful guy, but a guy nonetheless – and while he’s saving a crashing plane in Australia, an earthquake in South America might be leveling a village. With too much power, if I can throw the haters’ words back at them, comes too much responsibility.
(That’s why, as much as Superman: The Movie resonated with my 8-year-old brain, the idea that he can just turn back time and save the ones he couldn’t the first time around is a cheat, on the level of reprogramming the Kobayashi-Maru test. Please don’t hate me, Richard Donner)
Not every great Superman story has to be around that theme, obviously. Sometimes he just punches giant robots, because Superman punching giant robots is never not awesome.
But it’s that sense of responsibility that makes the character great. As Tommy tells Superman at the end of the story:
“What can I do to help?” That’s a pretty good definition of that “American Way” thing they always talk about.
(Of course, after Superman leaves, we learn Tommy was on that rooftop to kill a guy with a sniper rifle. The series is called Hitman, after all)
So, enough of my proselytizing. I want to know, here or on reddit, what Superman means to you. What Superman stories inspire you, and get to the heart of the character, and why? Is it Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman? Is it an episode of Super Friends? Hell, is it an episode of Smallville? I won’t hold that against you.
I mean, it’ll take a lot to convince me, but I won’t hold it against you.
On a slightly related note: anyone going to Emerald City Comicon?