Superman: A Requiem of Steel

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Introduction

Superman created the precedent and template for the concept of “superhero” in 1938. Over time, he had developed into an American institution, a symbol, and a myth. To many, he is a kind face printed on children’s tightey-whiteys, a symbol of power, an inspirational, benevolent figure hovering in the skies that we are expected to “look up in the sky” toward.

But he is beyond many people’s reach. He is an untouchable, “unrelatable,” perfect demigod that no compelling story can be told with.

“Batman is way cooler.” I held this opinion for a while. He was the basic, pitiful Freudian childhood trauma that many more people can readily identify with, despite his questionable methods, vengefulness, and aristocracy.

As my reading of the DC Universe increased, however, my understanding of the heroes who stood alongside him did as well. I became “acquainted” with other heroes, and then realized Batman was not the world’s greatest superhero. Superman was.

I did not make this decision out of some elitist entitlement he procured from being the first or “most powerful” (he is not the most powerful by long shot), but because of the human being that is often overlooked in favor of the myth, legend, costume, smile, poses, powers, nationality, extraterritoriality, cape, and symbol. He is a super man. I wanted to make this abundantly clear to the reader.

DISCUSSION

Superman, despite his alien nature, is one of the most normal, emotionally well adjusted, and levelheaded of modern superheroes. His initial creation in 1938 saw him actively dealing with relevant issues of his time, like worker exploitation, domestic abuse, and mob violence (Ayoub, 2010). However, as times and editorial direction changed his battles grew more epic, dangerous, and large scale. His essentially human tale of individual potential, unrequited love, longing for acceptance, and anonymity is often overshadowed in the minds of the general public. (Darowski, 2008)

The Creators

Clark Kent’s love life was very evocative of his creator’s own longings. The Golden Age Clark Kent was depicted as a stuttering, cowardly, and extremely longing in his infatuation with Lois, whereas his behavior as Superman toward the admiring was a few snarls short of being brisk (Darowski). This was without a doubt, a self-indulgent, but very relatable, reversal of the situation. Jerry Siegel Admitted: “I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn’t know I existed or didn’t care I existed,” he said. “It occurred to me: what if I had something going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that?” (Robert, 1996).

The Lois and Clark dynamic as been filtered throughout generations and writers. “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” portrayed two young, sexy, smart people who would melt in each others arms once their defenses fell, and Superman’s modern comic-book canon features a married Lois with full knowledge and access to his secret identity (Darowski).

 

The Death Of Superman

Ironically, Superman’s comic book writing team had to put off Lois and Clark’s wedding for a whole year to coincide with the tv show’s wedding, and the (in)famous “Death of Superman” storyline was to fill that gap (Timm, 2007). “The news that Superman is about to die has provoked anger and surprise, … from people who haven’t read his comic book adventures in decades(New York Times, 1992). Comic shops across the country had lines forming out of the door to buy Superman #75 (Bailey, 2002).

My initial search results almost contained at least one mention of this media sensation. Even completely unrelated news tried to jump on the potential deeper meaning of the event (Frank, 1992). He died defending Metropolis from the rampaging monster known only as Doomsday after a long drawn out fight across the country that ended at Metropolis (Jurgens, 1992). Though the story was emotionally resonant, his actual means of death reflected the increasing demand for dangerous physicality and alien, non-societal threats on the part of Superman (Timm).  The success of the story was also an indicator of how ingrained and valuable the character had become on America’s (and perhaps the world’s) collective consciousness.

Ironically the All-Star Superman was a non-canonical, but critically acclaimed storyline that exaggerated his powers, while killing him the process. The story of Superman’s epic trails his quickly risen to become one the most touching, celebrated Superman stories ever told, despite his newfound invulnerability to kryptonite and being able to lift several quintillion tons (Morrison, 2011). He had reached myth status (Rubin, 2006), and like many myths, would soon be time for him to be raised from the dead (Zinn, 1993).

 

Powers And Abilities

The audience is divided on whether Superman’s powers are inspirational (Kriegel, 2006), or a barrier to compassion on the part of the reader or critic. His powers have proven difficult to elicit a sense of peril from one whose main power is essentially the “lack of danger.” His apparent, Silver Age tendency to “juggle planets” is the most re-occurring criticism. (New York Times)

Keep in mind that Kryptonite of many shapes and colors was available in copious amounts in the Silver Age of comics (Niven, 1971). His powers in the right circumstances may allow Superman to be the ultimate power fantasy on the part of the audience. (Darowski). Grant Morrison suggested that Superman’s powers might serve to simply exaggerate his humanity and trails and triumphs that result from it.

When Superman walks his dog, Krypto, he may do it across the moon, “but he’s still walking the dog.” (2011)

Relevance

The issue of Superman’s relevance comes up from his critics (Frank). His power levels are often cited as a barrier suspense or peril, and his moral uprightness does not allow for as much dilemma as for more morally compromised heroes. Many even assert he does not even risk his life by engaging in super heroics (New York Times).

Superman’s more altruistic motives do not generate as much pity as Batman’s motives (Grossman, 2004). Not only this, but his mythic status and expectations put pressure on his current stories (Jennings, 2009). He is a difficult sell.

Heroic Ideal

As the heroic ideal changes, so does Superman. In his early days, Superman was very belligerent, threatening, and socially active (Ayoub). However, this changed as new writers came on board after the creators left the title (Darowski). Hegel might attribute this to gradual cohesion of different identities (Darkowski). Though he initially had no such problem, writers have taken extra steps to make sure he’s “humanized” especially after the 1980s (New York Times, 1992).

The Movie

Before his death in 1992, the 1978 Superman The Movie directed by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve became a cherished a collective memory of the Superman myth unfolding that is to this day. In the introduction of Superman: Secret Origin (Johns & Frank, 2010), David S. Goyer admitted he waited several hours when he was 11 to secure tickets to opening night. After the movie, David resolved to one-day make comic book movies.

Goyer grew up to co-write Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. In 2010, Goyer was selected to write the reboot of the Superman film franchise. However, the sequels were less than stellar (Frank).  His likeness has become synonymous with Superman in the minds of many (Kriegel), so much so that artist Gary Frank may oft use his likeness in his artwork (Frank, 2010).

Reeve even played a pivotal role in the series, Smallville up until his death (Kate, 2005).

In 2008, Donner joined forces with his apprentice, the prominent superstar writer, Geoff Johns, on a story arc entitled Last Son. The story served to incorporate several film elements into the modern DC Universe canon, but introduced Superman’s adopted Kryptonian son, aptly named “Christopher Kent.”

Audience

Despite all of this, flaws have been more easily found in praiseworthy figures in recent times, despite their ever-presence (Niebuhr, 1921). In the intro to the Secret Origin (Johns), Goyer said stated, “He’s not someone the reader can readily identify with.” However, the idea of Superman that has taken the most hits, not the character himself (Grossman).

His death put several dents in the notion of the character’s infallibility in our collective consciousness, and even they agreed that he’d be more interesting upon his resurrection (New York Times).

Conclusion

The author of this paper believes Superman to be one of the most human, emotionally well-adjusted superheroes. However, his history belies the critiques, but underscore them with more uncomfortable humanity. The audience’s apparent preference for tragedy and moral degradation of the hero may say something about the reader’s presupposed relationship between himself and a fictional (superhero) character.

This presupposition may yet be satisfied by the Golden Age Superman’s overtly threatening tendencies as well as decreased power levels (his ability to leap tall buildings was the limit to his “flight” powers, initially). Grant Morrison has described the original as an “angry socialist.” But this is not to say the modern Superman lacks the potential for a compelling arc in light of the increased power and level-headedness.

“They were always wrong. Superman‘s greatest vulnerability isn’t from some meteor rock. It is from something far more human…
…his heart.”
–Batman (Loeb, 2005)

Our seemingly collective, American resistance to recognizing shared humanity, especially in its most stellar manifestation, speaks volumes of our readiness to discriminate outsiders.

Kara Zor-El: “You’re their champion. Bigger than life. No wonder the eyeglasses work– nobody would look for you dressed like them!”
Clark Kent: “Kara… There’s no them. It’s just us. (Loeb)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

(1992, October 4). When Superman Gets Boring. New York Times. p. 16. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Ayoub, N. C. (2010). Superman’s Staying Power. Chronicle of Higher Education, 56(23), B16. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Darowski, Joseph J. (2008). It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s .. synthesis: superman, clark kent, and hegel’s dialectic. Journal of Comic Art, 10(1), 461-470.

Enger, P. T. (2010). In Pineda R. (Ed.), The mediated hero: Superman in the post 9/11 era. United States — Texas: Communication. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/854508180?accountid=8483

FRANK, R. (1992, November 22). Term Limit for the Man of Steel: Yes, It’s Time for Him to Go. New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Frisby, E. (1979). Nietzsche’s influence on the superman in science fiction literature. United States — Florida: The Florida State University. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/302900803?accountid=8483

GAUDIOSI, J. (2010). THE COMIC CONNECTION. Computer Graphics World, 33(10), 22-26. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Grossman, L., Lofaro, L., & Ressner, J. (2004). The Problem with SUPERMAN. Time, 163(20), 70-72. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Jennings, J. S. (2009). Understanding superheroes: Scholarship, superman, and the synthesis of an emerging criticism. United States — Arkansas: University of Arkansas. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304845434?accountid=8483

Jessica, S. (n.d). ‘Science of Superman’ breaks down his strengths. USA Today. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Johns, G., Donner, R., & Kubert, A. (2008). Superman: Last son. New York: DC Comics.

Johns, G., Frank, G., Sibal, J., Anderson, B., & Wands, S. (2010). Superman: Secret origin. New York, N.Y: DC Comics.

KATE, A. (2005, February 23). The Past Catches Up With a Future Superman. New York Times. p. 3. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Kirk, A. J. (2009). In Gray J. (Ed.), “Sometimes you’ll feel like an outcast”: Using superman to interrogate the closet. United States — Illinois: Speech Communication. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304996382?accountid=8483

Kriegel, L. (2006). Superman’s Shoulders: On the Healing Power of Illusion. In , Southwest Review (pp. 258-267). Southern Methodist University. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Liu, S., Page, B., Timm, B., McDuffie, D., LaPaglia, A., Asner, E., Denton, J., … Warner Bros. Entertainment. (2011). All-star Superman. Burbank, Calif.: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Loeb, J., Turner, M., & Steigerwald, P. (2005). Superman, Batman: Supergirl. New York, NY: DC Comics.

Niebuhr, R. R. (1921). Heroes and Hero Worship. Nation, 112(2903), 293-294. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

ROBERT McG. THOMAS, J. r. (1996, January 31). Jerry Siegel, Superman’s Creator, Dies at 81. New York Times. p. 6. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Rubin, L., & Livesay, H. (2006). Look, up in the sky! Using superheroes in play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 15(1), 117-133. doi:10.1037/h0088911

Sternlieb, J. L. (2006). Review of: It’s a Bird… Families, Systems, & Health, 24(3), 353-354. doi:10.1037/1091-7527.24.3.353

Timm, B., Capizzi, D., Montgomery, L., Vietti, B., Baldwin, A., Heche, A., Marsters, J., … Warner Home Video (Firm). (2007). Superman: Doomsday. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.

Zinn, L. (1993). IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE — IT’S A RESURRECTION. BusinessWeek, (3314), 40. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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Character Relationships Ticking

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We all know that romantic love is an emotional reaction. Emotional reactions can be determined by experience, outlook, thought patterns, associations, and aspirations.

Now, how/if romantic relationships work out is a different matter altogether.

Here I’d like each poster to post a character (romantic/really close platonic) relationship and give your take on what they see in each other, how it is/isn’t working out, what attracted them initially, why the attraction faded/persists. etc.

Nice mind exercise for psych, philosophy, sociology, majors and the like.

EXAMPLE:

Lois and Clark- Lois Lane is Superman’s hero. Despite the implication of the otherwise, Lois Lane’s personality seems to come up as a cross between Hal Jordan and the new Batwoman. Her endangerment is usually as a result her risky journalism. Superman has been shown to have regard for the one’s who are more vulnerable than he, yet do the things he does. The persistence of this type of behavior, in light of all the horrible people are ALSO capable of, reinforce his “faith” in humanity.

Lois displays this on a regular basis in her pursuit of the truth, which is another reason she is invaluable to him, to his generally positive outlook on mankind, despite his enhanced vision and hearing of various counter-examples. So her constant need of being “rescued” only perpetuates this. Also, he can work on satellites and moon bases thousands of miles away from home with stripperiffic co-workers and not even THINK of any woman except Lois.  You see, back in Action Comics #1, it wasn’t because Clark was a nerd that she disliked him by the end of the story, it was because “Clark” was a coward. Lois liking Clark is a tad more simple: Her contentions relationship with her dad, as well as his OWN mistrust of suitors has passed onto her, leaving a very cynical outlook on men, resulting in an EXTREMELY high standard. But… Superman is to Lois as Edward Cullen to Bella. The only guy capable of living up. Also, they can’t have babies, so that puts a wrench in the traditional conflict of “giving up may career to care for the kids.” (This has been subjected to potential change in the aftermath of caring for Chris Kent in LAST SON.)

As of “Secret Origin” Sam Lane (Lois’s militaristic father) tried to give her over to Corben, (that I’ll assume had a past of significant delinquency in order to blend with pre-infinite crisis accounts of him being a “petty thief” before his transformation into Metallo) as a way to ensure what he wanted is carried out. Apparently a genuinely nice, reclusive guy like “Clark” is too good to be true. Suspicion and hostility ensues.

“Clark” around his workplace is an act. But Lois could see through it. (In light of “Secret Origin” any post-CRISIS hostility she initially had toward him can now be interpreted as her dislike of being perpetually lied to, that eventually cooled over when they got to know each other better.)

(Most people are unaware of the subconscious mechanisms resulting in attraction.)

Edit: I just thought of something else: Lois and Clark almost HAVE to have pretty stable relationship. It would be over if he ever lost his temper with her.

Yet, she isn’t afraid or intimidated by him in the slightest, and doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind as if she’s talking to any other guy, while she’s certainly not in denial of his abilities.

Maybe THIS is why he chose her over Lana.

Lana’s known about his powers for awhile, and can be described as being in awe of what makes Supe’s feel different, while Lois appeals to what makes him just like the rest of us.

art by Jim Lee
words by Brian Azzarello

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Batman & Robin

I think Batman vicariously lives through his orphaned pupils. If Bruce was able to fight like as they can when he was THEIR age, then his parents wouldn’t be dead. It’s is kinda awkward to imagine children that young protecting their parents from harm, as well as imagining them being so concerned with doing so. It’s a touching statement on how the unconditional parent/child love can go BOTH ways.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,331548,00.html

(Alexis Goggins was a Real Life seven-year-old who took six bullets for her own mother. She also managed to survive.)

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Batman & Catwoman

I’ve GOT IT!

I’ve finally figured out an angle for what makes the Bruce/Selina relationship tick!

I USED to think it was perverse sexual lust. Catwoman outputs the persona of a dominatrix. Batman has been presented as a pretty guilty guy when he believed something was his fault. (For example: His parent’s death, Jason Todd’s death, Harey Dent’s scarification, the Joker’s crap.) He often uses any guilt as fuel to keep going/ push himself further.

I theorized his attraction to Selina was a response to his guilt.

Here’s another angle…

Catwoman was the first similarly-themed woman he met, so their continued, ongoing presence builds a shared history. Her initial elusiveness would no doubt make her the preoccupation of a mind set on solving crimes. She’s not totally evil, and has repeatedly shown Robin Hood esque criminal behavior. (Though she keeps more than enough for herself.) And often stealing from organized criminals.

She’s not a hopeless cause, their relationship can represent the dichotomy between Batman’s efforts to actually change Gotham, or “save” her. He loves the city, but can’t give himself over to it completely lest he cease to be Batman. Maybe his attraction is a sexual manifestation of his deep immersion into Gotham’s criminal element. (He hasn’t developed very strong romantic relationships with OTHER super heroes, for some reason.) Catwoman has changed for the better due to her relationship with Batman, but won’t necessarily stay that way in his absence. (For example, after Wayne’s death, she’s currently allied with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.)

Batman was Selina’s, distant inspiration for her Catwoman career. (Does his initial distance trigger childhood desire to be closer w/ father?) And Bruce is genuinely touched by her desire to get to know him.

In fact, her whole “master thief” shtick: figuring her way into locked, closed, spaces she’s been locked out of.. can be read as a response to that.

While satiating any current need for affection with her many…MANY… cats.

Another angle! Bruce’s mom wore pearls the night she was murdered. Bruce could be recognizing Martha Wayne’s love of jewelry in Selina.

The game changing storyline in their romance is HEART OF HUSH, where he admitted how hard he’s fallen for her. Of course, this took place shortly before his “death.” So we’re left hanging on how this will play out until he makes THE RETURN.

It could be/could’ve been many of these, only a few, one, or the other. I can’t be sure if any new writer to pick up on this relationship will use ANY of these…

This, my friends, is what happens when SO many writers and artists try to fully grasp the dynamics of an on-again/off-again romance over the course of decades… It inevitably becomes TANGLED!

Art by Jim Lee
Words by Jeph Loeb

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Wonder Woman/Steve Trevor

…But a reason I think the Trevor/Diana relationship was also so paramount to the classic Wonder Woman is that it embodied the ideal peace between the two genders and two cultures. “Man’s world and Woman’s world.” The uniting and William Marston’s ideal method of harmonizing these two aspects of humanity. If male/Ares embodied war, then female/Aphrodite embodied love. Trevor’s loving submission to Wonder Woman was like “war surrendering to love,” especially when you consider Steve is a soldier at heart.

BUUUT… Where I check out of this whole philosophy/myth/idealization is where it becomes a GENDER ISSUE. HAHaha!

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Richard “Dick” Grayson (Robin, Nightwing, Batman)/ Koriand’r (Starfire)

From birth, Starfire was taught to trust her emotions first and foremost as an indicator of how to make decisions. Taught to hate enemies thoroughly, and love allies without restraint. As a result, behavior patterns tend to be very feral and instinctual. In a group setting, she naturally gravitated toward Robin as the “dominant male” of the Teen Titans. Despite his initial, standoffish behavior, she persisted in her advances.

Think of this as a gender-reversed “defrosting the ice queen.”

Dick Grayson was trained by Batman to be logical, reasonable, evidential, not impulsive, and deductive.

Bruce generally handled this by redirecting his emotions, but Dick would tend to repress them.

When Robin was with Batman, there was a need to lighten the mood, break the depressing tension and somber spirit about him. (Either Batman had no issue with it due to his experience, or he kept the humor to himself) There was a need for Grayson to wisecrack, make one-liners, and whatnot.

When he was with the Titans, however, then need diminishes when you’re surrounded by the likes of Speedy.

The things he learned from Batman are conducive to his leadership status.

Strategy and whatnot are need when you’re brightly clad AND without powers.

To Robin, Starfire embodies this liberation from repression that he finds very, enticing, but mysterious, and/but perhaps counter-intuitive.

Obviously, after chasing psychos on a nightly basis, and having the friggin’ DARK KNIGHT as a partner, her appearance and power level don’t bother him in the slightest.

His choice between the Barbara and Kory MAY, to him, represent the (un)necessary choice that must be made in the MIND/BODY dichotomy.

(I wonder how well Barbara and Starfire know each other.)
batgirlstarfirea.jpg

More/less to come….