Who Is the Man of Steel?
By Marc | July 17th, 2013
Wasn’t sure what the first article on the new FBR would be. I figured an anime review (and in fact I was in the middle of working on one.) But then I saw an image in my head and knew what it had to be. That image is right above, from Superman vs. The Elite
After all the discussion about Man of Steel (which to be honest, I still haven’t seen… Just no drive to want to see) more and more people seem to be having a discussion comic fans have rolled around and had hundreds of times (who am I kidding, thousands, millions, it never ends.) Is Superman relevant in our darker world? Is he just a boy scout no one can relate to anymore? Does Superman need to be gritty?
I’ve seen three types of Superman fans: the first are those who latched onto him when they were a kid. They see the red S, the cape, they see the type of character he is, and they look up to him, aspire to him. The second are those who attach to him when they are older. This group seems to be inspired by him, to be better, to do better.
The third group is the group who attached to Superman through some alternate interpretation, often a darker or different Superman. They often don’t like, and sometimes don’t understand, the Superman the other two groups see. It doesn’t make their love of the character any less valid, but it puts them at odds with fans from the other two groups. Groups one and two feel like they are being told their hero is irrelevant and doesn’t matter, and he has to become something nearly unrecognizable to matter, when he always mattered to them.
I think of myself as part of both the first and second. I grew up reading Superman and finding anything I could of the character. Then high school came, Superman the Animated Series ended a bit into high school, and there simply wasn’t much to connect to in a time when I wasn’t reading comics and was busy doing other things. I watched the first few episodes of Justice League, but despite being an adapt production, it just felt a little bit empty. After a few years, Justice League changed to Justice League Unlimited, and this lit a spark. I read comics again, I rediscovered those things I loved and had begun to let go of. I went back and read stories I missed, and new ones. I especially enjoyed reading the alternate interpretations of Superman, many of which I just didn’t appreciate as much when I was younger.
I went over all that just to explain my own context for how I feel about the character. I consider myself someone who loved Superman as a kid, and rediscovered him as an adult. But I can also appreciate the alternate takes of the character: the Superman whose rocket landed in Russia from Red Son, the Superman who saw a new generation of violent heroes appear from Kingdom Come, and perhaps most importantly, to me at least, the Superman whose final adventure had been had, and we only hear the tale in reflection from the person who knew him best in the story “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” That one always meant the most to me, because it starts off with perhaps the most profound opening narration I’ve ever read. To be completely honest, sometimes I just read it and honestly believe I’m about to cry. It moves me that much.
So where does that leave Superman? It means he’s a character who can be stretched and fit into many interpretations. The problem is, a big budget movie doesn’t feel like an interpretation. It feels like the big shining beacon of the character. I won’t spoil what happens in the film for those who don’t know, but it’s something that has just upset a lot of people.
It’s worth mentioning, it upsets people not because of what was done, but the context of it being done. It’s happened before (in fact, it happens in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” which is a heavy favorite of Superman fans.)
There is a drive to show people what we consider the ‘real’ Superman, and it’s hard, because many people just don’t want to read comics. That takes me back to the image that popped in my head that inspired this article. Show them the animated film Superman vs. The Elite. Hopefully it will explain it far better than any of us ever could. Based on the classic comic “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?” Superman vs. The Elite brings in gritty superheroes who don’t mind doing “what needs to be done.” And the people love them for it. And the question gets asked by many, is Superman relevant? Is Superman a relic, something the modern world doesn’t need? And after enough threats, enough pushing, Superman finally does snap, and becomes the hero people want him to be. He’s still Superman, isn’t he? He doesn’t really do anything Superman wouldn’t do, does he? That’d be spoiling the movie, but in the end, Superman fans will have to ask themselves when they contemplate who that character is in their head, who do they want Superman to be?
I think Superman is still relevant. And even if I don’t have any drive to see the new film, I’m not too worried. It’s an interpretation. Probably one I won’t like when I see. I don’t worry because I know somewhere the Superman I admire will reappear. Hopefully with some new fans to interact with because they discovered their love of the character from the film. I just hope they can appreciate what the character means to those of us who found him in less gritty ways. After all… what’s so funny about truth, justice and the American way?