I’ve been wanting to write this one for a long time. Even before I decided that this little column would focus on heroes, I knew this column needed to be written. My only issue was timing. I knew that I couldn’t do it when Shawn first gave me the column, because I barely knew what I was doing. I needed more experience, and more importantly, I needed the opportune moment.
So I waited. I waited and I planned, and I dropped hints to my readers about what would soon be coming. Those who have followed this column probably knew that this was coming up. With Superman celebrating his 75th anniversary and Man of Steel set to debut this week, the timing couldn’t be better.
This month on Most Heroic, we’ll be focusing on the original superhero himself, Superman. Since I have so much to talk I’d like to talk about regarding the character, I’ll only be discussing one particular subject per week. To start off, I’d like to actually like to talk about why our world needs Superman.
With the passage of time, our culture’s perspective on heroes like Superman has changed. Where once he was the most popular hero of them all, it seems that he’s fallen out of favor with the mainstream audiences. He’s been replaced by a new generation. Some people attribute this to the philosophy that Superman is outdated. His “Boy Scout” attitude and do-gooder philosophy seem to have lost their appeal in this more cynical world that we live in. It isn’t hard to find people who don’t like Superman. Many don’t like the character in any way.
Last year, I found an excellent article on Slate.com regarding the psychological theories behind superheroes, and why some heroes were more popular than others at different. The author cited some prominent authors who all spoke at a panel at SDCC last year. It’s an absolutely fascinating read and I highly recommend it.
“ For me, the most interesting thing about superheroes is the mirror they hold up to us mortals. For instance, many superhero scholars have noted that we are now living in a Batman moment. But it wasn’t always this way. Superman came first, in 1938…The Man of Steel was the go-to hero for much of the 20th century. Meanwhile, Batman was ill-suited to the age. The 1960’s Adam West TV show resorted to playing him as a campy goofball.
“Now the roles have reversed. Gritty, brooding, vengeful Batman owns the biggest superhero franchise of the new millennium. Director Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Dark Knight’s tale is very much a post-9/11 vision. ‘Batman is the fantasy resolution of an impossible contemporary problem,” says Saunders. “How do we keep ourselves safe without violating civil liberties? Batman skips right over that. He tortures. He’ll shoot you in the kneecaps and water-board you. But he’s still cool. With his minmalist black leather and all his gadgets, he’s the perfect hero for the iPad generation.”
This idea in particular got me thinking about a lot of different things. Ever since 2008, our two most popular superheroes have been Iron Man and Batman.
Those two characters are very similar. They are both handsome playboy billionaires who use their immense wealth and brainpower for their own personal wars on crime. Iron Man focuses on international terrorists and corrupt industrialists. Batman focuses on organized crime and hunting down Gotham City’s most wanted. They also conduct themselves in a way that is very similar to post-9/11 American foreign policy.
In Iron Man 3, the United States government re-brands War Machine into Iron Patriot and uses him as their own personal attack dog against the enemies of the country. This comes at a time when President Obama has come under fire for using drone attacks too liberally. Coincidental? Wait until you hear about Batman.
In Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman uses some more violent and controversial methods in order to get what he wants. He breaks the legs of a mob boss he’s interrogating. Towards the end of The Dark Knight, he is forced builds a device that wiretaps the phones of every person in Gotham in order to hunt down the Joker. He’s is forced to infringe upon the civil liberties of the very citizens he’s sworn to protect. It certainly sounds a hell of a lot like what the NSA is currently doing, doesn’t it?
That Slate article mentions the possibility that the Batman moment that we’ve been living in could be coming to an end soon, and I’m looking forward to that day. As much as I love Batman, I hate to think that he’s associated with any of the awful policies central to the War on Terror.
As I grow up and become more cynical in the world, I find myself realizing just how essential Superman really is. Superman fights a never-ending battle against evil, but he never crosses the line and becomes evil himself, and he is always there to answer the call. He knows how awful the world is, but he chooses to do everything he can to make it a better place. In my humble opinion, Superman symbolizes the best in humanity. Not just America, but the whole of mankind. He chooses to be the difference that he wants to see in the world.
I don’t like the world that we’re living in, but it’s worth fighting for, and I will not stop trying to live up to the example of the Man of Steel. I want my children to grow up in a world that is built on the values embodied by the Man of Tomorrow.
It’s this reason, above all else, of why we desperately need a Superman comeback. We need his example to remind us of just how great we as people can be. We need hope and idealism to conquer apathy and cynicism. We need our greatest hero.
Next Week on Most Heroic, we’ll discuss the Man of Steel film and what it means for the future of the character in the years to come.