Superman is just so effing good, and I kinda love it

All_Star_Superman_Cover.jpgIt’s a little astonishing how interesting Superman is. I recently finished reading All Star Superman, which is a twelve-issue comic in which Superman basically gets cancer (err he gets overloaded with the sun’s rays) and discovers he has a year to live. The comic was filled with the lighter-hearted ridiculousness that I am starting to discover is something of a Superman staple, and it was a bit of a revelation. Superman isn’t just a different sort of hero from Batman or the X-men or any of those guys. He also occupies a very different world. His world has so much…hope.

Like, okay, sometimes it was off-putting. At one point Superman gets sucked down into the Bizarro world, where everything is the opposite of in our world, and where people say strange shit like, “Me no am like you” and Bizarro versions of all the heroes (for instance, a Bizarro Flash “Who no am slow and go two inch per hour”), and I’m gonna say that much of that plotline was a little stupid.

But there was also a person in there: Zibarro. And he was sort of a mutation in the Bizarro world: a person who was capable of thinking and feeling for himself. And he helps Superman to build a rocket to get himself out of there, and at the last moment he begs Superman to take him with. For some bullshit reason, the gravitation stresses or some shit, Superman isn’t able to do it, but then he gives Zibarro a peptalk, saying that this is his home, and that he shouldn’t feel alone, because he, Zibarro, is proof that the Bizarro world is changing and adapting and becoming better.

Superman is the fucking king of peptalks. This is not something the movies ever capture. He just has so much faith in other human beings. Even when he’s face to face with Lex Luthor (who knows that Supes is dying), he says, “You always told everybody about all the good you could’ve done if you hadn’t been obsessed with fighting me. Well now’s your chance. Go do it.”

This is the guy who’s inflicted a fatal injury on Superman, and yet Supes is not angry. He’s still searching for the good.

It’d be so easy for Supes to come off as insensitive or inhuman, but he somehow always manages to seem so normal. Throughout the series he mourns for himself and for all the things he could’ve done, but he does it in a sane way. I guess that’s what struck me the most. Superman isn’t just super in terms of his powers; he’s also super in terms of his emotional health. When he gets angry, he talks things through. When he gets afraid, he confronts his fears rather than lashing out. He honors his friends and forgives his enemies.

And you’d think it would be boring, but it’s not. I honestly could not tell you how or why it works. I think it’s because Superman is always finding new ways to be good.

Lately been finding myself thinking more fondly of Superman

1547_400x600At FogCon I was on a panel about anti-heroes, and the consensus was so uniform, across the panel, that shiny true-blue good-guy heroes were passé that I actually switched sides and was like, “Wait a second? Isn’t there worth in showing that people can actually, like, be good?”

Recently I for some reason found myself reading a few Superman and Superman comics, and I was like, you know what? I actually like Superman. I used to think he was boring, but somehow he’s not. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe it’s just the book that I read–Sales’ and Loeb’s A Man For All Seasons, which shows him, in four stories that’re set in four different seasons, trying to figure out his role in the world–but there’s something about Superman that is very charming. In the movies, he often seemed a bit dull-witted, and that aspect was present in the comic, but it was a dull-wittedness that suited him. He’s like Rocky: he’s a simple man who finds himself in extraordinary situations. And because he is so often unequal, intellectually, to the challenges in which he finds himself, he has to fall back on certain basic principles.

In this book, Superman seems continually to be fazed by the darkness of the world, and by how unequal he is to the task of helping everybody in it. He himself isn’t an anti-hero. He never comes close to doing evil. But he has doubt. He struggles with the task he’s taken on. His goodness is challenged by the evil of the world.

This is a story that we don’t think about very often, but I think it’s the most basic story the world has to offer: the struggle to be good even when you don’t have to be. This is a story that the ancient world was better at telling, perhaps, than we are today. The Iliad is nothing more than a chronicle of people trying to act with honor, as they understand the term, in a situation that is fundamentally awful.

In modern superhero or high fantasy stories, we don’t necessarily see this, because, as powerful as the heroes are, the villains are oftentimes even more powerful (or at least seemingly more powerful). The X-Men don’t need to struggle with the consequences of their power, because they are always portrayed as the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Batman, too, despite being a billionaire, is always an underdog in this terrible, crime-ridden city.

But Superman is never the underdog. There is no challenge he cannot eventually defeat. So his elemental struggle is simply the struggle to stay true to himself.