Superman is one of the oldest and most overpowered superheros in the history of comic books, and he’s only gotten more powerful over the years. When your character becomes synonymous with overpowered and being the guy who can do everything, saying he’s powerful is an understatement. With him being so ungodly powerful for so long, people tend to see Superman […]
Superman is one of the oldest and most overpowered superheros in the history of comic books, and he’s only gotten more powerful over the years. When your character becomes synonymous with overpowered and being the guy who can do everything, saying he’s powerful is an understatement. With him being so ungodly powerful for so long, people tend to see Superman stories as boring, and how can they not? How can a character who’s practically invincible, faster and stronger than pretty much everything, and who’s weakness is a bunch of radioactive bits of his home world that only a handful of people have access to? At a glance, it can be hard to make that character compelling, and having bigger and stronger guys show up to try and fight him only adds to the problem, as he just seems more powerful the more you throw at him. So, how do you make someone like that interesting?
Well, since you’re asking, and since I happen to be a fan of several Superman stories from over the years, let me explain to you how Superman being overpowered isn’t the thing that makes Superman boring. The thing that make Superman boring are when his writers that don’t know how to use his powers to further the story and point they’re trying to tell. Putting anything he needs to fight in front of him is a losing battle, because he’s Superman, and there’s nothing out there that he can’t just punch away. It’s why he’s punching that makes the story compelling. What he’s fighting to represent and what he’s fighting for are what give the best Superman stories their charm, and what makes them great.
Here’s and example to help elaborate on my point.
The story “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?” is a Superman story about a new group of superheros called “The Elite” who do not share Superman’s nonlethal approach to dealing with bad guys, something Superman takes great offence to. They are brutal and ruthless, and see killing these villains as delivering the justice they aren’t receiving when Superman is dealing with them. The problem for Superman is that public is on their side, and as they go around executing criminals, it forces Superman to question his methods and beliefs about what is best for people and what being a hero means. Their eventual conflict brings Superman closer and closer to the edge, pushing him to answer why doesn’t he just kill the super villains he’s fighting, instead of letting them wreak havoc on the world when they eventually escape. Superman could just punch these guys and the day would be over, but that wouldn’t answer the question because their conflict isn’t about “who can take the bigger beating?”
All of the best Superman stories have these kind of questions. They challenge his character in different ways, and reaffirm the core of what makes the character so interesting. By making him look at the hard questions, it shows the greatest part about his stories aren’t the super part, but the man part. “For the Man Who Has Everything” asks what someone like Superman wants most in the world, and would he give it up to do the right thing?
“Red Son” asks how Superman would be different if instead of being raised in rural america with “Truth, Justice, and The American Way” as his guiding principals, he was raised in Communist Russia and what would that do to the world?
“The Death of Superman” asks what the world looks like without Superman in it (admittedly, it’s only for like a few months, but still, at least it asked). The list goes on, all of them reaffirming the kind of character Superman is, and nowhere is there a better display of the kind of character Superman could and should be better than in “All-Star Superman.”
Easily one of, if not the best, Superman stories of all time, “All Star Superman” tells the tale of Superman being given one year to live, after absorbing massive amounts of solar radiation, basically overclocking him until he eventually burns out. So, with 365 days left to live, he sets out getting the world ready for his passing and trying to do the most good he possibly can in that time. The story is not a part of Superman canon, meaning it allowed writer Grant Morrison to tell whatever Superman story he wanted without being weighted down with the idea he needed to connect it to the rest of the DC comics out there. This let him boil Superman down to his best characteristics, and while there are a lot of big moments in the story, notably the 12 labors he’s supposed to accomplish before he dies (Because people from the future told him he does. Comic get weird sometimes), the best parts of the comic are some of the little moments the comic is filled with.
Revealing his real identity to Lois and finally telling her how he feels. Flying sick kids around the world in a school bus (Again, comics get weird.)
Rebuilding bridges in the background on the transition pages. Reassuring a depressed girl about to jump off a building that she wasn’t alone, and so much stronger than she thought she was.
These are what Superman is all about, and one of the reasons this story is so great. Being the person who would just as soon punch a giant robot attacking the city as he would help an old lady cross the street. The person out there doing everything he can to make the world a better place, even if it means doing the little things to help. He’s suppose to be an inspiration. A symbol for people to be the best version of themselves.
All in all, I’m not saying writing a Superman story is easy. There are a lot of traps you can fall down and you’re not careful and coming up with new and interesting ways to use his powers is not an easy task. The easy way is to just give him some big dumb guy to punch and keep saying how strong that other guy is, and looks like Superman is gonna have to punch him REALLY hard this time (Looking at you Doomsday), but that’s never makes it a better story, just one with a fight scene.
The stories I mentioned have fights, but they’re never the meat of the story. They’re never why these stories are great, because it’s Superman. We know he could heat vision people off the face of the earth if he wanted to. But writing like that is what makes people think Superman is boring. And he’s not boring, he’s just terribly written.
Posted by Austin Hamblen, Owner and Main writer of Endlessmonkey.com