Saturday, October 29, 2011

A guest post! 'In defence of Superman'

Today I have the first of two guest posts written by a friend, Will aka Rob.  The first one is, I am pleased to say, a look at Superman and what he means.  Take it away Rob:

I know it sounds strange to defend someone whose image on his chest is one of the most recognisable symbols on Earth. Whenever anyone is asked to name a superhero inevitably his name comes up (it helps he has “Super” in his name I guess).

However when it was recently asked on Twitter who they would rather be more people chose Batman. In some respects this is down to the way our culture has changed. The internet means less people identify with a character that is said to be synonymous with “Truth, justice and the American way.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a go at Batman. His character has echoes of some of my favourite American literature, combining the gothic visuals of Edgar Allen Poe with the stolen childhood of Citizen Kane and the self myth making of The Great Gatsby.

Superman by contrast seems to belong to a more innocent age. His story reflects that of his creators, two Jewish immigrants who seemed to suggest that a person could transcend where they are from to be the symbol of their adopted homeland.

For me (a man who has worn glasses since childhood) Superman and many heroes like him have that concept where you can be more than who you seem to be on the surface. That idea that one day you too could rip off your work suit and reveal the costume underneath.

Maybe that view is childish and naïve but I think it’s too easy to go to the dark side sometimes these days. More people seem to be enamoured with the badass nature of Batman, someone who won’t kill but use all his resources to spread fear amongst the criminal underworld.

Strangely enough it was the director Tim Burton, the one responsible for popularising the Frank Miller superhero noir to the masses (albeit with his typical visual flourishes) who was recently quoting as saying “Maybe it’s time for the cartoon to come back.”

I’m not saying I want to go back to the “Gee shucks” early fifties idea of comics. But while the character of Batman is iconic and helped to create a more complex idea of the superhero, Superman represents a kind of ideal that goes beyond even that of America or superheroes. And I think it would be a shame to lose that.

Rob Turner (aka Will Turner) is the writer/producer for Polycomical Studios, a group dedicated to young and emerging artists. Their webcomic Reynard City is currently being made into a cartoon pilot and a video game.


Steve said...

We live in an age where we have access to more information than ever before, and because of that we see more of what makes the world the horrible place it is. We see more of what makes people tick, along with the injustices, the greed and intolerance that have made mankind what it is. This has made cynicism pretty much second nature, and in the face of that the traditional incarnation of Superman and his Super-Niceness just seems too sugary. Part of it is that we all know that if we had his powers we’d at least make ourselves rich (or at least well off), or even take over the world (Planet Steve has a nice ring to it). But what does Superman do? Gets a job as a reporter and takes shit off people as Clark Kent. We all know that if we were Superman and anybody started giving us a hard time, that person would be hurled into the heart of the Sun. No, Superman just doesn’t fly (ha ha) in this day and age. Yes, it is easy to “go to the dark side”, perhaps even lazy.
But Batman has a cool car.

Saranga said...

Steve: I can honestly say that I disagree with most of what you've said.

Most of my view coems from a gut feeling, but as for evidence, well there are plenty of rich people in the world who do give away their money and/or work for philanthropic causes.

Anyway, Clark has used his powers to get him money. He isn't struggling for somewhere to live, he isn't in poverty. He's quite happy using his abilities to get a news story and using those abilities to type really fast to get the story submitted. There's nothing wrong with that.

Also, Clark gets a lot of respect of a lot of people as Clark. To say he just gets shit off people as Clark is a simplistic way of presenting things.

ReynardCity said...

Steve- I'd flip what you said around "If I was Superman, I would do what I like with his powers..."

For me, that is part of the interest of a character. He COULD do but doesn't. In his real life he tries to be decent.

Like I said it wasn't meant to be a dig at Batman. If anything I like the comics were Superman serves as a moral counterpoint.

Steve said...

Saranga: Let me perhaps clarify my points. My opinion of Clark is probably based more on the Christopher Reeves movies than the comics, as they are what I first think of when I hear Superman’s name. Fair enough it’s been years since I saw them but I’m sure I remember Clark being shoved around, shouted at and generally not being treated very well. Most of the bumbling was him doing it on purpose to hide his identity, but he went so far with the “useless wimp” act I felt like slapping him with a kryptonite glove. He didn’t get much respect in the films if I recall, but that may well be different in the comics. Why choose a dork for a secret identity, instead of a groovy millionaire philanthropist? It works for Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Clark may not have been in poverty, but why not get rich (which he could do easily with his powers); he could then use those monetary resources to give money to charities and people he’s too busy to help physically (even Superman can’t be everywhere at once).
As for there being rich people in real life being philanthropists, there are some, but I believe that they are a tiny percentage of the minority that owns most of the wealth in the world. Of course that’s just my opinion, which is obviously biased due to me being a cynical and bitter bastard who is jealous of rich people.
RaynardCity: Ok, perhaps I shouldn’t have said “we’d all” do this and that, but sweeping generalizations save a lot of time. However, I think Superman would be more effective if he was a bit less nice. I’m not saying he just become a psycho, ripping heads off and incinerating everyone who crosses him; but I think he could achieve more if he would take more drastic action. Couldn’t he burn most of the drug crop fields in the blink of an eye? Remember the movie (I think it was the 4th, which was terrible) where he got rid of the world’s nuclear weapons without permission from the governments; that’s the kind of stuff he should do. He has the power to drastically change the world for the better in big, big ways, so maybe as a “good guy” he has the moral duty to do so? I think his innate decency makes him less effective, and maybe giving into it makes him a bit selfish too? Hmm, an interesting topic for debate, I may have to post about this on my own blog some time.
The Superman/Batman disagreements are always fun. I especially like Batman’s line “the last time you really inspired anyone, was when you were dead”.
Anyway, sorry to take up all this space but it was obviously a thought provoking post because I never imagined I’d write so much about Superman! Well done.