Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Why I Hate Superman

It should be pretty obvious even from no further evidence other than this blog that I am a huge geek. Even so, there are certain comic-based characters that I am just not on board with, and the worst offender is Superman. Let me explain why.

1. The fact that
Superman is a dick. No, seriously. Even Chris Simms over at the fantastic Invincible Super Blog, who is a shameless fan of Superman, has several examples of Superman being kind of a dick. Yes, even in stories that are designed to showcase the Man of Steel as a hero, he comes across as a massive wanker. Way to go, DC.

2. There's no conflict. I mean come on, people, Superman has the powers of a god. A fucking god, and I'm not even kidding. Now, in all honesty, when you're watching the Spider-Man movies or reading a Batman comic, you know deep down that the superhero isn't really going to die. But they're not invincible characters; hell, Batman doesn't even have any superpowers, he gets injured and has nothing but his own fabulous wealth and modern medicine to heal him. There is a chance, played with by the better comic writers, that the hero could die, or at least lose. To fall back on the geeky example I know best, I'm going to go with Buffy on this one.

Buffy loses. More than once. By the by, if you're not of an incredibly geeky persuasion then look away now. First series, she was beaten by Darla and would've been killed if Angel hadn't saved her by staking Darla (BtVS, season 1, ep 7, "Angel"). Also, she was actually killed by the Master, by drowning, and had to be resuscitated by Xander (season 1, ep 12, "Prophecy Girl"). In the second series, the first time Buffy fights Spike, she loses - and it's only the timely intervention of her mother that saves her (season 2, ep 3, "School Hard"). Series 3 sees Buffy die again, permenantly - true, it's in an alternate reality, but it still shows her fallibility (season 3, ep 9, "The Wish"). The first episode of the fourth series sees Buffy completely lacking in confidence and getting her ass handed to her by Sunday (season 4, ep 1, "The Freshman") and until she combines her strength with her friends Willow, Giles and Xander in their final confrontation with Adam, Buffy doesn't stand a chance against that season's Big Bad. Buffy also isn't much of a match for Glory, the hell god of series five - and although Glory is ultimately defeated, it isn't Buffy who actually kills her and it takes Buffy's death to stop her plans totally (season 5, ep 22, "The Gift"). Yep, even in a series where the superhero's name features in the title, Joss Whedon is prepared to kill off his lead. He brings her back, but still. Series six sees Buffy lose to Willow (long story - season 6, ep 21, "Two To Go") and in seven she gets a kicking from the Uber-Vamp (season 7, ep 10, "Bring On The Night"). Anyhoo, my long, rambling point is this: there's no real way Superman is going to lose, there's no chance he's going to die, there's no suspense. He can do ANYTHING, up to and including turning back time according to the the first film. So there's no tension.

3. Why the hell are we supposed to sympathise with him again? He was technically adopted, sure, and I'm certain that can lead to emotional issues, but at the end of the day Supes was raised by two loving parents in a picture-perfect town, was supported and guided on the path of goody-goody two-shoes glory, had an idyllic childhood, frequently has two or more ladies chasing after him - those usually being Lois Lane and Lana Lang - he's got a job, a sycophantically loyal best friend and yet he's still pretty much a total dick. He also spends a great deal of time whinging about his childhood in the single most homoerotic comic ever and it's kind of hard to understand what the hell Clark thinks he has to be so upset about.

4. There's a really finite number of stories you can tell about Superman. Sure, you get the whole Silver Age Madness thing going on where you can, say, end up with Lois and Lana becoming insect queens, but when you break it down a Superman story can only go in a few, very limited, directions. Now I'm going to borrow quite heavily from a hateful aquaintence of mine here, but he has a very valid point. Superman has the aforementioned god-like powers, so in order to engineer a story you can only go in one of four directions: have kryptonite feature heavily (lucky so much of it managed to land here on Earth, huh?); have a villain that's also from Krypton/the Phantom Zone (again, hell of a lot of them manage to get to this planet. Funny, that); have Superman lose his powers, temporarily, which usually involves Kryptonite; have Supes fight some kind of version of himself. You can mix up the details a little, but essentially it's same old, same old.

5. He's meant to be the last son of Krypton. I mean hell, it's his subtitle: Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton. And yet more and more relatives and enemies from Krypton keep appearing, including his cousin Kara (Supergirl) and his freaking dog. Turn that frown upside down, Clark, you're not alone.

6. He's too ... good. This is pretty much a personal taste thing, but I've always been one to root for the villains. All I wanted from cartoons as a kid was once, just once, for Road-Runner to get caught and eaten, on screen, by Wil E. Coyote and I'm now a big fan of Dexter, so that should clue you in to my preferences. At least with Batman you get edgy, and Peter Parker had that whole Venom period, and Buffy started shagging Spike (and who can blame her?) - but with Superman you just get random red kryptonite moments and general dickery. All in all there's no edge. He's a goody-goody. And I'm not a big fan of that.

.........And that's not even counting Superman IV.


  1. Oh, no you di'n't.

    1. Superman's silver age dickery is legendary, sure. http://www.superdickery.com is devoted to the detailed exploration of Supes being an asshole to the denizens of the DC Multiverse. However, they're all single page/single panel explanations (same with Sims' evidence) taken out of context.

    If you capture a picture of me uppercutting a nun whose only sin is trying to get a Red Cross package to some Haitian children, sure, I'm a dick. However, if that package is secretly holding a swarm of bees that sting AIDS into puppies and orphans, that uppercut is a bit more understandable. It's the same with Superman. It's all PR, people.

    2. Oh, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. SO wrong. And showing a severe lack of imagination on your part, Winskill. Superman can lose. He does lose.

    This is a man who has lost a family and an entire culture before his story even starts. It's easy to dismiss this with the four or five other Kryptonians that have appeared in his world, but this is a family that, outside of a recording or two, he can never truly meet. It's Batman's origin through the lens of a more optimistic hero.

    That's not to mention the fact that his adopted father is now dead because simply because Superman is Superman, a role he took on purely to help people who couldn't help themselves. His altruism got his father killed. How is that not a loss?

    The falsity that Superman lacks conflict is a tale told by lesser writers: people who are incapable of coming up with a challenge for the hero that doesn't require someone who hits harder. When in the hands of a capable writer, the supposed lack of conflict isn't even an issue.

    3. Dead planet. No chance to ever meet his real family. Constant threat of a supervillain discovering true identity and killing all he loves. Picture perfect town that he can never really be a part of. Being chased by women who he places in danger simply by being him. You suffer all these things and try staying well-adjusted.

    But that's what Supes is. He's optimism and hope. You don't need to be damaged goods to be a hero. Otherwise you could make the same claim of Buffy: super-powered. Beautiful. Chased after by two lusted-after-by-every-girl-I-know vampires. Incredibly close group of friends... yet all the bitch does is moan about how the burden destroys her chance of a normal life.

    Suck it the fuck up, Buffy. Superman deals with the shit you deal with every god damn day except he has to fight a 19 foot tall space alien once a week and can hear starving children weeping in India 24/7.

  2. 4. Bull. Fucking. Shit. This is a topic that rankles me something chronic, and it's due to laziness of the part of writers and readers that people think it's some kind of goddamn truism.

    Bad writers might think the only challenge to Superman comes from one of those four things. But that's why they're bad writers. Because they're fucking idiots.

    There are ways to challege the character beyond the use of Kryptonite, Kryptonians, removing his powers or making him fight a double. Grant Morrison is a master of this. Make Luthor buy the rights to the Superman image, causing all of Superman's good deeds to reflect well on his "sponsor". Or, as part of a long, convoluted plot to destroy Superman mentally, have a villain make Clark choose between two random people's lives, deciding who lives or who dies with any attempt to circumvent the problem cause both to kick it.

    There are thousands of stories to tell with Superman when you realise he's a character and not just a set of powers.

    5. Kara. Krypto. Kandor. Compared to an entire race of people that he will never be able to be among. Sure, Clark might look human to us, but he's fundementally not. When you're living in a world that, for all your powers, may as well be made of cardboard, you're going to be constantly reminded that you are not from around here. That sense of alienation is not something that's going to go away with a handful of other survivors turning up.

    6. Calling Superman a "goody-goody" is like calling Batman an "angry-angry" or Spider-Man a "guilty-guilty"; it takes one aspect of the character, blows it up to massive proportions and then uses that aspect as a label to define everything that character is. Sure, just like Batman's anger and Spidey's guilt complex, being good is a huge part of Superman is, but it's not all he is. To dismiss him on the grounds that he's too good is like not eating any part of a sunday dinner on the grounds that you don't like peas, and that's all a sunder dinner really is, right?

  3. I didn't say Buffy was perfect as a person - just a much more original and captivating character. Yes, she does whinge a lot. A HELL of a lot. But her reasons for this are touched on during season 7.

    And nothing you've said convinces me Superman is a character I should like. I still find him irritating and bland.