We live in a day and age where people love to question and debate everything. And in certain geeky circles, it’s become popular to act like Superman, and the very idea of him, is in need of reinvention. So I thought I’d ask myself: Who is Superman to me and what does he represent to modern pop culture today?
The answer can be many things and the great thing about Superman is you can see him in different ways than others and that’s perfectly okay.
Superman is the incorruptible ideal by which we, as a human race, should all strive towards. He’s the icon that other superheroes look up to. He’s a reminder that no matter how dire things look and get, no matter how dark and pessimistic things seem to be, there’s always hope. There’s “hope” we’re all strong enough to be the best versions of ourselves every day.
What makes Superman as a character so relatable is his ability to open himself up to others. The relationship between Superman and Lois Lane is, in my humble opinion, the most empowering love story in comics. Every man is looking for his Lois Lane: a strong, empowered, independent woman that is as stubborn as she is supportive. Whether that form comes in your mother, grandmother, friend, girlfriend or wife, it’s important as humans to find someone that can equally match the goodness we see in one another.
In that same regard, every Lois Lane is also looking for their Superman: someone that is physically strong and emotionally tough, but also vulnerable and caring. Together, these elements demonstrate everything that is wonderful about finding and searching for the one person that makes you whole.
Superman is also an immigrant, something that can often be overlooked. He’s not human but merely looks human. Kal-El, his real Kryptonian name is the only real connection he has to a planet he never got to explore or experience. Yet, the Superman that we all know and love him to be has always stood for his most famous tagline: “Truth, justice, and the American way.”
Superman’s values and his ability to always stand by them no matter the severity of the situation is what makes him so incredible. As Superman once said to Lois Lane in Superman: The Movie: “I never lie.” He really did mean it. He truly is the light in a world of darkness, a man who can’t be bought, doesn’t cheat, and never betrays his values to win. While one can never match that high of a standard, we would have to think if we try to be even the littlest bit like Superman every day, the best versions of ourselves will always shine.
Superman’s greatest struggle isn’t battling the likes of Doomsday, Darkeid or Brainiac, it’s the fact that he’s so profoundly alone in the world. He’s forced to put on facade as mild-mannered Clark Kent, where he has to keep a lot of himself bottled away. He’s forced to put on his perfect Superman face as he sets out to save the world from all that is evil. Beneath those two personas is simply Kal-El, a humble guy with a curious heart who just wants to fit in and feel like he belongs- despite discovering during his pivotal teen years that he’s “not one of” us.
Imagine the idea of someone who is seen as a guardian angel and looks over the world on rooftops and the things Superman hears and sees, imagine how much pain and sorrow that would cause the average person. Superman embraces that pain and sorrow and channels it so it can make him strong so he can make others stronger.
Take the concept of someone that has the powers of a god that if he wanted to could wipe out the entire world at any time. Instead, he uses those god-like abilities as a force for good and inspire the people he lives amongst.
One of the greatest cinematic Superman moments to me comes from Superman II when a human Clark Kent gets a beat down in a diner by a trucker. Now, you may say, why do I love a moment that presents Superman at his lowest point? The reason is because he considers his powers a burden. He wants to live a normal life among humans and so he chose to give up the part of himself that made him whole. I loved the importance of that scene because watching him struggle made me realize that his imperfection, vulnerability and humanity isn’t what makes us weak, it’s what makes us strong and defines who we are. I loved that the ultimate lesson was that giving up an essential part of his nature was robbing the world, and himself, of something both necessary and beautiful.
Also, if you have seen Superman II, you know that Clark Kent gets his eventual revenge on the man that beat him up in the diner and he does so in the most Clark Kent way possible and it’s awesome! And while some will complain about whether that was “in character” for Kal-El, who’s supposed to be a benevolent friend, I think it shows that there is a part of him that’s flawed, human, and more like us than he seems to realize.
Sometimes the very things that we think are our burdens in life, can be our greatest strengths. Superman is about the idea that being ordinary or extraordinary is just a matter of perspective. We are all extraordinary in some contexts, and ordinary in others. What’s important is that we embrace our full selves, who we really are, and who we’re meant to be.
If you’re someone that isn’t familiar with Superman comics, I highly recommend you check out All-Star Superman and Death of Superman as both stories truly pull you in emotionally. A great life lesson in both stories are that no matter how hard life gets, you must push through and get by the best way you can.
There is a legitimate reason why Superman is one half of “The World’s Finest.” It is because he truly is.
Superman is not human. He’s not from this world. Yet he will protect us to his dying breath. He will always fight for: “truth, justice, and the American way.”
That may make him seem corny, or outdated in today’s more jaded society. But some of the best stories he’s been featured in point out that this cynical world of ours can use a diamond absolute like Superman more than we seem to think we do. And even if we’re too cool to admit the big Boy Scout’s values are an ideal to strive towards, everyone could use a friend.
What does Superman mean to you? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.