I’ve been noticing this pattern lately, not necessarily in the hardcore DC fandom but in the much less committed pop culture, of people who seem to brush aside the character of Superman. I’ve heard people say that he can’t be interesting anymore because he’s too powerful. I’ve heard people say that he’s, plain and simple, a terrible character. And I’ve heard time and time again that Batman is the far superior superhero.
And while I’ll agree that Superman hasn’t exactly been represented well in the recent media (I’m looking at you, Snyder), I can’t help but wonder about this mutual dismissal of what was once an extremely popular character.
Personally speaking, I still like Superman. I think Superman needs to exist. In the entire spectrum of the DC universe, I think Superman fills a void that other heroes (like Batman) don’t.
And the thing that I like about him is not his incredible power – there are many superheroes that possess god-like abilities (there are even some superheroes who are, literally, gods). No, the thing that I like best about Superman is actually when he is put on a much smaller scale.
I can pinpoint the exact moment where I fell in love with his character – and you can find it easily if you just Google ‘Superman and the jumper’. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the comic shows Superman fly to a rooftop where a woman is planning to commit suicide. Rather than pull her off the roof, he commits to talking to her, trying to understand and help her, to convince her that life is worth living. And, of course, just like with all superhero stories, he wins in the end. The first time that I saw this comic, I cried. I cried because the writers could have chosen any superhero to have this conversation with the suicidal girl, and they chose Superman. They chose the hero with god-like abilities, the one who, out of any of them, should be the most detached from problems smaller than aliens trying to destroy the planet, and yet he wasn’t. He was still there, taking time out of his day to talk to this girl who wasn’t a danger to anyone but herself, because she mattered. Because in the eyes of this incredibly powerful being, every last person matters.
Superman truly is a figure of hope – more than any other superhero I can think of. He represents the hope of a better future. The hope that a man can possess unlimited power and yet still use it for good. The hope that, in the grand scheme of things, we all matter, and that sometimes, things don’t turn out for the worst.
And I get it – that hope is hard to find in times such as these, because lately, it just seems like the world is getting worse and worse. And with such abundant pessimism in the air, we find it easier to turn to heroes such as Batman, heroes who exist within a world of corruption and greed, where things just keep getting worse and worse and worse without any hope for an end. Even Superman has become a darker figure in recent years, killing Zod at the end of 2013’s Man of Steel and even turning into a villainous figure in stories like Injustice: Gods Among Us. But at the end of the day, the way in which Superman is always strongest for me is when he’s a symbol of hope. When he isn’t so much a God, but a man who’s just trying his best to make things right.
And maybe that isn’t what we need right now. Maybe we need the darkness, just for a bit. But I hope we never lose sight of the idea that we can always bring back the light.