Can Anything Be ‘Super’ Anymore?

Joal Ryan, a writer for eonline.com, doesn’t have high hopes for Man of Steel, the new Superman movie scheduled to trundle out next year. Sure, Ryan believes the movie might be a good movie, maybe even great. But it won’t be a great Superman movie—not like the 1978 Christopher Reeve blockbuster. Why? He suggests that we just don’t make heroes like Superman anymore. Sure, we can re-imagine Superman—reboot the guy for our more cynical 21st century tastes … but that wouldn’t really be Superman, would it? Writes Ryan:

Today, the modern movie superhero is a wreck. He (and it\’s still almost always a he) must be touched by a form of madness in order to get to the point where he dons a suit. The Superman in Superman: The Movie, by comparison, just does it. One scene, a teenager is sifting through his late Kryptonian father\’s archives. The next, a fully-grown man is decked out in a cape, uniform and trunks, as ready as he\’ll ever be to fight for truth, justice and the American way. … He\’s a hero, plain and simple. Let the battle with the bad guy begin.

I’ve said before in my book and other forums that Superman isn’t my favorite superhero, and (despite all those childhood pictures of me in a red cape) I don’t think he ever was. He was too strong, too powerful. I think many others feel the same these days, which is (I’ve always thought) a big reason why Batman has eclipsed our man in blue.
But Ryan’s piece made me wonder … is Superman really too strong for us? Or is he too good?
“Deep down, Clark’s essentially a good person,” Batman says of Superman in DC’s Hush. “And deep down, I’m not.”
That’s one of the things that always attracted me to Batman. Because deep down, I know I’m not, either. None of us are, if it comes right down to it. We all know, at 3 a.m. we’re staring at the ceiling, we’re not as good as we pretend to be or even think we are most of the time. We’re selfish, sinful people. Batman’s not “super.” He’s flawed. In a way he is, in Ryan’s words, a wreck. But he does what he can with the tools he’s been given and becomes a hero through force of will—giving all of us a little hope that we can be a hero, too.
Superman’s not like that. He’s better than us—better, perhaps, than we could even aspire to be. If Batman appeals to jaded adults like me, Superman is a hero for the 7-year-old set—strong and brave and incorruptible and good. He’s a John Wayne relic that you never worry about falling or failing or disappointing you. He’s a hero for people who did, or do, believe in such things.
Hey, I’m a Batman guy. That’s not gonna change. I like complexity in my superheroes. Maybe even a little bit of turmoil.
But it makes me a little sad to think that Superman—the Superman we grew up with, anyway—doesn’t fit comfortably in this world. That says a lot more about us than about Superman, I think. The Man of Steel seems too good to be true. And so we turn away from him without even giving him a chance to prove us wrong.
Man of Steel will be directed by Zack Snyder (he of 300fame) and produced by Christopher Nolan—a guy who worked such dark wonders with our modern Dark Knight. I wonder whether a similar remake may be on the docket for Superman—an angsty, dark, traumatized hero. He’d become Batman, only with X-ray vision and without the cool car.
I hope not. As much as I like Batman, I think we need heroes like Superman, too—heroes we can embrace without reservation. Sometimes, we need heroes that are too good for us, too good for our age. We need heroes that don’t reflect ourselves, but represent something better, something purer.
And for Christians, I believe the example of Superman is even more important for us. Because while Batman may speak into our faith, it’s Superman that better embodies it.
Sometimes what seems to good to be true is true after all.

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