Superman Is Cool. Swear to God.

Despite being the original, and arguably the greatest, superhero, Superman has – for years now – been linked to some strange social stigma that inspires shudders at the very mention of his name. People call him “lame” and “gay” (the bad kind of gay) on a regular basis. But I swear to you, he’s cool. Probably the coolest of them all. Now I’m going to try and prove it.

As most everyone who knows me is aware, I’m a huge geek. I say it with pride. I love comic books and would rather read and write them than, well, anything else. I write these “articles” and I spend time working on short stories, a novel, a screenplay and lots of other projects, but if someone called me up and said “Hey, kid! Write comics for me now!”, I’d drop everything to do that. I’ve been reading comics since I was about 4, and over the years some clear favorites have developed. I have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of Spider-Man history, and I absolutely love The Flash (especially the third one). But the first comic I ever read was an issue of Action Comics, the book that has – for most of its run – starred Superman.

Action Comics issue #1 (1938) - the first appearance of Superman.

Superman, the first and greatest of all the superheroes. If the heroes of the DC comics universe were a pantheon of gods (and let’s face it, that’s basically what the prime members are portrayed as), Superman would be their God King; their Zeus, Jupiter, and Jesus Christ. All rolled into one. Perhaps that’s part of the reason people can’t stand him. He seems, from the outside looking in, like a complete abstract. He isn’t human like us. He can’t be hurt by anything except for the rarest (though abundant) of elements and he gets to hide his smarmy caped identity behind a pathetic pair of glasses and a carefully combed ‘do. Such a stupefying disguise surely only serves to illustrate how camp Superman comics really are, because every character he spends time with – a bevy of the world’s supposed greatest reporters – can’t figure out his blatant blue & red secret.

Of course, I’m not writing this to justify those claims. I write here, instead, with the intent of proving – once and for all – that Superman is way cooler than you’ve let yourself believe. He is, in fact, the coolest superhero. Cooler than Batman. Yeah. I said it.

What will follow will be a series of articles (I’ll really do them this time) where I’ll attempt to analyze the various famous aspects of the Superman mythos. My intent is not objectivity. I’ve already said that Superman is cool. Now I’m just going to show you the evidence. Of course, being the 70+ year-old character that he is, the Man of Steel has been open to multiple interpretations in every medium known to man. He’s been the subject of essays before, as well as novels, films, songs, TV and radio shows, and even a stage musical. In order to find the most solid ground to begin analyzing what makes him so damn cool, though, I’ll have to work with what I consider to be the most perfect Superman story – the best one out there on the shelves. In that case, I’ll have to work with Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s 12-chapter opus “All Star Superman”; a story which functions as a thematic sequel to Superman’s heyday of über-popularity.

This story involved writer Morrison’s analysis of each individual aspect of the mythos, boiled down to its most perfect and purest form. Everything from Lois Lane to Lex Luthor is reappraised in All Star Superman, and then presented in high conceptual form. For, just like with real people, Superman is not the story of a being in isolation. What makes him what he is comes as much from the people he surrounds himself with as it does his personal belief system. He is, like us, shaped by the thoughts of his lovers, his friends, his family, and even his greatest enemy; all of them reflecting an aspect of Superman and his story in some way.

So, even though each article that follows will be a deeper dissection of a particular character or concept from the world of Superman, this first one is going to be the obvious – and perhaps tedious – summary piece. This is the one where I tell you the stuff that everyone knows. The stuff that has so strongly permeated the collective consciousness of mankind that it is now myth. The origin stuff.

Superman was created in the 1930s by two Jewish teenagers (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) from Cleveland and sold to the company that would eventually become DC Comics. He was originally imagined as a bulletproof man with immense strength, but initially displayed almost none of the range of powers he demonstrates today. Interestingly, some have come to suggest that at least some inspiration for the character may have come from the fact that Jerry Siegel’s father, Mitchell, had been murdered in a robbery the year before the pair of teenagers created their Man of Tomorrow. A bulletproof man who fights against social injustice and crime seems like an appropriate concoction by a teenager dealing with the death of his father from a gunshot wound.

Superman went through numerous incarnations and revisions over the years, as is the nature of the process, but the major details have remained consistent now for decades. The best damn summary of the events which “create” Superman are summed up very effectively on Page 1 of All Star Superman [below].

Last Hope: the origin of Superman in its most refined form.

[Check out a larger version of this image here]

To extrapolate on what you see above: The infant Kal-El is placed in a rocket by his parents, Jor-El and Lara, and launched into space just as their world collapses around them. He arrives on Earth, in Kansas, and is found and raised by the kindly couple of Martha and Jonathan Kent. They name him “Clark” and teach him all the values that eventually contribute to his outlook and mission as Superman.

The other important components of Superman’s story really revolve around his alter ego of Clark Kent. Playing the role of the bumbling nerd from a small town, Clark clumsily wanders through his life in the city of Metropolis, while working as a reporter for the Daily Planet. Clark’s colleague, Lois Lane, is Superman’s prime love interest, with most of the dramatic tension in their relationship originally coming from the fact that Clark loved Lois, while Lois only loved Superman. You know it’s a pretty messed up love triangle when your chief competition is yourself. As Clark, Superman is also surrounded by a dozen or so other important characters, such as the Daily Planet’s cigar-chewing editor-in-chief, Perry White, and the goofy photographer and “Superman’s Pal”, Jimmy Olsen.

Most of the conflict in the core mythos arises from Superman having to fight genius and madman Lex Luthor. Luthor is a self-involved scientist who spends all his time thinking of new ways to bedevil and/or annihilate Superman, who he sees as the prime reason that mankind is unable to grow or move forward because he’s always there to save us. What makes Luthor such a compelling villain is the fact that, in some ways, he has a good point. Wouldn’t the citizens of Metropolis – and the world, really – be better off without someone swooping down to save them everytime they stubbed a toe or their car broke down? Of course, Luthor’s major character flaw is the fact that, despite presenting the potential to do an immense amount of good himself, he always stops short of curing cancer or “saving the world” himself to fight Superman. Conversely, Superman doesn’t go looking for trouble with Luthor. He just stops it when it crops up.

Anyway, that’s the basic preamble out of the way. From now on, you can expect the articles to delve into more relevant detail about the Man of Steel’s role, why he’s awesome, what makes his story so damn universal and relatable, and perhaps even my take on just why it is that people can’t stand the Big Blue Cheese. And hey, if you spent this entire article rolling your eyes at me and my Superman-crush, you’ll actually like where this is going. You see, the hook in the story of All Star Superman is that Kal-El is dying.

Next: Super-Mythology

8 Responses to “Superman Is Cool. Swear to God.”
  1. Kelly says:

    Isn’t he such a just and dapper character?
    What Flash Gordon made famous in the early 30’s, Superman made celebratory by the latter part of that decade-
    It is no wonder that the “nuclear family” fervently longed for that god-like figure as a rescue to their war-torn reality…
    I wrote my dissertation last year on comics…
    It’s not easy to make believers out of non-believers…but dammit, they SHOULD know that…”Superman Is Cool.” 😉

    • Nas says:

      Thanks for the support, Kelly. I’d love to read that dissertation if it’s at all possible? I’m very interested in seeing more academic papers dealing with superheroes.

      • Kelly says:

        Rad! You’re welcome 🙂 Well, I probably should have clarified a bit on the genre of comics- I did a psychoanalysis on a cartoonist called Robert Crumb…are you familiar with some of his work? I mainly focussed on the underground 1960’s/sex & psychedelic revolution/F*** you America/Women’s Lib kinda genre of comics. Crumb’s work could seriously offend some people but I personally find his work entertaining!

        If you posess an odd or twisted sense of humour like I do, then I’ll make a plan so that you can read my essay 🙂 Naturally, I couldn’t just dive into Crumb’s work solely, so I made it a point to study up on greats such as Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee et cetera as well. Hey, have you seen “Comic Book Confidential”?

  2. Jase says:

    Good article. I think you’re dead-on linking Superman(and really, the rest of DC’s premiere characters) with mythology. Looking forward to the next installment.

  3. You can depend me in for a Digg. Thanks for posting this on your site!

  4. I trust you would not have reservations if I put up a part of %BLOGTITLE% on my univeristy blog?

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