Superman turns 80 in a couple weeks, and I thought I'd share why I think Superman is not just the greatest superhero but the hero we need right now.
I understand why most people don’t get Superman. This is no fault of the character. I put the blame on most writers of Superman. I think the common mistake is to make him relatable by giving him weaknesses that he has to deal with. The writers of Superman give him kryptonite, or they give him a love interest, or a family, or an inescapable past. All of these are designed to be pressure points that a villain can manipulate him with.
Something like kryptonite makes him weak, but it isn't his weakness. This misses the mark, because Superman already has a built in weakness that should be exploited in every story.
His true weakness is the fact that he can't be everywhere at the same time. He can't save everybody. A frustrating thing for someone who is a Christ figure, a savior of the world. He came from another realm not to rule the world, which he could so easily do, but to be one of us and to save us from ourselves.
How do you save a planet that’s hellbent on destroying itself from the inside out? And how do you approach a character that has already fulfilled the needs of safety, acceptance, self esteem, and self-actualization?
A Superman story shouldn’t be about super powers, or secret identities, or being the sole survivor of the planet krypton, they should be stories about him having more faith in us than we have in ourselves.
Every person Superman encounters in a Superman story should inherit his values of truth, liberty, justice, and life just by being in contact with him. A Superman story should be about how we can be better, how we can find safety, how we gain acceptance, how to build our self esteem, and how to achieve self-actualization. A Superman story isn’t about his character growth, it’s about our character growth.
That’s Superman’s true power. Not leaping over buildings, melting steel beams with eye lasers, or flying faster than a speeding bullet. His power is changing people. One man can’t save an entire world, but one man can inspire a world to save itself.
And that’s the story we need to hear right now.
If you're interested in reading a handful of really good comics, here’s four of THE BEST Superman stories. These are the ones I keep coming back to:
Superman Birthright: I actually bought this book for the art but stayed for the story. It's a great origin story of Clark Kent taking on the mantle of Superman. Maybe the first time I read a really good explanation of the "S" on his chest.
Superman for All Seasons: A quiet Superman story that narrated by those who knew Clark Kent the best and how they impacted his life, and in turn how he's impacted theirs.
All-Star Superman: My favorite of this bunch. This takes a bunch of the crazy Golden and Silver-Age Superman characters, experiences, and set pieces and weaves it into a serious story about the Man of Steel's last year on earth. It was heartfelt, engaging, and fun. Plus the art is incredible.
Superman Secret Identity: An alternate universe re-telling of the Superman origin story. I didn't know what to expect when I bought this, I just heard it was really good. Took me by surprise a little, but I enjoyed it. Also, really great art.
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