Why DC? A Superman Perspective

I am a self confessed DC fan, anyone who has taken the time to listen to our podcasts would know that for sure. Well, I just stumbled upon something I wrote last year, mainly for myself, and decided that with the DC new 52 and discussions on changes to characters I felt now would be as good a time as any to release it on to the world. I am not a scholar, a journalist or author, so I apologise profusely if this reads like it is written by a 4 year old, but I hope you enjoy!

Ok, so here I am, sitting in my room, it is 1.15am and I’m flicking through issue 2 of “The Man of Steel” the fantastic 1986 reboot of the Superman character, just reading the words, looking at the pictures, it makes me appreciate the importance of the character.

It reminded me of a discussion I had with Jon (now Jonny Thwipping) not long ago about comics, it was the standard Marvel vs. DC fare that usually crops up at one point or another between comic fans… See, I’m a DC fan, I read pretty much anything from any company, but DC is my home, I just love the characters and the stories. My brother disagreed, he said that outside the big 4 or 5 (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and maybe Green Lantern) there was nothing even remotely interesting about DC, and that even then those characters were so powerful that no problem would be too big.

It got me thinking about why I love the characters so much, what they provide that characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men etc. lack, sure I enjoy reading their comics, but they lack the passion of DC. After a hell of a lot of rambling, that is the purpose of this entry… Just what is it I love so much?

At his highest

If you went out on the street, people would know the name Superman, he is a cultural icon, recognised the world over as perfection, the perennial Übermensch, this, sadly, is his biggest strength, but also his weakness, because he is all-powerful people just lose interest, say he is boring, which is reflected in the writing. Lazy and unoriginal, some of these apparent pros just seem to fall in to a rut when writing him “Oh Superman, well he is so powerful nothing can be done, so lets just have him smacking a big bastard around a little bit”, which, frankly, is pretty piss poor reading… Pay a couple of quid to see Supes brawl with someone for 20-odd pages, no thanks! But man, when some writers actually pull their fingers out and think about what they’re writing, he can go from stale to intriguing in the blink of an eye.

I’ve always seen Superman as more of a tragic character than he has generally been portrayed, maybe it is my pessimism, my cynicism, and general outlook on life but I’ve always seen the reliance of a world’s population on one man as a burden, one to bear in unfortunate silence. Here is a god, rising above not only every citizen on the planet, but also the superhero community also, he catches people, stops bad guys, saves the world… Hell saves the universe… But sometimes, just sometimes, he fails and people die. Were he true to his alien origins (to tie back to The Man of Steel) he would be cold, emotionless, but this is a man, a farm boy, raised to know compassion and love. A fireman failing to save a girl from a burning building will feel the weight of that death on his shoulders for the rest of his life, imagine that feeling, that guilt, only amplified by hundreds, thousands, and in some cases millions, and you, a man who can fly across the world in seconds were powerless.

Never has this been more apparent than in the seminal work ‘Kingdom Come’, written by Mark Waid. Following an attack on the Daily Planet which resulted in the deaths of Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, the man responsible, The Joker is unlawfully executed before he can be properly charged by the leading light of a new radical and anarchic group of Superheroes, named Magog. Superman, despite being distraught by the death of his wife and closest friends, still strives for correct justice to be enacted, only to find the public rallying behind Magog’s actions.

Disillusioned by what he see’s society becoming, and seeing his only human connections stolen from him, he retreats to his Fortress of Solitude where he stays for over a decade.
When Wonder Woman seeks him out after these 10 years he is a changed man, he has re-embraced his farm life, created a fictitious world around him, a reflection of his simple and safe childhood. Wonder Woman is there for a purpose, there to coax him back in to the role of protector following a tragic accident that cost millions of people their lives and wiped out his home of Kansas, caused by the rash actions of this new wave of violent heroes, eventually she succeeds, and the Man of Steel is back… Or is he? No, what we are instead given is a flawed character, a man fallen from grace, his physical strength remains, but his belief shattered, this is summed up brilliantly in the painted interiors by Alex Ross, single panels showing a morose man, a drawn face, hope lost.

And alternatively his lowest.

This is when I love DC, when they take a character so steadfast in his beliefs, and test them, when it shows you their failings, their humanity. With this version of Superman they have taken the status quo opinion of the character and haven’t changed it a bit, all they have done is approach it from different angles. Superman was still portrayed as the beacon of hope, the strongest of everyone, the moral compass of the DC universe, they took a classic idea of who Superman is and simply asked the question “What happens to a god when they fail”.

Some would question this as a reason for why I love DC so much, they would say “Yeah but Marvel have been creating and writing about flawed characters since the beginning. Tony Stark an alcoholic, Spider-Man going through the trials of a normal life, Hulk struggling with the monster inside”, but these characters do not resonate with me because these flawed characteristics are so ingrained that it is standard to have them face these issues.

In short, DC’s characters are just fine the way they are, in a time when über-violence is not only common but praised, there is such a wish for these characters to change to ‘get with the times’. You need look no further than with opinion on the new Man of Steel film directed by Zack Snyder, in which people say Superman should be as dark and gritty as Batman was in Begins and The Dark Knight. No Superman and Batman represent two sides of the coin; Superman should be as bright and hopeful, as Batman is dark and hopeless, it is how the character is and always will be.

You do not need to change a character, or compromise the core ideals they represent in order to make a character interesting, you just need a damn good writer who wants to push himself and the character to the limits of what they represent.

Signing off.

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One Response to “Why DC? A Superman Perspective”

  1. muldwychMuldwych Says:

    Great article. I have only started to get into Supes as I grow older and can appreciate the type of guy he is, like you mentioned it is quite tragic and everyone knowing how you are when all; you really want is a normal life.

    It must be a constant battle with himself too being as good and righteous as he is and staying that way knowing that if you wanted you could take over earth no problem at all.

    Love Supes now a days and with Grant writing Action Comics I cant get enough now (really hope Superman next week is brilliant)

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