The Big Blue Boy Scout

Superman - Truth. Justice. Hope.

The Man of Steel. Big Blue. The Man of Tomorrow. The Metropolis Marvel. Supes. The Boy Scout. The Last Son of Krypton. Smallville. Kal-El.


He was one of the first superheroes and has endured 76 years of ups and downs for the comic industry – and it only took him 73 of those to learn where his underwear is meant to go. He is the template, the blueprint, for superpowered heroes who came after. And we still love him today. He still catches our imagination and makes us feel excited, like children again.

My first experience of him was from the Christopher Reeve films. I remember getting my mum to make me a cape out of a red velvet curtain, and poking the lenses out of an old pair of Ray-Bans (sorry!). Then I’d stroll around the living room in my Clark Kent disguise, until trouble inevitably erupted in a nearby land (the dining room). Then, off would come the glasses, and I’d fly, via the sofa and chairs, to said land. Apparently, the sewing machine’s brass-looking handles were actually Kryptonite, because it was on one of these, in the process of saving lives, that I fell off a chair and sliced my finger from top to bottom. Even Superman can cry.

Age 7 was the start of my depression and it was partly due to this that, for more years than I can recall, I’d go out into the garden, stare straight up at the sky and try as hard as I could to take off. Perhaps it’s for the best that I never did, because my dad carrying me through the house while I pretended to fly taught me that flying is damn sore on the back.

But that’s about as far as my personal story with Superman goes. I didn’t grow up with comics; I grew up with Knight Rider, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Crocodile Dundee, and the Dean Cain Superman series. He was only one of my ‘heroes’, as it were – though I never really considered anyone my hero.

Superman Saved My Life

But everywhere I look, there are a lot of real people who have been brought through real tragedies and trying times by Superman. He isn’t just an inspiration and symbol of hope to those 2D citizens in comic books, he’s a very real symbol to very real people. And I think there’s something quite remarkable about that. That symbol is hope. You might be surprised, after the “It means ‘Hope’” scene in Man of Steel, that the S emblem on Superman’s suit didn’t actually mean that for a long, long time. Not until the 2000s, in fact. To me, this is a case of writers realising that Superman himself had become a symbol of hope, and so it made sense to bring the emblem’s meaning into alignment.

Even as a baby, he was sent away from a dying world as their last hope. As a baby, he embodied hope.

So Superman is the shining beacon of hope. The bright blue ideal that many other superheroes look to for inspiration and leadership. He is the icon that shows us that there is something better out there, that we can be something greater. He is a shining light in the darkness not because of his strength and his powers but because of his purity, his incorruptible moral compass. It’s probably rivalled only by that of Captain America. He is unwavering in his ethics and values, and will not stray from or betray those under any circumstances, no matter what he faces and no matter the personal cost. That is an ideal many people find inspiring and aspire to. He is an example to people in this way and relatable for us because he doesn’t put himself on a pedestal. He doesn’t consider himself better than humans in any way, even while some of those humans refer to him as a god.

superman cries

What makes him so relatable is very human: loneliness. He is the last of his people (in some storylines), his birth family is dead, his Earth father dies relatively early-on, and (again, in some storylines) his Earth mother dies later on too. He embodies the sense of isolation that so many people feel. Although he has adopted humans as his people and Earth as his home, he is alone. Kal-El is neither Superman – the invulnerable, perfect hero – or Clark – the bumbling fool. These are two facades he puts on every day and so, surrounded as he is by people, he is still profoundly alone.

And Superman doesn’t just save the world from larger-than-life villains, he is there for people. For individuals. An alien who has travelled the stars, battled gargantuan monsters, and…bent steel, cares as much for individual people as he does for the world and humanity as a whole. Whenever we fall, he is there to pick us up.

So a near-perfect, incorruptible symbol he may be, but he is also relatable.

But is an alien with so much power that he could rule the world, but instead chooses to serve it, a bit boring? The struggle for acceptance and against loneliness is more of a theme rather than something directly addressed, and his choices always come across as easy for the Man of Steel. Physically, he is practically invincible.

Many people think that Superman is too perfect, too overpowered, too boring. I can kind of understand why, but even my limited knowledge of the character leads me to believe that if those people read more about him, they might appreciate him a little more.

Superman does what is right. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Sometimes his choices, though clearly right, are a struggle for him. He doesn’t fail to make those choices, but in some ways this means he sacrifices more, and more frequently, than many other heroes. No matter the cost, he will always do what is right.

Superman - remarkable dichotomy

Perhaps he is overpowered for normal battles. But there are plenty of supervillains out there to equal his strength and power. Again, it is usually his purity and the good within him that allow him to overcome. Do we hear the same amount about how overpowered Thor, the god of thunder, is? Or Green Lantern, with his ring that creates practically anything he wants? Superman gets beaten to a pulp as much as, say, Batman, does he not? So, what’s it all about? He has a weakness to Kryptonite, and magic, and a surprising amount of other things, yet Batman can defeat him even without those. A human man. Dressed as a bat. But his biggest weakness is his humanity, his compassion, that same good within him. It can so easily be exploited.

Superman is not human, but he will give his life for us (and has). You may think that it wouldn’t be easy for him to do that, but I’ve just closed an article full of comic pages detailing all the ways to kill Superman, and it’s so long I gave up before I even got halfway through.

I don’t really understand the idea that darker, tortured heroes are better. Those who give in to their weaknesses on occasion. Why is that? Because being pure good is boring? Because identifying with someone like that, giving in, is easier than striving to be something greater?

Batman isn’t too different to Superman, but he isn’t considered boring. Is that because his broken bones don’t heal as fast as Superman’s? Because he breaks lots of other people’s bones? He’s human and risks his life every time he goes out, but…so does Superman. The things that threaten the latter’s life are just, by necessity, more out-of-this-world.

The real world would be a better place with Superman. Not because of his powers, or because it would be cool to look up and see him flying overhead, but because of his purity, his morals, his ideals. And if that’s all it takes to make the world a better place, then shouldn’t we all strive to be Superman? If he, an alien, can be humanity’s greatest example, why cant we?
I think that is why Superman endures.

And now, because I don’t know how to end this article…here’s Martian Manhunter:

“Though we gather here today, bound together in sorrow and loss, we share a precious gift. We are, all of us, privileged to live a life that has been touched by Superman. The Man of Steel possessed many extraordinary gifts, and he shared them with us freely. None of these gifts were more remarkable than his ability to discern what needed to be done, and his unfailing courage in doing it, whatever the personal cost. Let us all strive to accept his gift, and pass it along, as an ongoing tribute to Kal-El of Krypton, the immigrant from the stars, who taught us all how to be heroes.” – Martian Manhunter

Thank you, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

This article was originally written for Uproar Comics.

Thrillers, Horrors and Supermen

My upcoming thriller has been rewritten and is now with beta readers. The feedback so far is very good. Although I think I may have made a wild guess in one post, I don’t have a release date yet. After I get it back from the proof readers, it will need a few edits, as well as rewrites for anything they pick up, and then off to the proofreader. But I thought I’d update my…uh…legions of loyal fans?

I also thought I’d give my thoughts on two of the things that have been taking up my non-writing time: Man of Steel and The Last Of Us.

I intended to write a full review of Man of Steel, and even sat here for about an hour writing and putting in images and so on. I was going to write about the theme and about what Superman means to people, and why does he remain arguably the greatest of superheroes… But in the end I decided I didn’t actually know where I was going with the review and it was sounding too negative. So I’ll just say a little this time.

I enjoyed Man of Steel, but it did have a few flaws in my eyes. One of the most obvious things when I think back is the music. Though the music was very good, there was one track that was used over and over and over, pretty much any time something happened that involved Zod or Superman. Just when you thought it had finally finished…it would kick in again! It got quite irritating. I’m not one that argues that the proper Superman theme should have been in there. Though it is no less iconic, and no less Superman, than the cape or inability to dress himself properly, this was a complete reboot. That means distancing itself from the old films, and in doing so, not having the theme makes sense. I miss it, but it wouldn’t have made any sense really. It would have been almost like putting the na na na na na na na na, Batmaaaan into Keaton’s films.

The next biggest let down of the film was a lack of drama. There’s plenty of it in flashback scenes with Robin H…Pa Kent. But there’s none whatsoever in two of the most important moments of the film: the first time he shows off his powers, and the first time he puts on the suit. None. Whatsoever. Let’s take the show of power first. It’s not a spoiler to say that this is when he rips open the big metal door and is covered in flames. That’s the first time we see his power. So why is there no drama to it? Why is there no more made out of it than of the scenes of him hauling fish about? Again, this is a reboot. That means it should be treated as though the audience has never seen Superman before and doesn’t know what he’s capable of. But no. Just have him a rip a door out of its frame, and appear ablaze, and treat it as though he’d just wandered into the kitchen.

Worse still is that there was absolutely nothing to the first time we see him in the suit! Just as Bruce Wayne talks about being a symbol in Batman Begins, so is Superman a symbol. And without that gaudy suit, there’s no symbol. So when we first see him walk out of those doors, cape flapping in the wind, it should have been a big moment. But there was nothing. The door opened and he walked out. Like it was the tenth time we’d seen him in the suit. Not only that, but why was he so accepting of the suit? Why didn’t he want to know why he had to wear tights? Why he had to have a big snag-on-everything cape. How come he’s suddenly clean shaven? I also didn’t like what comes next. He doesn’t immediately take off and rocket into the sky like he appears to in the trailers. That comes a little later. What does happen could be considered a tiny spoiler, so I won’t say, but the minute or so between emerging in the suit and taking off into full flight would have been better suited, in my eyes, to the beardy, checkered shirted Clark Kent.

Then there was the ending. The resolution with Zod. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t very Superman. I can’t really talk about it without spoilers, but it wasn’t the best. Nolan was apparently adamant that it was wrong and should happen another way, but Goyer eventually persuaded him. But at least it was written in a way that it was unavoidable. It just…shouldn’t have been.

My last big problem with it was the tornado scene. I know what they were trying to do with it, and in theory it was a great, emotional, moving scene. In reality, it wasn’t pulled off very well at all. It should have also been the last flashback before that final one. The final flashback was very good and would have been a lot more moving if it had been the only one after the tornado scene.

But overall, it was good. Perhaps very good. It wasn’t amazing and brilliant, and was lacking something I can’t put my finger on. A fundamental Superman-ness. It was, however, much better than I’d been dreading it might be. I’m one of the few people who really liked Superman Returns, and was very disappointed to hear he wasn’t being allowed to continue on with the sequel he had planned. But this makes a suitable replacement. Cavill is a good Superman, although he could do with less jaw clenching and getting angry, and did a lot of work to make himself look like Superman. But really, it was Clark Kent’s film, not Superman’s. Hopefully the sequel will bring us more of a Superman feel.

I’m looking forward to the Justice League film, though there needs to be a few standalone films to introduce the other members first. DC needs to pull its thumb out and get on with that. Marvel has nine films coming in the next couple of years, DC has…one. The MoS sequel that’s not even confirmed.

Overall, I’d give Man of Steel an 8/10. Just. Maybe 7.5/10. But I’ll definitely be getting the bluray as soon as it’s out.

In the interests of not making a big long post, I’ll write about The Last of Us tomorrow. So for now, I’ll leave you with this: