Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Real Relevance: Superman


He means a lot more than punches and flight.
“Relevant” is a word that gets thrown a lot around comic fandom. Indeed, to become relevant is usually the highest honour a character can have. In comic circles, the word means that characters have received, or are worthy of, a fair amount of recognition.

It’s a weird term, really, because that’s not what the word really means; at least not to me. See, to me, something has to be important to be relevant. It has to be necessary to a people, to societies or, dare I say it, to global communities.

It sounds like I’m asking a bit much; we’re talking about comics, after all; a medium not well-known for world-changing narratives (at least not in the same way that novels like Animal Farm or To Kill a Mockingbird can be called world-changing). But that doesn’t mean that Superhero characters don’t have relevance. So I’m starting a series of articles on various heroes from Marvel and DC.

So today we’re going to start with Superman. It feels like I definitely started with the hardest one; it’s difficult to say that Superman’s popularity is at an all-time high, but “popular” is different to “relevant”. Whether some nay-sayers will admit it or not; there’s a few reasons that we still need Superman stories. What follows are those reasons.

We Need Hope

Let there be Superman!
For a while now, we’ve been bombarded with the message that Superman is a symbol of hope. It’s not something that the public has really caught on to.

Sure, you could blame Man of Steel for this; while visually spectacular, it wasn’t the message of hope that director Zack Snyder thought it was. But I think Superman’s lack of popularity has more to do with the society that the Man of Steel now finds himself in.

See, we live in an age of scepticism. Hope isn’t a popular notion. If you want proof of this; look at the opposition to Barack Obama during his first campaign for presidency- he was criticised for talking about hope. And people jumped on the opportunity to make Obama look na├»ve.

It’s little wonder that, when compared with the dark, jaded, cynical Batman, Superman seems to play second fiddle. But the fact that this apparently “goody-goody” character is championing an attitude that now seems outdated is exactly the reason we need Superman. We need icons that fill us with hope. We need ones who encourage us to do better. Superman, by his nature does this.

We need role models

We need people to look up to. Superman does that.
One of the other reasons Superman seems less popular is that he’s “too goody-goody”.

Yep, we don’t want heroes who are good, it seems. May as well base the next superhero off Adolf Hitler.

Except we shouldn’t. When did we as a global society stop aspiring to something better, or even the best? We also need Superman stories because we can’t continue to worship anti-heroes who only serve to make us feel better about our own twisted, bitter, spiteful selves.

Superman as the “boring flawless” character holds that up as a standard to us. The fact that he is flawless may not make him particularly gritty, but does make him a role model. Written in the right way (and I should also say; read in the right way), Superman is evidence of the kind of person a human being can become. Not super-strong or able to fly, but enthusiastic in his ability to good, self-sacrificing and honest.

In short, Superman is highly relevant. Not because of any film or video game appearances have made him mainstream popular, but because of who he encourages us to be.