The Editor’s Notes is an opinion column allowing our writers to express their honest feelings about comic books, the comic book industry, and all that it inspires. The views expressed within belong solely to their author.
Mark Waid, current writer of Daredevil and the Superman origin story, Birthright, recently posted on his Thrillbent blog that “at its emotional climax, at the moment of Superman’s ultimate ‘victory,’ Man of Steel broke [his] heart.”
That’s not surprising, though, because Superman has been an emotional letdown since DC Comics started their New 52 initiative. Superman, as the Man of Steel movie points out, should be a beacon of hope.
A figure that in one skyscraper clearing bound should prove to us that we are not alone and in another should prove that we are protected by a superior being with our best interest at hand. Superman, at his start, was a hero for the everyman. Yes, his abilities are unique, but his strength of will and resolve to be humankind’s protector where metaphors that anyone could imagine. These days, however, Superman has just been exactly what Mark Waid has said, “heart breaking.”
DC Comics publishes multiple Superman titles that include Action Comics, Superman, Justice League, Adventures of Superman, and Superman Unchained. In each title, a different side to Superman has been portrayed. Across the Superman titles Superman has been, at best, confused as to what his role in the universe entails.
Yes, he still deals with the bad guys with superior strength, but gone is the confidence and leadership that makes him that shining beacon, with his Man of Steel portrayal being more of the same. In his blog, Waid states that there was “a lot of destruction—and Superman making absolutely no effort to take the fight, like ONE BLOCK AWAY INTO A CORNFIELD INSTEAD OF ON MAIN STREET.”
On top of that, in the movie’s climatic fight, Superman and Zod end up destroying most of Metropolis with super punches that demolish three to four skyscrapers in a single swing. All of this occurs with little to no concern for the millions of scrambling humans at the mercy of the falling debris. And, well, that just doesn’t feel like Superman.
These days, even when Superman is concerned with the welfare of his helpless adopted species, it seems fake. In Superman #14, the opening issue of Scott Lobdell’s He’l on Earth arc, Superman confronts He’l, a Kryptonian seeking the destruction of Earth in order to restore Krypton, in the middle of Metropolis. As this opening salvo of destruction ensues, Superman steps out of a fiery blast to scream, “Shut up! Shut up and listen for the first time since you got here and did everything you could to make my life miserable—you little peroxide brat,” at a shocked Supergirl.
A shock that is similar to that of the reader, who knows that a Superman who stands as a beacon of hope doesn’t resort to childish verbal abuse. In other titles we don’t even get a Superman that can’t control his emotions, but instead get an emotional shell.
In Justice League, Superman Unchained, and Action Comics the portrayal of Superman is more stereotypical. He goes about his super powered business saving the Earth from extraterrestrial threats and falling satellites while towing the line as the Earth’s super-human bruiser.
Jeff Parker seems to me to be the only creator out there that truly understands the role Superman should have in the DC Universe. In Adventures of Superman #1, Superman faces off with a distraught and confused man who tears apart Metropolis with newfound powers. Superman approaches the situation as a mediator, not a bruiser. He tries to keep everyone, including the “villain” safe, and at the end, he stays behind to help clean up the mess.
Is it too much to ask the creative talent at DC Comics to find a middle ground? To restore Superman to his role as a beacon of hope, instead of a sometimes excessively demonstrative, emotional shell that only has the threat in front of him on his mind? From the portrayal created in Man of Steel, I would say the answer is yes.
Mark Waid wasn’t out of line to be heart broken. This new Superman is confused as the internal emotional conflict between his origin and his responsibilities has been water-down. He is not the beacon of hope long time fans desire, and the only ones with the power and accountability to restore him don’t seem to care about much other than their bottom-line.