Superman is an interesting character.
I know; that’s not a popular idea. Superman, for me and a lot of people, is The Superhero. He has every power that he could possibly have: flight, super strength, freeze breath, laser eyes, great hair. He holds all life sacred. He does not use his powers to alter humanity’s way of life, no matter how much he may or may not disagree with it. He stands for Truth and Justice and he…does…not…bend from those morals.
This does not make for a compelling character. The reader or viewer or listener (just in case you’re a huge fan of Superman audiobooks, I guess), wants a hero with flaws. They want someone who doubts and second guesses and makes mistakes. This is true in all fiction. If the central character if flawless and is an indestructible being of unimaginable power, the reader is bored at Page One.
However, whether or not you think a writer can tell a good story with Superman isn’t the point today. The point is what Superman says about us. Superman is as American as cowboys, jazz and baseball. Like America, he is the biggest, most powerful guy on the block. His strength is uncontested and his reach is unlimited.
The difference between Superman and America is as clear as the difference between the Ideal and the Real. The wonderful thing about this character is that he has the power to split the world in two. He could rule this planet with an iron (Steel) fist. There is nothing on this planet that could stop him. Instead, against all odds, he helps old people and saves cats from trees. He is an uncorruptible, unstoppable force. He is goodness personified.
America, once it took up the mantle of a global superpower, does not have the same track record. Our country has interfered in the affairs of other nations; not to their benefit, not to correct some wrongdoing or to right some terrible wrong. It has been about money or unfounded paranoia or because of some stupid, political morass that our country has involved itself.
We have wrecked countries over communism, a political system that was so flawed it annihilated itself. We have decimated populations to protect oil fields, which lead to enraged populations that struck back in vicious, terrible ways that caused us to reciprocate in like-mind.
Superman is how we wish America was. He is the ideal for the nation. He is how our country, our government, should be. When people ask for help, Superman responds. If a building was on fire, Superman would save everyone inside. And then he would probably rebuild the building for good measure. He would not make sure that his contractor friends got the job to rebuild and allow them to use shoddy and questionable materials to save a buck and turn a quick profit.
He would not charge into a situation where he was not wanted. He does not impose his will and then leave the situation worse than how he found it. He does only what he can be reasonably expected to do and what he does do, he does because he can and because it is righteous that he uses his might and influence to make things better.
Superman is interesting, he is fascinating, because he represents how everyone in a position of power or authority should be and rarely is. He has ultimate power and he would just as soon use it to talk a young woman out of killing herself as he would fight the Villain of the Week. He is what we should all aspire to be and, while that does not always make for interesting reading, it is sometimes important to be reminded of what we can be.