Obviously, as a white dork approaching the category of middle age who has a brown ponytail and a degree, I’m obligated to have some opinions on Superman. And Superman is a great character to have opinions on, so you can signal to everyone around you how boring you are and therefore, where to check out on your opinions.
One example is that you could get your opinion prepacked from Kill Bill, Part 2, which is where a villain, written by someone who primarily likes westerns, exposits on how Superman, as a character, is a commentary from someone powerful on the people around him he sees as powerless. This is a great opinion to get prepacked, because that means it’s really a convenient shape to take and drop in the trash.
Superman and his boyfriend Batman have gotten some flak lately for being fascist power fantasies, which may be attached to the way that a few movies got made in the past decade or so that presented these characters as really fascist fantasies. There’s the Superman of the Snyder movies, with his calm, understated Jesus allegory and his eugenics and his complete apathy for trillions of dollars of damage and thousands of lost human lives, for example. That guy? That guy might be a fascist power fantasy, and I’ve written about that in the past. He’s a bully, and a cruel one, and the world he’s in treats his bullying cruelty as if it is the only natural outcome of his toxic, violent, disgusting strain of having to put up with sharing a world with you know, us.
It’s kinda a bummer too when we get into a headspace where a character created by a couple of prewar Jewish guys who wanted a hero they could believe in, gets treated as if he is, simply and wholly, a fascist power fantasy, because of a few people who don’t like the character getting unprecedented and uncritical control over the way that character is depicted to an audience of billions. It’s weird, too, because it seems like those stories about ‘Superman’ that could be being written about Supermanning aren’t… really… useful as Superman Stories? They’re just… story stories. You could write them about anything. About anyone. Make up a hero.
Here’s the thing, here’s my opinion about Superman. About the fantasy Superman enables.
Superman is the fantasy that someone, given power, will choose to be good with it.
That’s it. That’s all it needs to be. No ifs, ands, or buts. No ‘because of love,’ or ‘because of Kansas values.’ No ‘because of Jesus allegory.’ Just simply, that someone when presented with the choice to do the most good, is going to do it, and that the outcome of that can be good ends.
We get a lot of stories about people who are given power and who try that power out, then find, oh no, what a bad idea to use that power! I can’t be trusted with power, because then I’ll do things with it. Much better to give up the power and not learn anything from it. This is pretty common in time travel stories, but it’s also common for superheroes, who maybe sometimes lean into it even harder and become very invested in treating their powers as a burden, as if the role of a superhero cannot be done with joy.
It bugs me.
It bugs me, because in my opinion, I have enough stories in my life, telling me that trying to improve things can go badly. It’s like I’ve been surrounded by that story my whole life. It’s like what power I do have to improve things has always run headlong into the question of well what’s the point, it won’t fix anything. Like there’s some sort of reason people would find it easier to accept and adapt to and regard as ‘serious’ and ‘mature’ the stories where doing good is so hard it’s better off to not bother with it.