On February 29th, about 30 years ago (plus or minus 10), a rocket crash landed in Smallville, Kansas. That rocket was found by a kindly couple. Farmers Jonathon and Martha Kent, two of the kindest and most loving people on Earth, and very likely the only people capable of raising the most powerful being on the planet into a beacon of hope for all to see.
Now that I am working on the Warner Bros Studio Lot, a great deal of conversations are coming back around to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I have written about the film before. I will write about it again. Hell, I’ve written about Superman before, but the conversation that I keep having is that Batman is fundamentally better than Superman, and that simply is not true.
From start to finish, Superman is a better character than Batman. He is a better character not because of his strength or his enemies. No man is defined by his enemies, bat fans. Superman is great because underneath the curled hair, red cape, and underwear on the outside, Superman is Clark Kent.
Imagine finding out in your toddler years that you are strong enough to lift a car over your head. That you can jump incredible distances and melt things with your eyes when you get angry.
If you wanted, you could throw a tantrum that levels your home. You could do whatever you wanted, whatever it is that toddlers want to do. But instead of being scared of you, your parents embrace you and decide to help you learn to control your capabilities.
Your father ties a line to you to teach you how to fly. Your mother knits the indestructible blankets from your spaceship into protective clothing in case anything goes wrong. They teach you how to use your powers for right instead of wrong and instill in you all the best morals of America without any of the hatred so often seen in our country.
The world around you is made of cardboard and it is your responsibility not to break any of it. This is your planet too, and you must be grateful every day that it was here to save your life.
And yet you’re a teenager. High School is hard and you know how easy everything would be if you took off your glasses and showed the world, and the cute red headed girl, how incredible you really are. But that wouldn’t be right, because you about the darker side of humanity by now. You know how lucky you are to have the life you live, and you would much rather use your strength to spread that love and compassion wherever you go.
All your parents ever wanted for you was to give back to the world. And you do. You save the world, but more importantly you save people. You’ve seen all sides of humanity and you still believe each and every one of us is worth saving, and each person you save is so much more important that defeating Lex Luthor, General Zod, or Brainiac.
All of your great super heroic deeds. The other god like people you spend your time with. At the end of the day you still choose to be Clark Kent. Clark Kent who wears glasses. Clark Kent with severely stooped posture. Clark Kent who can’t catch the eye of the woman he loves because she’s too busy looking at you.
But it’s all worth it to be among us. Because what’s the point of it all if you can’t live among us. Yes, you’ve seen the darkest we are capable of, but you have also seen the light. Once more you have the burden of showing us the way. Showing us how power does not have to corrupt, because if you can be capable of so much and still use your great strength to save people, then how can all the evil on Earth justify itself?
That’s Superman. The original and still the greatest. Sometimes, if we’re all really lucky, a writer really understands him. When that happens we get some of the best comics ever written. For example:
The Curse of Superman – Action Comics (2011) #9
This single issue story by Grant Morrison (an excellent comic book writer who knows Superman)and Gene Ha is essentially a throw down between the Supermen of two different alternate realities. One one side there’s President Superman, who is essentially Obama, who fights against another Superman that is literally a brand come to life. President Superman shows how the ideal of Superman transcends race and class, while Brand Superman shows how warped that ideal can become in the face of franchise expansion.
Superman for All Seasons
If you know of Batman: The Long Halloween then you are familiar with the team behind this book. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale craft here an excellent story set in Superman’s first year in Metropolis. Here are two panels that prove this one understands Supes:
Yet another Superman story that’s more about the idea of Superman than the real thing. Secret Identity, by Kurt Busiek with straight up amazing art by Stuart Immonen, is about a kid growing up in our world with the unfortunate name of Clark Kent. He is compared to Superman his whole life, hates it, and then one day starts displaying the same abilities as the comic book character. He steps up and takes on his namesake’s responsibilities, displaying how important the ideal of Superman is, even in the real world.
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Fun fact: Alan Moore is a genius. Yes he wrote one of the darkest Superhero stories ever with Watchmen, but he has also written some of the brightest. He has written both an incredible run on Supreme, a Superman knock-off initially created by Rob Liefeld, and what could be considered the final word on Superman with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? A Superhero Conclusion story (so, the opposite of an origin story), This tale perfectly uses the entire Silver Age of Superman to tell a story that could expertly send the character off into the sunset, if such a thing were ever necessary.
For the Man Who Has Everything
Hey it’s Alan Moore again! And this time he brought along Dave Gibbons, who did the art in Watchmen. For the Man Who Has Everything is the story of a fateful birthday for Superman, when the evil alien warlord Mongul drops by and plants a, uh, evil plant onto Superman. This evil plant, a Black Mercy, causes Superman to live out his perfect fantasy life, on a Krypton that never exploded. The only way to free himself is to let this world around him die, and when he comes for Mongul after that you get to see one of the scariest things in the universe. Angry Superman.
Oh! And they adapted this into episode 2 of Justice League Unlimited, which is currently streaming on Netflix!
All Star Superman
This is easily the best Superman story I have ever read, and it’s another conclusion story! Hmm, maybe we should lay off origins and do some more conclusions. In this tale, Superman flies to close to the sun, high fives Icarus, and becomes stronger than ever before. The downside is that all of his cells are exploding from too much energy and he is going to die. In his final days, Superman completes the greatest feats in his entire lifetime. If you think Superman’s strength makes telling stories about him hard, this one will prove you wrong.
Also they made an animated movie about it if you don’t like reading!
Superman’s longevity exists because he is an icon that will never die. He is a beacon of goodness that we should all aspire to be. It can be hard to see sometimes, but he is incredible. So here’s a Happy Birthday to you Clark Kent! I’ll see you again for the next one in four years.
PS – honorable mentions go out to the first Superman Movie and Superman II, as well as all of Bruce Timm’s Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited.