By Greg Price
As we age, if one truly has an open mind, one is capable of changing their thoughts on many important things.
Stances on economic recovery, job creation, equal rights, social programming, best uses of democracy… they can all be fluid as one gets older and gains more wisdom.
Take myself for instance in tackling the ever-important issue I have been battling since I was a child, of finding fictional comic-book hero Superman about as interesting as reheated oatmeal.
I must admit, I have not delved too deeply into the character, being more on Team Marvel as a youth on who would curry favour with the hard-earned money I made that was blown on comics, not really getting into the DC (Detective Comics) brand that owned the rights to Superman. But even on the most superficial, scratch-the-surface level, I had always been on Team Batman in the debate of who is king of DC. Judging by comic sales, merchandising, movie ticket sales etc., the public seems to agree.
Ironically, it’s the Batman franchise that has proven to be more bulletproof. If you can survive the debacle that was the Batman and Robin with cringe worthy after cringe worthy acting performances, despite possessing five big-name actors of the day in the late 1990s, you can survive anything.
Superman is arguably the most powerful superhero in DC lore. Batman’s superpower is being sugar-daddy rich, coupled with a healthy obsession with the gym linked to an unhealthy obsession to his dead parents and functional alcoholism. And yet, people gravitate more to the latter. Is it because they think they are capable of being one psychosis and Powerball-winning ticket away from being Batman?
It’s Superman’s insanely powered-up abilities that made him so vanilla for me. A power depleted Superman took an explosion of anti-matter 700 light years in magnitude and survived. Superman has literally thrown a black hole into another black hole in the comics. Superman has shattered the boundaries of space and time through his strength alone. Superman has reversed the vibratory pattern of an entire planet. ‘Hey look, I wonder if he’s going to catch those bank robbers’ said no young comic book reader ever.
Even Superman’s one weakness in kryptonite doesn’t seem to be much of a weakness at all with how it has played out in the movies and the few comic books I’ve read.
Kryptonite’s prohibitive range to Superman does not seem to be that wide, as it looks like he has to be right beside it for it to harm him. Even then, all it ever seems to do is weaken the man despite prolonged exposure. In Batman v Superman, Superman inhales kryptonite fumes into his lungs numerous times, yet his weakened state is still strong enough to be thrown through numerous concrete walls and have bathroom sinks smashed onto his head without a scratch, bruise or broken bone to his body.
There is no real sense of dread or doubt that Superman is going to save the day or survive an attack from a bad guy due to the God-like powers he possesses. Justice League, with multiple metahumans on its roster like Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, looks like it has met its match in Steppenwolf. Oh wait, here comes Superman… all is well 30 seconds later as Superman is mopping the floor with anyone that gets in his way.
But as I watched Batman v Superman for the third time, trying to find perhaps something I missed from my other comic-book loving friends who liked the movie more than I did (sorry, I still find the movie sub-par), I found my attention wandering away from the physical powers of Superman to the immense emotional/psychological toll his powers must have on him as I unexpectedly started to philosophize.
Batman lost his parents, Superman lost his whole planet. With God-like powers comes God-like expectations from what at times, is an extremely ungrateful human public. No matter how many people and buildings are saved, the feeling is arrived at that Superman could have done more given his skill set. People die while others are being saved despite all of Superman’s powers. Saving people around you means you are always witness to the destruction around you as well, with no prolonged periods of calm.
Having so much power means never having true peace. While many people across the world can love Superman, there is always that fear in the back of their minds if the psyche of Superman takes a darker turn, it could mean the end of Earth itself, making him both savior and Public Enemy Number One. More moderately powered superheros could retire or fade into the background if they wanted to, given their overall sphere of influence. I guess Superman could choose to do the same thing. But I imagine given he is the most powerful person on Earth, there would always be that torment in the back of his mind that he is being selfish and not owning up to his responsibilities, letting people down with the ability to do good on a massive scale, and choosing not to.
Even if these other heroes turned villains, there are other superheros powerful enough to take them on — Superman’s worthy rivals are slim and none if Superman takes a turn as the ‘Bad Guy.’ Superman always has a target on his back, both with overall fear in the world from people and governments, and the responsibility he must feel in literally being able to move worlds. Feeling the weight of such responsibility, while one’s abilities may be superpowered, the emotions to deal with those abilities are not.
From what I’ve read and interpreted, as long as Superman has the power of the Earth’s sun to nurture him, his aging process has slowed down to the point of making him near immortal, meaning any emotional attachment he makes to humans will give him the pleasure of seeing centuries upon centuries of people he cares about die right before his eyes. That has to take a toll with no true circle of life for him. Appreciation of life would be lessened considerably if life is not fleeting.
Could this anguish give him the very real possibility of suicidal thoughts where he seeks out kryptonite to end his life?
For some odd reason, as the credits were rolling for Batman v Superman last week, all the sudden these heavy thoughts I began to have about a superhero who has the ability to lift the world on his shoulders.
Odd, because I’ve known this comic-book hero since I was in Kindergarten, yet only started thinking of Superman this way mere days ago.
So while watching Superman leap tall buildings in a single bound I still find yawn inspiring, Superman is a guy I’d like to have a coffee chat with to examine that powerful locomotive he has going on mentally, going through some dark tunnels in how he copes with being near omnipotent. ‘S’ is the symbol of hope on Superman’s home planet of Krypton… one can only hope Superman finds lasting peace on Earth.
It’s ironic that while I dug deeper into Superman who on the surface looks as wholesome as apple pie, is in many ways a darker character than say the Dark Knight himself in Batman, who sells his mystique on the very concept of being an anti-hero and battling his own demons in his interpretations of justice.
Up, up and away go you misconceptions about Superman. He’s truly a more interesting character than I first thought in his complexities.