I have watched the fifties show, the seventies and eighties movies, Lois and Clark, Smallville, and an endless number of Superman cartoons. I have seen every major and most of his minor enemies along with more plots than I care to remember. No matter the stakes, no matter his desperation, I have never seen Superman’s character change. He stands for truth, justice, and the American way.
But there has always been something cartoonish in every variation of his character. There is no depth, no reality in an alien of superhuman abilities who just happens to be masquerading as a klutzy human as he rescues the people he comes across. How can anyone believe that a person possessing so much strength and speed, and an arsenal of natural weapons that is godlike would not have felt the need to show off or at least find some excuse to be recognized. Smallville touches on it, but only in isolated instances that are tidily cleaned up.
Man of Steel confronts it head on in his father’s death. It also deals with our reaction to an alien living among us and his legitimate fears. The movie creates situations that would win our hearts to him in a way that seems real. The movie is, simply put, the best incarnation I have ever seen of the original comic superhero.
Which allows me to see Superman in a way that makes him a better superhero than may ever have been intended – as a child. He has all the innocence of youth but a sense of adult responsibility toward mankind that is untarnished with the experiences every one of us on Earth has had; of being powerless and feeling the need to assert themselves on others. He is what every little boy wants to be, invincible and with a perfect compass of what right and wrong is. I will always prefer the Marvel characters for many reasons but Superman, with his answer to Nietzche’s question and his commentary on the human race, has got a lot of potential. I hope that the team that made Man of Steel can fulfill some of it.