Photo by Esteban Lopez
Friday marked the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, the world’s first superhero.
Admittedly growing up I was never that fascinated by Superman. An indestructible, infallible, incorruptible figure, sounds pretty dull right? More recently I’ve started to see him for what he truly is however, an ideal. The ultimate representation of what humanity can be. A selfless individual who tries with all his might to make the world a better place.
To me one of the most interesting aspects of his character is his secret identity. No not Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter, but the altruistic, perfect god that is Superman. In between the two exists Kal-El, a normal man (with godlike abilities) that has desires, wants and fears. He pushes all of these aside as Superman, ramping them up as Clark. His true identity is rarely shown, only being seen by his love Lois Lane. In times of loneliness and despair he heads to his Fortress of Solitude so that humanity will not see him in a moment of weakness. Despite the love humanity shows him, he is infinitely alone.
Superman’s greatest weakness is Kryptonite. As fragments of his destroyed home world, green Kryptonite takes away his powers and causes him physical pain. The TV series Smallville overused it to the point of ridiculousness, the whole town being littered with it during the meteor shower that brought Clark to Earth. Another ‘weakness’ is his love for humans, villains often manipulating this to force Superman to not save the day, by threatening the life of Lois for instance.
It’s quite interesting that Superman’s arch-enemy is the human Lex Luthor, a similarly brilliant individual who has chosen the side of evil. Different interpretations give different reasons for his hatred of Superman. World domination? Jealously of Superman’s godlike powers? One of my favourite story-lines, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, explains his villainy as fear for the planet should Superman decide it’s no longer worth protecting, or is manipulated by an outside source. Superman has been turned before, and contact with red kryptonite turns him into a lunatic.
Superman’s ideals were gifted to him by his human parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, who raised him as a boy. The best Superman story in my opinion is Superman: Red Son, which explores what would have happened to the man had he landed in Soviet Russia instead of America. Superman leads the communist party, creating a utopia through twisted means. He rules his country with an iron fist, watching over his people as a big-brother, his enemies being turned into obedient drones with brain surgery. Lex Luthor is the President of America, endeavouring to wipe out the evil dictator Superman at any cost. Batman is a vengeful revolutionist whose parents were murdered by Superman’s regime. It’s truly a fascinating story exploring the idea of Superman being corrupted by an evil power, rather than the positive influence of the Kents, although its ending is a bit too much of a mindfuck.
Superman has influenced countless heroes over the years, and has truly stood the test of time. While I am more of a Batman and Marvel fan, Superman will always be the most recognisable hero. Who doesn’t know him? Who hasn’t heard of Kryptonite? “It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s Superman!” is still regularly quoted to this day.
If everyone could just be a bit more like Superman, the world would be a much better place.