By Allison Eckel
I defended Superman at a six-year-old's birthday party recently. We were at one of those party places that feature large inflatable slides and bouncing houses, that are big enough to accommodate 50 screaming kids. The rooms are deafening and feature one small bench wordlessly offered to the pregnant mom or the one who chose really uncomfortable shoes. I'm an old hand at this rodeo, so I know to dress for standing and have a full charge on my phone to keep occupied because the room is dark and too loud to hold good conversations.
Regardless, at this party I found myself in a good conversation. I introduced myself to one of the few dads in the room; I am his daughter's scout leader and knew only his wife. Yelling to each other like we were at a club with 20-year-olds, we discussed what we do and I mention that I blog about comic books. At this mention, women usually give me a quizzical look, make an offhand comment, and return to a more familiar topic. Men, however, usually get more focused, express a, "Really?" heavily charged with wonder, bemusement, respect, and a hint of something -- envy? -- even if they don't like comics.
This guy falls into the majority of guys who read Marvel comics in their youth but got away from it sometime before high school and now remember the experience with nostalgia. To that end, he expressed an interest in exposing his eight-year-old son to comics. Well, I replied, all-ages comics is something of a specialty for me. I immediately recommended he begin with the new Superman Family Adventures, which would give a nice introduction to both comics form and the best hero role model ---
"No, I don't really like Superman." He cut me off. I was silent for several seconds. He doesn't like Superman? It's Superman! He saw I was shocked and tried to cover, "He's just too perfect. He always wins and it's easy. I just don't get it." For this reason, he always preferred Marvel's Avengers cast, including Hulk, Iron Man, even Captain America.
This is not a unique perspective on Superman. Indeed, it may be The Man of Steel's biggest adversary: The perception that he is uninteresting because he is too perfect. Many Superman stories in his 75-year-history have involved him simply beating the bad guys into submission or arriving in time to save Lois. If these are the only ones you read, then you would not find him compelling.
Grant Morrison's reboot of the character's canon in Action Comics of the New 52 seeks to change that, as I wrote before. And DC Entertainment just gave us all Superman vs. The Elite on DVD, which brings Action Comics #775 (2001) to the masses. In that issue, writer Joe Kelly grabbed several moral dilemmas much debated by governments and put them in the hands of meta-humans and a Kryptonian alien. Do terrorists deserve due process or should they be killed? Should people with the power to keep humanity safe have the power to define “safe”? How should we define the line between what is right and what is righteous?
The best Superman stories also involve him using his intelligence to solve the problem instead of just his fists. When finally confronting Manchester Black and the Elite, Superman sees that an all-out brawl would solve nothing. His solution for how to teach them a lesson is elegant, intelligent, and humbling.
I like having an infallible hero who I know will always make the right decision. One who will never jump sides or cross that line. When Wonder Woman killed Max Lord in Wonder Woman #219 (2005) she crossed a line. But she’s a trained warrior; her sister Amazons would never have an issue with killing a murdering madman. Yes, she’s supposed to answer to a higher code, but I think it’s Superman who ultimately enforces that code. I would be able to take it from Batman, who in some incarnations takes a perverse pleasure in keeping his adversaries alive so they have to suffer in their continued existence. Death for them would be the easy way out. Superman's view of justice may seem simplistic compared with his two peers, but it is a difficult view to maintain. And stories like Action #775 serve to remind us all why Superman is the greatest super-hero.
But don't take my word for it. Explore Superman on your own:
If you count yourself among comics fans who never quite liked Superman, give the new movie, Superman vs. The Elite, a try.
To read Action Comics #775, you could pick up Justice League Elite, vol. 1 and vol. 2, which includes that issue along with the Justice League Elite mini-series.
To introduce younger readers to Superman and his characters, Superman Family Adventures is on sale now and features the creative team behind Tiny Titans, Art Baltazar and Franco.
And now is the perfect time to re-discover the Man of Steal in the universe of the New 52. The first eight issues of Action Comics will be released August 1 in Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Supermen and the Men of Steel.