in response to Anthony Burch’s “Why Superman Will Always Suck”
HILLARY BROWN: The answer to Burch’s column is that Batman can be sort of an a-hole, whereas Superman is infinitely kind and, in fact, submissive to the desires of mankind. He could take it all over with his pinky finger, but he chooses to serve. I might not believe in God, but hating on Superman is like hating on Jesus, isn't it?
GARRETT MARTIN: Maybe, and I'm not quite cynical enough to do either. And I'm hesitant to discuss that article, because, frankly, it's kind of fanboyish, and doesn't say anything new or all that interesting (I know, this is like the pot calling the kettle a useful receptacle in which to boil water, but whatever). All the things that make Superman a bad character, according to Burch, makes him a good character for science fiction and fantasy stories. Go back and read the Silver Age Superman comics they've been reprinting in those huge Showcase Presents phonebooks. Yeah, Superman fights crime in them, but that's almost always tangential to the ridiculous, non-sensical fantasy that make up the bulk of the stories. There are no limits to the stories you can tell when your lead character can do just about anything. So Superman, as a character, may not have much need of an imagination, but he provides a much greater opportunity for creators to flex their imaginations than Batman or most other superheroes. It's not the character's fault if those imaginations don't always extend past rote superhero junk.
HILLARY BROWN: Also, fanboys can't grow up to be Superman, whereas there is a tiny, tiny possibility that they could someday be Batman. Basically, the fact that Batman is a vigilante, while Superman works with the entrenched power structure, is as scary as it is liberating. I don't automatically trust power, but when it comes to changing the way things work, I would prefer that it happen within the system, at least to some extent, because the system isn't run by one person. Vigilantism makes for very interesting movies and other instances of media, but collectivism, while it has its own evils, at least has checks and balances.
GARRETT MARTIN: Well, both dudes would be kinda terrifying, were they real, but I think "ominpotent space-alien" would instigate more pants-shitting than "outlandishly clad billionaire vigilante". And anyway, Superman works with the entrenched power structure because, for his first 50 years, comics always depicted the entrenched power structure to be right and just. Even Batman cooperated with the cops, when necessary. Burch might as well say that Superman sucks because superhero comics generally weren't cynical until the last twenty years or so.
And talking about politics and values, I don't see when or where Superman has ever been blatantly right-wing or conservative in the political sense, outside of Frank Miller comics. If somebody thinks preserving "the American Way" makes Superman inherently right-wing, then that's saying more about that person's own ideology than that of the fictional character.
But so: I think it's pretty obvious the original article isn't entirely serious. Does it make us look foolish to respond seriously?
HILLARY BROWN: And "the American Way" is pretty loosely defined. He's just good. He believes in freedom and justice and not hurting people, all of which work beautifully in the abstract and are interesting to see when attemptedly embodied.
You're right that the article isn't entirely serious, but neither is it a joke about this sort of thing. It's just half-assed. And half-assedness is something Superman would be against, wouldn't be?
GARRETT MARTIN: He would do everything he could to help reshape that half into one hell of a fully-formed ass.
Right, the "American Way" of Superman constitutes the same morals and virtues that most cultures believe they embody. It's not just lip service with Superman, though, and that's why he is inspiring and so damn super.