Wednesday, April 16, 2008

we would rather have a beer with Superman.

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.


Sean said...

I can't get the page to fully load, and the yellow background hurts my eyes, but I think I get the gist of what the dude is trying to say. I have to admit that I had very little interest in Superman before ASS. In fact, I resisted reading ASS for a while expressly because of my complete disinterest in the character. So, I can sort of see where the dude's coming from.

However, after reading All Star and Whatever Happened the Man of Tomorrow I have a new found appreciation for the dude.

I think it was the fanboy in me that rejected the notion of a superhero comparitively without limitations - SO BORING. But now I realize the no limitations thing can apply to stories as well - there's so many more places you can go with a character like Superman compared to Wolverine.

Jared said...

I honestly haven't read that much Superman stuff, but I always marveled (honestly not meant to be a pun) at how creative some of the original Superman ideas (e.g., Bizarro(world), Mr. Mxyzptlk), were compared to other things (at least that I'm familiar with) from the same era. They just seem like such Postmodern ideas, way ahead of their time, to me.

garrett said...

Yeah, Silver Age Superman, especially, was pretty insane. You should definitely check out those Showcase Presents, if you haven't yet. First one's only ten bucks, I think, for 500+ pages of comics.

hillary said...

And also we need inspiration of some sort in our lives, whether or not it's unattainable. If perfection isn't even a concept, that's kind of sad.

Anonymous said...

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: in most versions, Superman HAS limits. They may be vast and poorly defined but HE CAN BE @#$% CHALLENGED!!! By a typical street punk? No. Neither can Batman or Spider-Man. They fight villains with similar power/weapon/intelligence levels as does Superman.

Anthony Birch's article was so pathetic I don't know where to begin. Like most haters, he's read maybe three comics that even HAVE Superman in them, and just regurgitates old and contradictory clichés like, "oh, Superman is too powerful so he can't be challenged, but Batman could totally beat him," to just basically saying he's a "moral absolutist," because--get this--he's talked out of killing everyone in the U.N. after they kill Captain Marvel or some BS like that (it's been a long time since I read KC) and how--get this--Batman's so much more compassionate because he didn't put some kid in jail because he realized he was basically good or something. Why he thinks Superman would have done anything differently? Who knows.

Chris said...

This Burch fellow who wrote his hate screed really doesn't understand Superman at all, & there are even factual inconsistencies in his narrative. E.g. 1) Batman has never beaten Superman in any sort of canon or in continuity comic. 2) Superman has been killed before & it wasn't with a space rock. 3) Even in the non-canon Dark Knight Returns, Batman didn't "beat Clark Kent almost to death". Kent wasn't even rendered unconscious or immobile! Makes me wonder if he actually read it at all...

Superman can be injured, he just has a very high durability. Superman is a very complex character; it is not the character's fault if writers don't exploit that. Powers given or earned are not what Superman is really, at essence, all about. It is what he chooses to do with all the power at his disposal. That makes him the hero he is.

In any case, the antidote for all Burch's claptrap is readily available:

This fellow understands the Man of Steel to a far greater extent.