Every year or so, the question comes up in the nerdosphere: “Why Superman?” Somebody stretches out, makes a post — submits — and the commenters sweep in after a barely-a-second pause with a division of devotion by hatred. “Superman is the best!” they write. “Superman sucks!” “Batman is actually more realistic.” Ok.
Lots of people really like Superman, but lots of people really can’t stand him. Sound familiar?
Either way, the question never gets answered, not really. Not in any truthful way. It always comes down to irrelevance versus idealism. But those two are just natural, broader scapegoats. It’s like we don’t want to answer the question. Or really consider it. The latest version of this conversation was started by comics writer Gail Simone on Facebook that yielded 160 responses and a follow-up at Robot 6 that really got me thinking. Why?
With all the stuff going on lately, it seems like The Question is a dumb one to waste time on — and it absolutely is — but let’s think about it for a second anyway. Whenever it comes up, it’s us as a culture, as fans, as whatever, making a judgment on something we as a species have created. So it’s more than just a movie review. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character, but it is our acceptance and absorption of it that has made it something bigger.
And what a weird something that is. If you take the awe out of it, just for a moment, we are consistently wearing the t-shirt of a FICTIONAL CHARACTER with a spit-curl who wears his underwear on the outside. He is strong. But wears glasses. And he flies. He’s fake, like Alice in Wonderland, but we put his icon on phone cases and baseball hats. Candidates for President pose in front of his statue. We talk about him like he is real. That is really, really weird. The character also singlehandedly jumpstarted an entire new genre of American art — that we still are sputtering to properly understand and explain — that has lasted 75 years, culminating in last year’s mega-successful Avengers movie (in which Thanos aliens trashed Cleveland, which was CGIed into New York City #winfail). Superman is from Cleveland, too.
And it is not hyperbole to say that Superman — known throughout the world from humble beginnings — has become, and been, an iconic, driving force in pop culture, art, and the modern consciousness. The character may indeed be the very spirit of the twentieth century. These are big, pompous statements to make. But with Superman, like it or not, they may be close to the truth.
But as The Avengers succeeds, what place does the first hero have? Has Superman’s time passed by? This is a legitimate question. 75 years is nada on a geological scale, but for popular culture, it is an epoch. And times have changed. Comics don’t sell nearly what they used to, and Time-Warner is betting all of their shiny marbles on Man of Steel to reinvigorate a franchise that hasn’t been relevant on the big screen since the very early eighties. So make no mistake, we are making this choice — to keep or discard Superman — right now.
So…why Superman? Who knows? I’m going to do 75 posts (wait, what?) over the next six months to hopefully get to some sort of collective answer here. Intermittent. Sort of regular. Some long, some just a picture. And it won’t be 75 Why He’s The Best. Or Worst. We have to figure this out. To be quite honest, after the last few months of 2012, I’m not sure talking about a fictional white guy who can fly is the best way to really make things better.
But maybe it’s a part of it. We’ll see. You, floating heads of pop culture justice, are all part of it, so I’m hoping you’ll chime in, with both good and bad. Tell me one of your 75 by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org (yeah, by emailing that address you are giving me consent to run it). Hopefully we’ll have some celebrity guest posters, too.
So we’re going to ask this question for the next six months. Then we’ll all move to something else. But we’re going to answer this once and for all. We created this shared cultural phenomenon; we deserve to understand why. The 75th anniversary (more or less…) seems like a good time to do this.
Personally, I think the answer is in that why. So I’ll be previewing stuff from the book as well (which is all about the why) before it comes out on June 4.
Because it’s really about the facts that turn into fiction. That’s what this story is all about. To blur that line for a second. When imagination becomes the world for a shining moment.
And then utterly destroys it.