Thursday, July 06, 2006

What I love about Superman

Throughout the month of June, leading up to the premiere of Superman Returns, the fansite held an essay contest for a limited edition WETA Collectibles statue of Superman and Lois Lane flying above the Daily Planet.

The topic? What you love about Superman. 500 words or less.

Actually, I think it was 500 characters or less, which is probably why I didn't enter. That, and my ego just wouldn't stand for my essay to be lost in the shuffle of 2,000 other entrants. Not when I have this here blog. Plus, where the hell would I put this statue? On my dining room table? My bedside table? On top of the TV? Ain't no way there's room for that thing on my mess of a desk.

So in an effort to keep the K-Dog and others still waiting for my thoughts on Superman Returns (has it been more than a week already?), I'll post the essay I probably would've written.

His famous chest insignia has been on my keychain for at least 10 years (if not more). If I had to make a Top 5 Desert Island DVDs list, Superman: The Movie would be on it. John Williams' theme song still causes a tingle inside my chest. Yet Superman isn't my favorite super-hero. And with the exception of only a few stories, I have no use for most of his comic book adventures.

So what is it about this guy that turns me into a little kid whenever I see a Superman action figure, book, poster, or DVD?

Is it that famous symbol, which didn't even look like a "S" to me until I was a teenager? (I always focused on the negative space, which looked like a weird jumble of alien shapes to me.) Is it the eye-catching combination of red, yellow, and blue, colors which will probably always signify Superman to me? Do I secretly have a thing for spit curls, square jaws, and capes? (I'm not even going to address wearing underwear on the outside.)

I'm sure I can answer "yes" to all of those questions. But what also deeply appeals to me about Superman is what he stands for. He represents the best in us. No, we can't fly, deflect bullets, or lift up cars. And, of course, we're not fictional, fantastical characters. But if we could, would we choose to help people, as he does? Or would we peer through womens' clothing, smash cars, rob banks, and crush the skulls of anyone who pissed us off in our daily lives? Not that I would. Those are just - ahem - examples. But Superman holds himself to the values we all might like to think we follow.

As a kid, Superman was kind of boring to me. A goody-goody, with virtually no flaws. And as a writer, I'm sure I'd hate dealing with Superman stories because what kinds of conflicts and challenges can you create for a guy who can lift Manhattan into outer space? Give me someone with some tragedy to him, like Batman or Spider-Man, guys whose parents (or parental figures) were killed, who spend the rest of their lives fighting their guilt and anger, and making sure no one has to suffer that same sort of loss.

But over the past few years, I've realized some tragic aspects in Superman, as well. I'm not sure if it's from modern interpretations (such as Smallville) or not, but he's become much more compelling to me. He's the last of his kind, trying to find his place in his adopted homeland. What makes him special also sets him far apart from those he wants to get close to.

And no matter how much he tries to get the woman he loves to appreciate him for who he really is, his human side, it's the fantastic part of him, the super side that appeals to her most. Superman wants to be normal and spend time with someone who's not expecting him to save the world. But Lois Lane doesn't have time for Clark Kent. She's too infatuated with Superman. How sad is that? (The comic books have moved far beyond this aspect of the character, which is probably why they don't do much for me these days.)

He is so much more than us, yet he wants to be one of us. Yet if he tried to live as one of us all the time, he wouldn't be happy, either. Because he'd know he could be doing so much more with what he's been given. That's what I love about Superman.

And that is close to 600 words. Oops. Review of Superman Returns tomorrow. Really. (In the meantime, here's what Tom Peyer - who's written a few comic books in his day - liked about the movie.)