[Image from here.]
Last night while working on a crazy embroidery project (note: I have never actually completed an embroidery project, so this is kind of a leap), I watched some old Superman cartoons on Netflix.
I never really realized (okay, so maybe I did but wasn’t thinking about it) what a great record of popular American sentiment Superman is.
I mean here’s what you’ve got: A superhero that was created as a super alter-ego of a regular, boring working guy (Clark Kent), at a time when life was hard for the working guy. The cartoons from the 40s see him as the icon of America, fighting the Axis (the criminals in the sampling I watched were Japanese, German, Italian, etc.). Then you see him fighting Communists, and he grows into an atomic age figure, adding “and the American way” to his list of things he fights for. I’m sure other superheroes do this, too – progress through a series of politically-relevant foes, creating a record of the things America has feared as a collective public over the years. Crazy scientists, politicians bent on world domination, and his greatest foe, Lex Luthor, all reflect what people are worried about. Superman is the fantasy solution to all those problems.
I wonder, then, why he hasn’t seen a renaissance lately, aside from Smallville (which is a very clever show). Lex Luthor, from what I can tell, represents a conscience-less wealth machine, somebody who is out to make money no matter who falls by the wayside. Isn’t that how many people see politicians today? Isn’t that how a lot of people feel about the big banks? Is Lex Luthor too close to the truth?
Maybe we need Superman now, more than ever (although you really have to rethink Clark Kent and Lois Lane, since their sort of investigative reporting is an endangered thing these days; maybe they’re mild-mannered bloggers).
Maybe flawed heroes are what we’ve come to need more, though. Like Iron Man (everybody knows that Tony Stark is kind of a jerk) or Wolverine or Batman. We like our heroes to have problems. I think that’s why that unfortunate fifth Superman movie was made, to try and show that even Superman makes really dumb mistakes. It’s unfortunate because it made the attempt in an uncomfortable, overly hamfisted way (I think I’ve heard it referred to as “white trash trucker Superman”), which is more off-putting than approachable.
So here’s my request to all those out there with the power to evolve the Man of Steel, and continue the record of history he has become: give me a Superman for 2011, one who can do all the things Superman can, but who lives in a globally connected world with a warming climate. Give me one who has to fight intangibles like greed and callousness and ignorance. Give me one who does his best to help earthquake and tsunami victims but can’t save them all. Let me see him feel that. Let me see Clark Kent struggle with his mundane life, paying his bills, loving Lois Lane, figuring out how to be a journalist today, when journalism is suspect and newspapers are on their way out. Give me a superhero who has to work to keep his secret identity, because everyone wants to know all the details of people’s lives. Give me one who can’t do a blasted thing in the Middle East, except to keep a few more civilians from being killed.
I need another Superman. It’s about time.