"It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man." - Frederick Douglass

Superman the Modern Masterpiece

Courtesy of Steven Cateris (Flickr CC0)

Superman, the man of steel. He is one of the most popular and recognizable characters of all time. Yet it seems as if very few people understand him as a character and his function within a superhero society. From now on he will be referred to as Clark Kent, Kal-El, or Superman. Clark Kent as a character is very similar to the concept of radical hope. He has universal level strength, is massively faster than light speed, and can bench press entire planets but he decides to do good with that power. Clark Kent is the best of humanity because that is what his parents taught him to be. He can not be anyone other than the man that he is.

He is kind, compassionate, loving, and joyful. Kent has all the greatest parts of humanity. He is Superman. In literary terms, Superman would be considered a moral paragon. Someone of extreme moral virtue. From a certain point of view, one could say that we humans don’t deserve Superman. Clark being who he is, probably wouldn’t agree with that sentiment.

He loves us, he knows we aren’t perfect but he sees the potential in us. Don’t get me wrong Superman isn’t some God watching us like a man in the clouds. He is just as human, if not more human than a lot of us. He may not have human DNA, but he was raised by farmers in Kansas and was taught right from wrong. Clark chooses every single day to be the best that he can be. He chooses to be the best superhero he can be. Kent chooses to be the best that humanity has to offer. His parents gave him that choice and with every person he saves, he shows us that humanity can be just as good as he is.

There has been a bit of a sentiment going around that has made itself apparent in online discourse. The sentiment is that “if everyone had powers we would all be a villain.” I disagree with this because the fundamental notion that humanity has inherent malice is wrong. Humanity is a social species that thrives from the fact that we can work together so very well. It is quite literally one of the very few reasons we have lasted so long as a species.

On some level, I think that Superman understands the goodness and the potential that humanity holds. Kal-El is a character that chooses to hold back in almost every fight he engages in. However, there is also the fact that part of what makes Superman so very powerful is his goodness. That part of him was instilled in him as he was raised. He doesn’t have a tragic backstory like Batman. All he has is this strange revolutionary optimism. He has this radical love that just beams out of his soul. That is why Kal-El is so important as a character. There can be dark and gritty heroes, I’m totally fine with that. However, you need the contrast of a Superman-type character so that darkness can have meaning. Kal-El is important not only to the way we understand the world but how superhero societies work on a structural level.

War. disease. Imperialism. Racism. Misogyny. Superman. (Ummmm is this supposed to be highlighting something?) Part of why I think people misunderstand Clark Kent’s character is because he is a very hopeful and optimistic concept while we live in the literal dark ages. For some, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine that someone wants to save it. It is safe to say that we live in one of the worst timelines imaginable. This is why a character like Clark Kent is so very important. To remind us that hope is valuable; that there is good in the world.

Courtesy of Tom Woodward (Flickr CC0)

There there is a person that actually cares and genuinely loves to help people. That it is possible to change the world from what it is to what it could be. Superman to everyone in the DC Universe is a permanent physical reminder that hope is something that isn’t cringing or lame. That hope is something extremely valuable. That hope is one of the most powerful things in the entire world. Hope and love drive him to do the things that he does.

Superman stops tornadoes, tsunamis, and supervillains. Imagine if Superman lost hope in humanity, in the reality he lived in, or doubted that the world could change for the better. That would be catastrophic and the entire universe would be in shambles. That is how powerful Superman’s hope is. My point is that if you see him trying really hard every day nonstop in the DC Universe, maybe we should be a bit more hopeful and read some Superman comics.

Furthermore, I would like to discuss his function within a superhero society. Superman raises the bar for heroism within a superhero society. Literally, everyone and their mom wish they could be as good at being a hero as Superman. Clark Kent as a character inspires so many people to be better not just in heroism but in an everyday life sort of thing. There’s an almost messianic quality to his very being. His quality as a superhero is top notch and he never ceases in his endless fight to save humanity. His very existence weeds out heroes that do it for less than moral purposes.

Those that fight for a better tomorrow look to Superman to lead the way. He’s a sort of unofficial president within the superhero community. He is everyone’s favorite superhero, even Batman’s. Without a Superman-like figure, there would be no one to lead the world into a positive tomorrow. No other superhero lives up to the moral standard that Superman sets every day with his actions. Yet, that is the point of Superman as a function within superhero society. He inspires people to be better in every sense of the word. That inspiration changes people and helps them make different choices.

With all this in mind, one would hope people’s opinions about the man of steel would change however some will not change and that is okay. With this analysis of Clark Kent’s character comes a greater understanding of how he functions as a character and what makes the character work in general. Superman is one of the most important characters to be created within the last 150 years and he deserves some respect. Just because a character is unquestionably morally good doesn’t mean they are boring. It just means that writers have to challenge the character differently. However, the people of the DC Universe have absolute faith in Superman. They know that everyone will be ok in the end. So should you.

Opinion by Kenneth Mazerat
Edited by Sheena Robertson


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Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Steven Cateris’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of Tom Woodward Flickr Page – Creative Commons License


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