View RSS Feed


Why the World Doesn't Need Superman

Rate this Entry
by , 04-11-2009 at 06:59 PM (1664 Views)
After more than a generation of false starts, busted deals and abandoned screenplays, Superman Returns in a $250 million blockbuster. Seems the Man of Steel has come back after five years in outer space seeking the remnants of his long-destroyed home world, Krypton. During his absence, 23-year-old single mother Lois Lane pens an editorial ("Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman") for the Daily Planet and wins the Pulitzer Prize.

Great Caesar’s Ghost! What was the young star reporter thinking? Could she have found the courage and the confidence to admit what all the rest of us were afraid to: That we don’t need Superman!

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever see it coming.

More than fifty years ago on a 17-inch fuzzy black-and-white television, I first beheld Superman in a Max Fleischer cartoon made nearly five years before I was born.

And backed by a blare of trumpets…

“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Superman!”

In less than ten minutes, my life had changed forever. Fantasy and science fiction were more beautiful and more real than reality would ever be!

One cartoon had this bald scientist operating a giant stellar magnet, shaped like a horseshoe, of course, and with its magnetic rays, was pulling a comet closer and closer to earth.

“Is that possible?” I asked my father.

Dad gave me that look.

Not many years later came The Adventures of Superman with real people!

“Yes, it’s SUPERMAN, strange visitor from another planet, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way!”

Superman was my man! Forget Clark Kent. He was just Superman passing for one of us. What fun was that? Anybody could do it!

The TV show never went off the air and it’s aged a lot better than I have.

George Reeves did not. On the 16th of June 1959, his life ended. My last year at junior high school and just a few months before, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the “Big Bopper” had been killed in an airplane crash. That was “The Day the Music Died.” With the death of the man who was Superman, I understood so late in the game that he was only playing Superman.

I had grown up in New York City looking at the Empire State Building from afar and wondering what it would have been like if King Kong had been up there for me to see. Other times I’d look to the sky and imagine Superman flying by. If I waved to him, would he see me and wave back? Those fantasies were gone forever.

During the 60s, America was looking for its way and Superman was not. Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement took center stage while the Man of Steel’s low grade cartoons and comic books rusted in the wings. Not until after Watergate was America ready for Superman, the full Hollywood treatment.

I remember sitting in the theater, waiting in full anticipation. And when that symbolic S blazed across the screen, a rush surged through me. Oh yeah, this was Superman!

The movie was hardly perfect, but I’ve seen the ‘helicopter rescue scene” at least fifty times since and my eyes well up every time. I needed Superman. America needed Superman and Christopher Reeve was Superman!

“The story of Superman's origin parallels those of other cultural heroes and religious figures such as Moses, Jesus Christ, Gilgamesh and Krishna who were spirited away as infants from places where they were in danger, with stronger parallels to the lives of Moses and Jesus Christ,” declare a host of analyses, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that Superman is the ultimate American experience.

Superman is the American Way. He always has been. Had Batman been created by a Brit, the Caped Crusader would have flourished fighting crime in foggy London. Spider-man would have been at home in Mexico City or Brasilia and the X-Men would have been the toast of Europe with their special school in Paris. But the Mighty Man of Steel could only be American.

"Just as the Greek gods represented their society, Superman is like the avatar of the United States. It's how we want to see ourselves. That's why he gets more powerful and that's why he gets more handsome. It becomes our own wish fulfillment," says Brad Meltzer, who has written for Superman in the DC Comics series Identity Crisis and the latest installment of Justice League of America.

The heroic figure, real and unreal, evolves over time. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were the "supermen" of their day. Cowboys dominated American folklore for more than a century. During the Reagan administration, the president’s detractors blamed his “from the hip” diplomacy on his “cowboy” persona. In 1988’s Die Hard, the hero identified with Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys”.

No more of those “thrilling days of yesteryear” when the brave loner took on a gang of outlaws to “clean up Dodge.” The idealistic lawman has long since ridden off into the sunset. Replaced by lawyers and cops? Civil servants? Ya gotta be kiddin’ me! The world has gotten much too screwed up for the likes of them. The United States, “the world’s policeman”, had long exhausted all diplomatic options and your average superhero didn’t have the chops to take on the new supervillains of the New Millennium.

“The world doesn’t need a savior,” wrote Lois Lane to win journalism’s highest honor. Oh, really? Religious fundamentalists on opposite sides of the earth are at war with each other and their own governments because these fanatics are convinced only the right God can save us.

Imagine if Superman had not taken his heavenly pilgrimage to wander in the cosmos for five years. There would have been no 911, no killer tsunami, no Katrina and with Superman on our team, the US would’ve won the World Cup going away!

The war in Iraq? Superman’s x-ray vision would have confirmed that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, but to make the world safe for democracy, the Man of Steel would have flown into Baghdad, rounded up that tin-horn dictator and his murdering sons and whisked them off to the World Court or the United Nations or the Fortress of Solitude. Al-Qaeda’s “holy war” would have been over before it began.

But the American Constitution enforces the separation of Church and State. The last superpower has never had a holy warrior hero and never will. “The cowboys are dead. Long live the cowboys!” America no longer needs a superhero because we have become a superhero!

And supervillains around the planet cringe at our coming.

“Look! Up in the sky! It’s missiles! It’s planes! It’s America’s ‘shock and awe’!”

“Yes, it’s America, high-tech visitors from another hemisphere with powers and abilities far beyond those of the rest of the world! America, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with its bare hands, and who, disguised as a mild-mannered democracy for a great, multi-ethnic people, fights a never-ending battle for Truth and Justice. That’s the American Way!”

The United States has entered the 21st century as a world unto its own and not unlike the mythical Krypton, surrounded by dozens of lesser planets.

Compared to Americans, all other earthlings are backward, ignorant, weak and poor. As the lone superpower, it is our divine destiny to decide Truth and Justice for all.

“The medium is the message,” declared Marshall McLuhan. Comic books, cartoons, movies, radio shows and even a Broadway play; t-shirts, board games, action figures and countless other toys, Superman has done it all everywhere. His new marketeers will saturate the planet with his image and generate billions in profits.

Is that Superman’s "message"?

Said McLuhan: “We become what we behold.”

Of course we no longer need Superman. We are Superman.


  1. psyche_08's Avatar
    Very nice! 5 stars! Woohoo!


Total Trackbacks 0
Trackback URL:
about us
We are the first Cebu Online Media.

iSTORYA.NET is Cebu's Biggest, Southern Philippines' Most Active, and the Philippines' Strongest Online Community!
follow us