I tend to be a person who likes complications in the characters I’m drawn to. Harry Potter may be the Chosen One, but he’s also a nosy teenage boy trying to navigate teenage woes. Tony Stark is a genius and created a suit of armor to make him a superhero, but he’s also a womanizer and constantly messes up. Batman may protect Gotham, but he’s also psychotic. I’ve never been drawn to Superman because he’s always felt one-dimensional to me.
I want to start this post off by admitting that I am not well-versed in the DC Comics universe. To be honest, I’m not ridiculously well-versed in Marvel Comics either. While I plan on expanding my nerdy interests into the realm of comic books, growing up I tended to just read whatever my brother had, and even then I only tended to read them once, so they aren’t strong in my memory. Of the comics I have read, most have been Marvel (though I did read Supergirl at one point). I did watch some of the animated series, namely X-Men and the Justice League. Growing up I always loved Marvel more than DC, mainly because of the X-Men and Black Panther, but I was never truly able to articulate why further than the fact that I liked X-Men and Black Panther more than Superman and Batman. This was also before I truly identified as a nerd and while I definitely had countless opportunities to pick up and read more comic books other than the ones my father or brother had, I used those opportunities to reread Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.
I honestly don’t want to make this a Marvel vs. DC thing, because I know that DC does have some complicated characters, and that they’re even trying to complicate Superman in their cinematic universe. This is really just a Superman vs. all other superheroes post. He wasn’t written originally to be an actual person, and it shows when they try to adapt him to the screen and retroactively give him character flaws, especially in a time where people are more interested in well-developed, 3-dimensional characters (even for villains). But this is difficult: how do you further develop a character who has been set in his ways for so long, without undoing or going against all the work that’s already been done on him?
This isn’t to say that I think Superman is trash (a phrase that I feel like is sometimes overused, especially in the nerd community), or that his stories don’t have any valuable commentary on the world. Honestly, I wouldn’t know; I haven’t read enough Superman or explored enough of his history to say. However, there’s a reason I haven’t really taken it upon myself to explore his character very much.
I know the basics about Superman; he is an alien from the planet Krypton who was sent to Earth by his parents to escape being destroyed like the rest of his people. He landed somewhere in Kansas, where he was then adopted by some humans. He grew up as Clark Kent, and eventually goes to work at the Daily Planet in Metropolis as a reporter. He falls in love with Lois Lane. At some point he becomes Superman, saving the world from evil while continuing to live as Clark with the only disguise being a pair of glasses (HOW?).
Even still, I always felt his character was too empty. There never seemed to be any conflict, or any real character development in a way to make him feel intriguing to me. I understand that he was created to be a character that people could write themselves into; they tried to leave him blank enough that people could imagine they were Superman. I mean, he has an interesting backstory, but in an attempt to make him the all-good guy, there is rarely any conflict or complications in his character in the present. He has his code, he isn’t challenged, he’s all-powerful, and he’s loved by all.
I think another part of the disconnect for me are his powers. Whereas other characters both in the DC and Marvel universes have one specific power, Superman can do any and everything. He’s all-powerful, is basically a God except when around Kryptonite, and I’m sorry but I always thought that was dumb. I totally get what the point was, especially because having a character who always wins with no struggle can get boring, but him only having one weakness makes it boring too. It’s interesting to me to see heroes struggle, both physically and mentally, and Superman always felt so much like an archetype to me, one that never truly evolved or changed, that I never connected to his stories very much.
Superman was basically the prototype; the form of the superhero that other writers have taken and added complications to and added other worlds around. While I hope that the writers for Superman are able to figure out a way to make him interesting, it seems like it may be a long and arduous task. While I do understand his importance in the comic-book world, I would love to actually find him interesting as a person rather than just as a symbol.