Superman is Boring
I’m going to get this off my chest quickly because as soon as half the geeks writing for this site get wind of it they’ll be curb-stomping me before I point out that blue tights are still a questionable fashion choice for grown men: I don’t really like Superman.
That’s not to say I don’t recognise the significant impact he has had on the comic book industry, the basic concept for the character or what he represents as an icon and American pop-culture but Christ is he boring in this day and age. There’s a couple of reasons I feel this way and being the compulsive geek that I am, I’m going to list them.
Yes, I’m stating the obvious here, but this is one of my biggest gripes. In my teenage years, when I was still stupid enough to smoke cigarettes, there came a video game called Doom. It heralded a new age in gaming, and although I played it through until the end I never experienced what made it awesome. That’s because the first time I played it I was aware that typing in ‘iddqd’ during the game made you invincible. Being young and stupid, I obviously felt that playing the game without being able to die would be preferable to all those hellspawn tearing my character neatly in half.
So I got to the end of the game having effortlessly breezed from level to level, soaking up the fireballs and never dying. I never felt any of the tension, atmosphere or pacing the game was designed to encompass because I couldn’t be killed and strolled through hell as though it was a rather infernoy park. When I tried playing the game normally I’d lost interest because I knew what was coming.
Superman feels like reading a comic after typing ‘iddqd’. Superman can’t die. Shoot him, stab him, blow him up – it doesn’t matter. He’s going to survive until the end and save the day. It’s unquestionable. If I know the hero cannot die, there’s no dramatic tension and no reason to read it through. Other superheroes have fantastic powers and are super strong, but in most cases a bullet to the head will be enough to finish them off, so it’s easy to create tension for the reader. For Superman to be put at risk, they have to come up with something special, leading me to my next point…
They Have to Come With New Threats Every Story
So Superman cannot be beaten by conventional means. Fine. So you’re just going to have him beat up muggers every issue? No, you occasionally need to bring in something that can act as a threat to Superman, or at the very least something that he cannot easily defeat.
Whilst a new Batman villain can just be a psychopath, a new villain for Superman needs to possess or happen upon some mystical power that will balance out the Man of Steel. This is going to have to be explained, meaning every story will start the same way – exposition to work around the already established rules of the character.
This is exacerbated by the characters seemingly limitless powers. He’s the strongest and fastest character in comics, he can shoot heat out of his eyes and breath frost breath…what possible threat can he not overcome? Instead we need to be able to explain why each new villain cannot simply be flicked into the sun, creating more difficult exposition.
Kryptonite is Fine…Once
In recognition that nothing can stop Superman, the creators put in a weakness so they have something to write about. Kryptonite – the alien substance that robs Superman of his powers.
That makes for an interesting story element, but Superman has been in publication for the best part of a century. After all these decades, it must be struggle keeping the characters and stories feeling fresh and exciting. Using this token weakness by this point must feel like a cop-out for writers and readers alike.
No Common Ground Between the Character and the Reader
Batman is a human. He suffered a great tragedy and resolved to fight crime, dedicating his life to this cause. Spider-man was given powers by accident and chose to use these powers for the greater good whilst juggling a normal life. These are characters I can understand. They have realistic motivations and emotions. Superman I can’t get a handle on. He comes from an alien planet and becomes a celebrated hero by dint of the powers he has always had. I’ve got nothing in common with this guy, and I can’t sympathise with him.
He Has Lame Villains
Aside from Lex Luthor, who has featured prominently in the the movies, how many Superman villains can you name? Whilst many other lines – such as Batman, Spider-man and X-Men – feature a wide array of enemies to liven up each story the people Superman tackles are mostly forgettable. Even the ones who are worthwhile are often comically stupid or have cartoon inspired names, such as Bizzaro and General Zod.
A good line-up of villains is the most important requirement for a comic to extend its run. I kept reading The Boys up until recently just to see them fight the Seven (still hasn’t happened). Superman comics may have interested me if he at least had interesting people to punch.