His red underpants, the iconic S insignia on his chest and perpetually billowing cape was the image that represented heroism, purity and perfection.
Image by: http://haining-art.deviantart.com
Somewhere along the way, a new breed of superheroes dominated the stands. Perfection was abandoned in favour of more real, more common and more familiar struggles, ones that people can relate to. The new breed of superheroes became tentative of their responsibilities, doubtful of their abilities and misguided or unwilling of their new role. They became angsty and emotionally ordinary.
It is this familiarity in their characterization that pulled people into them. They became easier to understand because, just like ordinary mortals, they were flawed and damaged.
It is also the very reason Superman fell off the contemporary consciousness. Superman became too powerful, too perfect, too out of reach and too straight. What many fail to see is that behind the seeming perfection is the most complicated, the most damaged and the saddest entity the universe has ever known.
Lack of angst
There is always that impression that one’s humanity is defined by weaknesses and flaws. When something is so perfect and so right, it becomes detached and cold. I cannot argue the accuracy of such a belief but it is undoubtedly the reason Superman is being perceived to be old. He is too perfect. He can fly, he is fast, he is strong, he has x-ray vision and his underwear is showing.
Many don’t realize that if there is anyone in the universe who feels the real kind of loneliness, it is Superman. Surrounded by a world that confesses its need, admiration and love for him, his loneliness is literally the size of the universe. There’s no one else who knows how it is to be him. He has the whole world wanting him, waiting for him and yet, not a single soul knows him.
Worse, he has been trapped by the purity of his upbringing. His parents brought him up with love and the freedom to choose his destiny. They also made sure they are fully aware of how his choice will surely change the destiny of the world. It was his choice and his alone that would dictate the kind of world billions of people will live in.
It was a choice that fully rested on him because unlike Hulk who loses control over his behaviour when he is in beast mode or Ironman who is dependent on the artificial heart or Batman who actually has no superpower, Superman is fully in control of everything he has at all times. Whatever power he has and what he does with it fully rests on the choice he makes. There are no excuses, it’s all on him.
That choice could, of course, turn off many people. People have always been fond of soap opera, the drama of being trapped as a victim of circumstance. There is a certain appeal in knowing that whatever is happening in their life is happening because events, fate, destiny, or whatever the heck they want to call it, forced life to become that way. How Superman ended up on Earth is a soap opera but the way he was brought up have always based on self-empowerment. He was made to realize everything is a choice and he understood it well.
Unlike no one
Superman is the only superhero where the superhero persona is the real one and the “human” persona is the made up one. Clark Kent is not real, Superman is the real entity. It is different from the rest. Batman was created by Bruce Wayne to conceal his human identity. Spiderman was created by Peter Parker to protect his teenage life. Dr. Bruce Banner is a doctor, a genius and the one that was real before he became Hulk.
Superman was Superman long before Clark Kent was created.
His full acceptance
What sets Superman apart, more than anything else mentioned above, is how he received and chose to live using the cards he was dealt with. While Wolverine became this angry indestructible wanderer who detested company and emotional connection, Superman welcomed love and connection. He, in fact, valued it more than anything. He willingly complicated his life in the interest of maintaining friendships but never once stopped to regret the difficulties these relationships brought to him. While Spiderman was busy with his hormones and vanity, Superman was busy working for a living while saving the world. While Ironman was busy spending his millions to create better armor and cars, Superman was being bullied by the woman he loves.
Superman embraced his destiny and identity early on. He didn’t struggle... at least we didn’t see him struggled. He just accepted the fact that he was the strongest man in the world he never really belonged to, he accepted the fact that he will never know where he came from, he accepted that he is super and the world needs him. He embraced it with all his strength and all his purity.
There new Superman movie promises to bring back his relevance. Based solely on the preview, it looks like more attention to his personal struggles will be given. It will be as much about saving himself from his internal conflicts as much as it is about saving the world.
It will most likely going to be great but also unnecessary if the world wasn’t so busy marvelling at the young superheroes goodlooking enough to become a part of a boyband. If the world wasn't so busy gushing at these new superheroes that are bad boys enough to put together all the rock ‘n roll arrogance and childishness of all rock bands, it would have realized that Superman’s angst is so deep and so strong, no one else in the universe understands it.
The tragedy of being Superman, however, is that his loneliness is real and it will never go away. There’s never going to be someone else like him. His world has been destroyed together with his parents and everyone else that could give him some semblance of belongingness are all gone. No one else will ever know how lonely it is to be that strong, to be always counted on, to never know where you came, to have that much certainty when you do something and to have no one in the world you can talk with about it… not even your parents.
All heroics be damned, that’s as human as human can get.
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