Musings on Superman

Watching the latest TV spot for Superman Returns today I was struck by its approach, which can be aptly summed up as “imagine being Superman”.

It’s something I’ve realised I don’t do.

Spider-man, sure: he’s a guy I can empathise with. Growing up I always wanted to be Spider-man. He was lonely and troubled, but he secretly had these amazing powers, and when he was in his superhero disguise he made big with the wisecracks. He was cool. The X-Men too. The X-men were people you could relate to – ordinary individuals who woke up one day and realised that they were different. You wanted to have their powers, but you also related to the way that they were hated and feared. Like Spidey, their power was also their curse.

I never empathised with Superman. I didn’t put myself in his shoes. For me, he was always someone I watched from the outside, not someone I could imagine being. For a start he was just too nice: he was perfect, and perfect is dull. Even his secret identity was just a cover story: Peter Parker was genuinely lonely and troubled, but Clark Kent was just pretending.

I guess that’s why, for me, Superman only really works when he’s portrayed as a god: distant, perfect, above the hum-drum run of humanity. He’s awe-inspiring but he’s also distant, unreachable and unknowable. On that level I almost find him sympathetic, because that’s his real burden: not to have girl trouble and fall over the hat-stand on the way into the office, but to be so far above humanity that he weighs the life and death of millions in his hands. I actually like him in the Kingdom Come miniseries for that reason. It’s also the reason why this poster works so well for me, and why I find the solitary opening fanfare of the Superman music the most affecting part of the theme.

I have to say the latest TV spots for Superman Returns are actually pretty spectacular, but they still don’t really move or excite me, because on the whole they try to sell Superman as if he’s someone I should care about.

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