Superman has been on the new Supergirl show for a while, and it’s been getting rave reviews. This got me thinking, so bear with me for a moment.
The argument has been for a while that “Superman is more serious and grim now to be updated to the times” and, well…
It’s like this. Superman started in the 30’s. He’s been here for The Great Depression, World War II, the invention of the Nuclear Warhead, The Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, the Assassination of JFK, and so, so much more. The “Times” didn’t update. They didn’t get more cynical. YOU got older. You learned what the world around you was like. You learned about all the distrust and anger. And you’re trying to match him towards your personal grim-dark cynicism and drag him down with you.
The character is a bright beacon of inspiration and hope. He’s a role model. He’s a goal. The idea that he should be angsty and brooding “To match the times” isn’t a deconstruction. It’s not an update. It’s not even a different perspective. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what he is.
Which, honestly, is why “Superman Returns”, for all of its deep, deep faults, is really endeared to me. The big scene isn’t Superman having a massive mega-casualty fight across the planet. It’s not him “Punching super hard” or Angstily Snapping Necks. Nope. None of that.
It was him lifting a Kryptonite continent and pushing it away. It was him loving humanity so much that he reached within himself and pulled out the incredible strength to do something greater than legendary, even as it agonized and killed him. This was the moment that best embodied what the character is. His compassion and his bravery. His willingness to sacrifice and his loyalty to those around him. This was, in terms of concept, the character at his personal best, despite what else can be said of the film.
We’ve grown cynical in our adulthoods. We’ve grown cynical and bitter and we want our media to match us. But when the point of that media is to inspire us, give us hope, and make us want to imagine better versions of ourselves…
It’s not Superman that needs to be revised.