Is Superman boring?
On Facebook the other day, Gail Simone re-opened an old discussion with the following thoughts:
So, Superman. Why do people think he’s boring? I love that dude. AMAZING supporting cast, fantastic origin, wonderful powerset. He can tell stories of journalism, science fiction, fantasy, crime and straight superheroics. He flies like a rocket and he punches like the Hulk. He was the last survivor of a doomed planet. His enemies include geniuses, aliens, and cyborgs.
How is it anyone can think he’s boring?
She’s got a point. There’s a lot built into the Superman concept that seems like food for an endless variety of stories. So why is “Superman is boring” as widely accepted a meme as “Aquaman is lame”?
As you might expect, lots of Simone’s Facebook friends commented with their own opinions, including some other comics professionals. Here’s a sampling:
I find most folks resent Superman for being so good; he remains a constant reminder of the lack of moral and ethical wherewithal of most consumers. He just doesn’t let anyone off the hook (we all know that if Superman has a bad day, he’s still gonna be a pretty good guy at the end of it). Many readers prefer characters who embody revenge fantasies to aspirational ones, anyway. But I’m with you, Gail. I love that character, just the way he is.
Carla Speed McNeil:
I think Superman is only in danger of being boring when he’s written in the character version of the FRIEND ZONE. White knights are often victims of this. If he’s too nice, he’s predictable, and the only drama has to come from how much further he can push his powers. If he’s not nice, he’s not noble– yeah, not Superman anymore. But play him too good, give him NO unworthy impulses, and you make him dull. A hero with no moral struggle is no hero.
I wonder sometimes if there’s a class element to this “not dark enough”/”too perfect” thing, too. It’s purely anecdotal, but my experience has been that readers from working class and/or poor neighborhoods still have a lot more Superman love than middle class and upper class readers. Working at my father’s stores as a teenager, I’d work at places in neighborhoods ranging from crack-ravaged to solidly upper-middle class. And I’d wear my Superman and Batman shirts to work all the time. The best Superman responses would always be in the poorer neighborhoods (which would be the place where the Batman shirt got the least enthusiastic response – they still liked him, but not as much as they liked Superman). Like I said, totally anecdotal – and I wonder if anyone’s done any studies on this.
What do you think?