No More Evil Superman Stories

A post at Book Riot: NO MORE EVIL SUPERMAN STORIES, PLEASE, to which I say, Got that right. Is Evil Superman as offensive as Captain-America-the-Secret-Nazi? Probably not. It’s hard to get more offensive than the latter. But it’s stupid and offensive — or at least that’s my instant reaction. Let me see what this Book Riot post has to say …

Superman, the Man of Steel, has long been one of the paragons of comic books. His moral compass pointing to true north at all times is one of the things that sets him apart, makes him popular, and has made him so difficult to translate to film. Over the last couple decades, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: evil Superman stories. Some of these are from DC Comics and their imprints while other are pastiches of Krypton’s favorite son. I have a gentle but firm request: No more evil Superman stories, please.

The real world is a dark, beautiful, turbulent place that can fill us with hope and dread at any given moment. Comic books are a form of escapism at times, commentary at other times, and require conflict as a genre. These things seem contradictory and yet are true at the same time. This paradox is part of what makes Superman difficult to write AND it’s why we need Superman as a paragon on the page.

Superman has a Messiah Complex. Imagine being able to hear every scream for help on the entire planet at any given time. Despite his incredible power and speed, he cannot help everyone. Think of some complicated conflict that happen around the world (real and DC), those with no clear good or evil. People are dying, but whom should Superman help? How does he save lives while also not escalating a situation or giving assistance to a force motivated by greed? There are always limits to his power, and these limits put on display just how human Clark really is, how helpless he can feel just like the rest of us. 

Hear hear! I don’t have anything to add to this post. Click through and read the whole thing if you have a moment.

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9 thoughts on “No More Evil Superman Stories”

  1. Yeah, one of the tropes in newer fiction that I personally find offensive is subversion of the original hero – in a comic, or a fairytale, or an older classic.
    I agree that Captain-America-as-Secret-Nazi is hard to beat, but one that came close was Luke Skywalker in the Disney trilogy . . . and Han Solo, and Princess Leia, and . . .
    Yeah, by the time the last movie came out, I had basically checked out, because they managed to undermine everything that made Star Wars fun to watch and everything that made the protagonists worth rooting for.
    Adding nuance is different than totally destroying a character’s moral foundation, I would add. If a knight-in-shining armor develops a patina of experience and ambiguity because the world is messy, that’s different than destroying good character in the name of subversion.

  2. There are so many people who write superhero fiction who have it in for Superman and make it obvious. . . .

  3. I found the Captain America thing less troublesome (though to be clear, it’s a dumb idea) because it was so clearly something that that had been done to Steve and the universe by external forces, and would surely eventually be reversed and Cap’s fundamental heroism reaffirmed.

    The thing I hate about most evil Superman stories is the constant idea that Superman’s heroism is contingent and fragile: that One Bad Day (usually involving Lois being killed) is the only difference between his being the greatest hero of them all and being a murderous tyrant.

    (The idea that it matters that he was raised by the Kents is better. But if he’s purely a mirror of his upbringing, it undermines the idea that he has any merit of his own.)

    The Superman I love is the one embodied in a story where a little girl writes him a letter about why he’s her favorite hero: “You could do *anything you want*, but what you want to do is to help people.”

    A driven hero like Batman only has his abilities because he undertook his mission. Spider-Man had to learn to shoulder responsibility via avoidable tragedy. And those are great stories and great characters. But *Superman* is all about being possessed of inalienable power as a birthright, and simply *wanting* to do the right thing with it.

    The fantasy of Superman, the impossible thing he exists for, is to be a man (alien, but not supernatural) who wields absolute power, uncorrupted. Writing a Superman who responds to hurt by hurting the world is like writing a Superman who can’t fly or who isn’t immune to bullets: why use Superman for that story if you don’t want to write Superman?

    Maybe the first time it at least has the power to shock. But by now it’s been done so often it’s practically a cliche.

  4. Kathryn McConaughy

    Worse than both of those for me is the Batman who kills people. I vividly remember a story from my younger days wherein Batman ran out of a burning building carrying some rescued hostages, then ran back in to save the villain. He risked his life to save the bad guy because even passively letting someone die was against his moral code. He scolded one of the Robins for breaking a mobster’s arm unnecessarily while capturing him. And now we get movies where he runs over enemies with his vehicle…

  5. Agreed. As Superman says to Batman in Mark Waid’s “Kingdom Come”:

    “The deliberate taking of human – even superhuman – life goes against every belief I have — and that you have. … More than anyone in the world, when you scratch everything else away from Batman, you’re left with someone who *doesn’t want to see anyone die*.”

  6. REcently here we discussed the Chinese novel Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, and the Teen and I have been discussing some of the characters in it for the last few weeks. One – for those who know the story, it’s Lan Wangji – has nuance. To state without going into enormous detail, He goes from a fairly typical Lawful good, emphasis on lawful, very rule bound, to a lawful Good, more oriented to Good than law. That is what I would point to as showing nuance in a character. Changing the whole foundation of the character, as in Evil Superman or Captain America/secret Nazi is a whole other deed – character butchery, replacing the original with a straw doll. Not at all nuanced.

  7. I was really mad at those Star Wars movies too – not even just for the character stuff, but the whole idea that those victories at the end of the first movies didn’t matter. Your heroes spent the whole rest of their lives fighting that same fight. There were so many exciting stories they could have chosen, and they picked something so depressing and unoriginal.

  8. Okay, well, now I’m glad I’m not a particular fan of Star Wars and haven’t seen the recent movies. I agree that it’s a terrible failure of the writers’ job if they fail to come up with something different and therefore cancel previous victories so they can continue the same fight.

  9. I agree, Kathryn, and vehemently, because I always personally preferred Batman to Superman anyway, so I particularly dislike this kind of reinterpretation of his character.

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