The moment that I realized the extent of DC Comics no longer understanding how to depict Superman was not in a movie theater. Nor was it in front of a television or reading a comic on the couch. It was in a Michael’s Arts & Crafts store looking for a poster frame. See, I still like to go and look at the racks of posters that they have fanning out over the floor. It’s probably some learned behavior from the days of Tower Records and trying to find something cool, but cheap, to put on the wall.
Now when I was there I saw this:
Is this truth, justice and the American way?
That’s when it all crystallized. The problem with this isn’t Zod. Zod is fine. All you have to do is make a pissed off Kryptonian General tell people to “kneel” and you’re pretty much golden. Although, DC did actually forget to do that in Man of Steel, so that’s also kind of an issue (especially given the word being on this poster relating to said movie). The real problem with this thin piece of wall art is that demonic-looking creature in the background. That crag-faced, furious monstrosity with insatiable hatred literally burning from his eyes, ready to obliterate everything he looks upon. Darkseid? No, sorry. That’s Superman.
Bad DC Comics/Warner Brothers Studios! Very bad!
Who is that terrifying alien and why did you replace Superman with him? I remember Superman being an iconic character who grew up with a good family. He didn’t need to teeter in his beliefs as an adult because he was loved and accepted by the kindly couple who found him. He grew up with manners and respect, and with compassion for those weaker than himself (so, everyone basically). He did the right thing, because it was the right thing to do. He was never a grumbly, gruff and darkly-unitarded last son of Krypton who bemoaned his direction in life. Superman made his emblem a symbol of hope through his actions over decades of stories, not because an editorial rewrite made it his “destiny.”
Less mope, more hope.
But the story doesn’t go that way anymore. Kal-El is no longer sure of himself. It has become too fashionable to make him torn between his Kryptonian heritage and his human upbringing. For some reason, DC has decided that Superman constantly has to be on a sole internal journey. Maybe because physical threats are hard to come by, or maybe because it works when Batman does it, I don’t know. He left his confidence and his red trunks in a phone booth and changed into “Iffyman”, alien terror from beyond the stars. The destiny of hope is now a constant burden that he must carry on his chest because a dead world told him so.
Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, has near superhuman control over his emotions. He’s pretty much had a set goal since his parents were gunned down. He’s studied the world around him to physically and mentally better himself, because he is on a crusade to do the right (bat) thing. He doesn’t question himself or his place in the world.
But Batman does rely on a very different weapon: fear. And fear is a tool that you should never allow Superman to use. Oh sure, bad guys should be afraid that they’ll be caught or that their plans will be foiled. But they shouldn’t be terrified by him. No one should be, because it’s Superman.
However, Iffyman has constant insecurity issues. So he acts out, he grimaces, gets angry and screams at people while he’s punching them through buildings. How are people not supposed be legitimately terrified by an insecure alien with god-like powers who can’t control these outbursts or, heaven forbid, crack a smile? The modern image of Superman that DC has cultivated is distorted. It’s one in which Lex Luthor can be justified in a completely overt war against the Man of Steel, for his actions would likely be encouraged by the people of Earth.
To be fair Superman can be difficult to write, especially without relying on the crutch of “how about he hits his problems really, really hard?” But please DC, try. Update Braniac, or Starro, maybe even Amazo. Just make it somebody who is interesting and who won’t be forcing Superman to go on some journey of self discovery.
My final, humble suggestion to DC Comics is this: have Superman lighten up. Stop trying to needlessly traumatize the icon we know and love.
Save that shit for Aquaman.