Why I Like Superman. Part 1 - Origins

Why I Like Superman: Part 1 - Origins.

I’m so excited I can barely stand it. “Why?” you may ask. Well, sillies, this week is a big week for us Superman fans as it marks the release of both Season 6 of Smallville and the made-for DVD movie Doomsday, The Death of Superman (based on the popular graphic novel). Oh, and it doesn’t stop there as next week is the season premier for Season 7 of Smallville. I actually got chills this evening when I saw the latest previews for it on TV. Admittedly, I am a nerd… and it’s a fact I am not embarrassed about (mainly because I have accrued enough “cool” points in the other areas of my life so, even with the deduction for being a Superman fan I’m still waaaaaaaay above average… I get tons of bonus points for my sense of humor alone).

It’s been mentioned that my MySpace page, my phone screen-save, my ring tone, my book-shelf contents, Halloween costumes, um, and oh ya, this blog all have “subtle” hints of Superman-related themes. I’m often surprised at how many people pick up on these hints, which of course prompts them to ask me what the deal is with my “obsession.” After gently rebuffing them for their overly, dramatic assessment of my ability to tastefully coordinate themes across a variety of mediums in order to create a solid “branding” image for myself, I then go on to explain that, “it’s a long story.” (Note: When I say, “it’s a long story,” what I’m really saying is, “I don’t really want to get into that right now because it would require me to engage my brain in a way that I cannot unless I have had caffeine, and besides, I really haven’t given it much thought.”). Frankly, I’ve gotten tired of all the rebuffing in this matter and with the impending releases this week I figured it would be an appropriate time to share with family, friends and fans my “casual interest” with Superman.

Let me begin with how this all got started. As a kid I wasn’t much on superheroes, comic books and the like. My interests were more mature in nature - Star Wars and GI Joe. The concept of heroes in tights with their underwear showing seemed… well, not manly. Besides, I knew I stood a much better chance of attracting women with my extensive knowledge of the Force and my vast collection of action figures than with capes and flashy costumes. But 30 years later Wal-Mart changed my mind (thank you Sam Walton for reducing the American people’s cost of living with reasonably priced consumer goods and volume purchasing model). That’s right, Wal-Mart.

Going through the store I came upon a rack of DVD box sets on sale one of which was the first season of Smallville. If you are not familiar with the show Smallville is the story of Clark Kent’s late teen/early adult years in his hometown of Smallville, Kansas where he develops into who we all know as the current version of the Man of Steel. The creators brilliantly use what is known as “retroactive continuity” to introduce the fabled events that play into the legendary elements that are widely recognized as cannon in Superman lore. Is it ER or West Wing? No, but it incorporates all the elements of good story telling without letting the campi-ness often associated with comic book characters to get in the way. I was hooked and even when Sam Walton wasn’t rolling back prices I was purchasing the next season as soon as I finished the last.

What intrigued me more than anything, as I watched each season, was how someone with the power to do pretty much anything he wanted harnessed that power with an internal strength of character that would have to be even greater than his physical strength. Superman is an alien that has no real obligation to the human race and in fact, he could conquer and rule the planet at will. However, he does not. Instead, Superman becomes a self-less champion of the human race associated with the paradigms of truth, justice and the American way, and he does so both with steadfastness and compassion. So where did this unstoppable alien being develop into “the Big Blue Boy Scout” as he is often cynically referred to by friend and foe alike? Simply enough, in a loving home on a farm in the rural heartland of America. It doesn’t get anymore Mom, and apple pie than that.

This is what the show Smallville is about. In episode after episode Clark uses his emerging powers to save the day while his parents, Martha and Jonathan provide the strong (but not overbearing) moral compass that guides the most powerful being known to man. (Kind of like Mary and Joseph with Jesus… by the way, the fact that Clark’s and Jesus’ parents share the same first initial is not a coincidence, but that’s a whole another blog).

Impatiently, I devoured each episode, eager to see what new Superman element would get introduced, and eventually I burned through each of the seasons in short order. When I ran out of seasons to watch, fan magazines to purchase and websites to surf, my focus expanded to Superman’s character as a whole, which led to comics and graphic novels that covered the key milestones of Superman’s career. Of course having three boys, they became the perfect “cover” for my increasing interest in the baby from Krypton. I’m very thankful my boys have been very supportive of my hobby especially with all the new toys, games and storybooks that are all part of the perks that go along with Daddy’s habit.

As my research widened I was delighted to come across intellectual writings on the character of Superman (and comics in general), which now provided an overt legitimacy to my study. I no longer had to use my children as a means to mask my secret nerd identity. Now I could be a legit nerd without the fear of ridicule from fellow adults… almost like wearing flashy tights with the underwear over the top while grocery shopping. Digging further, I came discovered volumes (seriously) of Superman-related subjects ranging from sociology and ethics to Nietzsche and Jesus (In the first episode of Smallville, Clark trips spilling his books, the first of which is one on Nietzsche – again, not a coincidence. I love this show!).

Even with the plethora (I have to use fancy talk as I write this so you will believe me to be intelligent despite my choice of subject matter) of information readily available, my focus continued(s) to be on the morality, selflessness and compassion that firmly center Superman’s heroic actions. I’m fascinated with Superman’s ability to self-govern himself in order to keep his power in check, even going so far as to give his friend Batman a kryptonite (radioactive fragments from his home planet that render his superpowers useless) ring in the event Superman goes off the deep end and needs to be stopped. Self-control, accountability and trust by someone who could freeze you instantly, crush your skull like an egg and then incinerate your body with his heat vision. (By the way, Batman is an interesting BFF for Superman, but that’s another blog too).

Ok, so that all explains the “how” part of my interest in Superman along with the impetus that continued to fuel that interest. However, you may be wondering, with all the avenues of related study, why the Man of Steel’s moral composition is the element that holds the most intrigue for me. All I can say is it’s a long story.

To Be Continued… Next up, Part II: Small Town Values and the Big Blue Boy Scout

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