Superman: Defining The Ideal Man of Steel

Ryan Mayer Ryan Mayer
Contributor
August 26th, 2016

I am a Sport Management major and Business minor at St. John's University in Queens, NY. I am a writer for ComiConverse.com, ThePennyFace.com, and TheJetPress.com. I also am the Twitter manager of ComiConverse.com. I have always been in love with comics and football and hope to one day make a career out of it!

Superman has few fans on this planet more devoted than our own Ryan Mayer. Here, in an epic opinion piece, Ryan defines his ideal version of the character, and lays out what he considers to be the Man of Steel's essential traits.

Superman: Defining The Ideal Man of Steel

Superman has and always will be one of the most loved and iconic superheroes to ever grace media and popular culture. He has survived generations upon generations of creators, each of whom have had their own version of America's favourite alien. 

“Their Superman”.

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With each passing generation people began to grab onto the different iterations of the Man of Steel and latched onto that version's ideals and behaviour; making that edition of Superman their own. One of the versions that many became attached to was the boy-scout-like Christopher Reeve's character. This Superman was a bright and colourful man, but one who still knew what to do in any situation. He knew good from evil and rarely, if ever, made a mistake. He also dealt with any problem with a smile and charisma, rarely showing pain unless the death of a loved one was involved.

This Superman became the "go to" one for a legion of fans and was even the inspiration for the Superman Returns movie, back in 2006. While DC Comics focused on continually developing this character into a more complex one in comic books, the movies stuck to the more boy-scout-esque image and went on to shape most of modern society's view of the Man of Tomorrow.

Man of Steel Superman The Animated Series

Credit: Superman The Animated Series

When it comes to trying to define who “My Superman” is, you have to look at the endless amount of content that has come out over the years which has slowly developed the Superman I look up to and idolize. One of the first things that really influenced my take on who Superman was when I was a child was Superman: The Animated Series and the Justice League Unlimited series. These two shows painted the perfect picture of Superman, but also began to continue the process that the comics had been building for years, of showing that Superman, despite his ideals, is a flawed person. He's a character that isn't always perfect and doesn’t always know what to do. This is a Superman who was prone to getting angry when people got hurt and when his friends were threatened or harmed by a villain.

I think my favourite episode from the Justice League Unlimited series is when Darkseid - one of Superman's main villains and the main villain that will be showing up in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) - invades earth and begins to go toe-to-toe with Batman and Superman. He throws Batman to the side like a piece of paper, yet Batman continues to fight. In an aside-comment, Darkseid mentions how unrelenting Batman is and proceeds to hurl Batman to the side, knocking him down for a bit. Superman takes this time to in his own words to “cut loose” on Darkseid. He then proceeds to say a monologue that rings true for my idea of the perfect Superman.


[Pins Darkseid against a wall] That man won't quit so long as he can draw breath. None of my teammates will. Me? I've got a different problem. [Punches Darkseid through the wall] I feel like I live in a world made of cardboard. Always taking care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control, even for a moment, or someone could die. [Punches Darkseid again] But you can take it, can't you, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose, and show you just how powerful I really am. [Punches Darkseid across the city with a single blow]

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Superman may be a character that is overpowered - capable of taking on any problem that writers can think up for him - but he will always be a character that is stuck within himself and conflicted. The character has evolved into a god trying with all his might to be human. He is a god who has grown up in our world and feels he has to isolate himself in certain ways to keep from hurting anyone else.  Doing so makes him feel disconnected from humanity, the same people he grew up with for his entire life.

Superman The Man of Steel Batman v Superman

Credit: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

While many would describe their perfect hero as the "boy scout" - a hero that brings hope to the world - I look at who I believe Superman is and I see a god trying hard to be human.

I see a being who feels distant from the world he loves, but tries with all his might to be as close as he possibly can to it. As the above quote shows Superman isn’t always happy and is not always the perfect hero, but he strives to be better. So when I try to sit down and describe to you who "My Superman" is, I have to say the flawed hero is my choice. A perfect example of who my Superman is, is role payed by Henry Cavill in the DCEU. Now I know many people reading this will roll their eyes and say “You’ve got to be kidding me!” but it's true.

The Superman I think I connect with most is the character in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

I see the character for what he is, and that's a flawed hero who has all the powers of a god who is afraid to use them for fear of being shunned by the world he has grown up in. The DCEU Superman is the perfect subject and example for the type of Superman I idolize.

Through both Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this character has been evolving, faced massive trials and thought of countless questions as to who he is. The Superman seen in these films is the flawed hero, and one that we could possibly see being turned into the ideal Superman everyone wants, while still having relatable problems and challenges.

The reason I look at the DCEU and see "My Superman" are precisely because of his flaws. He has his doubts, insecurities, worries, and fears and each one of those things builds upon the character for me. Superman is meant to bring about hope and all the right ideals that we should strive to follow, but without going through any trials or hardships how can you take the character seriously?

It’s like a kid who gets straight A’s in everything they do and then hands out advice. In your head they are just the goody-two-shoes who has never seen an ounce of hardship. What they say has no credibility because they don’t have that experience.

For this iteration of Superman, one of the first major trials I think the character goes through is the decision as to whether or not he should use his powers and reveal himself to the world. In Man of Steel, the perfect situation occurs where Clark’s school bus crashes into a pond and, in a very hero like way, he pushes the bus out of the water and saves one of the kids from drowning.

Clark then has a discussion with his dad (Pa Kent) where he asks the question, “What was I supposed to do? Just let ’em die?”.

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This question is probably one of the most real questions Clark has asked his father with any version of this character. What adds to it is Pa Kent’s fatherly response of “Maybe".

There’s more at stake here than just our lives, Clark, or the lives of those around us. When the world…when the world finds out what you can do, it’s going to change everything. Our…our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be human, everything. You saw how Pete’s mom reacted, right? She was scared, Clark.

This response is probably the best way to answer such a question. Instead of previous versions of our story where these characters live in a perfect world, this Pa Kent looks at what his son can do and is afraid of what the world will do in reply.  The fact that Clark had saved that woman's son but she remained afraid of him shows that Pa Kent's fear of how the world would react could ring true.

Superman Man of Steel

Credit: Man of Steel

This aspect of the flawed character is what draws me to this Superman. He isn't in a perfect world that will just accept him. He must decide when he believes the world will be ready for his reveal. This adds layers to the character that have been missing, in my opinion, when it comes to the past versions.

One other example I want to give as to why the DCEU Superman is "My Superman", is when he is fighting with General Zod. Here, he doesn't have a leg-up on the villain just because he's the hero. In the movie, you can see the obvious inexperience from this Superman. He is quick to act on his emotions and is inexperienced in terms of how to fight an enemy. This is immensely evident when he comes barreling into Zod after he threatens his mother. This one scene shows that while General Zod acts and fights with the experience he has gained from being a warrior on Krypton, Superman is being fueled by his emotions and the need to try and do the right thing.

The anger Superman displays in this one scene shows exactly why I adore this version of the character. He’s not perfect and he allows his flaws to show, but even with all these flaws, he attempts to do the right thing in a world that largely rejects him, as we saw in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Superman #52

Credit: DC Comics

When it comes down to it, when I have to describe who "My Superman" is, it goes like this...

In a nutshell, he's the flawed hero. The one that tries with all his might to do the right thing, but can sometimes fail at doing so. The god that wants to be human and the hero that questions himself.

That's why the flawed DCEU Superman is, in my eyes, the perfect Superman for me. I also feel that with every passing movie that involves him he's slowly developing into that epic hero that most people want to see and it's the journey that I believe will make this Superman one of the best that we will ever see.  

 

Do you agree with Ryan's take on the Man of Steel?

What are your thoughts in regards to the ideal version of the character?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

Ryan Mayer is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @RMayer94

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6 Comments

  1. Neal Caffey says:

    I think some of the best Superman comics handle these topics. Superman being rejected by the world, Superman trying to just fit in, etc. They show he’s a conflicted character, and one who feels immensely alone at times, but one who still represents the ideals that the character is meant to. He’s still an inspirational one, a character you can look up to AND relate to. To me, the DCEU Superman isn’t like that. I can’t look up to him or really connect with him. “No one stays good in this world” how am I meant to look up to that? That’s the most un-Superman like line ever. I can’t relate with him either because the movie never took a second to really show how alone he feels. It tried to, but kept posing it as big philsophical questions instead of just personal moments that allowed audiences to connect with him. I love this character, and I’m open to different interpretations, but I feel like there are still some things you have to stay true to. Superman has always meant to be a symbol of hope, when he was first created it was by two bullied Jewish teenagers in the 1930s intended to be a social crusader and give power to the powerless and stand up for the oppressed. Superman should make you feel better about yourself, make you feel like you can do anything, should give you confidence and hope. Those are the things, in my eyes, that should be prevalent in any interpretation of the character. The DCEU hasn’t done that, and I really really hope that they use his return from the dead as a catalyst to show that he’s changed to really be like Superman.

  2. Ranger Larry says:

    Well how can you get there if you’re not the right person?
    I’m not talking about Henry Cavill, I’m talking about who Clark is as a person in the DCEU.

    He hides away on a crab boat, he hates having powers, he doesn’t like being a hero, doing heroic things are a chore, he quits when things get tough and only comes back for Lois Lane.
    For 75 years Superman has been defined as a guy who wants to be a hero and does it because it’s the right thing to do. His parents didn’t have to me murdered in front of him, his uncle lying words didn’t have to tell him and someone with powers didn’t have to take him in to show him.

    The DCEU is a guy who would have never been a hero if his dead alien father hadn’t told him, “I sent you here to be a messiah” and aliens invaded.

    He would have just continued to mope around hiding in the world doing something good if he happened to be somewhere when a disaster occurred.
    He never wanted to wear that cape.

    And in BvS it seems like he’s just doing it out of guilt over what happened in Metroplois when the Black Zero destroyed it.
    Clark Kent was always Superman, the costume just gave him a way to express it. Not in the DCEU though, this Clark Kent wanted to be a normal guy, the suit just gave him a burden to carry.

    So for him to be the Superman as he has been defined, it makes no sense, because that’s not who he is as a person.
    Which is probably how they are going to approach his return, death changed who he is as a person.

    If we had seen Clark reading a paper about “corruption leads to disaster on oil rigs” so he put himself there on purpose to help, we would have Superman.

    If we had seen him on the ship with Jor El and he gets the costume and there was dialog like, “this is it, this is how I can make a difference” we would have had Superman.
    If on the Black Zero Jor El told him to strike and he sees Lois crashing to Earth, Clark says, “I have to save her and stop this,” we would have had Superman.

    If after he kills Zod (which makes sense to me, I don’t see the problem there) he says “I killed him….I didn’t know what else to do….never again.” We would have Superman.

    But ok he screams in horror, like doing it scared him. So that could have been a defining moment to establish his character arc.

    On to BvS, what’s the first thing he does when we fully see him on screen? Kills a guy, WTF? “Where’s a window, I need to throw what could have been a defining moment in Superman’s character out of it.” – Zack Snyder

    After that it kinda fells like Superman, especially the extended cut, but after he saves that girl from a burning building he’s back to “whoa is me, why do I even bother?”

    It’s like Snyder was saying, “oh you want Superman? Here he is…..JK.”

    Even at the end, his “World” is him and Lois together and since he realizes he can’t have that he gives his life up.

    His world only exists with her, that’s why Flash says “Lois Lane she’s the key” that’s why Bruce has a vision of Superman as a villain without her, that’s why he has that vision with Pa Kent saying Marth was his word, Clark realizes he has Lois Lane and one reason to go back.

    His “world” is him and Lois, without her he sees no reason to save it.

    Even in Injustice without Lois he thinks and wants to save the world, he just goes down the wrong path, which ultimately was just something to set up a video game so heroes can fight each other.

    DCEU Superman without Lois? He thinks the world can go F it’s self.

    Clark is supposed to be a hero without her, before her, so for that to be his only reason isn’t who the character is either.

    So for you to say, “this is the defenative Superman” leave me scratching me head in confusion when it contradicts who he is as a person since 1938.

  3. Ryan Mayer says:

    I am going to write as I read your comment so I don’t miss anything:

    Clark in the DCEU never hated having powers. He held the common trait of the comic Superman who wishes he was normal and feels separated due to him having powers. Also Clark in Man of Steel was still finding himself and all he knew till the middle of the film was he was an alien from somewhere and new nothing truly about himself.

    Superman throughout his 75 years has altered from that Golden age views. Over the years the sentiment that he is the only one of his kind or that he “must be” a hero due to his powers was a sentiment drilled into him since he was kid. So I wouldnt say over 75 years he chose to be the hero he was more pushed in that direction so the MOS clark choosing to be who he is as he was finding himself in his travels is just the same as being told to be the hero or feeling like hes the only one in the universe like him (until Supergirl of course) its the negative and the immense trials he goes through that makes him Superman.

    The DCEU clark needed to find himself and Superman probably wouldnt have been him if he didnt have parents in the comics that told him “You were sent here to be a hero clark” “Your powers are for you to do good and be a hero” “I made you this suit to be a hero for the people” if you want to look at Jor El as a parent that pushed him on that path then the Kents in all the media for the past 75 years have shoved him to be the hero because of his powers and because he came to earth.

    In no situation did Clark ever state he didnt want to wear his cape he was afraid that the world reject him if he showed himself. The second his costume was revealed he put it straight on and pushed himself to fly and showed joy from learning to do so. I would not in any way state that he didnt want to be a hero. The only thing you can say about the MOS Superman was he was afraid of being rejected by the only world he had.

    AGAIN Superman in all iterations was forced in someway to be Superman. He never ever puts on the suit because he wanted to do so. He did it because his parents drilled into his head that he was sent her to be a hero. This Supermanw as scared to lose the one world he had and was not sure why he was sent here. Thats such a human reaction to not knowing where you came from or why you were sent here.

    That sentence about the oil rig is wrong for two reason: 1. What I have stated above and 2. Because that scene showed clark was not hiding because he didnt want to be a hero but because he was unsure on why he was here. He wasnt going to allow those people to die when he could intervene.

    Thats the problem about the world today a silent show of grief and pain is not enough to show a character is regretful for the action he just took.

    He was protecting lois and one of the major thing in his arc was the fact that he would be reckless when saving her. This superman is going through a developmental arc. The Birth, Death, and Rebirth.

    The point of BVS was to show the world split on Superman and Superman himself fearing that what his biggest fear was, is coming to life. That why at the end he states “This is my world”.

    Lois has always been Clarks world from Reeve to any iteration her in peril is paramount to other things. She dies he spins back time. Shes in trouble he will drop anything for her even the world.

    No point he says he gives up on the world because of her. She is his world just like any iteration.

    CLARK NEEDS HER WILL ALWAYS NEED HER AND WILL ALWAYS PUT HER FIRST ABOVE EVERYTHING.

    I hope the explanation I give in the comments for each of your points makes you second guess or at least see my point of view

    also this article is not meant to be like “THIS IS THE DEFINITIVE SUPERMAN” Its these are the what i believe are the traits and things that make my definitive superman and those traits lead me to see the development of the DCEU superman as MY Superman.

  4. Ryan Mayer says:

    Consider the DCEU Superman is going through a rebirth at this current moment. He is coming back to a different world. One with heroes being put together after the hope he brought to him and a world that loves and respects him for his sacrifice he will not be the same. Let his arc playout as he finds the hero he truly is.

    People seem to overlook the fact that BVS was his darkest point the world knows he exists and is partly rejecting him. Evil villians are using the people he loves to have him kill people. All the bad he feared is coming true but at the end still called it “His world” and that he sacrificed himself to save it. How is that in any way not Superman.

    Superman in comics and any other media have always had a Jesus undertone so the two Jewish boy statement holds no ground.

    The last time we had a true superman our public and society disliked the movie because he was too much of a boy scout. Yet when we meet Superman from the beginning and he foes through development and an arc for the past two films we hate it because he isnt that perfect Superman. Even cavill and Snyder have stated these past two movies are his journey to that Superman.

  5. jaxon says:

    It just staggers me when people throw this line around of the DCEU Superman not being inspirational when he has 1) Inspired Lois to put his secret above her journalistic instinct and rewarded her wirh his trust 2) Inspired Colonel Hardy, Swanwick and the U.S. govt to put their faith in him to put Earth above Krypton 3) Inspired Batman to come back from the depth of despair 4) Inspired WW to come back to the world of men 5) Saved Luthor from DD fist just minutes after being demonised 6) Has inspired the whole world to unite behind his values by sacrificing his life despite the govt nuking him 20 minutes earlier. And he does this with the simple values of a guy who was raised by wonderful parents that taught him right from wrong and encouraged him to make his own choices from a place of good. This is the only way Superman can be written and Snyder has delivered the most inspirational character to screen.
    As a comparison, everyone loves Iron Man, but that guy is the same guy he was in 2008, smart ass that does things only for himself and shares nothing. No character arc, no development, no learning, no change. You want that for Superman? No thanks.

  6. Ranger Larry says:

    Can you please tell me where you think he was pushed to be a hero?
    Back in the 30s? Nope, his parents are dead when it starts, he became a hero on his own.

    There’s a lot of history between there and the 1985 reboot by John Byrne, not sure when his parents were brought back or if there are good origin examples, so maybe you saw something during that time? But that time was pretty campy so I doubt it.

    But moving forward to the origin in 1985 he was going around being a hero then comes home to his parents. Together they make him a costume and the Clark Kent journalist persona, because he wanted to be a hero and no one pushed him.

    Going to the various origin stories like Birthright, Secret Orion, New 52, even Red Son……nope in none of those is Clark being pushed by his parents or is it shown they made him a costume and pushed him to be a hero.

    In Earth One there kind of is, he doesn’t really want to do it and he has the costume that his parents made from material that was in his ship. But they expected him to be a hero, they were never pushing him to, they just expected it. Then in the end he decides for himself, so maybe that’s the only origin story you read and you got your facts mixed up?

    Let’s look at TV. Adventures of Superman, didn’t really cover it, but it was campy so he just was. Superboy, never saw those, maybe you got it there?

    Lois and Clark? Nope, he was his decision again and was like the Byrne reboot.

    Animated series? Nah.

    Smallville? No, it was more guiding him not pushing him. He always wanted to do great, but didn’t know what it would be, he thought it would be a great football player at one point. Over the course of 10 years there’s a lot to cover, so there was some coaxing but he did heroic things on his own. But that show was kind of a “what if Clark Kent didn’t become Superman” type show, but it did end with him becoming Superman. It’s 10 years of story, so it’s kinda hard to nail down.

    So maybe you’re just cherry picking what you want from there?

    So where did you get that “he’s always pushed” from? Is it apparent in any instance, nope, there isn’t a strong case anywhere other than Man of Steel where Clark doesn’t really want to be a hero.

    I mean in Man of Steel he does heroic stuff but again he doesn’t go looking to do it, he just does if he’s there.

    When I say, “he doesn’t want to wear the cape” again if it were not for that ship and Jor El he wouldn’t have done it.

    And yes when he flies he is smiling and laughing……because he figured out how to fly. And again only did so because he was pushed to do so, none of the other versions was he pushed to do so, he just figured it out.

    As far as the Lois stuff goes, ok you got the one movie in 1978….anything else? I’m saying he doesn’t need her to be a hero, he quits being a hero and the only reason he comes back is for her.

    You’re getting my point confused, I’m saying there is way too much emphasis on this relationship. You bring up Superman 1978, well we have part 2. Clark does in fact give up being a hero for Lois Lane, but then turns around and gives up that quiet life with Lois Lane to be a hero again. So because plot basically.

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