"But everyone loves Superman!" was the common response I faced for years when forced to admit my apathy to the Man of Steel. I've had friends, family, ex-boyfriends, and colleagues try to convince me Clark Kent/Kal-El wasn't a big blue bore to no avail. I get it: as a super powerful alien living among us, he is the ultimate outsider. He has the physical ability to destroy cities— as we've seen—and yet he chooses to be a good guy. As Max Landis recently broke it down, "What's special about Superman is that he will always make the right choice." I know. And frankly, while I understand his dilemma on an intellectual level, his goody-two-shoe-ness (for lack of a better word) is precisely what I've always found boring. I never felt a connection to his struggle through all the steely-eyed renditions of the character I'd seen.
For the record, I've watched Superman, Superman II, Superman Returns, Man of Steel, some episodes of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (because I was alive in the '90s and not living under a rock) as well as a variety of cartoons in which Superman was featured. The names of those, I couldn't tell you. While I read comics, I have never gotten into Superman-centric DC. And none of what I had been exposed to has made me understand why people go so crazy for this particular superhero. With the release of Man of Steel, I'd hoped that this would at last be my turning point, or more precisely my entry point into enjoying the plethora of Metropolis-centered media that had never appealed to me before! To put it mildly, Man of Steel's slapdash character building and mind-boggling exposition did not help one bit.
So, Katey and I hashed out my issues with Superman, and called out to those of you who loved him to give me the key I need to be an outsider no more! You, our readers, were quick to suggest a string of comics including, Superman: Secret Identity, Superman: Birthright, Superman: Secret Origin, Superman: For All Seasons and Superman: Earth One. And while I await for those to arrive on my doorstep, I took to Netflix Instant to indulge in the suggested viewings I got. And this is where I at long last had my breakthrough! I watched Superman Vs. The Elite.
Based on the Superman comic "What's so Funny About Truth, Justice, & The American Way?", this animated feature begins with a montage of news footage showing one contemporary terror after another. Aside from spandex-sporting supervillains, these are concerns that coat our real-life news coverage: violence, war, carnage, terrorism, and enraged "news" anchors calling for public outrage.
Into this world rises The Elite, a new name in the superhero game who defies Superman's public pronouncements that superheroes are not meant to be judge, jury, and executioner to the villains they defeat. The Elite feel the only way to deal with villains/terrorists is to put them down permanently, and the public soon sides with them/against Superman. In case you haven't seen this, I won't spoil the ending, except to say that for the first time I saw Superman fighting not just for us, but for his own code in a way that really hit home.
When 9/11 happened, I had been living in New York City and on my own for the first time for just three weeks. The wake of the carnage and terror I saw that day and the days that followed, filled me with a level of fear and rage I had never before experienced. So, I was among those crying out for blood. I didn't know whose, but I was scared, reactionary, reckless. Thankfully, I was also powerless. Here is where Superman is thrilling, because he isn't vulnerable like we are physically, and so doesn't have the luxury of frightened reactionary ignorance. He has to be better because we need him to be. The finale of Superman vs. The Elite finally got this point across to me, and I teared up at this revelation.
This brief feature (76 minutes) also pokes fun at the hokey idea of Superman I'd long held with a cartoon within a cartoon, where the "S stands for silly." Then, Clark Kent is revealed, watching it with an eye-rolling Lois Lane as he attempts to defend it—it's meant to be inspirational! Clark is actually funny as he teases Lois that his superpowers extend to a super-fast words per minute count that'll allow him to file his story first. Already, he is less the bland do-gooder I think of Clark as. And writer Joe Kelly, who wrote the original comic too, is quick to give us a moment where Clark experiences pain and even rage at seeing innocent people of Metropolis die as an attack from the Atomic Skull causes a man to literally wither into a pile of ash in Clark's arms! Here, Clark's responsibility to these people didn't read to me as an obligation, but something he is driven to do. He is a protector for all those who can't protect themselves. So, you know, all of us without superpowers.
Through its dark question about mankind's fearful drives versus our better nature, Superman vs. The Elite finally tapped me in emotionally to his dilemma, which I'd only connected to intellectually before. Moreover, it was a fun and engaging ride. I didn't just admire Superman, I liked Clark Kent, who jokes with his sharp-witted girlfriend and tries to restrain his rage because he knows better than anyone else how dangerous it truly is. I began tearing through another streaming title suggested by CB readers, Justice League Unlimited, and I'm hooked, guys. All the comics I have coming my way are no longer needed, but are just gravy for me to enjoy. And while I'm still not a fan of Man of Steel, I'm now among those hoping that the inevitable Man of Steel 2 will get the hero I now adore right.