With much fanfare, the first proper “Man of Steel” trailer debuted yesterday. The trailer was divisive, of course, since superhero films are the surefire way to get all of us to turn on each other. Some people applauded the epic scope, a lot of people were bummed out by the dark tone, and pretty much everyone was blown away by Pa Kent Costner’s anti-saving-schoolchildren stance. One thing’s for sure: The trailer got a reaction from everyone. Everyone except me.
I don’t care about Superman.
I know how important Superman is. I know he’s the quintessential superhero. I know that pretty much every character created after him is aping his shtick in some way or another. He’s burdened with responsibility, has a tragic backstory, fights for the underdog, has powers beyond imagining, keeps his identity a secret and has a fiendish rogues gallery just waiting to blow up the world or whatever. These are themes present in everyone from Spider-Man to Invincible, which just shows you how perfect a character Superman is. I get all that.
But I just don’t care about Superman.
I know a lot of people that do, people whose opinions I respect. I’m fully aware that there’s something to him, when he’s written well, that captivates people enough to stick by him through thick and thin. The truth is, though, I get that fix from the X-Men.
The first superhero I was obsessed with was Batman because I’m a human being. I was five when Tim Burton’s first film came out and eight when the animated series started. Nick at Nite showed reruns of the ’60s series in hour blocks nightly. Batman was everywhere, and I was just fine with that. Superman, though, was nowhere to be seen. It actually speaks volumes about Superman’s undeniable and essential place in American culture that I still knew all of Superman’s business without ever picking up a comic or watching a cartoon. Superman is as prevalent in our culture as air. You can’t avoid it.
As a kid, though, I gravitated towards jokesters, rebels and underdogs. I was a Han Solo/Lt. Falcon/Gonzo/Daffy Duck/Donatello kid, through and through. If it was a one hundred percent certainty that a character was going to do what was right with one hundred percent accuracy and efficiency because, by golly, the world needs it, then I was one hundred times over not a fan of that character. People who rallied around Luke Skywalker and Leonardo baffled me, because two more boring characters could not exist, even if they were put side-by-side with the sword-toting, anthropomorphized idea of boredom.
Once I discovered the X-Men, there was no turning back. The X-Men were so new and cool, even Batman started to look lame by comparison. Eight year old me was a total jerk, ditching his stalwart best bud Bruce Wayne for the edgy newness of the X-Men. I was a very bad friend to Batman (we’re cool now, though, thanks for asking). If Batman couldn’t compare to Gambit, Rogue and Wolverine (three pillars of everlasting cool…to an eight year old), Superman stood zero chance.
I felt real stakes with the X-Men. No single X-Man had Superman power levels, and if they ever did get to that level, they went evil and had to be taken down. I can’t believe that there’s ever been a Superman story as harrowing as the one where non-ninja Psylocke, having just joined the X-Men, had to go up against a fresh-off-a-Morlock-bloodbath Sabretooth using only the X-Mansion’s confusing layout as a weapon. Nail biting! Superman would have just punched Sabretooth once, at half power so as to not eviscerate him! And Clark Kent would never play practical jokes on the Daily Planet’s staff like Multiple Man played on X-Factor. The X-Men were fully realized and recognizable to me yet also capable of surprising me. Storm, who vowed to never take another life, was pushed so far out of her comfort zone by incomprehensible stakes that she stabbed Callisto in the heart! Cold blooded!
As a kid, I felt no urge to stray outside of the X-Men. The same disinterest I currently have in Superman spread to every superhero that didn’t have an “X” belt buckle. But this is why I think there’s hope for me, regarding Superman, and for everyone reading this regarding whichever character you hate. I’m fully aware that Superman has his proponents. I’ve talked to them face-to-face. I know they get lobbed the “he’s too powerful” and “he’s a boy scout” grenades regularly. The point of this piece isn’t to write from a place of hate, even if the Internet is seemingly the perfect place to do that. When people are dismissive of a character, it’s usually just a blanket “they suck.” With this piece, I’m trying to explain why Superman didn’t resonate with me personally while also, and here’s the next phase of this, stating that I am open to him resonating with me in the future.
Only a fool would write off a character from a medium that is defined by changes in authorial voice. Someone, somewhere, somewhen is going to write a story that you love about a character you disliked. I never gave Catwoman a second thought until I read Ed Brubaker’s take on her, and the same can be said about Daredevil and Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. I now call She-Hulk one of my all-time favorite characters after reading what Dan Slott did for her, and I’m even a Wonder Woman fan after reading Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s take. Jeff Parker made me care about both Man-Thing and Boomerang in “Thunderbolts.” That is a feat. I’m incredibly confident that this can happen with Superman once I read the right story and, honestly, I’d like that to happen by the time “Man of Steel” comes out.
I feel this way every time a character is laughed at. Every character has a good story in them. Just because you haven’t read it doesn’t mean that a character is worthless. Try to understand what makes this hated character work. Talk to the people that love them. Read the stories, and then decide for yourself. I’ve started doing this with Superman; I loved Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “For The Man Who Has Everything” and Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale’s “Kryptonite.” I’m looking for more (and I know “All-Star Superman” is a thing I have to read; got the message loud and loud).
I wish I could go back in time and tell eight-year-old me all of this; I loved growing up with the X-Men but it would have been nice to have diverse taste as a pre-teen. If you only read one character or even one publisher now, do yourself a favor and branch out. I’ll read some Superman if you promise to read whoever-your-Superman-is. Let’s replace apathy with fandom, because I think that’d be a lot more fun.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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