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Superman is back. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that over the course of 45 years, he never really went away.
When I was a kid we used to watch reruns of the old television version of Superman that was made in the 1950's. Even though it was dated already by the time we were watching it and the Man of Steel had something less than an iron physique, we never missed an episode. I have seen every Superman since, of course, and I feel safe in saying that the most recent version could be, well...pretty super. At the very least, he looks to be the one closest to the version I had in my head when I was a young girl and reading comics, and let me tell you, that version is pretty hard to live up to!
My youngest, who is 18, is most familiar with the most recent TV version of Superman, which was actually more like a Superteen character. He liked it, but thought that its appeal was more towards girls. He may be right about that. The actor was gorgeous, but seemed very much a boy to me rather than a mature man. This new Superman, although still young enough to be my own son, just seems more mature. My son and I talked about Superman and why he has stayed so appealing in a far less innocent and decidedly more cynical world. Let's face it, Superman is not an ambiguous character; he is a true, blue boyscout hero type raised on a farm with solid and uncompromising values. While he might have been occasionally conflicted, he was never a candidate for rehab or intense psychotherapy like some of the other super heroes. Superman was never an alcoholic or a sociopath. He was a pretty straight-the-gate kind of guy. In terms of the modern world, that might seem naïve or nerdy or something to a very jaded audience. Yet he has survived.
My son, unlike most of his friends, is a kid who has always been drawn to the paragons in any story. Whether it is a book or a movie or a video game, he has always wanted his heroes to be pure of heart and clean of soul. If he is playing a video game where the designers make it possible for a player to decide the relative goodness of a character, he always makes the choice to be as good as possible. When he chose his costume for Halloween, it had to be a hero. He would never have wanted to be Darth Vader or Freddy Krueger or anyone with a questionable moral compass. He has never liked any “anti” in any of his heroes.
I find this fact interesting. I suppose, as creatures, we have a genuine longing for someone in the world better than ourselves upon whom we may rely to make the right choices. Whether this is a religious figure or a comic book hero, the need is the same. Unlike a lot of mythical or religious figures, Superman makes a choice to be what he is. Let's face it, he's Superman, he could go wherever he wanted to in the universe but he chooses to stay and become a guardian of ourselves and our planet. Go figure. Why not head off to some planet where people are less violent and destructive?
Thanks to technology, we live in a world where more of the less than honest, ethical, or moral activities of those people in charge of things have become more exposed than ever. It isn't that they are doing more of it, people in power have been the same since the dawn of civilization, it is just that there are more of them and more easily exposed doing it. They are just as arrogant as they have always been. Only the sublimely stupid or arrogant would think that it was a good idea to send compromising photographs to someone on their cell phone, and whether they are playing around with call girls or tanking someone's hard earned pension fund, they love to talk about how they are “serving” mankind, when they are, in fact, serving no one but themselves. But no matter how old iconic characters like Superman and Captain America get, and no matter how cynical we get, there is that one thing about them that endures. They truly are serving mankind and making a choice to do it that is both pure and heroic. Superman would never cheat on Lois Lane and send a picture of himself in the nude to some other woman. He's Superman. Captain America would never trick people into making bad credit choices and then reap the benefits when they end up with their lives in ruins. He's Captain America.
This is why these totally true-blue heroes continue to exist in a world where greed is good, bad behavior is accepted as the norm, and it is impossible to believe in the true goodness of almost anyone – because they are still the ideal and we wish, perhaps more than ever, that they really existed.
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