A couple of weeks ago I read an article about Superman on business insider.
You can read it here.
The caption beneath (in my opinion) captures the tone and throughline point about Superman that the author intended to convey.
“To make a good Superman story, you have to embrace a few unpopular notions about what makes good superhero stories: Dark doesn’t always mean better or more complex; fighting for good because it’s the right thing to do is a compelling enough reason; and heroes’ powers aren’t their most important aspect (but certainly don’t be afraid to show them off).”
It really was a spectacular read. I agreed with the writer’s perspective. He’s one of the people who gets it.
His thesis and conclusion were that the films weren’t living up to Superman’s predetermined standard. His legacy. That the films were somehow making him less… him.
Elsewhere in the article the writer notes that another key component of a Superman story that makes it, in fact, a Superman story is that it isn’t about him… it’s about us. And that neither Man of Steel or Batman v Superman embody that.
But they do.
Man of Steel IS a story about us… but it’s through his own eyes. His own experiences. It’s not just Superman saving the day while we ponder the fact that humanity needs saving. It’s not just Superman pitting his very life against a villain and teaching us about sacrifice and hope in the process. Heck, it’s even not just us reflecting upon our personal journeys to maturation and living with purpose as we distantly watch him struggle with his.
These are all elements of Man of Steel, and elements well used to dictate our story… But its delivery is through the very personal and up close lens of Superman himself.
And I think that’s what makes us uncomfortable. Because then we are forced to consider another very weighty concept… and that is what our story costs our hero.
Like children eager to see daddy after a long day of work, it would place immeasurable guilt in their little hearts to see the daily strain he goes through on their behalf. It would crush any child to witness through their mother’s eyes the stress that being a wife and mother is accompanied by. So even though they do what they do for us – because childhood is a story about us afterall – the minute we have to become joint heirs in the price of their heroism, we mistakenly think that the childhood story is really about them.
But it isn’t.
Just like Man of Steel isn’t about Superman.
Both stories are about us.
And in each case, both Superman and our parents would tell us that the price they pay is worth it, even if it becomes extraordinarily difficult at times.
It costs to be a hero.
To maintain the standard.
To pursue Good for Goodness’ sake.
It costs to be that type of virtuous person.
What we are going to witness is an object lesson on how to cope with the price of being a hero. Batman is us. He’s a rule breaker and a line crosser. Fights the good fight, but on his own terms. Not necessarily quite as pure of heart as Superman. Like us. And then he witnesses impossible power fighting the same good fight as he, but it unnerves him.
The impact of pure goodness will always unnerve the impure.
And, also like us, Batman’s first instinct is to take it out. It’s the subliminal message that many live, but few speak on.
Don’t even risk believing in ultimate good, because it has the greatest potential to become ultimate bad.
Isn’t that us?
Satisfied with “good enough” living? Not wanting to do TOO much or believe TOO fiercely because the darkness in this world has convinced us that to do so is only to our peril?
Henry Cavill (the guy who plays Superman) said “People like the darker vigilante… I think it speaks to the human psyche more easily than the God-like being that we can’t really understand.”
And that’s really what it boils down to isn’t it?
Our beef with Superman is a reflection of our wrestling with God.
If He’s real, then how come all this bad stuff happens…
If He’s not, then how come all this bad stuff happens…
You see, because deep down within all of us is this inescapable truth that pure good MUST exist. Bigger than us. Outside of us. Because we’re not strong enough to embody it on our own. Right in the middle of our toted independence is the irrevocable need to believe in an incorruptible hero. One who saves us in spite of ourselves, inspires us, and doesn’t condemn us when we fall short of the exemplary inspiration.
Fiction exists to tell the truths we defensively depart from.
Namely, the reality of God.
Man of Steel is a Superman story about us.
Batman v Superman is a Superman story about us.
And in the end… the price that he pays to be who he is, reminds us of two things.
1) Our true identity is rooted in pure goodness [God] and, while we can choose to embrace it or not… what we can’t do is change where the source of who we are comes from.
2) There is a price to living out one’s God-centric identity, and it’s not always pleasant.
The movies have done an EXCELLENT job telling a Superman story.
Batman v Superman arrives in theatres March 25, 2016.