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  1. #1
    The Celestial Dragon Tien Long's Avatar
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    Default What makes Superman inspirational?

    Hey all. I just wanted to get your opinions on this particular topic. Indeed, I think many people will say that Superman is a very inspiring character. He inspires people to be their best and hope for a better world. My question is why is Superman like this? A couple of years ago, I tried to articulate this to a couple of friends and I found myself stumbling for an answer.

    Is it his powers? Yes, Superman has flight, super-strength, super-senses, and energy projection, but dozens of characters, comic book or otherwise, have these same abilities. Yet for some reason, scenes like this are way more awe-inspiring than Iron Man, Green Lantern, or Hawkman taking flight:



    Indeed, the argument many critics have is that he ISN'T in the realm of the attainable. Train and work hard and you too can become Batman. No matter how much training we do, we'll never fly like Superman. So, why is that Superman makes some people believe they can?

    Is it Superman's belief in hope? A lot of heroes are rooted in hope. Reaching deep down, believing and fighting for a better tomorrow, Spider-Man and Captain America do that. So, why is it so potent with Superman?

    Now, I've read articles online here and there about this. One of the arguments I've heard as to why he's inspirational is that he isn't born out of tragedy. Yes, he lost his world, but it wasn't a motivating factor in him becoming a hero. Batman and Spider-Man, tragedy motivates them to be heroes. For Superman, he just does it because he wants to. There is this innate sense of goodness for all. Is that the only reason he's an inspiration?

    Any thoughts on this would be appreciated! Thanks in advance!
    "I am a man of peace."

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  2. #2
    Astonishing Member Doctor Know's Avatar
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    Superman is inspirational because he has principles, engages with people as equals and demonstrates his trustworthiness to those around him.

    Look no further than the cause and effect interactions he has with characters throughout the DCU.

    Doctor Light - Crisis on Infinite Earths - JLA 80 page Giant 2009

    Steel - Reign of Superman/World Without Superman

    Justice League International pre and post Death of Superman. Booster, Blue Beetle, Fire, Ice, Guy and Bloodwynd

    Doctor Fate - The Hand of Fate (Superman TAS)

    The Legion of Superheroes (Pre-Crisis, Post-Infinite Crisis, TAS)

    Nightwing - Nightwing Year One

    Batman - BvS and JL

    Colonel Hardy and General Swanwick - MOS

    Orion - Legends/O' Deadly Darkseid

    The Atom - DC Comics Presents, JLA, New 52

    I'm sure there are more but this is a good start.

    Note these are all non-partisan examples. No love interests: Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Lana Lang. No family members - Supergirl, Power Girl, Conner, Chris, or John.

  3. #3
    Father Son Kamehameha < Kuwagaton's Avatar
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    It's a tricky thing because when I think of the usual positives for such a character (like being able to relate to his personality and place within his world as well as finding him inspirational) I find that it's not really what has me hooked day to day or year after year. But it's not usually too hard to reflect.

    1. To paraphrase Mike Carlin, because he was first, and whichever character comes along cooler, stronger, etc., they will never actually come before Superman. If you think of many things that fuel this genre, many similar products abroad and inspired forms of inspired media have details that all go back to Superman. Breaking out of your normal life to be extraordinary, the soap opera-like continuity, basic things like character design and ability... it's all so pervasive and persistent that I have to literally say our real world would be very different if it weren't for Jerry and Joe. A lot of people are willing to dig back to what existed before the spring of 1938, but I could never be satisfied with those answers as a burden of proof to the minimization of Superman's impact.

    2a. This is actually something I used to think about a lot: Superman flying through the air, then all of a sudden his powers cut out and he falls to his death. Being Superman would be extremely scary in many ways, and it's easy to forget with all he can do compared to other characters. Superman is actually rather bold and brave considering the galaxy full of questions, danger, deception, etc. There are characters who work on a smaller scale and they don't live the burden of being Superman (I mean, at least I don't remember a Batman issue where the president called him in to tackle an alien invasion) and the characters on a larger scale typically don't have to understand how to stop the wife beater in the apartment next door. That old phrase, "this looks like a job for Superman," applies to like a billion things.

    2b. Despite being virtually invicible in many senses, having super speed and stamina, and having a long life span, time is the same for him as it is other characters. It's not convenient to go and perform good, free services for other people. But Superman does it all the time. There's one story I like where he helps a guy stand up to his domineering, condescending mother-in-law, and another where he has to become a clown so that some billionaire butthole will leave his money to poor children. It's hard to just excuse his altruism. The guy can have anything in the universe and he figures to take what he needs and give what he doesn't need. He doesn't turn off his hearing when there's a new release on Netflix, and he doesn't neglect a gracious smile to mirror one's satisfaction with a job well done.

    And I do like what you say, nice insight. He doesn't work out of fear for the consequences of not being Superman. There are plenty of stories where he just retires because enough issues are resolved. He's not kept in check by fear or sense of self importance. He simply doesn't accept a world where he does less than his best, no matter how his best is defined. I will say there are some factors in circumstance, like the idea of losing Krypton gives him a cautionary example of how he can benefit earth... which he loves from having grown up here. Though that's just part of his means. I can't say all but look at Wolverine, Spider-Man, Batman, Thor, Daredevil, Punisher, and some other popular subjects: their means aren't what determined what their mission, their hands are forced later. For Superman you can take take his powers, put him somewhere else, etc. and he's still the best version of himself possible, which is presented as a healthy and ethical choice. He doesn't need pain to define him, he doesn't need guilt to make him be a good person.
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  4. #4
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    Superman is inspirational because he does the right thing simply because it is right. No dead parents or uncles motivating him. No blue headed bosses or old wizards who might take back the powers if they were misused. Superman has the power to do anything he wanted- good, bad, or indifferent- and chooses to do the right thing. While he is recognized for his good deeds, he doesn't do them for accolades. He'll use his powers covertly to help out when no one is even aware of his involvement. He has a moral code that he sticks to even when it is inconvenient.

    Basically Superman does the things you know you should do, rather than the things you actually do or would do in his situation. YMMV- but that's my view- he has my moral code (or 95%+ at least) but unlike me he holds to it without the little "no one will know", "no one is really hurt by this", or "everyone else is doing it" caveats I tell myself.

  5. #5
    Astonishing Member Restingvoice's Avatar
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    He's the very definition of restraint.
    Has super hearing, will not spy
    Has X-ray, will not sexually harass
    Has super strength, will not bully

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tien Long View Post
    He inspires people to be their best and hope for a better world. My question is why is Superman like this?
    It's a byproduct of the hero's history in the real world.

    When Superman first appeared he was a power fantasy for a lot of children. Kids don't think in rational terms and say that just because they are human and flawed they will never be able to do the most amazing things--they like to imagine that spectacular feats are possible. Superman gave them a fantasy that they could aspire to. The early comics had little vignettes that showed kids how to make themselves super and there was a fan club called the "Supermen of America" that kids could join. This promoted healthy living but also noble values.



    It wasn't just the job of Superman to be the featured character in comic stories. He also was employed in speaking directly to the readers and his audience, to promote good citizenship and humanitarian causes. This produced an effect where as Superman became increasingly a symbol for these noble things in the world, the more that became his character in the comics. Superman was drawn to look noble. The red cape symbolized that nobility, yet he wore no mask, so you could see his face. Curt Swan especially gave him an open and honest face, one that showed compassion.

    People understood the special place that Superman held in the minds of his fans. Song writers invoked his name. Advertisers traded on Superman symbolism to promote their products. Muhammad Ali wanted to be featured in a comic book with him--in that story they had to fight, but by the end they were friends.



    It was a heavy burden for actors who played Superman, but most of them have tried their best to live up to the role. You can see that in the life of Christopher Reeve, becoming Superman made him a better person, someone who could inspire others and encourage them to face the most difficlut challenges in life, just as he had.

    On SEINFELD, Jerry never had to explain to the audience who this Superman character was. Everyone knew Superman, they had lived with him all their lives. Even if you didn't read comic books, you knew who Superman was and what he represented.

    The cultural memory of Superman as an inspirational figure was long. In the aftermath of 9/11, the idea of Superman took hold again and gave people hope in the midst of despair.

    If it was just in the comic books, there's no way that idea could have become so rooted in popular culture. It's because Superman has taken on a real life presence in our lives that we take inspiration from him. We see people aspiring to those values and it gives us a reason to do the same.


  7. #7
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    inspiraion to aliens everywhere - ahem




  8. #8
    The Celestial Dragon Tien Long's Avatar
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    Hey all. Great responses. I'm very interested with all of these arguments. Being the first superhero, being designed as a noble character, those are things I hadn't considered previously. The notion that he represents power under control is something that I think a lot of hardcore fans don't get about Superman. Their criticism is that they can't enjoy a character who can't be defeated, who's basically invincible. They find that to be boring. Where's the threat? The danger? The counter to that is that Superman shows restraint and responsibility with power. He holds back because he doesn't want to harm others, even his worse enemies. (And in a more pragmatic sense, that's how I reason how he can be defeated by a villain every once in a while. Because of his limits, he's weak, so a Mongul or Darkseid can beat him. But sometimes he cuts loose, a la the final JLU episode when he clocks Darkseid up the wazoo).



    Going further, Superman really doesn't want power. I love those moments when all he wants in life isn't to be supreme ruler of the universe. Instead, he just wants a wife, family, and to live life on the farm. That's it. This notion goes along with his nobility and his desire to do good without tragedy. That's what made me come back as a Superman fan. In this world of cynicism, bleakness, and despair, Superman is just a really simple, yet powerful notion.

    Still, this idea of being the first hero, is that what makes him inspirational? There have been myths before. Hercules had super strength, Hermes could fly, Zeus could fire lighting bolts. These came before Superman, but they don't give that wish fulfillment as much as him. Or inspire the hope that he does.

    So how does Superman do it? Is it because of his popularity in modern media? The nobility of character? Or something else?

    Love to hear what you say!
    "I am a man of peace."

    "A man of peace...who fights like ten tigers."

  9. #9
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    The fact that he has the power to take over the world several times over, but instead decides to help people. You see far too much of the polar opposite of that these days.
    His current approval rating is 34%, meaning 34% of Americans are still morons.

  10. #10
    Mighty Member stargazer01's Avatar
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    Superman is the story of a good man who has a lot of power.

    Lex Luthor the story of a bad man who wants all the power.


    That's why Superman is special and why he stands out, he has the most power, but never takes advantage. His powers are also what most people would like to have like super strength and flight. And the laser in his eyes makes him look like a god, but he never thinks of himself as one. Superman does the impossible. He arrives when everything seems lost.

  11. #11
    A Wearied Madness Vakanai's Avatar
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    Does right even when it's hard. Sees the good even when it's so very hard to see. Always stands for those who can't stand for themselves. Never gives in to despair no matter how bad he may be hurting. And actually has the power to carry through when it's time to save the day. All the things I wish were more true of myself.

  12. #12
    Mighty Member KangMiRae's Avatar
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    I just read this great series about Superman, as a comicbook character, inspiring the protagonist to try and be like him when he realizes he has powers similar to Superman.

    Superman: Secret Idenity? Amazing. An inspirational Superman book without Superman in the traditional sense. A great Elseworld story.
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  13. #13
    Astonishing Member marhawkman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vakanai View Post
    Does right even when it's hard. Sees the good even when it's so very hard to see. Always stands for those who can't stand for themselves. Never gives in to despair no matter how bad he may be hurting. And actually has the power to carry through when it's time to save the day. All the things I wish were more true of myself.
    Genuinely wants to help his enemies be better people. Seriously, he made MAJOR DISASTER a member of the JLA because Disaster had the potential to use his powers for good.

    He made the same offer to Scorch, and well, she at least stopped being a villain, though she never became a superhero.

    Later he made Livewire a member of the Supermen of America!

    It's inspiring because he doesn't primarily use his powers selfishly. He uses his powers to make the world a better place.

  14. #14
    Amazing Member Heavunion's Avatar
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    I consider Superman to be the father figure of the DC Universe. Barry too is a lot about hope but with him, it feels more personal, it's something HE gotta do while with Superman, it's a way of life he share with others. He isn't about having hope but giving that hope to others and constantly thinking about them.

    To me, what truly make Superman stands out is perfectly told in the Death of Superman storyline where after his death, the League learns he did wishes for Christmas like building a house. That's who he is, he doesn't punish criminals like other, he is all about saving people. It doesn't matter how rich or poor, important or useless, criminal or perfect citizen, if your life is in danger, Superman will always save you and treat you with respect, like a perfect dad

  15. #15
    The Celestial Dragon Tien Long's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marhawkman View Post
    Genuinely wants to help his enemies be better people. Seriously, he made MAJOR DISASTER a member of the JLA because Disaster had the potential to use his powers for good.

    He made the same offer to Scorch, and well, she at least stopped being a villain, though she never became a superhero.

    Later he made Livewire a member of the Supermen of America!

    It's inspiring because he doesn't primarily use his powers selfishly. He uses his powers to make the world a better place.
    Quote Originally Posted by Heavunion View Post
    I consider Superman to be the father figure of the DC Universe. Barry too is a lot about hope but with him, it feels more personal, it's something HE gotta do while with Superman, it's a way of life he share with others. He isn't about having hope but giving that hope to others and constantly thinking about them.

    To me, what truly make Superman stands out is perfectly told in the Death of Superman storyline where after his death, the League learns he did wishes for Christmas like building a house. That's who he is, he doesn't punish criminals like other, he is all about saving people. It doesn't matter how rich or poor, important or useless, criminal or perfect citizen, if your life is in danger, Superman will always save you and treat you with respect, like a perfect dad
    And that's the great part, right? While Superman could easily this planet and a couple of other planets, he's just making houses for Christmas. Small things when compared to the universal/multiuniversal stuff that he deals with, but it means a lot.
    "I am a man of peace."

    "A man of peace...who fights like ten tigers."

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