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  1. #1
    Obsessed & Compelled Bored at 3:00AM's Avatar
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    Default The state of Superman in popular culture right now

    For a little while, it seemed like Superman was becoming viewed as increasingly outdated by the larger popular culture. However, with the state of the world becoming more and more dire, it seems that people are once again hungry for the kind of hopeful optimistic fun and adventure that Superman brings with him. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised by this. Superman first became a sensation during the uncertain times of the late 30s, and continued to grow in popularity during the wartime 40s and the nuclear anxieties of the 50s. He struggled a bit with relevance during the 60s when he became viewed, rightfully, as a symbol of the establishment. However, as the broken promises of the 60s gave way to the jaded cynicism of the late 70s, Superman again became suddenly relevant again because he was such a cheerfully bright and uncompromised hero in a world seemingly overrun with corruption and moral bankruptcy.

    Unfortunately, Superman didn't fare so well in the 80s, despite the momentary buzz generated by his Reagan era makeover as a football jock turned yuppie. It wasn't until his death that Superman became briefly relevant again, but that didn't last long and the character continued his slow slide away from the forefront of the public consciousness.

    When 9/11 hit, Superman enjoyed another bounce in popularity thanks to the new anxieties of the age of terror, which buoyed Smallville to a decade worth of low budget superhero soap opera TV gold. However, the overt military and high-tech obsessions that dominated the 21st Century culture were ill-suited for Superman, who is neither a soldier, nor someone who really relies upon technology. Instead, more militaristic characters like Batman and Iron Man came to dominate the superhero landscape.

    Most recently, popular culture has, after decades of ignoring them, turned its attention to showcasing a more diverse selection of heroes, which has allowed Wonder Woman and Black Panther to achieve pop culture prominence the likes of which they've never known before. Meanwhile, Superman had seemingly grown less and less important to the conversation as Hollywood, video games and comics failed again and again to recapture whatever it was that had made Superman so popular in the past.

    And yet, I suspect that's slowly changing. I think the public is ready for Superman again after the past few years of watching disaster after disaster build like a slow motion train wreck governed by the most corrupt, dysfunctional and incompetent political landscape in decades. People want to believe in Truth, Justice & The American Way again. They want to see journalists uncovering that truth with integrity and professionalism, rather than for clicks or scoring some momentary victory for their political tribe. We might even want to see heroes who aren't billionaires using that vast inherited wealth to outfit themselves with high tech toys (alright, that one is a long shot, I admit). We want heroes who are motivated primarily by altruism, rather than trauma or guilt. We want to believe that people are worth saving and that we can overcome them by inspiring each other to do good.

    All this is a very long-winded attempt to talk about where we think Superman is heading in the larger public consciousness over the next few years. The darker, more brooding Superman of Zack Snyder is actually going to get a proper send off now that that trilogy of films is being finished for real this time. The CW is launching a new Superman & Lois TV show focused on their lives as heroes, journalists and parents, the comics have been re-energized by various creators bringing their A-game to bring Superman back to forefront of superhero comics. And I suspect that new technologies are going to finally allow designers to produce a video game capable to doing Superman right.

    What do you think? Am I being hopelessly naive? Am I wrong? Am I right? Let me know.

  2. #2
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    One thing. For what your talking about, I’d say the title should instead be “The state of Superman in the zeitgeist right now.”

  3. #3
    A Wearied Madness Vakanai's Avatar
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    I think your putting way to much thought into it and way too much emphasis on eras. All Superman needs to be popular is the same thing that made him popular before - a great story in a medium with real presence. Today that means either a blockbuster movie, game, or Netflix like series. He gets one of those and boom, big again. There's never been more to it than that.

    Personal opinion of course.

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    Astonishing Member Vordan's Avatar
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    The last decade was one of the worst he’s ever had, so if we finally start to see his star rise again, I’ll be thankful. Of course that all depends on what happens. Will Superman & Lois be good or at the very least entertaining? Is Warner Bros Montreal actually making a Superman game and will that be good? Is Cavill going to get another shot or is a reboot for Superman in the works along with Batman? I hold no hopes that the Snyder Cut will be a positive for him. But I do feel a smidge of optimism.

    Sadly it’s the outside media that really determines the character’s perception, so no matter how good the comics are they won’t be able to make the impact I wish they would.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vakanai View Post
    I think your putting way to much thought into it and way too much emphasis on eras. All Superman needs to be popular is the same thing that made him popular before - a great story in a medium with real presence. Today that means either a blockbuster movie, game, or Netflix like series. He gets one of those and boom, big again. There's never been more to it than that.

    Personal opinion of course.
    I think the circumstances and concerns of a particular era often have a big impact on art, particularly popular art.

    Tarzan was one of the most popular characters in pop culture for decades. Now, not so much, and a lot of that has to do with the ideas behind the character simply aren't relevant to people today. The idea of a white man being raised by apes in the savage lands of Africa and rises up to become Lord of the Jungle was a dynamite idea at one time. Star Wars hit at the exact right time when people wanted a simple story of good vs evil, but with just enough archetypal mythology layered in.

    This isn't to say that Star Wars wouldn't have been successful without the exact circumstances of the late 70s, but I don’t think it would have been the blockbuster sensation it became, helped immeasurably by Lucas taking advantage of the insatiable hunger for toys and merchandise of middle class suburban kids

    I am not saying creators weren't making good Superman stories during the times when he was less pop culturally prominent, but I think Superman's popularity has been very much determined by the larger anxieties of the times. The more comfortable and safe people felt, the less interested they were in the idea of an altruistic flying man swooping in to save them from disaster.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Will Evans View Post
    One thing. For what your talking about, I’d say the title should instead be “The state of Superman in the zeitgeist right now.”
    Zeitgeist works too. I just wanted to make it clear what I am talking about and zeitgeist felt too high salutin' for a discussion of a guy running around in a red cape and underwear outside his tights ;-)

  7. #7
    A Wearied Madness Vakanai's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bored at 3:00AM View Post
    I think the circumstances and concerns of a particular era often have a big impact on art, particularly popular art.

    Tarzan was one of the most popular characters in pop culture for decades. Now, not so much, and a lot of that has to do with the ideas behind the character simply aren't relevant to people today. The idea of a white man being raised by apes in the savage lands of Africa and rises up to become Lord of the Jungle was a dynamite idea at one time. Star Wars hit at the exact right time when people wanted a simple story of good vs evil, but with just enough archetypal mythology layered in.

    This isn't to say that Star Wars wouldn't have been successful without the exact circumstances of the late 70s, but I don’t think it would have been the blockbuster sensation it became, helped immeasurably by Lucas taking advantage of the insatiable hunger for toys and merchandise of middle class suburban kids

    I am not saying creators weren't making good Superman stories during the times when he was less pop culturally prominent, but I think Superman's popularity has been very much determined by the larger anxieties of the times. The more comfortable and safe people felt, the less interested they were in the idea of an altruistic flying man swooping in to save them from disaster.
    Perhaps - but I still think the more likely thing is just getting a good take in the media that's widely consumed. People largely don't change that much whatever the era when it comes to entertainment - a good story is a good story, and when was the last time Superman had one of those outside the comics?

    You want Superman to be a larger part of pop culture, then instead of timing the more important part is getting Superman out there in a story people enjoy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vordan View Post
    Sadly it’s the outside media that really determines the character’s perception, so no matter how good the comics are they won’t be able to make the impact I wish they would.
    That has been the case for decades. The George Reeves TV show and Christopher Reeve films had far more impact on the larger pop culture than the comics did. However, it is the comics that lay the first bricks from which those adaptations build from. The comics lead the way, even if the majority of people aren't aware of it

  9. #9
    A Wearied Madness Vakanai's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bored at 3:00AM View Post
    Zeitgeist works too. I just wanted to make it clear what I am talking about and zeitgeist felt too high salutin' for a discussion of a guy running around in a red cape and underwear outside his tights ;-)
    Also, ditching that might help with the modern pop culture thing...

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vakanai View Post
    Perhaps - but I still think the more likely thing is just getting a good take in the media that's widely consumed. People largely don't change that much whatever the era when it comes to entertainment - a good story is a good story, and when was the last time Superman had one of those outside the comics?

    You want Superman to be a larger part of pop culture, then instead of timing the more important part is getting Superman out there in a story people enjoy.
    Agreed, but the anxieties and concerns of the world are often what drive creators to make great art that resonates with people.

  11. #11
    A Wearied Madness Vakanai's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bored at 3:00AM View Post
    Agreed, but the anxieties and concerns of the world are often what drive creators to make great art that resonates with people.
    Yeah, but that also depends on the artist. The anxieties and concerns if the world of every generation is enough to produce a score of great Superman films and shows, but we usually don't get that. One era is no more or less suited for Superman than another, they all could have made great Superman media. But you only luck out so much. Those eras where Superman didn't do as well? Nothing to do with the era or Superman, just simple bad luck that the right people and events didn't come together at the right time to make something. Luck has more to do with it than not being a natural fit for a certain time - any character can be updated to fit modern sensibilities while sticking true to the core of a their character.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vakanai View Post
    Also, ditching that might help with the modern pop culture thing...
    I understand that traditionalists want the underoos, and I'm glad the comics have re-embraced them as part of the character's most iconic look, but I would agree that the undies are a stumbling block for a lot of people in the mainstream. Too many of the kids I teach are struck by the bright red underwear, even as they breeze by Batman's equally ridiculous black speedos.
    513-5139672_descargar-imagen-tarjeta-de-superman-justice-league-action.jpg
    The thing is, they don't need them anymore. If they can figure out a way to make the undies work, great, but I think a big red belt with a yellow belt buckle (or vice versa) is a perfectly acceptable replacement that doesn't sacrifice his iconic look.
    [/IMG]
    Last edited by Bored at 3:00AM; 05-23-2020 at 08:22 PM.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vakanai View Post
    Yeah, but that also depends on the artist. The anxieties and concerns if the world of every generation is enough to produce a score of great Superman films and shows, but we usually don't get that. One era is no more or less suited for Superman than another, they all could have made great Superman media. But you only luck out so much. Those eras where Superman didn't do as well? Nothing to do with the era or Superman, just simple bad luck that the right people and events didn't come together at the right time to make something. Luck has more to do with it than not being a natural fit for a certain time - any character can be updated to fit modern sensibilities while sticking true to the core of a their character.
    I'm not so sure about that. I don't think creators exist in a vacuum. It's more than just luck, although Superman has certainly had a lot of bad luck when it came to Hollywood adaptations. Superman would likely be in a very different place had the Burton/Cage film gotten made, or the JJ Abrams reboot or the George Miller Justice League film.

  14. #14
    A Wearied Madness Vakanai's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bored at 3:00AM View Post
    I understand that traditionalists want the underoos, and I'm glad the comics have re-embraced them as part of the character's most iconic look, but I would agree that the undies are a stumbling block for a lot of people in the mainstream. Too many of the kids I teach are struck by the bright red underwear, even as they breeze by Batman's equally ridiculous black speedos.
    513-5139672_descargar-imagen-tarjeta-de-superman-justice-league-action.jpg
    The thing is, they don't need them anymore. If they can figure out a way to make the undies work, great, but I think a big red belt with a yellow belt buckle (or vice versa) is a perfectly acceptable replacement that doesn't sacrifice his iconic look.
    [/IMG]
    I'm not a fan of the black bat-undies either.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bored at 3:00AM View Post
    I'm not so sure about that. I don't think creators exist in a vacuum. It's more than just luck, although Superman has certainly had a lot of bad luck when it came to Hollywood adaptations. Superman would likely be in a very different place had the Burton/Cage film gotten made, or the JJ Abrams reboot or the George Miller Justice League film.
    Never said creators exist in a vacuum, just that those creators largely never got to do a Superman project for whatever reason, and those few who did never managed to make a good one. But that's just luck, it was never because the current era wasn't able to produce a good Superman project. Sometimes all the pieces can be there yet still fail to fall together.

  15. #15
    A Wearied Madness Vakanai's Avatar
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    Sherlock Holmes was made for a Victorian audience and yet experienced a more relevant place in the pop culture of the past decade than Superman has. Not because we share so much with 1880s/1890s England, but because there were more movies and shows, some of which were either good or memorable, of Holmes. Just luck that things went that way, with creators who get the character. Dracula could have been bigger, but the people in charge of those projects just never understood the character and appeal of the story there (superhero Dracula, really now...).

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