Monday, April 29, 2013

Superman and Philosophy

So this collection includes 20 essays written about Superman by philosophers. I'm not a philosopher, I'm a folklorist, so I don't consider myself adequately trained to comment on a lot of what they're discussing. There are lots of essays on morality, ethics, and the like, of course. There are some that explore themes brought up in Superman stories, such as whether or not Superman should use his powers to stop crime, etc. The first half of the book, and a bit more than that, feels repetitive because the writers are all discussing these themes, using the ideas of Nietzsche, Kant, utilitarianism, and the like. In the latter half, the topics broaden a bit (well, once they're past Nietzsche). There are discussions about the secret identity, the meaning of The American Way, the nature of an alien being trying to be human, stuff like that.

I don't know. I really don't have a lot to say about it. Most of the essays just ran together in my head. They're kind of bland. There are some analyses of Kingdom Come, All-Star, Red Son, and the other big stories, but I never felt like I was reading anything particularly new or innovative. And there sure were some sloppy comics references.  And there are some summaries of stories that don't seem too worried about getting things right, either. (There's also some sloppy scholarship in general, such as when one writer tells us that he's sure Siegel and Shuster created Superman as a direct refutation of Nietzsche's ubermensch, which just seems silly to assert without even trying to find evidence).

I think what I was looking for was a more thorough exploration of one theme that I've found compelling: Should Superman just take over? Since he's so good, morally and physically, why wouldn't we want him to make laws instead of just being a vigilante? This has been explored in comics, both in Superman stories and those of his analogues (Miracle Man is a good example), and with Plato being referenced a couple of times, I just expected the notion of a sovereign Superman to come up more.

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