Thursday, May 30, 2013

Retro Remote's Superman Essay

There's a pretty interesting essay over at PopMatters called Superman and the War Against Anachronism. Kit MacFarlane has some interesting observations and opinions about Superman and Batman (and Spock, for that matter).

For example, he counters the notion that Superman's pervasive moral goodness and omnipotence makes him boring:

Again, Superman’s power should be seen as a challenge rather than a flaw: writers can no longer rely on the tired devices of physical constraints to keep the narrative going. Confident writers should embrace Superman’s power as something that places him above mere physicality: when the limitations on action are removed, the ethics of action still remain. The real dramatic struggles are those of ethics and inter-personal communication, not punching. (For those writers not up to that task, then there’s kryptonite.)

 In other words, Superman's not boring, but some writers are. MacFarlane also points out that most readings of Superman in The Dark Knight Returns miss several of the subtleties of the character there. He also criticizes the notion that every character should have an emotional arc in every story. It's a good criticism.

But here's something interesting, the criticism that he's a fascist stooge for the government. Well, sure, that “American way” thing isn’t exactly my favourite part of Superman mythology; but it’s also a bit simplistic to have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that might seem to be connected to historical patriotism.

MacFarlane handles it well enough, pointing out the flaw in thinking that Superman stories have to be tied to the government, and specifically to a conservative governemtn.

It's interesting to think about that 'American Way' idea. Miller did make Superman a pawn (though I wouldn't say stooge) of the US government in DKR. But it's a mistake to equate 'The American Way' with the American Government. They're not the same thing, and we might make a compelling argument that the government is supposed to preserve the American way, not dictate it.