Red, yellow and blue. Black hair. The letter ‘S’. These simple elements all combine to create one of the most iconic comic book characters in the world, and arguably the most recognisable. The average Joe and Jane who haven’t picked up a comic in their life would still be able to pick the Man of Steel out of a lineup. They’d still know what that iconic ‘S’ means. Superman doesn’t need his powers to reach all corners of the Earth; he is a household name, an icon, a fictional celebrity among the likes of Santa Claus and Harry Potter. This level of fame is reserved for the most hated and most beloved characters in the world, both real and imaginary, from Spider-Man to Hitler, and Gandhi to Darth Vader. Superman firmly sits in the ‘beloved’ section, but for almost a decade his appeal was lost on me.
With age, I’ve revisited characters I’d previously abandoned and cast aside as boring, and I’ve grown to appreciate stories and titles that I initially had no interest in. What I’ve come to learn is that I wasn’t ready for Superman when I first started reading comics; I was 14 years old and enamoured with the young X-Men characters I read about, with their diverse and interesting powers and teenage problems that I could relate to. To me, Superman was like an old man on a porch, rocking slowly back and forth, a relic of another time. I felt that the powers he possessed were not only boring compared to other characters, but his character was so seemingly goody-goody and “perfect” that it was infuriating. I didn’t want perfection when I was a teenager; I wanted angst, confusion, instability and excitement. For me, Superman stories represented none of those things.
As I look back, my lack of love for Superman is a little surprising, as I loved the Christopher Reeve helmed movies of my childhood, and I was an avid fan of Smallville growing up as well. I just couldn’t get into his stories on the page and my eyes would move quickly past the familiar primary colours on the comic store shelves. Lois Lane? Clark Kent’s rural upbringing and his magic face-changing pair of glasses? His stupid underwear outside his tights? His ice cave? His alien background? None of it interested me.
Interestingly, I haven’t read an X-Men comic in quite a while and I wasn’t too impressed the last time I dabbled with the latest stories. In many ways, it feels like I’ve outgrown the X-Men and, as I’ve started dipping my toes in the DC Comics pool, I’m ready to move onto bigger and better things. That isn’t to say that X-Men comics aren’t good, they’ll always have a special place in my heart and some of the earlier stories are still my favourites, but for a long time now I’ve felt the X-Men are in a never-ending circle. The stories all seem the same; so tame, so predictable, with increasingly uninteresting characters and plots. Perhaps now that I feel like I’m moving on from what I idolised in my younger years, I’m warming up to that old guy on the porch and I want to hear what he has to say.
My previous disdain for Superman rings true for DC Comics in general. I was a Marvel fangirl to the core for so many years that branching out and giving DC titles a proper go seemed almost scary. Where would I even start? I had already given Superman a try (or so I thought), DC’s most famous character besides Batman and Wonder Woman, and I didn’t like him. So what chance did DC have? It’s only now, years later, and after reading fantastic titles from Image, Boom! Studios and Dark Horse, that I’ve turned back to see what DC has to offer.
Particularly in the context of the world around us today, the idea of Superman as an alien who has adopted the Earth as his home is very appealing to me now. It’s interesting to see a similar cultural context between our world and the stories where Superman is feared and rejected for being different. Despite the awe he inspires in many, other humans fear him for being from somewhere else, somewhere humans can’t understand. I never appreciated the level of complexity of his character and the weight of being the most powerful person in the world and still wanting to save it over and over again despite so much criticism. He doesn’t take the fear and hatred of those around him and let it warp him, he keeps trying and trying because he knows right from wrong, he knows that even if the whole world rejects him, he has to help because it’s who he is. And it’s the right thing to do.
This kind of perfection, of enduring goodness and self-sacrifice was not something I was interested in when I was younger. In this way, I saw Superman as one dimensional. I didn’t take the time to properly give his other stories a go and, if I had, I would’ve realised that he has many layers just like other characters that were so dear to me. If I hadn’t given up on him so soon, his stories may have been a gateway to other DC titles and characters that I missed out on for many years. Would I be a diehard Flash fan? Would I own a collection primarily filled with the colourful cast of characters from the Justice League? Would I be an Aquaman fan?
Although I’m late to the party, I can now call myself a Superman fan. He’s still not my favourite character, and he’s not yet in my top 5, but I certainly don’t hate his character and I wouldn’t look past his titles in favour of something I know. Embracing Superman’s character is representative of so much more than putting my judgement and prejudice aside; it’s also about me branching out of my comfort zone and trying titles and characters that I may not think I’ll like based on what they look like or hearsay about the character. This makes me think that my dismissal of the Man of Steel was much more to do with my own immaturity than the stories themselves.
A few of the comics that changed my mind include Superman: American Alien, which I was really impressed with, both in terms of the artwork and the story itself. Another is Earth One and Red Son, both of which showed a different perspective on the character, with the latter changing the very nature of Superman’s story in a thrilling ‘what if?’ situation set far from the American setting we’re used to. And that’s what it really comes down to, not just for Superman but for all characters; the comics we love have changed so much and are constantly evolving, with different origins and stories and enemies and relationships, and although this is often touted as a problem in the industry, I don’t think it has to be.
The character I thought was boring a decade ago has changed and endured so much in many stories, both good and bad, over the years that he is unrecognisable to the character he was in the early 2000s. Superman’s stories span almost eight decades and they are diverse and expansive, so it means there is something for everyone. I may not like Superman in one particular story but the Superman featured in a tale from 20 years ago may be my favourite book ever. I don’t know until I read it, and I can’t just presume it’s bad because of prejudice and what I think the character will be like in the story. Overall, it comes down to not judging a book by its cover, or a character by my own previously conceived notions or another person’s opinion. Though there are many things I cannot be sure of, one thing is for certain: the spines of my collection will soon bare the tell-tale colours of red, yellow and blue.
What do you think of Superman? Do you love a character you previously hated? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!