I recently mentioned how, while home with the baby being sick, I spent some time watching cartoons on Netflix.
The two animated films I watched while the baby napped were Justice League: Doom and Superman vs the Elite, both part of the ongoing releases of animated movies across the DC Comic Universe from Bruce Timm and company.
They were both enjoyable, but for completely different reasons.
Justice League: Doom was standard superhero fare. A group of villains team up to best their foes and destroy the world. Always fun to see more obscure comic villains get animated, like Vandal Savage, Mirror Master, etc. On top of that, any time Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly (or George Newbern) voice Batman and Superman, respectively, just as they did since I was watching their respective animated series 20 years ago, it’s a good time.
However, the entire reason I’m writing this post is because of the second film of the two – Superman vs the Elite. In it, Superman meets a group of anti-heroes out of England who have tremendous powers, but not much of a moral compass. They like the hero gig, but find Superman outdated, and go from looking up to him to feeling that heroes need to take things where he won’t – namely to kill those criminals, villains, warlords, etc, instead of leaving them for justice departments to decide.
Initially, the public loves it. They eat it up, and agree that Superman just isn’t the hero for modern society. This new group, the Elite, become the idols of children, while the kid playing Superman on the playground is suddenly an outcast.
What happens very quickly, however, is that the Elite become more than just anti-heroes, more than just vigilantes, even. They become the watchers of society, telling them to be good, or be dead. Their choice. The choice isn’t just limited to super-villains and despots, though. Even the average pickpocket faces an executioner for their sinful deeds, no matter how misguided.
Naturally none of this sits well with Clark Kent, leading to an all out showdown with these young turks, and a display of what would happen if Superman really were to become the darker version society is clamoring for.
When the dust settles, it’s not the animation, not the action that makes this the draw that it was for me. It was the message.
This is why Superman is important; this is why his character remains relevant, even today.
Superman is the embodiment of all the good that we, as the human race, have contained within us. A man with unlimited power, who uses that power to not only help others, but to show others much needed compassion.
Clark Kent never takes it upon himself to tell us how to live our lives. No. Instead, he sets an example for us. He shows us that great power does not have to mean oppression, corruption, or rule. No wonder Lex Luthor can’t stand him. Lex feels power should be all those things.
No, Superman shows us that the world can be better; that we are the ones who have the ability to make it so. Instead of looking for the bad in others, he looks for the best in other people, believing all to be generally good people on some level.
He may be a captor, he may be a jailer, he may be an enforcer, but he is never a judge, a jury or an executioner. He is a symbol, of all we could be, of all the good we could do. If a man with all that power can avoid finding the worst, avoid being corrupt, avoid abusing that power, why can’t we, as mere mortals?
It’s like that classic line in the 1978 Superman movie, by Jor-El, Superman’s father, who sends his baby away from their dying planet to Earth in order to save him.
“They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.”
Funny that it takes an alien from the planet Krypton to make us realize that.
If we all tried to be a little more like Superman, just think of what a world we could live in.
One thought on “Why Superman matters”
What a lovely, thoughtful, idealistic post. I almost never watch animated movies, but I love the message in that one. I am a little tired of anti-heroes who will cut any corner to achieve a laudable end (that’s about all you see in live action movies these days). I think the world more than ever needs a hero like Superman, who sets an example. Now what can I do to set an example? Hmmm… have to think about that one. In the meantime, thanks for the post.