There. I asked. He's stronger, faster, better-looking. He inspires hope in everyone. He is the reason superhero comics exist today. The last son of a dead world came to ours and inspired us all to want to be better people. He is so important to the DC universe that were he to vanish it would all come crashing down. Heck, I'd say he's so important to comics as a whole that even the Avengers owe him some gratitude. On the other hand, Batman is basically Zorro in a grimier version of '70s New York City. Yeah, he's cool and he's had some pretty amazing adventures, but let's face it, he's no Superman.
So we have the new BvS movie coming up and just looking at a title and thinking about Bats and Supes squaring off, we know that there's no way this would be a fair fight. You'd have to nerf Superman super hard to even begin to make it one. I mean, let's face it, there really isn't anyone who could go toe-to-toe with Kal-el, not unless you're talking about other ridiculously-overpowered aliens (foreshadowing foreshadowing foreshadowing). Anyways, the ways Superman could beat Batman in an out-of-context brawl could be rattled off like a drugged-up Arnold Schwarzenegger from that scene where he and Jamie Lee Curtis are tied up and she asks him if they're gonna die and he's all like, “Yup!” and then he starts going into the ways. We won't get into that here and instead focus more on Superman and how awesome I think he is.
Of course, Superman's powers, his seemingly unlimited strength and invulnerability, the heat and x-ray vision, the freeze breath, the super hearing, speed that rivals the Flash, it all makes for stories that really lack in tension. He can barely even be hurt, let alone find himself in situations where his life is in any real jeopardy. But this is not the point of Superman. There's more to him than just being a really good, really powerful guy. Like I said, he's the reason superheroes exist. He's the heart of the DC universe, he's its moral center. I have proof of this.
Mark Waid and Alex Ross took this idea and made it into one of the most epic stories in all of DC's history. So, Superman is too warm and cuddly, too goody-two-shoes of a hero and people are tired of his Thou-shalt-not-kill attitude. So some other dude named Magog pops up and starts offing villains to the cheers of the bloodthirsty masses. He and the rest of the prodigious metahuman population whittle down the supervillains to basically nothing and then engage in reckless dick-measuring contests with each other with no regard for civilian safety. Oh, and Magog and leads a bunch of lunatics into battle with Parasite, who ruptures Captain Atom's shell and irradiates the central Great Plains. The whole situation drives Superman into retirement and everything falls apart.
So, Superman comes out of retirement and endeavors to put things right, with disastrous consequences. Some of the Justice League, notably Wonder Woman, join him, but the sheer number of metahumans is too much, leading to the construction of a gulag in the wasteland that had been the Great Plains, and you know what? Seriously go and read it if you haven't. Kingdom Come starts off bold and is everything you could ever want in a Superman comic book. This is one of the very best stories of his almost 80-year career.
Of course, stories like Kingdom Come can easily become preachy nonsense in the ham-fisted hands of a condescending, sanctimonious windbag. So why not avoid that risk and just have Superman punch some of his problems into a peaceful solution? Well, then you run into the problem of having someone who basically can't even get hurt, and how do you work tension into that? Who is even in Superman's league when it comes to physical might? Hm... Other Kryptonians come to mind...
WORLD OF NEW KRYPTON
Just after all the fanboys had lost their minds over the Sinestro Corps War, Superman was dealing with 100,000 Kryptonians suddenly alive. Not just alive, but living on Earth with him and the rest of humanity, all basking in the glory of our beautiful yellow sun. Which gives them all Superman's powers, of course, and thus puts them all on a more or less equal footing with Superman.
This was a fascinating storyline on a number of levels. Suddenly you had an Earth inundated with a huge number of people as far beyond us in both powers and technology as we are beyond bonobos. There are even some Kryptonians who think that humans would make quaint pets. There's some building tension between the humans and the Kryptonians and then the Kryptonians fly to the opposite side of the sun and build their own planet, their, uh, world of New Krypton.
No longer the last son of a dead world, he rejoins his people in rebuilding their society. He takes part in the Military Guild with General Zod (with no kneeling involved), and tries to raise the social standing of the Labor Guild to something more palatable to someone who was raised in a Western republic. Despite Superman knowing something of his homeworld thanks to his parents, he is as much an alien there as we are, so we're not lost as we follow along on his journey. Running for one year throughout Superman, Action Comics, World of New Krypton, and Supergirl and wrapping up in the 4-issue War of the Supermen, it felt like it was over too quickly. It was a pilates of a story, being pulled into high tension before it all snapped in the 100-Minute War.
Both World of New Krypton and Kingdom Come are awesome stories with great art (Kingdom Come perhaps more so, just look at Ross' paintings, my god), but each one takes on Superman from one angle. Mostly. I mean, I know there are layers there, and World of New Krypton had a LOT going on over the course of its year-long run in 4 monthly titles, but they pretty much stick with a single angle at which they examine Superman. There's no need for a miniseries or a year-long story arc to get to the meat and potatoes of Superman...
ACTION COMICS #775
This is the best issue of any Superman comic that I've ever read. If I were to make a list of my favorite single issue comics, this would rank very high indeed. Hey, I just gave myself a new idea for another article! #775 is the gift that just keeps on giving. I wonder if it's my favorite single issue of any comic of all time...
Action 775 takes Kingdom Come's premise that the world thinks of ol' Big Blue as being too soft and old-fashioned and combines it with a set of antagonists ripped right out of a Mark Millar comic and forces Superman to deal with it. These guys are on an equal footing with Superman, power-wise, with many speculating that they actually outclass him given the nature of some of their powers. They show up suddenly while Supes is on the fly to stop some disaster or another, fixing it for him before he can even arrive. Okay so far, but the thing is that they do it in the bloodiest, nastiest way possible. There's no minimalizing of civilian casualties. There's no shows of mercy, it's all just cold-blooded, hardcore violence and destruction, much like what was being criticized in Kingdom Come now that I think about it.
So, Superman is forced to face the idea that his time may have long since passed and a final showdown comes with The Authority or whatever they were calling themselves in that book. It's such a thinly veiled reference to the popular Wildstorm book that they might as well have just been them. Then we get to see just how fearsome Superman and his wide array of powers are. He's had years and years of experience wielding such might and has gotten really, really good at what he does, and he makes his point loud and clear. What's so funny about truth, justice, and the American way? It's a question he takes very seriously indeed, and the answer makes this issue worth reading for anyone who loves superhero comics, and even some who may not.
Superman is the heart and soul of DC's comics universe. They need him, to look up to. He gives them the ideal to strive towards. Making him grim and gritty or moody and brooding for, uh, “realism” I guess, misses the point. I mean, isn't that what Batman's for? He and Gotham have the market cornered on grim and gritty realness. Besides, that's what makes their relationship interesting, that they're different from each other and have different ideas despite the similarity of their goals (as seen in Kingdom Come). I have hope for Superman that we'll get over this angsty period and he can go back to being our beacon of light for a better future, like the Legion of Super Heroes is promising.
Be my hero. Share this article.