Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird...It’s a plane...It’s Superman!
Adorned with monikers such as The Kryptonian, Man of Steel, Son of Krypton, Man of Tomorrow, and The Metropolis Marvel, it is no wonder that Superman still manages to retain the enthusiasm and respect of many a fan over the decades. While we cannot say for certain if Superman is truly the greatest superhero of them all, we can definitely conclude without a shadow of a doubt that he is, in fact, the first comic book superhero in existence.
Debuting in June of 1938’s Action Comics #1, a copy of which fetched a whopping $3.2 million in 2014, it is safe to say that The Man of Steel has indeed enjoyed a long and fruitful tenure in the comic book world since his inception. And while it may appear that the superhero has stood the test of time both in and out of the pages of the comics, at least, from a general standpoint, a more astute observer would point out that The Kryptonian’s fate was more often than not teetering on the brink of cancellation.
Cover of the iconic Action Comics #1 (1938)
Although there are surely a myriad of factors that could otherwise have contributed to the gradual decline in excitement towards The Man of Tomorrow, one of these said factors, if not the biggest issue of them all, lies in the writing of his stories.
Fundamentally speaking, this issue arises due to the simple fact that Superman is personified as a god-like being, an absolute figure at the peak of his strength. Of course, this is not to say that in order for a comic book character to appeal to audiences, he or she would have to be portrayed as a weakling; not at all, but it does put forth a difficult proposition where relatability towards the character is concerned.
The trouble with an all-powerful protagonist is that he or she can very quickly turn vapid in audiences’ minds. It was Joseph Campbell who outlined in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces that what we relate to the most, as consumers of a story, is the Hero’s Journey. Despite how ubiquitous and cliché the idea might be, we are predisposed to repeatedly indulge ourselves in a character’s journey from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of greatness. This view directly correlates to the manner in which we view our livelihood, a journey that we must undertake with the hopes of achieving our best selves by the end.
Suffice it to say, by that very definition, Superman can be summarized as being that of a hero but without the journey. After all, The Metropolis Marvel was, in fact, born “super”, inheriting his god-like powers without so much as breaking a sweat. This factor alone handicaps any writer who dares take on the challenge of writing for the Son of Krypton, as it significantly limits them to write about the character’s story from a point after the heroic journey has concluded.
That being said, perhaps there is another alternative to the traditional Hero’s Journey that would best be suited for an omnipotent being such as Superman, one that we would gladly like to explore in Part 2 of our The Man of Steel series.
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