Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Superman A Liberal? Yeah, Probably

I got to thinking and the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that Superman is a liberal. Strange, but true. Batman, however, is anything but a liberal. Let’s examine the case for Superman being a liberal:

Leftist Job: Let’s start with the obvious. Superman is a journalist and most journalists are leftists. In fact, not only is journalism the bastion of leftist ideologues, but it’s also one of the few places where private sector unions still thrive.

Compare that to Batman, who is a businessman.

Leftist Villains: The most common villains in Superman are rich businessmen, evil corporations and rogue military generals. Basically, the leftist anti-capitalist pantheon. Batman’s villains are losers who were “misunderstood” and decided to make the rest of us suffer as punishment for their own miserable lives. Those are usually the heroes in leftist movies.

Impulse Driven: Superman is impulse driven. Superman has a superpower he could use to help the world in many ways. But rather than doing the conservative thing and plotting out how to make the world a better place, he uses his power to react to the moment. And his solutions are always short-term solutions without any thought to the long-term messages being sent.

Batman... Batman is all about long-term thinking. Everything he builds, everything he plans is based on needs he thinks he will have in the future. He is always preparing for projected problems.

Favoritism: When Superman acts on impulse, notice that he favors those closest to him. Indeed, he spends his days trying to stop any petty crime that afflicts his friends, but rarely worries about the larger world he doesn’t see. And the few times he’s actually tried to make the world better, he’s done the short-sighted liberal thing like push for nuclear disarmament... as if disarming good guys will make the world safer.

Dependence: Speaking of disarming the good guys, Superman breeds dependence. Nothing divides liberal and conservative thinking more clearly than the “give a man a fish v. teach a man to fish” dichotomy. Liberals think it helps people to take care of their needs, conservatives know you need to teach them to be self-reliant. Superman, like all liberals, believes in doing things for people. He’s never once encouraged self-help. He’s never once helped the police or military learn to protect the citizenship on their own.

Batman, on the other hand, is constantly working to help the police and the public be better able to stand up for themselves. In fact, think of how often Batman gives the police the final clue they need and then leaves them to round up the bad guys. Superman never does that.

Feminist: Superman and Lois Lane have a nearly perfect liberal feminist relationship. She’s the hard charging “bossy” working professional. He meekly takes orders from her and stands there like a eunuch as she heaps abuse upon him. He even pathetically waits on her hand as she openly displays a crush on another man (ironically his alter ego).

Shame?: Finally, think The Incredibles. There is an air in Superman that being special is a bad thing. Superman hides his super powers behind a pathetically meek alter ego. He hides from the press as much as possible and only appears when needed. And in Superman II, he even gives up his super powers just so he can get married... something no one asked him to do.

Batman is different. He hides his identity for his own safety, but he still uses both personas to fight evil. He doesn’t downplay his own skills or abilities.

In The Incredibles, society decided that it was wrong to demonstrate that you were better at something than others. That is the socialist worldview. Superman implicitly shares it. Batman rejects it. Total liberal.



Tennessee Jed said...

interesting breakdown, but both hark back to my youth and a time when, like western heroes, things were simpler

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It's definitely true that the characters have become more "complex" over the years and grittier, but I think that fundamentally, Superman has always been a liberal creation in how he thinks and responds to the world.

And that's not really an insult. A liberal Superman works perfectly in a simplistic childish world of Metropolis where everything is black and white and intent is what matter. He would not work well in a real world situation however, where he would be seen as playing favorites and squandering his gifts.

Batman, on the other hand, has always been more "real world" and therefore less prone to simplistic (i.e. liberal) solutions.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a comic reader and I only know the character from the films...

I would argue that Superman considers law enforcement his allies. "Warden, we're all in this together!" and so on.

You do raise some interesting points. Re: nuclear disarmament, the screenwriters of that film violated Tom Mankiewicz' rule: Superman can't get involved in current events! Otherwise, why couldn't he make world peace? Why couldn't he stop all wars?

Re: dependence, I think they tried hitting on this in Superman Returns with Lois having written an article questioning the need for Superman. Interesting idea but the filmmakers weren't successful. (Every time I watch that movie, I like it less. Brandon Routh deserved better.)

As Kevin Smith once asked, "How do you write for Jesus?"


"Superman, like all liberals, believes in doing things for people." Where's the line between this and charity? Aren't we raised to do things for people?

"But rather than doing the conservative thing and plotting out how to make the world a better place..." Is that the conservative thing?

Kit said...

I think this depends on whose writing him. And is the result of having someone who is pretty much all-powerful. Point to Scott's quote of Kevin Smith: "How do you write for Jesus".

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I base this mainly on the films and the cartoons as well, not on the comic books.

As to your points...

"Warden, we're in this together"... yes, he says that, but he says it as he drops off the criminals in the jail cell. The cops have nothing to do except to close the door and try to hold them. Batman on the other hand is repeatedly working with the cops to solve the problems -- typically in the form of telling them something they need to know to do their job.

"Do we need Superman" -- I don't think that was aimed at dependence. I think that was aimed at the "we don't need heroes" campaign the left has waged for several decades. (Personally, I despise that film.)

In response to Kevin Smith, you've got to be kidding!! Jesus (like Superman) is where the most amazing stories lie. But you have to use your brain to understand the types of stories you can tell. You can't tell a fistfight story, for example, but you can tell a retching "how can I forgive God when bad things happen" story. It's a matter of raising your game.

The line with charity is exactly what we're seeing in the private sector of charities now. They've learned that the handout doesn't work. What works is giving people the chance to help themselves.

Yes, that is the conservative thing. Contrary to liberal propaganda (and a few far right lunatics), conservatives want to make the world better. But we know that the liberal approach won't work. We think long term -- how do we help people make their lives better and overcome problems. Liberals think short term -- how do we stop people hurting right now.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Only God is all-powerful. And even God has surrendered part of his power by allowing free will. Your story always lies in the weak spot and the goals of the character.

In terms of who is writing him, that may be to a degree, but both characters have been written pretty consistently over the past 50+ years.

Kit said...

Got more coming.

Kit said...

re Lois Lane, I think there is more complexity there than you give her credit for, at least in the first movie (the most important superhero movie ever made and maybe the best).

First, Superman/Clark Kent in the movie:
Clark Kent/Superman represents the pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate America. Notice the time he leaves Smallville it looks very much like 1960s America pre-everything going to crap. I even did the math: he leaves in 1966 (1978-12). He represents an old-fashioned and apparently out-of-date America that was "Truth, Justice, and the American Way". He may have left in 1966 but he is the optimistic Eisenhower/Kennedy America of a strong, booming economy.

Now Lois Lane:
Lois Lane is representative of the cynical post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America. Where politicians are evasive and crooks are everywhere and small-town values are quaint and amusing but irrelevant. Lois Lane lives in the cynical Carter America of ever-increasing inflation, unemployment, post-Nixon, high crime, malaise, and decline.

Then comes Superman.
The result is a culture clash. Cynicism meets Optimism. Andy Griffith America vs Dirty Harry America. Played far more subtly than in Superman Returns. When Superman says he represents "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" Lois replies "You'll have to take down every politician in America".
His reply? "I sure hope not".

I think, the whole movie's purpose is to serve as a subtle rebuke to the cynicism and malaise of the 1970s.

I also think its interesting that Lois Lane faints in shock after being saved by Superman. Not exactly your stereotypical women's lib warrior. (4min 16sec)

Then there is the entire "Can You Read My Mind" sequence.

Kit said...

re Disarmament: Interestingly, in the Justice League cartoon of the 1990s* an idealistic politician starts a peace thing and gets everyone to agree to mass disarmament with Superman taking the lead.

Then aliens invade. And the world is defenseless. And (SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!)

the politician was actually one of the aliens.

*i.e., not the stupid Superfriends cartoon.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, They did the disarmament thing a couple times and each time Superman favors it. It never occurs to him the futility or the negative side effects. It's a very liberal bit of idealism: "If we just disarm, then everyone will get along because no one can hurt anyone anymore!"

On Lois, I think you have a progression. Lois in the 1950s and 1960s was somewhat liberated because she held a "man's job." She was aggressive, but not enough to really stand out as a gender statement. By the time of Superman I, you add an internalization of her "I am woman hear me roar" stuff and you get her domineering everyone around her in an entirely not-self-aware manner. She's very similar to the characters played by Jane Fonda. Interestingly though, she does still have a weakness for macho Superman himself, but ultimately, she's very "bossy" to everyone else. And if you look at her Clark Kent relationship, you see him being a total eunuch. He was the forerunner of Alan Alda, or all those house husbands on the sitcoms that were coming up. Then in "Superman II" he basically gives up his masculinity to be with her.

By the time we hit the 1990s, when liberal feminism was at its peak, she'd drifted over to being completely indifferent or hostile to Kent.

Anthony said...

I think Batman is a much better hero than Superman with a much better rogues gallery, but I also think you are comparing apples to aardvarks.

Batman is a smart, athletic guy with a lot of cool gadgets who confronts criminals menacing Gotham. Superman is a nearly invulnerable being with nearly infinite strength who confronts threats nobody else can. Its not like Superman can just say 'Here is Darkseid's invasion plan, now its all up to the military'.

I think Superman is a problematic hero not because of what he does, but because he has so much power that he's almost always holding back. There are times Batman has is back to a wall and is desperate to survive let alone win, Superman is always kind of holding back because he runs the risk of killing his opponent or triggering an earthquake or something.

Both Superman and Batman's alternate identities are crafted to make people not take them seriously. Bruce has the public persona not of a Steve Jobs (or whatever one considers the perfect business owner) but a hands-off, disinterested playboy who is more intent on putting notches on his bedpost than running his business or even maintaining the family name.

shawn said...

Interesting stuff Andrew. And welcome back to the land of the living.

Alex said...

Andrew! Your'e alive! Welcome back.

Interesting article, especially since both heroes were near and dear to me growing up. I was always more of a Batman guy, though.

To me, the main thing painting Batman as a "conservative" is his burning hatred of criminals. He doesn't try to understand them, doesn't try to rehabilitate them...he just wants to stop them and beat them to a pulp. His "no-killing" restriction could be seen as a "liberal" proposition, but I see it more as his allegiance to the law (I'm not quite sure how dressing up as a flying rat and meting out vigilante justice squares away with that, though).

You forgot to mention, though, that, if he's a conservative, Batman is probably a racist. Right? Right?

T-Rav said...

So does this mean we should expect lots of character conflict in the upcoming Justice League (sigh) movie?

I suppose I hadn't really thought about your comparison, but then I don't read the comic books that much.

tryanmax said...

Superman has always been struggling to overcome his own simplicity. Jerry Siegel conceived him as a "bullet-proof man" with little else in the way of powers besides super-strength, of course. Supe's early years are interesting as he acquires new powers with total nonchalance. He needs X-ray vision, suddenly he has it. He needs frozen breath and, voila! Supe wasn't even always able to fly; early on he could merely "leap tall buildings in a single bound." (This isn't just comic book esoterica, BTW; the same can be observed across the Fleischer /Famous Studios shorts.)

As Supe's powers grew, Kryptonite had to be introduced just to keep the stories interesting. Fast-forward and a pantheon of super-to-mega villains had to be created just to give the Man of Steel a challenge. I generally agree that this is the result of years upon years of bad/lazy/unimaginative writing. Not that a super-villain here and there is inappropriate, but there is a lot of potential intrigue in stories about why Supe can't simply unleash and impose world peace.

One fine example of this is the Elseworlds (alt-history) mini-series "Superman: Red Son" wherein, due to a slight delay in his launch from Krypton, Supe lands in cold-war Ukraine rather than Kansas. Under Soviet influence, Superman eventually becomes a global (minus the US) dictator bent on creating an impossible utopia. Supe becomes a Big Brother figure, individual liberties are severely curbed, the citizenry is cripplingly dependent, those who would speak out are essentially lobotomized. Naturally, Lex Luthor is the US's main hope against Superman's expanding empire. Shit gets crazy.

Kit said...


By the way, did you see Man of Steel.

Critch said...

I never did like the Superman character, he was essentially omnipotent and never really did anything to help. Batman was down in the dirt, he even carried a .45 ACP 1911 in some of the early comics. In fact, Batman is the only DC character I liked. The rest were sort of bizarre. The one character in the Superman series who got on my nerves was Jimmy Olsen, what a maroon..a man-child, totally incapable of growing the Hell up.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Apples to Aardvarks! LOL! Nice. :)

I agree that they have different skill sets, but Superman (at least in the films and on television) doesn't always fight invincible villains. He's just as likely as Batman to be shown rounding up a couple bank robbers or a purse snatcher in his "off hours". He's just not a team player and he doesn't have any real long-term vision for making the world better... he just responds to whatever he sees.

As for their secret identities being meant to hide them, that is true, but they go about it very differently, and that's the point. Even in his playboy ways, Bruce Wayne still tends to do good in conservative ways rather than liberal ways. For example, he hands out jobs or grants to worthwhile projects, rather than just giving out money. He is constantly looking to advance science, create businesses, or engage in urban renewal. He uses a chunk of his empire to create military/bat technology. Superman, by comparison, is an intern at the New York Times whose only goal is to make sure Lois remains safe.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Shawn! It's great to be back. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Alex, Yep! Tales of my death were (only) slightly exaggerated. :)

I like both characters actually, though I prefer Batman because he's more interesting. Superman is too often let down by his writers who don't know how to handle his invincibility.

Batman is an interesting figure when it comes to the issue of law and order. He's definitely a vigilante, which isn't really consistent with conservatism except that society has broken down. So if you put the same character in our world, he would probably not be a hero. But in his world of Gotham, he is a hero. And in light of that, his refusal to kill is a clear moral limit which his character badly needs. Without that, he's just a villain who likes to target other villains.

In terms of him being conservative, to me, the real issue is more in the types of reflex behaviors: how do they handle typical situations, what do they stand for, etc. And in that regard, many things about him are consistent with the conservative world view.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Yep. They're going to get into a fight about cuts in the welfare program and that will lead to sternly worded letters from Superman, which will spark the war between them. :-P

KRS said...

Andrew - glad to see you back on your fingers. Don't push yourself.

One thing about Superman that endorses your point is that he does one thing to the population of Metropolis that Batman does not do to Gotham - he emasculates them. By putting them under his protection, even to the point of petty crimes, he removes from them both the responsibility (as you imply with your comment on Dependence) as well as the ability to provide for their own safety.

This is inherently emasculating and it is a modern liberal/progressive principle. Look at Europe: there never was a group of nations with more formidible military powers in the whole of human history, each building an empire across the globe. Over centuries they fought devastating wars and were to be feared by any nation that wasn't western. But the United States laid them low and permanently emasculated them within a single generation. Not by fighting them (we only fought two of them), but by protecting them all under our shield. And though we saved them, we have only earned their enmity.

Our countrymen answered their call and died for them. Now, they truly hate us.

Which suggests, counterintuitively, perhaps, that if a real Superman showed up in this world, doing these things to save us, he would not become a liberal hero. Liberals would track his actions carefully, keeping percentages on the race, sex, sexual orientation and religion of the victims he saves. Favored groups would complain of neglect if he fails to keep his savior quotas up. Demands would be put upon him to stop all violence across the globe. Religious factions would explode on the basis of whatever faith he was perceived to be a part of (e.g., Islam would never tolerate a Christian Superman; what would Christains do with a Muslim one?). A body of opinion would arise claiming that his powers were not his own but belonged to all the people. And all of them would seek ways to compel him to do their bidding.

I think he'd quit and go back to farming.

tryanmax said...

Damn, KRS, that's dark. Have you ever considered writing for DC?

Tennessee Jed said...

I would like people who have never seen it to watch the old original t.v. series with George Reeves, Noel Neil, Jack Larson, et al. I was a kid then, and know The Man of Steel primarily from D.C. Comics, and this show. One could argue whether Steve Reeves would have looked more like the superhero in blue tights, or if Christopher Reeves had better hair, looked more like the comic book character. He definitely had better CGI. Hell, George had to leap out a "window" onto a mattress. But the point is, both Clark and Superman were just "swell." Now do I think the A-holes who drew the comic and produced the show voted for Adlai Stevenson. Sure. The newer stuff?? I long ago quit watching new super hero films. I am on a quest for quality ....... maybe.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think you touch upon a key aspect of this: Superman was created as a childish thought. Basically, he came from the idea of "Wouldn't it be cool to have an unbeatable hero??!!" The result was that he was a simplistic, impossible archetype with no hope of ever existing comfortable in a real world. Hence, his development has been a tortured struggle between defining how perfect he is and then trying to find ways around that perfection.

This affects his politics too. Coming from this simple impulse of finding the perfect man to be out hero and save us all, you stumble headlong into the liberal love of the benign dictator. You hear this all the time, "If only we could put democracy aside and let one good man straighten everything out... then everything would be utopia and we could go back to Democracy." Superman springs from that fountain of thinking. He's the new "perfect" man come to save us wretches and show us the better way.

Yikes, he's a communist ideal.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It's third on my DVR list. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, I like Superman, but I have to say that he always felt like he was squandering his gifts to me. If he's capable of all these amazing things, why doesn't he do them? Why does he only save his superpowers to fight crime?

I think the character would be more interesting if they had pursued that aspect one way or another... maybe showing why he can't save the world from itself.

KRS said...

T-Max - I work for the Government. It does things to you.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, "back on your fingers" - LOL! Thanks! :D

Wow! As tryanmax says, that's dark... but it's not wrong either.

On your first point, you are absolutely right about the emasculation. One of the things that many people are shocked to discover is that when they start taking care of people, (1) the dependence level of those people tends to increase rather than decrease, and (2) they become resentful at you for taking away their freedom rather than being happy that you helped them. It's a seeming paradox, except that it's the obvious response given human nature.

So in that respect, a real Superman would be a nightmare, because he would strip us of our independence on many levels, just as we have done to Europe or our dependent poor.

On the second point, that isn't Superman's fault, but that is the fault of modern liberalism, which has become obsessed with statistic parity. I think this was actually part of what The Incredibles touched upon -- the idea that modern liberal society would not react well to superheroes because they violate every idea liberals hold dear about relying on the collective to make decision and making sure that no one gets too far outside the norm.

Anonymous said...

First Principles clarice: What are superheroes? Are they the current leftist conception of the empowered "elect" who fly around the world correcting social wrongs & promoting civil rights? Are they arrogant businessmen who refuse to disseminate/sell world changing technology b/c only they are suited to use it? Or...
Are superheroes (based on their pulp comic origins) a child's conception of roles adults have in society? I want to be as smart as a cop (batman), as strong as a soldier (hulk), just like my dad (superman) These aren't exact analogies but I think they fit the fantasies most kids around the world have of adult-hood.
Obviously many interpretations of superman in the superman cannon itself so it's hard to claim him for one side or another. One could go back to the concept of the Jewish Golem & simply say that superman is an avenging spirit of an oppressed people.
But..I prefer the optimistic version of Superman, one in which he IS a conservative. He's an immigrant who adopts America (and not the world) as his new homeland. He's a patriot, who would have had no qualms about serving his nation in the war on terror. Frank Miller's Randian interpretation of Batman & Superman had a lot to say about Superman's place in the world. Whereas Batman rejects the world (much like Andrew's fringe republicans), Superman embraces the Reaganite vision of Peace through Strength. He wouldn't spend his time on piddling things like crime or social justice. He'd tackle the real threats in the world.
Alan Moore's nihilistic, brechtian version of superheroes had Superman with a camera in his hand taking a picture of Neil Armstrong as he stepped off of Apollo 11. At least Moore had that part right. We don't expect cops, firemen or Navy Seals to watch out for us 24/7. But they're there if we need them.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Excellent points!

That's why I can't dislike Superman whatever his underlying principles might be. His story is the conservative ideal: an immigrant who comes to America, embraces our country most patriotically, displays Reagan's wisdom about the power of freedom and his sunny optimism about America being the shining city on the hill. He doesn't use his powers to try to change the rest of us or to become Supernanny.

That makes him an easy character to love.

Batman, on the other hand, as you note, is a darker figure at the fringes of society doling out private justice and that means you can cheer for him at times, but it makes him hard to embrace.

If find this all kind of fascinating that these two characters who seem so similar in some ways are so different in others and seem to reflect multiple parts of the ideological spectrum at the same time. Maybe that's what accounts for their appeal? That we can all see things we like in them?

(BTW, good point on Superman being the childish view of a father figure. I think modern society loses touch with the fact that these superheroes are ultimately aimed/written for children. We spend so much time trying to turn them into adult characters, but they are fundamentally the world as seen through the eyes of a child.)

KRS said...

Superman already on the moon taking a picture of Neil Armstrong?

Awww, doesn't Neely-Weely look so gwown up in his big boy spacesuit? Precious!

Total emasculation, baby! TOTAL!

Backthrow said...

As a fan of Jack Cole's Plastic Man*, I have no dog in this fight. Unless, of course, he's impersonating Superman and/or Batman (or a dog), then I do. Sort of. I guess.

* The comic book version, only... the Saturday morning animated version from Ruby-Spears was lousy.

Tennessee Jed said...

"the eyes of a child" is kind of what I was alluding to in my earlier nosalgic look at the man from Krypton

Rustbelt said...

Some really good points on both sides. While Andrew has put together a very good brief, I think Anon has a great counter argument as well.

On Kit's cynicism notes, I watched a documentary on the original 'Superman' movie. The writers said that in the 1970's, they were struggling with the character, due to his powers and then-current views on superheroes. They brought in several writers, even Mario Puzo. (Yes- THAT Mario Puzo!) But it wasn't until the fourth draft that they figured it out: they deliberately removed as much cynicism as they could, concluding that Superman is the optimistic hope for the future- and also a man with great power, but strict moral limits on how to use them.
And, of course, the question over why Superman holds back has come up several times. Why? I think the answer is in his creators' past.

There's a long-forgotten story written by Jerry Siegel and published in 1933 called "Reign of the Superman." (No relation to the character in question.) From what I've heard, Siegel- and his partner, Joel Shuester-, who both Jewish, watched Hitler rise to power in Germany. One of Hitler's heroes was, naturally, Friedrich Nietzsche. Siegel, watching from afar in Cleveland, decided to write a story that parodied Nietzsche's "Ubermensch."
In the story, a man waiting in a bread line is selected by a mad scientist to take part in an experiment that gives him great power. (Telekinesis mostly, not physical strength.) The man goes on a rampage, even killing the scientist. However, the power was temporary- it needed recharging. (The scientist had intended it for himself after making sure that it worked.) The man becomes a normal, unimportant homeless man again.
The story is a simple "absolute power corrupts" tale. However, Siegel and Shuster revisited the 'Superman' idea again in a year or so, this time with the idea that the superman was the opposite of Nietzsche's Ubermensch- in other words, a powerful man aware of what he could do, but using his powers only for good and holding back because he knew of the danger in not having limitations. In other words, you could say Superman got his start in his creators trying to show that the fascist/communist fantasy of a benign dictator was just that- and that true heroes do their job, go home, and try not to interfere beyond that.


Rustbelt said...

I should also point out that Superman's enemies haven't always been businessmen. Before the 80's, they were all mad scientists. (Now, there's a good "WHY?" for you. Why is it that one problem in a lab always leads to scientists dressing up like pro wrestlers and trying to take over the world?!) In that decade, comics took a turn for the left and re-made all villains as businessmen. So, Supes isn't to blame for that one.

Also, as for Batman, I have a hard time calling him a conservative. Nasty fringer might be a better description. I don't read comic books, but I did watch the DC cartoons in the 90's. In one of them, the younger Robin (I don't remember his name and I don't care. I despise Robin. All Robins! Like Stan Lee, I hate kid sidekicks.- "The superhero would be arrested for child endangerment!"- They should be done away with. Rant over.) , had tied up a crook that evening and split. At Wayne Manor, Bruce says Robin should've waited for the cops and followed legal procedure or something (I forget the exact words). Robin says, "why? You don't exactly believe in the justice system, do you?" Bruce, startled, has nothing to say.
In another episode, the original Robin, Dick Grayson (now Knightwing), tells the younger Robin that he split from Bruce when Bruce demanded that Dick give up his life to answer all calls. (In other words, give up society and treat crime-fighting as the only reason for living.) That particular mission ended in a fight and with Dick quitting.
How can we call a character a conservative when he demands everyone around him follow him into the pit of darkness and despair he's created for himself?

Just a few points about both characters that struck my mind. Personally, I think assigning labels to them isn't so black and white. (If you'll permit the phrase.)

Kit said...

Re Rustbelt's comments on the Ubermensch and Superman holding back, here is a scene from Justice League where Superman decides to unleash everything on the villain Darkseid after Batman just charged him and was knocked aside.

"That man (Batman) won't quit as long as he can still draw a breath. None of my teammates will. Me? I've got a different problem. I feel like I live in a world made of cardboard, always taking constant care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control even for a moment, or someone could die. But you...You can take it, can't you, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you just how powerful I really am."

Length: 1min 45sec

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, That reminds me of the "ancient aliens" guys who just condescend like crazy to people in the past with this constant idea that humans can't do anything without aliens telling them how.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Plastic man! LOL! I hear he's a Constitutionalist. ;-P

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's how I took your comment. Despite the fact superheroes have become very adult, they fundamentally live in a world invented by the minds of children. Simplistic worlds of archetypes and undeveloped reality.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, It has been an interesting discussion.

First, on Batman, I have a hard time calling him conservative as well. While he has conservative traits, his penchant for extra-judicial violence is not conservative. He seems more like a violent obsessive. And things like the surveillance stuff in the new movie are positively Orwellian.

I think the problem with trying to reach a firm conclusion on any of these guys is that they are at the mercy of different generations of writers. And those writers tend to dump whatever is going on at the time into the characters. Thus, they are patriotic in the 1950s, liberal in early 1960s, anti-American in the late 1960s, doomsdayists in the 1970s, patriotic in the 1980s, cynical in the 1990s, and insane in the 2000s. And the end result is that they are a little of everything, and many times it conflicts.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It's an interesting speech, that's for sure. I wonder if all of his writers realize this?

KRS said...

Andrew - I agree. Those guys just tick me off. Worse still are the actual scientists who underestimate the intelligence and analytical capabilities of ancient humans, forgetting that they possessed the same brains we do. I saw a PBS series where an archeologist (with an Indiana Jones hat, no less) and a stone mason were tasked with figuring out how the ancient pyramids were built. The mason had to build the top 20-30 feet of a pyramid. While the archeologist spewed about how diffucult moving, placing and chiseling every block would have been, the mason executed the task using Egyptian masons and ancient tools quite efficiently. He actually applied methods that the archeologists had never known about. It was marvelous to see an uneducated guy with callouses on his hands show the professors how it's done.

The thing I always liked about Batman is that he is so messed up. His pain has driven him to the point when he uses obsession to ward off insanity. That's why the Joker is such a perfect villian for him - he's what Batman might become after losing control of his sanity.

Btw, I always loved the concept of Superman - an American immigrant who is not corrupted by power due to his dedication to American ideals - but not always the execution. Superman Returns was fantastic up to the point where the saves Lois (again!) on the jetliner that happened to be full of reporters while it was launching a space shuttle with a novel propulsion system (uh...huh). After that point, it's crap.

Well, maybe it was crap from the start, but that was a great scene.

Reeves first movie was the best of all of them.

Ty in TX said...

This has been a great discussion on Batman & Superman.

A little late to the party, but the fact that so many people have had their input into these two iconic characters does give them an almost schizophrenic psychological history. I can think of a couple of examples.

One of the shockingly "liberal" examples of Superman was an an issue I read back in the 90s, where Kent uses his journalistic skills in a case involving a man on Death Row. Sadly I can't remember the whole thing, but the part that does is after viewing the whole tape of a convenience store robbery where the robber apologizes to the clerk before killing him. He said it was necessary because he needed the money to treat his sick child. The parents of the clerk after seeing that are all "oh that poor poor desperate man." I was dumbfounded. This man murdered your child because his continues existence may have proven to be inconveniencing to his criminal career. I can't think of a better example of evil and cruelty on the robber's part....or of mind blowing naivety on the part of the writers.
And yet in the animated series, Kent uses his journalistic skills to put a man on Death Row.

And in the case of Robin, I too remember that episode where Batman demanded total dedication to the costume, whereas in an old TPB of the Teen Titans, Batman and Superman are having a conversation and Batman says he wants Robin to get involved with the TTs because they're his age and he acknowledges the mantle of the Bat is his private Hell, not Robin's and he shouldn't be condemned to it.

EricP said...

Some feedback from Bosch Fawstin, creator of the phenomenal Pig Man comics:

Whatever the intent of his creator's, most of Superman's writers have been liberal and they've tried to make him more liberal, decade after decade. And some of the arguments aren't any good, such as the assumption that the profession of journalism is somehow inherently liberal? Seeking the truth, writing it out and disseminating it is "liberal"? No, liberals have given journalism a bad name. They've become propagandists, and despite their prominence in the profession, I don't define the profession by them. As for a superhero who fights evil as a way of life, what liberal comes to mind who does that? Liberals don't fight evil. They deny evil, they excuse evil, they usually end up helping evil, they never fight evil, (regardless that they think their political opponents are evil, who they have to fight, which is the only way they define their goodness.) One small example of how liberals have tried to liberalize Superman: Mark Waid- hardcore leftist- attempted to establish Superman as a vegetarian, which didn't stick. If DC Comics ever allows me to write and draw Superman, I'd make him go so right that liberals wouldn't want to touch him again.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I think I saw that very show. I remember a show in which they recreated various building methods they had to use on the pyramids and it turned out to be really simply to build. It just took a lot of labor.

Agreed about Batman. That is what makes him a fascinating character to watch. He is one of the most intense superheroes out there.

I love the idea of Superman too, but yeah, sometimes the execution is sorely lacking.

AndrewPrice said...

Ty, It has been a very interesting conservation. I like questions like this because it gets people to state their opinions very persuasively and that always ends up in things being mentioned that I hadn't thought about before.

Schizophrenic is a good way to put it. I guess that's inevitable when you have different writers over the course of 60+years.

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, With all due respect to Mr. Fawstin... I certainly don't think that all journalists are liberal or that there is something inherently liberal in journalism. To the contrary, I'm a big advocate of conservatives going into journalism. That said however, by and large, journalism is seen as a liberal profession these days. And the reason is that they stopped seeing themselves as reporters of truth and instead came to see themselves as crusaders for justice. It's also a minor point in the argument... kind of a winking cherry on top of the Sunday.

The bigger issue is that Superman displays some traits that are more consistent with a liberal worldview than a conservative one. I think this is the result of generations of liberal writers adding their own assumptions to the way he behaves. Personally, I'd love to see a little push back to the right.

Koshcat said...

They are completely different characters although I'm not sure a liberal or conservative label fits either very cleanly. Superman is the dumb jock with a heart of gold. Batman is meticulous and uses every tool available including his brains, money, company, and contacts. As a regular man, his physical abilities are limited and this gets me to the primary reason I prefer Batman over Superman. Superman is too powerful and thus not very interesting. And can we be honest about something? There is no reason why kryptonite should have such an effect on Superman. It doesn't make sense. It is an inert rock and the odds of finding it on our planet are astronomical. An alien with different muscle development could make him much stronger but they went off the rails. No other superhero has fallen into this trap. Captain America and Spiderman are super strong but limited. I am now seeing evidence of making Wonder Woman as powerful as Superman. Feminism gone amok?

KRS said...

Koshcat - I think the Smallville series did the very best job of establishing a rationale foundation for kryptonite. In it, Smallville is hit by a meteor shower that includes Superman's arc. The meteors are some of the remnants of Krypton and the storyline is that they have some weird kind of radioactivity that is not harmful to humans, however, it is used by various mad scientist types in the series to make strange mutations and supernatural powers. Not a bad effort and it mad for some fun stories - usefully explaining the powers of many of the villians.

That said, the entire concept of a race living on a planet that is made up of matter that is lethal to them is, shall we say, a bit of a stretch.

But for the first few years, Smallville was a great interpretation of Superman and the Kent family is fully developed - you can really see how much moral strength a kid can get from having Jonathan and Martha Kent as his parents.

The main fault regarding storyline credibility of the early years was the fact that all this utterly bizarre stuff was happening in Smallville and the world didn't notice. That was possible perhaps in the 50s, but not at all credible by the turn of the millenium. Also, unfortunate is that the series outlived it's originality - the writers crapped all over it making political points in the last few years.

Ty in TX said...

KRS, the premise behind the lethality of kryptonite is that when Krypton exploded the molecular structure of the rocks and crystals of the planet were altered; what once was a chunk of say granite or quartz is now radioactive waste.

That said, the whole radiation that is harmless to us thing is so unbelievable. If we accept that his molecular density gives Kal-El his abilities and resistances, then a chunk of rock with radiation capable of felling him would hit us like a gamma ray burst.

Koshcat said...

And that is why I prefer Batman. I could walk up and shoot Batman and be done with him but I need a special rare rock from a distant planet to harm Superman.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, That may have been a problem years ago, but with the internet it's easy to find those rocks. Just watch out for the counterfeits.

KRS said...

Ty - Welllllll, this ain't exactly science.

It's kinda like the "inertial dampeners" on the Enterprise that explain why the crew don't turn into a thin layer of jelly on the aft bulkheads the first time the ship goes to warp (although, for some strange reason, they can get knocked across the bridge when hit by a disruptor - go figure). If the writers at least think about little problems like that and try to address them to help us suspend our reason, I'll let them run it out a bit - if they're clever with it.

I didn't know that bit about the molecular conversion of the planet matter to kryptonite - kinda makes Superman Returns even more asinine.

PikeBishop said...

KRS: LIked your point about the Joker. I read an analysis once that made the point that the Big 4, if you will, of Batman villains each represented a twisted reflection of an aspect of Bruce Wayne's personality: The Joker, his mental instability; the Penguin, his wealth; the Riddler, his intellect and the Catwoman, his confused sexuality (asexuality?)

PikeBishop said...

Speaking of Superman and how he interacts with humanity and how he doesn't seem to know what to do with his powers. Check out this little gem from "TV Funhouse," done in glorious Max Fleischer cartoon style of a Superman, whose secondary goal is getting his alter ego laid. :-) Classic stuff. http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/5499/WONDERMAN/

Andersonh1 said...

If you’re just judging the character based on cartoons or movies, you’re doing so from an incomplete picture. There are 76 years worth of comic book stories that have been published, and a plethora of writers and eras where the character is approached and viewed in different ways.

● Leftist Job: Not all journalists are liberals (even though the majority are), so his chosen vocation doesn’t automatically make him a liberal. Superman’s original motivation for being a journalist was to be in a position to hear about trouble that he could help with in a timely manner. Remember, this was the late 1930s, so there was no TV news or internet. These days, the journalism aspect of the character is probably outdated, but it’s become a part of the lore and the comic book writers are reluctant to change it, despite experimentation with making Superman a tv news anchor or blogger.

● Leftist Villains: The major Superman villains are Luthor (mad scientist, later evil corporate businessman), Brainiac (alien collector of specimens and information), Metallo (mad scientist with kryptonite heart), Bizarro (deformed Superman clone), Mxyzptlk (trickster extra dimensional imp), the Parasite (mutant who is able to steal Superman’s powers) and other more minor characters like the Toyman, the Prankster, and in recent years, the alien tyrant Mongul and Darkseid. The vast majority of his enemies are NOT corporate heads and the military.

● Impulse Driven: Most superheroes are reactive rather than proactive, Batman included. You can’t just tag Superman with this trait. Why doesn’t Batman share his money and tech with the world?

● Favoritism: Superman may well spend the majority of his time near his home in Metropolis, but there are plenty of examples where he helps people elsewhere.

● Dependence: This theme has been explored many times in the comics. How much does having Superman around make people dependent on him? How much should he do and when she he hold back? Again, judging the character only by the movies or cartoons is to get only a tiny part of the picture.

● Feminist: Lois Lane is a feminist sometimes, and sometimes she’s a well-written female character. It all depends on the writer.

● Shame?: It’s not about being ashamed of his power and abilities. Clark Kent is the disguise so that Superman can a) have downtime when he’s not flying around saving people and b) so that people won’t suspect that the meek and cowardly Clark is really the bold and powerful Superman. It’s a disguise, a role that he plays. And honestly, the cowardly Clark persona was discarded in the mid-80s. It’s as much a relic as the journalism.

Andersonh1 said...

Some further thoughts: Is Superman a conservative?
The short answer: it depends on the writer. The long answer… well, let’s generalize, since there are exceptions to all of this.

Personal responsibility: Superman believes in this for his own life. He’s supremely powerful, and to crib a phrase from Spider Man, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Or, to quote the Bible, “to whom much is given, much is required.” He doesn’t keep his power to himself or use his power selflessly, he uses it for the benefit of others. He has a responsibility to use his gifts wisely, and he tries to do that.

On the other hand, does his help make others dependent on him? Some stories have explored this question with mixed answers. The solution many times is for Superman to help rather than doing everything, and at other times to do the big impossible things but to leave humanity to continue solving the problems that they can take care of on their own.

Individual liberty: Superman fights for life and freedom. Saving and protecting lives is a given, but there are also times when he acts to free people from a tyrant like Mongul or Darkseid. He’s not a fan of authoritarian governments, and he does not himself use his power to become a tyrant. The original version of Superman from the late 1930s was the “champion of the oppressed” and often took on the powerful for the benefit of people who could not help themselves. Many times his journalism is used as a means to expose corruption and to, again, help the little guy.

Limited government, low taxes and free markets: The character rarely gets political enough to comment directly on issues like this. But he lives in the United States, and defends “the American way”, so I think we can give him this one for the most part.

A strong national defense: Superman IV gives us a Superman who destroys all nuclear weapons, so if that’s your only exposure to the character, it wouldn’t leave a good impression. Again, in general this isn’t an area we see touched on in many Superman storylines. Superman in the 1940s was all about winning WW2 and was very pro-military. Modern day writers often put Superman at odds with military leaders, who don’t like and don’t trust him. But he defends his city, country and planet from attacks, so I think we can generally give him this one as well.

Ben L. Kemer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben L. Kemer said...

What I find funny about Superman is that I was never fond of the canon Superman so much as I was about the Elseworlds versions where his status quo changed dramatically. In Kingdom Come, from years ago, I am guessing that Mark Waid had some political statements on that one, but he gives up being a journalist to become a farmer in rural America with a family of his own, and admits that well, it wasn't his job to foster dependence and babysit the world either. He also gives up his secret identity in that story too.

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