Superman – A God Among Men (Or Not?)

This week’s discussion focuses on Superman,specifically All Star Superman by Grant Morrison.  Superman is one of the most well known comic book superheroes to date.  He stands for truth & justice and he’s the defender of the weak.  He is a figure that for many represents the epitome of masculinity and is seen as a god among men.  In many ways all of these ideas are present in All Star Superman but G. Morrison also presents a vulnerability to Superman is in many ways a polar opposite to the hero admired by people around the world.  The story follows Superman’s exploits and preparations after he learns that he is dying.

One of the most prominent themes throughout the 12 comic run is the duality in Superman. Is he man or is he god? Is he Clark Kent or is he Superman?  The duality of Superman is something that is ingrained in the character and part of what draws the audience into the character.  The uncertainty that this creates in the character is what makes the character relatable.  Uncertainty and doubt are a part of the human experience and this is a clear sign of the human side of Superman.  Having grown up among and being raised by humans has instilled Superman with a value system that is warm, welcoming and helpful.  This is in direct contrast with how Kryptonian society is protrayed in the comics.  Kryptonians are usually protrayed as a cold and sometimes ruthless people that rely on science and cold-hard facts when making decisions.  All Star Superman makes great use of the duality of Clark Kent/Superman as almost polar opposite extremes of the same spectrum.  Morrison uses this to great effect when Superman is trying to convince Lois Lane that he is in fact Clark Kent. Lois doesn’t believe it, saying that there can be no way to reconcile the the clumsy, bumbling Clark Kent with the sure, straight-backed Superman.  The writing from Morrison and artwork from Quitely does a a fairly good job of showing these stark differences while also showing a reconciliation between these two polar opposites.  While there are scenes showing the clumsy Clark Kent, the story is drawn and written in such a way that it feels like these moments are premeditated by Superman to protect his identity.  His premeditation shows a concern for his friends and loved ones.  This shows that Superman’s motivations are based on human emotion.

The last point I would like to make is about the duality of Superman as man and god.  The second half of the run follows Superman completing “twelve labors”, as they are described in the comics, before he can finally die.  This immediately draws parallels with Greek Mythology and the story of Hercules, son of Zeus.  In the story, Hercules is tasked with completely 12 labors under King Eurystheus in order to atone for murdering his wife and children.  What is interesting in this comparison is that Hercules is a demi-god, the result of a coupling between a god and a mortal.  Morrison uses this reference  to further show that Superman is neither an all powerful god or a mortal human being.  Superman is in fact the modern day version of a demi-god.  Morrison uses this reference to very succinctly reconcile Superman’s image as a god with his human upbringing.

3 thoughts on “Superman – A God Among Men (Or Not?)

  1. I like the comparison you have drawn with Hercules and Superman where they both needed to complete the “12 labours” and that Superman is somehow a demi-god to the modern society. This comic does display a theme of is he man or god, through the events and situations he has been through. What I really like about the this storyline where they really focus on the human side of Superman through his relationships with his friends and family and that he would risked his life to save everyone else. I might have to disagree on you with the Kryptonians being portrayed cold and rulthless beings since the only Kryptonians that appeared in this comics was the the citizens of Kandor (which is a capital city on Krypton), and some of them helped Superman with the diseases affecting the children on earth. So I would say they are ruthless expect for Zod and his minions, but they don’t appear anywhere in this storyline. But I do understand the polar opposites that you are trying to convey here.

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    • I agree. Ruthless is maybe not the right word to describe the Kryptonians. I was using that word based on portrayals of Kryptonian culture in previous comics, movies and tv shows. I think emotionally detached is a better term. I would also like to point out that the Kryptonians that end up helping Superman are inspired by him after he has shown them his view of the world and broadened their perspective.

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  2. I like the comparison you have drawn with Hercules and Superman where they both needed to complete the “12 labours” and that Superman is somehow a demi-god to the modern society. This comic does display a theme of is he man or god, through the events and situations he has been through. What I really like about the this story line where they really focus on the human side of Superman through his relationships with his friends and family and that he would risked his life to save everyone else. I might have to disagree on you with the Kryptonians being portrayed cold and ruthless beings since the only Kryptonians that appeared in this comics was the the citizens of Kandor (which is a capital city on Krypton), and some of them helped Superman with the diseases affecting the children on earth. So I would say they are ruthless expect for Zod and his minions, but they don’t appear anywhere in this story line. But I do understand the polar opposites that you are trying to convey here.

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