While shopping in Old Navy the other day looking for the newest additions to my Superman Collection, I overheard an interesting conversation from a mom and her son looking over the t-shirt rack.
Kid: I want the Bane Shirt.
Mom: Okay, do you want Superman too?
Kid: Superman’s gay.
I’m not here to debate the merits of using the word “gay” to mean uncool – that’s not really the point of this article. Still, the kid’s response made me realize just how uncool Superman is compared to Batman to the modern audience.
Batman is dark and brooding, angry and dressed in black. He appeals to angry teenagers who identify with him, adults who want to be rich like Bruce Wayne, and kids who love all the cool gadgets. Superman…is a really good person who’s actually an alien from another planet and dresses in the American flag and can punch things really hard. No wonder he’s such a hard sell nowadays.
When Supermania hit the nation after the character first appeared, patriotism was cool, and a character who fought for truth, justice, and the American Way (the “whitebread” way of life) was sure to be a smash. Times are different now, though. Even the recent Captain America movie downplayed the patriotism of the character (the “song and dance” show that he was stuck in) and rather emphasized the action and fighting Nazis and super villains.
Superman is known for being the ideal man – he’s kind, polite, and generally good hearted. Whereas Batman is known for being badass, Superman is known for being…good.
Now don’t read me wrong … is being good a bad thing? Not at all. Superman is inspirational and important because of the hope he brings. However, the public perception of the character is that he’s boring and infallible, neither of which is particularly true.
In fact, one of my favorite interpretations of the character is the Timmverse animated one, which showed that not only could Superman be kind and good, he could also kick some butt and get angry when it demanded. He wasn’t an anti-hero, but he could definitely lose his temper (particularly with Darkseid). He was, for lack of a better term, cool.
It took YEARS for Batman to get over the public opinion of him gained from the Adam West-starring Batman series. Now seen as parody on the character, for a while that interpretation was seen as Batman. I think folks nowadays still see Superman as his Super Friends counterpart and, sadly, the most recent movie appearance of the character did nothing to turn around this opinion.
Of course, the current Superman comics are making him even more of a loner than Batman, taking away his humanity, his parents, wife, friends, and family (whereas Batman is practically surrounded by his makeshift family). Unfortunately, it’s like they assumed what made Batman cool was that he was sad and angsty and applied it to Superman in all the wrong ways.
Superman is loved by his fans, and deservedly so. His roots as someone who fights injustice and corruption inspired an entire generation, and he continues to inspire. The Superman “S” shield is still seen as a sign of hope.
But what can make Superman cool? Talkback below!
This week’s addition to the Superman collection is a DC DIRECT SUPERMAN #14 STATUE, based on the original art by Fred Ray and sculpted by James Shoop. Click either image to enlarge!