Throwdown: The Superman Problem
Everyone knows that the point of superheroes is that they’re heroic. They kick ass, take names, and generally always win. Everyone also knows that things that only ever win are boring. Imagine playing chess against a two year old or being Charlie Sheen. Okay… being Charlie Sheen might be marginally more interesting.
Anyway, to the point. I can’t stand superheroes who are too ‘super’ – superheroes who in their natural form can’t be defeated. I’m looking at you Superman. Thor too, although he’s a slightly different case. In fact, I’m going to argue that these characters suffer from the “Superman Problem”.
Batman is the best super hero. We all knew it ages ago – new graphic novels depict him as the guy you go to when you’re up a creek without a paddle. The dude can win every fight, solve every problem, and is generally awesome. Superman is also pretty powerful. So why do we like Batman more?
I think it’s because it’s actually possible to beat him without resorting to ridiculous measures. A rocket launcher will do just fine, as long as he doesn’t know it’s coming. That makes him a hero, but it also makes him kind of human. We can, and do, relate.
By contrast, how do you relate to Superman? The dude can do anything – he’s got super strength, he can fly, he’s got X-Ray vision… HE CAN CRUSH LESSER BEINGS WITH HIS EYELIDS. All of which makes him no fun. It’s hard to feel like you can relate to Superman on any level, because he doesn’t struggle. Comic authors have to concoct ridiculous ways to defeat him, because it’s impossible to do it in any normal fashion. Villains can’t win on clever schemes alone – no, they also have to do something like entomb him in kryptonite. Then, because Superman can’t lose, the author has to work out some ridiculous concept for how the Man of Steel also has a Mind of Steel and can overcome his weaknesses. Once things have progressed to that point, it’s not only hard to relate to the character, but to the general story line. It’s the only way out of the Superman Problem – I call it ‘escalation ad absurdum’.
Thor, of late blockbuster fame, also suffers from the Superman Problem. I was initially concerned that the movie might have this issue, but then Wade reminded me that he’s a Norse god, and those aren’t usually all powerful. So there was some hope they might manage to evade the issue. Then they went and shot themselves in the foot, because they made him all powerful. Yes, he struggled for much of the movie, but that’s because they found someone more powerful to take away his powers (Odin in this case). Now that there’s a paradigm where you have to take away his powers to beat him, what are they going to do next time? You can’t just have Odin do it every time, so you have to break the rules you previously established (or come up with something absurd).
I guess the bottom line is that I’m not interested in superheroes who are so ‘super’ that the stories they’re in become completely contrived. You can’t relate to them, and ultimately what’s the fun if I don’t believe that I could be one of these heroes? That’s Superman’s Problem.
Scream and yell, and tell me I’m wrong in the comments if you so please.