The world wasn’t ready for Superman. For what could be expected when comics were only budding and bursting from the confines of syndicated sequential art, with their pithy quips and political yarns? Fantastic worlds had begun to sublime from the pages of Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, but a strong serialized fiction had yet to be established. As Superman materialized in the minds of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, it was clear that this was no mere noir fiction, but something novel and unique. Superman, as an immigrant from the stars, was a statement against America’s ingenuity, asserting that there was more to the universe than the human element. Paradigms that aggrandized the scientific prowess of government funded metahuman projects were shattered in favor of a single man of another world. Superman is now 74 and after all these years, his evolution and personal development at the height of his career, I ventured to confront the Man of Steel at his famed Fortress of Solitude. While the journey was quite arduous, I managed to make it in one piece, finding him amidst a birthday celebration. The whole Justice League had managed to make it. Wally West answered the door, if you’d like to call it one, offering me a Cosmo and pom juice. I declined, politely, and asked for Superman. I was led by Wildcat to the Hall of Weapons where I found him precariously setting Orion’s helm on a pedestal, enshrined beneath his Astro-Harness. After introducing myself, he offered to sit down with me with a smile, taking me into what he called his study.
WARREN: Thanks for taking the time to do this. I admit, I’m one of your biggest fans.
SUPERMAN: Oh it’s nothing too out of the ordinary. Usually I don’t get too many non League members up here. Are you alright? You’re shaking.
WARREN: Sorry. It’s just kind of cold in here…
SUPERMAN: Oh, I apologize… That’s my fault. I don’t mind the temperature much, but with visitors up here it’s different. It must have taken you a long while to get here, I’d imagine.
WARREN: Yeah, it was 4 days for me. Twelve hour flight into Anchorage and then I had to fly a Cessna into Galena. The locals didn’t know where the fortress was so then I had to pay a fisherman to take me up the Yukon, and well… now I’m here.
SUPERMAN: That’s some trip! You know you forget sometimes what it’s like. My commute is something like… 12 seconds. You know, when you want to take in the scenery.
WARREN: That’s a significant enough time for you?
SUPERMAN: I could do it in less than a second if I wanted, but the locals are bothered about the noise sometimes. So I take it down a notch when I can. So, I hear you’ve got some questions for me?
WARREN: Right! Yes. As you’ve gotten older, and now that you can look back on the impact you’ve made in the comic book community, what are your thoughts? What are some things that stood out to you?
SUPERMAN: Sometimes I wonder what the world would be without me, or well… I’ve been cooking up something lately to figure that out for myself. It’s a tough thing to conceptualize, you know? Joe and Jerry did something that defined the genre in a very tangible way. I was the first superhero. Not only that, I wasn’t American, at least by birth.
WARREN: Do you think there is any significance of your conception coming at the height of a micro recession towards the end of the Great Depression?
SUPERMAN: When you think about it, Joe and Jerry were front row and center during the Depression, and they were born amidst the Great War – that’s what they refereed to it as. They saw as children the decadence of the roaring twenties, then watched their parents struggle in their teens when the Depression hit. I can only imagine their disillusionment when it seemed like it was never going to end. After all it was the single greatest depression in the history of the United States!
WARREN: Technically second greatest… If you count the one we are currently in.
SUPERMAN: (Laughing) People today don’t know the meaning of struggle. I know I’m older now, and prone to giving those, “I walked for 10 miles in the snow to get to Smallville Elementary” speeches, but the modern infrastructure is much better than it was then. Read Grapes of Wrath and tell me Steinbeck wasn’t on to something there!
WARREN: Okay. So would you say that in the dichotomy of Triumphalism and the crushed idealism of American superiority and strength, you were birthed by two second generation Americans as a psychological recovery of American propagandist rhetoric?
SUPERMAN: Those men, like the rest of America, wanted to believe in something. They wanted to believe people still had something inside them that could be better, stronger than any depression. They believed in what I could do, which was humbly lead a nation towards a greater ideal than itself. When World War 2 came it was only natural that I would be utilized to sell bonds, beat up Nazis, and turn the tide.
WARREN: So I guess then a follow up question to that would be, “What makes you different from Captain America or some of the other iconic metahumans from your era?” I was always curious about that.
SUPERMAN: Captain America is a little younger than me from what I hear– I also heard he died, or something? He was a creation for the war effort, a real stand up guy. But he’s a byproduct of my era. He’s too limited by his origin. I was the Man of Tomorrow, the lonely traveler from the stars, birthed in the mid-west and raised on only the necessities. I wasn’t a government science project, I was just another guy who inherited a great gift from his father’s lost heritage.
WARREN: So do you think that is the reason why you’ve endured for so long? Over the years your legacy has modulated only a little bit, but rather it’s your villains that change to fit the times. Before Lex Luthor fought you in the 80s he was a mad scientist type, very similar to what you almost were when Shuster and Siegel first came up with the concept of a “Superman.” However, when corporate consumerist values became more upheld than scientific progress, he became a CEO of a multinational conglomerate.
SUPERMAN: It’s sad you know. There’s so much to Lex. He’s wasted so much energy hating me when he could have done something great. He represents in many ways what I am. He’s a powerful, brilliantly gifted individual that symbolizes the idealized man. It’s hard to find a difference between us. We are just so similar.
WARREN: I’ve never seen Luthor wearing tights before, at least not yet.
SUPERMAN: That’s the thing though, he is very much a superhero, though maybe not a metahuman. I have always wanted to see him change, to be truly great, but his utopian values are too individualistic. You see, Lex has always seen me as a threat only because my purpose in the DCU is to assume a savior archetype, or a Christ figure. Without me there is no one to be inspired by. Incidentally, I am also the greatest argument against philosophical pluralism there ever was. But he could never understand that.
WARREN: So are you saying you are Jesus?
SUPERMAN: Oh no, not at all. What I’m saying is that Lex’s ambition has always been to further mankind for the sake of progress, only he wants to be the man to get them there. He sees me as alien and as an obstruction to pure Humanism. At its core, Humanism is the celebration of Man’s progress through innovation and discovery of the arts and sciences. Lex is the greatest artist you’ve ever seen, a modern day Leonardo Da Vinci, only his brushes and palate are the computer, the screwdriver, and the microscope. So you could say that he is the symbol of Humanism deterred in the DCU. With my continuing existence he is ever reminded that he lacks true perfection, that out there someone has out-performed him and shown him a better way.
WARREN: Do you think being a Savior character puts you at a distance from readers? What does that mean as well in the face of postmodernism?
SUPERMAN: It’s hard to be liked these days. The New 52 reboot saw to that. Now I’m grounded. I am fixed to a point and told to stay there. You don’t see me flying over the skies inspiring people, but I am the Alien, the Other, the Outsider. It’s a very alienated origin story now.
WARREN: But does that make you more relatable now?
SUPERMAN: Perhaps, but wasn’t I before? I mean, back in the Our World at War series I was Mr. Hero, saving the day. I held my head up as I watched Kansas get demolished and I lost my parents, my home, everything. At the end I was told that my sacrifice wasn’t good enough, that it was my fault that Strange Visitor was killed. Here you have the weight of everything sitting on my shoulders, and I felt it. It’s hard being “the savior” when you have to constantly worry, and struggle against your own nature. How do you shake a human’s hand? How do you open a door? Most of the time I feel like a clumsy ox, too big for my own world. The reality is that people don’t like saviors today. Saviors tell you that it’s not all about you, and that your own efforts aren’t enough to fit the bill. At the end of the day though, what I do needs to be done. There needs to be a Superman, always, otherwise everything collapses into moral relativism.
WARREN: And the “need” for a Superman is very much what Grant Morrison has argued for for the past decade ever since he took to you. Can you describe the relationship between you two?
SUPERMAN: Grant has been a wonderful friend over the past years, and I really never got a chance to thank him for all that he has done to revitalize my character.
WARREN: He proposes that for every era in spatial time, there is a Superman present, that you are an enduring symbol that is eternal. Would you agree to that?
SUPERMAN: I go back and fourth on this with myself. You see there are two ways to look at this. One, the conception of the “Superman” is very much nested in Enlightenment Philosophy. The Superman society is the utopian ideal for humanity– incidentally I think Jack Kirby’s Supertown, or New Genesis, was an analogue to this. Anyone can be a Superman, they need only work to total perfection to get there. Lex Luthor I think is along this path, only he wants the best of both to himself. Two, there is an eternal standard of justice, but one that centers around a single individual, a savior of mankind. Be it nested in religion, politics, or philosophy, this archetypical figure is what people aspire to, but in a way that recognizes that they will never be as good as that savior. The Savior in this instance is an example, but one that is vicariously lived through, and not a praxis for morality solely attained on the part of the individual.
WARREN: And you would say that you are the latter option?
SUPERMAN: I could be both to be honest. It depends on what presuppositional apologetic you operate out of.
WARREN: So then that leaves me with this final question. When you are gone, what does that do to the DCU? You’ve been made out to be purely the most powerful hero in the known Multiverse. In Final Crisis you fight in essence through a giant Superman robot and kill the preeminent universal consciousness, who happened to be a cosmic vampire feeding off of reality. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. So without your power what is there to do?
SUPERMAN: I get this asked of me a lot, and I don’t have a good answer for it. I’ve always assumed Captain Marvel would take over my mantle. Technically because he’s magical he’s always had the upper hand on me. But I can answer your question in part in the words of my dear friend J’onn J’onzz. He said at my funeral once that I “had many talents and gifts,” and was “one who would share them freely.” Above all my super human abilities that we know of, he said my greatest was the “power to discern what needed to be done” and my “unwavering courage in doing it, whatever the personal cost.” Over the years my service has come at a great cost, and I’m not one to deny that the mullet I grew out of hyper sleep after Doomsday knocked me out was maybe a bad decision. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with what I’ve been able to do, and I look forward to my adventures in years from now on. Someday the children that dared to search the sky for a hint of red and blue can share me with their own kids and marvel. Just marvel at it all. And that’s enough for me.
You know, it’s ironic when you think about it: Lex Luthor is a paragon of what humanity should keep seeking, but he uses his process to try to eliminate Superman and rule the world. And yet, Lex Luthor keeps improving himself–albeit in a selfish manner–to equal and overcome the Superman. The Nietzschean overtones in that attitude are very clear. So in a way, in even fighting against his foe, Lex Luthor seeks what everyone else in that Universe does: to pursue the excellence that Superman represents. It’s almost like Lucifer and God that way: Lucifer rebelling and ruling Hell but ultimately serving God’s plan or serving as one aspect of the overall structure. It is fun to think about.
There’s definitely some back and fourth between the two characters, almost as if they are racing to some endgame that will prove one over the other. I also think it interesting that the original superman was more like lex luthor, the megalomaniac bent on world domination. I’ve always liked the idea that superman was this “american” character that was supplanted by the multiverse structure. Now he’s no longer just an american character but more transcendental. He’s the reason why I read DC, you know? He’s Jesus without the beard. It doesn’t get better than that!
Superman as the Son, huh? I wonder what John Milton would have thought about that images centuries ago. It also makes much more sense now that Superman is an international character as opposed to be a purely nationalistic one. I do wonder though. Do they ever explain where Metropolis actually is? I’m assuming it is in America …