Back when Justin was running his Supertalk Concern podcast, he read the fictional article from Superman Returns - Why The World Doesn't Need Superman. When he asked for listeners to give their thoughts on the article, I wrote what was essentially a rebuttal, an article of my own called - Why The World Needs Superman.
It's been a few years and I felt it was time I chimed in again. Unlike my previous article though, this isn't about Superman in a fictional world. This is about the Superman name. The brand. The franchise. Heroes are getting darker, times are getting tougher. Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs a hero to look up to. The world still needs Superman.
To answer the question of why I believe this is so, we need to go back to the beginning - June 1938. The 1930's was a time of great upheaval. The inevitability of war in Europe was becoming obvious, the United States was suffering under the Great Depression, the world was a cynical place. There was no time for hope or heroes. Weekly movie serials were immensely popular, an escape from the struggles of reality.
And then along came Superman. A hero who fought for truth and justice. Someone who would help the helpless, stand up for the little guy. Sure he was a fictional character in a comic book, but he soon became an inspiration. A symbol of hope. This was a guy who couldn't be corrupted. Someone who cared as much for the poor as he did for the rich. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from, if you needed saving the Superman would be there. Within a few years, Superman was everywhere. Millions tuned in to listen to the radio show that proclaimed he was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. When Max Fleischer agreed to create a series of Superman animated adventures, Superman learned how to soar above the cloud and people could see their hero taking on evil on the big screen.
Superman stood for something. He was the best of us. The pinnacle of what we as a species could become. Truth, Justice and the American Way wasn't just a catchphrase, it was an ideal that people could strive to live up to. The front cover of Superman comic books showed the Man of Steel defeating Nazi's but once you looked inside there was none of that. It would be disrespectful to the people fighting the war to actually have Superman swoop in to defeat the enemy but more than that, it was as if Superman was saying that this was something we needed to do for ourselves. And we did.
Of course time went on, comic books became less popular and Superman, although recognised, wasn't the beacon of hope shining bright in the dark. The 60's were symbolised by violence as a struggle for civil rights reached its peak and the 70's saw an unpopular war in the east. By this time people had grown cynical again. Hollywood reflected that cynicism, it's movies filled with anti-heroes and gritty stories. There was no place for hope. Or fun. The popular superheroes were the ones with real life problems. People simply didn't want to bother with heroes who just wanted to help. Superman was too good. Too perfect. RIght?
In 1977, Star Wars took the world by storm. In spite of the times, a fun adventure film swept all others aside and while Annie Hall may have stolen the Oscar, it was Star Wars that stole the audiences hearts. But even as Star Wars ruled the world, a young actor, Christopher Reeve, was busy on another film to be directed by Richard Donner. The film of course was SUPERMAN and like Star Wars before it, it blew audiences away. Superman The Movie wasn't a dark portrayal of an icon, it wasn't a bleak and cynical look at the world. It was bright and full of colour. The hero didn't have an evil bone in his body. Superman saved people because he could. He was the symbol of hope that the world didn't know it needed and as Christopher Reeve flew into space and smiled at the camera, that smile was transferred to the viewer.
Of course times are constantly changing. 30 years later and the world is bleak once again. Economic strife, natural disasters and threats from villains who exist in reality and not in the pages of Action Comics have left the world cynical once again. The most cynical of heroes, Batman, has thrived on this. The Dark Knight, a great piece of film making has become one of the highest grossing films of all time. Warner Brothers immediate response to this was to suggest that more of their comic book properties need to be darker and grittier. But I think they've missed the point.
The end of The Dark Knight isn't about cynicism or darkness, it's about hope. Batman takes the blame for murders to save Gotham from despair. The election of Barack Obama showed a country that wanted to believe that hope wasn't just a pipe-dream. These are troubling times and it's in times such as these that Superman shines. Be it the second world war, Vietnam or failing banks, Superman represents the idea that we can be better than this. That we can reach out and touch the sky.
This isn't a time for dark and gritty films. It's not a time to make Superman an anti-hero. This is a time for Superman to shine as the beacon he is. He is a character that represents all that is good and pure about humanity and we need that now just as we did 70 years ago. Superman doesn't need to be dark, he needs to fight back against the shadow with the world cheering him on. Which brings me to the point of this whole thing.
As I write this, Warner Brothers are still trying to decide what to do with Superman. Well I implore you Warner Brothers, stop and think. Look at the history of the character. Superman is at his best when times are bad for the simple reason that he isn't. He's good. He's pure. Don't turn Superman into Batman with powers. Let him be who he is. Let him be the worlds greatest hero. Let him love Lois Lane and save the world.
I should address Superman Returns. While I liked the film, I feel that the tone was all wrong. Everything was cold and bleak. Superman's suit, which was vibrant under the sun as he saved the plane and shuttle from disaster, was for the most part, deprived of colour in dimly-lit scenes.
Superman needs to stand out. The red yellow and blue should pop out on screen. Is he too good? In times such as these, someone who has nothing but good intentions and a willingbess to do everything he can to help save us from ourselves is a welcome presence. Because that's what Superman is. He isn't a god from another world who looks down on humanity from the heavens, he is an orphan who came to be raised as one of us and despite human nature, grew up to want to help up all. Superman can't save us. He's fiction. But Superman as an idea, as a symbol of hope, a glimpse of what we can be - that's what makes him the worlds greatest hero. It's not his powers or his great feats of strength, it's his heart. A human heart in a Kryptonian body.
Superman represents the best of humanity and that's exactly what we need right now. We need to be able to go to watch a movie and for a couple of hours forget about our troubles and these dark times we live in. Let Superman be who he is. Let him fight for Truth and Justice. Let him be corny and good. Humanity hasn't reached it's potential yet and until we do, the world will always need Superman.