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Author Topic: Heroes that are most like, most unlike Superman?  (Read 5972 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: July 26, 2006, 10:45:27 AM »

For me, the character that is the MOST like Superman is, strangely enough, Spider-Man, for the simple reason that Spider-Man is the character that has had so much of who they are built into the idea of the secret identity. Spider-Man's secret identity is the source of all the irony, conflict and humor in his book: whether it's Doc Ock secretly conspiring to marry Aunt May, or the irony of Parker selling Spider-Man pictures to a publisher with an anti-Spider-Man grudge, or Flash Thompson thinking Peter Parker is a wimp, but being Spidey's biggest booster.

In the same way, Superman needs Clark Kent to be identifiable. Superman pretending to be meek and undervalued, but then tossing the shirt off and being one of the least ignorable and speak people around...well, there you have it. That's also why Doc Savage just as a character was never that interesting: he was the perfect paragon Doc Savage 24/7, so of course he'd be a very alien, unemotional person.

Other superheroes don't have the secret identity as being so essential to the character, they have one just to be a mark on their superhero checklist along with boy sidekick and Jewish/Italian snoopy girlfriend. I've always wondered why, for instance, Hal Jordan NEEDED a secret identity at all. Technically, isn't he employed by the Guardians? This is why Hal switched jobs so many times: what he did for a living in civilian life was ultimately irrelevant.

I will grant you, Spidey is not EXACTLY like Supes; he wouldn't be interesting if he was. One example would be Spidey's sense of humor and tendency to crack wise, Errol Flynn-style, something that Superman has had at times, but comes and goes with the writer and certainly not with Peter Parker's elan.

As for the other question...

The character most UNLIKE Superman is, oddly, Doctor Strange, for several reasons. The first is that while Superman is the point of origin of the various things that go into what a superhero is, more than any other Marvel or DC character, Doctor Strange couldn't be LESS of a superhero: he's only a superhero because of his proximity to the Marvel Universe. Any other context, he'd be a fantasy or adventure character.

More importantly, Superman's stories are all about the exilaration of power, saving jet airplanes attached to space shuttles and all that.

Doctor Strange's stories are NOT about power at all, unlike nearly any other superhero. Many times Doc has met some being like the Angel Gabriel or Eternity (the sum total of life in the entire universe), beings like Cthon and Gaia, or Death itself, where Strange gives some variation of the speech "stay thy hand! This is a foe that cannot be fought!"

Doctor Strange's stories are not about solving problems head-on, but about achieving an understanding or seeing the truth of the situation, and the problem is revealed to just be an illusion.

I don't remember the writer, or the artist, or really most of the details of the story (it was Steve Englehart...I think), but bear with me, because this one really illustrates what about Doctor Strange is about. Doctor Strange encountered Death (yes, THE Death) who was taking Doctor Strange with her. Even the Sorceror Supreme didn't have a prayer against the most basic and inevitable force in the universe, and so went along.

Of course, over time Doctor Strange realized that he hadn't really "died." "Death" was a symbold for a type of change, rebirth and new beginning, and armed with this knowledge Strange was able to realize that something more was going on than what first appeared, and only with this enlightenment could he see what was going on as it was.

And he didn't have to fly around it in a circle to do it, like Superman.  Cheesy
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« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2006, 11:32:46 AM »

Top 5 Heroes that are most unlike Superman:

1. Punisher
2. Wolverine
3. Dracula
4. Conan
5. Iron-Age "Superman"

Other superheroes are essentially variations with gimmicks, although I take your point about Dr Strange.  Marvel's monster heroes (Hulk, 70s monsters) and various unmasked adventurers (Master of Kung-fu) exist in a similar limbo.

In a way, Batman is the most unlike Superman, as many writers have noted.
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« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2006, 02:19:30 PM »

Julian, as usual a well thought-out post...I thought you were just going to compare Supes to his more obvious imitators.

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For me, the character that is the MOST like Superman is, strangely enough, Spider-Man, for the simple reason that Spider-Man is the character that has had so much of who they are built into the idea of the secret identity. Spider-Man's secret identity is the source of all the irony, conflict and humor in his book: whether it's Doc Ock secretly conspiring to marry Aunt May, or the irony of Parker selling Spider-Man pictures to a publisher with an anti-Spider-Man grudge, or Flash Thompson thinking Peter Parker is a wimp, but being Spidey's biggest booster.


Well, certainly there are the superficial similarities...nebbishy alter-ego who can't catch a break leads a secret life of adventure using hidden powers.  It's probably also no coincidence that Peter Parker, as originally envisioned, wore glasses and worked for a great metropolitan newspaper.

Beyond that, though, I don't know.  It's true both characters have a lot tied up in their secret identities, but it always seemed more like a game with Superman, and deadly serious with Spidey.  I never had any doubt Clark/Superman could fool Lois for the millionth time, and if all else failed he could take her to the fortress and hit her with a ray of forgetfulness, or something. (Thus my powerful aversion to "secret identity" stories, in my opinion easily the least interesting aspect of the super-mythos and a near-criminal waste of story potential).  On the other hand, with Peter the stakes are real and huge...lives hang on whether his ID is kept and in the end he's just a working-class kid with no ability to undo reality or reverse time...once his secret's out, it's out.

For me, Superman (or Kal-El, anyway) will always be the "real" person and Clark Kent merely a disguise, while Spidey is Peter first and foremost.  Spidey's "elan," as you put it, his swashbuckling, wise-cracking dynamism is a release for Peter Parker, the introverted, brooding nebbish.  Spidey is an outlet for Peter's id, whereas Clark Kent is more of a retreat for Superman, the equivalent of the "Garage" sign on a taxi-cab. Yes, he's in motion, but he's in his down time.

If you're going to grade everything based on the importance of secret ID's, then I'd say Spider-Man is closer to Batman.  In both cases, the costumed identity provides an outlet for the wearer to work out some inner demons, to cut loose and experience adventure in a life that's otherwise dark and unfulfilling.

For me, the Marvel character closest to Superman would have to be Captain America.  Both are men who are more than men...they're icons and symbols of something greater, a fact they're aware of and so do everything in their power to maintain the power and value of their symbolism.  Both derive a sort of extra "super power" from this symbolism that sets them above their costumed peers and makes them the assumed leaders in any superhero gathering.  And both have done a pretty good job of symbolizing the American zeitgeist at any given time, representing the will of the people more than allegiance to any particular administration.  

I suppose you'd lump Cap in the same category with Green Lantern, though, in that who he is without the mask is inconsequential and almost irrelevant (thus Steve Rogers has a spotty, jumbled resume to rival Hal Jordan's).  But I still think the analogy to Superman holds, in that Clark Kent isn't necessarily that complex or nuanced a character.  He is the prototype nerd and wimp, not much more than a pair of glasses...a cypher.  Whereas Peter Parker is a fully formed human being, and who he is affects everything in Spider-Man's life.

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That's also why Doc Savage just as a character was never that interesting: he was the perfect paragon Doc Savage 24/7, so of course he'd be a very alien, unemotional person.


Well I think in the Doc novels some effort was made to keep him remote and unknowable.  Sometimes in the early books he didn't even show up all that much...the character interaction and byplay was left to his assistants and he showed up from nowhere to save their bacon.  I think if the narrative probed deep into his thoughts, he'd have lost the sense of mystery and awe.  If Dent had gone in another direction, Doc could have been a fascinating psychological study even without a secret ID...I mean, how screwed up would a guy be who spent his entire childhood on a desert island being tutored by scientists instead of playing with other kids?

Also, don't forget that the Fantastic Four never had secret IDs and a lot of people consider them as interesting and well-developed a set of characters as comics ever produced.

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The character most UNLIKE Superman is, oddly, Doctor Strange, for several reasons. The first is that while Superman is the point of origin of the various things that go into what a superhero is, more than any other Marvel or DC character, Doctor Strange couldn't be LESS of a superhero: he's only a superhero because of his proximity to the Marvel Universe. Any other context, he'd be a fantasy or adventure character.


Interesting to note that I like Dr Strange better than any Marvel character, and probably for a lot of the reasons you mention.  He's not only free of the usual sock-bam-pow plotlines that define superhero comics, not to mention the tiresome burden of a secret ID, he also is an awkward fit in the Marvelverse and thus for the most part unhindered by the enormous amount of continuity baggage that ties every other Marvel superhero to his brethren.

I like your description of Strange as a truth-seeker on a spiritual journey.  Of course he starts his life journey as the most ignorant and self-absorbed being possible, and from that point on his entire career is about becoming something greater...expanding his mind and exploring possibilities.  The most important thing he knows is that he doesn't know much.  That's a maturity most superheroes never attain.

Anyway, if I were to pick the hero most unlike Superman I suppose it would be Wolverine, a guy who's all about giving into urges and cutting loose, the opposite of Superman, who's all about restraint and responsible behavior.  I would have picked the Punisher, but it's impossible for me to define him as a "hero" no matter how you twist the word.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2006, 08:00:50 PM »

Quote from: "Nightwing"
If you're going to grade everything based on the importance of secret ID's, then I'd say Spider-Man is closer to Batman. In both cases, the costumed identity provides an outlet for the wearer to work out some inner demons, to cut loose and experience adventure in a life that's otherwise dark and unfulfilling.


Very interesting that you should point this out: While there are many similarities to Superman, there are even more similarities to Batman, too. For instance: Spider-Man lives in the same sort of skyscraper filled urban world, and his enemies are mostly Batman style enemies like bank robbers and crime kingpins. The idea of Spider-Man going into space is just as goofy and innapropriate for him as it is for Batman.

Quote from: "nightwing"
For me, the Marvel character closest to Superman would have to be Captain America. Both are men who are more than men...they're icons and symbols of something greater, a fact they're aware of and so do everything in their power to maintain the power and value of their symbolism. Both derive a sort of extra "super power" from this symbolism that sets them above their costumed peers and makes them the assumed leaders in any superhero gathering. And both have done a pretty good job of symbolizing the American zeitgeist at any given time, representing the will of the people more than allegiance to any particular administration.


Captain America and Superman are very similar, sure. Like you said, they're bigger than themselves, represent the American zeitgeist, etc, etc. Another similarity is that Captain America and Superman are both people that wouldn't make a compromise like letting a child die to save a country. In the Busiek/Perez AVENGERS, for instance, the Exemplars captured the super-villain Juggernaut, in order to kill him for betraying their fellowship. While the government advised Captain America that perhaps, as Juggernaut is a dangerous villain, and considering the potential risk if a battle, he ought to let the exemplars take him. Cap's response?

And it's only POLAND, right? If the Exemplars are allowed to come onto American soil and execute someone - anyone - even a criminal, without due process, and with the benign approval of the government, then what happens when they come back? And they will come back - people like them always do. The point isn't whether we like the Juggernaut, it's whether the kind of thing the Exemplars STAND for , tyranny, force and murder...SHOULD be opposed.

Nontheless, I think there are a few differences between Cap and Superman, however.

One is that Superman is very humble. Captain America, though...well, he's not a boasting type like Hercules or Hawkeye, but at the same time, he is aware of his effect on people, and of his status as the Superhero General. He USES that effect. "Thanos is out there with the Cosmic Cube! I'm going to stop him! WHO'S WITH ME?" (fist raised in the air triumphantly)

Another difference is, like you mentioned, Superman uses Clark Kent as a hobby or way of achieving solace. Almost the exact opposite is true of Captain America. When he isn't being the World's Greatest Fighting Machine or training or whatnot, he's a very lonely and somewhat dysfunctional person, who was deprived of Bucky and several decades of his life. This is why Captain America is always at a loss when he can't be Captain America anymore, as during the "Man Without a Country" story, or the Gruenwald years where the government declared Cap illegal.

Captain America is very similar to Odo from DEEP SPACE NINE in many ways. Odo, at first glance, appears to be the very American stereotype of the lawman. He looks like Dirty Harry in space. But after watching a few episodes, one realizes he's really a very difficult and eccentric person, especially off the job.

Quote from: "Nightwing"
Interesting to note that I like Dr Strange better than any Marvel character, and probably for a lot of the reasons you mention. He's not only free of the usual sock-bam-pow plotlines that define superhero comics, not to mention the tiresome burden of a secret ID, he also is an awkward fit in the Marvelverse and thus for the most part unhindered by the enormous amount of continuity baggage that ties every other Marvel superhero to his brethren.


I wouldn't phrase it quite like that, but it is true that Doc Strange's world is very self-contained, moreso than any other Marvel or DC character. The Juggernaut can guest-star in Avengers, but it would be profoundly lame a story if Doctor Strange fought the Juggernaut.

Quote from: "Nightwing"
Anyway, if I were to pick the hero most unlike Superman I suppose it would be Wolverine, a guy who's all about giving into urges and cutting loose, the opposite of Superman, who's all about restraint and responsible behavior. I would have picked the Punisher, but it's impossible for me to define him as a "hero" no matter how you twist the word.


Well, there are those that think LITTLE of Wolverine, but I'm sure compared to other superheroes, he doesn't...come up SHORT. Ahahahaha! Oh, I'm having fun. Really, though, I'd say the most prominent diifference between Superman and Wolverine is that when Superman goes into a car, he doesn't need to use a car seat.
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« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2006, 08:52:55 PM »

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Very interesting that you should point this out: While there are many similarities to Superman, there are even more similarities to Batman, too. For instance: Spider-Man lives in the same sort of skyscraper filled urban world, and his enemies are mostly Batman style enemies like bank robbers and crime kingpins. The idea of Spider-Man going into space is just as goofy and innapropriate for him as it is for Batman.


And yet, they both have.  And always with unsatisfying results.

I'd say Spidey has the best rogue's gallery of any hero after Batman, too. In fact, some of them, like the Vulture and the Lizard, could work in either continuity.

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Another difference is, like you mentioned, Superman uses Clark Kent as a hobby or way of achieving solace. Almost the exact opposite is true of Captain America. When he isn't being the World's Greatest Fighting Machine or training or whatnot, he's a very lonely and somewhat dysfunctional person, who was deprived of Bucky and several decades of his life. This is why Captain America is always at a loss when he can't be Captain America anymore, as during the "Man Without a Country" story, or the Gruenwald years where the government declared Cap illegal.


Well, in the end it's true that there can only ever be one Superman, whereas "Captain America" is a nom de guerre that can be passed on to different men (and has been, as you note, in several storylines).  Of course, take the "Cap" out of Steve, or Steve out of the suit, and neither is all it can be.  Sort of like Sean Connery as James Bond.

As for that "Bucky" stuff, I always did hate it.  To me, that was Stan Lee trying deperately to shoe-horn some 60's-style Marvel pathos into a strip where it didn't belong.  Cap does not fit the mold of the standard, self-doubting, whining Marvel hero and if he did he wouldn't work (as indeed he did not in his Tales of Suspense days, IMHO).

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I wouldn't phrase it quite like that, but it is true that Doc Strange's world is very self-contained, moreso than any other Marvel or DC character. The Juggernaut can guest-star in Avengers, but it would be profoundly lame a story if Doctor Strange fought the Juggernaut.


Well, I hesitate to say this to an Englehart fan, but I think Dr Strange shouldn't have been in the Defenders, either.  That book always baffled me.  It was as if Marvel was saying, "Here's all your favorite anti-social loners who don't work well in a team setting...together at last in a team book!  Whee!"  I suppose there's a certain irony there that makes it funny for readers and challenging for writers, but ultimately I think putting Strange in a team hurts the character.

Oh, and I thought of another similarity between Cap and Supes...Alex Ross uses the same model for both!  Ahem.  Speaking of which, I was out of the room for a while, can anyone tell me if Ross' fifteen minutes are up yet?
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« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2006, 10:41:25 PM »

I think as leaders Cap and Supe have alot in common.  They are both take charge types with an aura of invulnerability (real or imagined).  Superman is humble the way Clark Kent is extroverted --rarely and usually as a result of some crisis.
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« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2006, 01:24:54 AM »

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Other superheroes don't have the secret identity as being so essential to the character, they have one just to be a mark on their superhero checklist along with boy sidekick and Jewish/Italian snoopy girlfriend. I've always wondered why, for instance, Hal Jordan NEEDED a secret identity at all. Technically, isn't he employed by the Guardians? This is why Hal switched jobs so many times: what he did for a living in civilian life was ultimately irrelevant.


Imagine Hal had a job to pay bills, or whatnot---don't think the Guardians hand out weekly paychecks or anything... :-)
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« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2006, 04:51:49 AM »

How about pre-Walt Thor and pre-Crisis Superman?  Both are essentially gods, noble, and with their own mythos.  Both have a meek secret identity that juxtaposes rather oddly with the rest of their life, but ties them to Earth.
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