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Author Topic: A few Superman characterization misconceptions  (Read 1792 times)
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Council of Wisdom
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« on: September 12, 2006, 11:13:01 AM »

MISCONCEPTION #1: "Superman has a very dull personality."

I have to agree with Jim Shooter when he said that "it could take volumes to talk about Superman's personality. He's the most complicated character, but also the best."

Superman is a combination of many outright contradictory personality traits; he's distanced, alien, and "different" from everybody else on Earth, yet at the same time, he's one of the most respected people on earth. Superman is, above all, idealistic, but at the same time, he's savvy and experienced.

Superman is cosmic and cosmopolitan. He's supersmart and knows a little bit about everything. But despite these qualities, he's approachable and rather friendly; Grant Morrison tends to exaggerate his friendliness to the point that he becomes a well-mannered caricature, but he's on the right track with that; a better example would be Superman in the movies, under Reeves and Routh, where he has a sense of humor and whimsy, and is entirely casual about his entire heroism bit.

Ozymandias, like Superman, was superintelligent, but he was a very cryptic and manipulative person. Superman, on the other hand, is the opposite; he is very forthright. Superman is a very NICE guy. You want him to be your neighbor.

Who's the more important or "real" person - Clark Kent, or Superman? The fact there's ambiguity about that shows a very complicated situation.

Where did this misconception emerge?

Superman is, on the surface, a very straightforward action hero, patriarchial and "serve and protect." And it can be easy to say he doesn't have more of a personality than that.

Also, in recent times, there has been an emphasis on making Superman an icon, an "inspiration." This is part of the reason I just don't like KINGDOM COME. The problem is, if you treat Superman as iconic, you don't see him as a three-dimensional, and ironically, this means he can't be "inspiring" either!

James Bond is always supposed to be very suave with the ladies. That's a part of who he is since day one. But in Roger Moore's later James Bond movies, OCTOPUSSY especially, this didn't come across as well. It wasn't because Sir Roger was aging (he aged well, for one thing). It was because the screenwriters, too, put the cart before the horse: how did they SHOW James Bond was suave? They had women hop into bed with him.

In other words, they were using other characters and their reactions to show something we SHOULD see for ourselves, and this "power of suggestion" just doesn't work. This gets especially laughable in movies about Greek mythology, where Helen of Troy is praised in dialogue over and over as "the world's most beautiful woman" despite the fact the actress that plays her is only SLIGHTLY prettier than the other starlets!

MISCONCEPTION #2: "Superman isn't intelligent."

Superman is superintelligent, actually. His intelligence and resourcefulness is his defining characteristic.

One of the things that is most interesting about Superman is that he sometimes LOOKS like an underdog, but never really is. Superman has enemies that are his match in one area:

Brains/Cunning/Unpredictability (Luthor, Brainiac, et. al.)

Physical Power (e.g. Zha-Vam, Chemo, the Galactic Golem, Amazo, the Flame Dragon, etc.)

Using their One Strength, the villain temporarily beats Superman. Physical villains try to pummel him senseless, and then to their loss figure out that Superman can use his brains or perform a trick, winning the day. Brainy villains like Luthor make mistakes like using a Red Sun ray to remove Superman's powers, but then Superman, SANS powers, has so many other resources to draw on he can achieve victory.

WHERE THIS MISCONCEPTION COMES FROM: Any type of team-up starring Superman, notably the SUPERFRIENDS cartoon. The reason is that Superman is a character that makes a lot of other characters obsolete, so what happens is, they just let him be the muscleman, and let someone else be the brains, which is not fair to Superman at all.

MISCONCEPTION #3: "Supergirl is a ditz/prude."

While I loved the sense of humor and playfulness of Alan Moore's SUPREME, his characterization of the Supergirl analogue, Suprema, as "Nancy Drew with a thermonuclear capacity" was regressive and unfortunate. If that's the sort of character Moore thought Supergirl was, Moore is wrong.

Kara was always a sweet kid, but the point they were trying to get across in the sixties with Supergirl was that she was a wholesome, all-American teen, who hero-worshipped her cousin. She was never a space cadet, though; she was always, always brainy. There's a whole other thread about all the stuff she did for the Legion.

Reading Supergirl as a "Gidget" type (as Peter David did, when he had Supergirl live in Disneyland) is not looking at the context. If you wanted a girl to be "wholesome and All-American" you gave her certain traits; in today's savvier world, the image of a "good girl" impliies a bit more spunk. If Supergirl was to be written today, she'd be more Veronica Mars than Gidget.

WHERE THIS MISCONCEPTION COMES FROM? I blame Kupperberg; if you look at that Supergirl mini of his, it's like Before and After in terms of how Supergirl was played.

"Wait, a startling new development, Black Goliath has ripped Stilt-Man's leg off, and appears to be beating him with it!"
       - Reporter, Champions #15 (1978)
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