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Author Topic: How much is the "loneliness" angle important to Superman?  (Read 9099 times)
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Superman Forever
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« on: July 04, 2007, 08:00:22 PM »

According to Mark Waid, in his excellent essay in the Super-Heroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice and the Socratic Way book, the key element to Superman being Superman is the fact the he feels more alone in the universe than anyone have aver been. That was his idea when developting the Birthright origin, and while not everyone would agree, there are great Superman stories that deal with loneliness and alienation, the most significant being Superman: Secret Identity, by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonem, and the Superman Returns movie by Bryan Singer.

On the opposite side, John Byrne´s revamp The Man of Steel pointed that the reason for Clark Kent being Superman is his creation by higher moral standerds by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Everyone here would agree that Byrne misanderstood the character, in fact, that´s a reason of this site we´re discussing. But, even in his Man of Steel minisseries, even with the football champion jock angle, Clark Kent, while being "human", still feel isolated from everyone else in the scene where he saves the space shutle. So yes, even in Byrne´s work, there is the loneliness aspect important to the origin.

All of this, however, is "post-modernist deconstruction" of the legend, I think, since the original Golden and Silver Age stories did´t deal with this level of subtext. Or did they? Return to Krypton storylines served that purpose, since what I think was the first, by Bill Finger, in wich Superman returns as a "ghost". Stan Lee, the father of human emotions in super-heroes, with Spidey, Fantastic Four and the X-Men, did the aproach more directly, but it was right there all along with Superman - being the intention of Siegel or not. But after all of seven decades, revamping Superman now, would the "loneliness" aspect really be a key element to Superman, to the point hat we would have another character without it? It´s like the murder of the parents for Bruce Wayne/Batman? Is it what really define Superman motivations? What do you guys think?       
 
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Permanus
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« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2007, 08:58:48 PM »

I don't think Superman's loneliness was something central to Siegel and Shuster's original intentions: they had him come from outer space in order to explain his powers; the death of the Kents was pretty incidental, really. However, once Superman learned of his extraterrestrial roots, and started thinking of himself as a Kryptonian, it became something of a theme with him, and I think it is crucial to the character now. Everything about Superman is about isolation: his origins, his secret identity, his Fortress of Solitude. His isolation is somewhat self-enforced, because he knows that if he just chose to live among humans openly, they'd never stop asking him for favours. He has to take a break every now and then, and in order to do this, he disguises himself as loner Clark Kent.

I don't really think that Superman's loneliness defines his motivations - it's more a result of who he is and what he does. However, I do think it's essential to his character that he remain a bit distant, aloof even, from the rest of humanity, so scriptwriters should never go and do something stupid like, oh, say, HAVE HIM MARRY LOIS LANE, for instance.
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« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2007, 09:48:28 PM »

I don't think Superman's loneliness was something central to Siegel and Shuster's original intentions: they had him come from outer space in order to explain his powers; the death of the Kents was pretty incidental, really. However, once Superman learned of his extraterrestrial roots, and started thinking of himself as a Kryptonian, it became something of a theme with him, and I think it is crucial to the character now. Everything about Superman is about isolation: his origins, his secret identity, his Fortress of Solitude. His isolation is somewhat self-enforced, because he knows that if he just chose to live among humans openly, they'd never stop asking him for favours. He has to take a break every now and then, and in order to do this, he disguises himself as loner Clark Kent.

Actually, the "alone-ness" aspect I believe was right there in the motivations of creating the character.  If I'm not mistaken, S&S were a bit geeky and social outcasts to a degree.  In Superman - they discovered/created "the most popular guy", who would be liked and admired by everyone (unlike themselves), and in Clark they pretty much cast him into their own molds, using the cover of making it possible for the fantastic Superman to gain access un-noticed into the lives of normal people.  I think Clark's creation has more to do with making it easier to identify with their own creation.  The point being that the creation of Superman himself seemed to be an address to the aloneness of social ostracization.

I don't think that Superman began with that quality.  I do believe however, that Superman himself would begin to take on those aloneness traits more as S&S continued to create his stories.  For instance there is a bit of that aloneness quality that appears in page 16 of K-Metal where Clark learns of his origins.  Although not really as punched up as one might, it does demonstrate a desire to discover one's beginnings,  implying to me that Supes has a desire to be less alone.

I don't really think that Superman's loneliness defines his motivations - it's more a result of who he is and what he does. However, I do think it's essential to his character that he remain a bit distant, aloof even, from the rest of humanity, so scriptwriters should never go and do something stupid like, oh, say, HAVE HIM MARRY LOIS LANE, for instance.

I believe some of the beauty of a good Superman story has more to do with his attempts to understand, relate and work with and among humanity - recognizing that he isn't human but caring enough about humanity to help it along.
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« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2007, 10:12:37 PM »

I can only speak from my impression of reading Superman in the 60s, there are stories like "Superboy's Underground Exile", "The Girl in Superman's Past", and "Krypton's Second Doom" where I really remember a sense of loneliness when I read them.

That's about the only academic "sub context" I like to invest in comics, what I felt when I read them 40 years ago.
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carmine
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« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2007, 02:11:07 AM »

Busiek nailed the whole "superman loneliness" thing in that "supergirl and legion" "crossover" with superman issue last month.
Its really important to the character but you don't want to make him whiney.

(there is a thin line between Brooding and being a whiney baby)
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2007, 09:06:30 PM »

Superman absolutely needs his loneliness more than any other element, because otherwise he's just not sympathetic as a character. If Superman came to earth as a tourist, the Superman story would start to look pretty sinister.

Superman, at his core, is a really emotional story: the guy's whole PLANET exploded with him as the sole survivor. There was always something interesting about how Superman and his cousin preserved holidays and rituals only they knew the significance of.
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« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2007, 07:39:11 PM »

To tell you the truth, I always thought they missed a great opportunity back when Kandor was all-Kryptonian, to do a Thor/Jane Foster "forbidden love" with Lois. They should have had the Kandorian Ruling Council and/or a priest of Rao forbid Superman to marry Lois, because earthlings and Kryptonians should not mix. Superman, to the Kandorians should have been like Tarzan is to us---a man raised by lesser "beasts", admirable in his way, but sometimes reverting to his "savage" upbringing.

    Superman, like Tarzan, is a man between two worlds. One of the few things I thought Byrne got RIGHT was making Superman stop swearing by Rao, stop thinking like a Kryptonian. Tarzan---even the cultured Edgar Rice Burroughs multilingual Lord Greystoke---is at heart an ape. To him, Kala is much more his mother than Lady Greystoke was. Superman, similarly, would think himself more human than earthling in outlook, and be torn between the two worlds---the one he belongs to by biology, and the one he was raised by.

     That should also be the key to Kara's chracterization. UNLIKE Superman, she was in a Kryptonian environment until age fifteen. She's a true emigrant, probably thinking in Kryptonian, and should be much more "alien" than Superman is. (I could justify this as part of evolving of the character in the Silver Age Superman stories---that he was originally in the Smallville/Metropolis/earthly mindset, and slowly, as he gained Kandor and Kara, learning more and more about Krypton and trying to be more and more Kryptonian---but he would always be at heart more earthling than Kryptonian. Supergirl should be the opposite...much more Kryptonian than earthling.)

     So he should be lonely BOTH places, both among earthlings and among Kryptoanians, truly belonging to neither. He is a Kryptonian by birth, and everything about Earth must have been wrong, wrong, wrong on an instinctive level. He probably dreamed about red suns, of a comfortably heavy gravity, etc. When growing up, some gut biological level must have told him he was in the wrong place...but when he visits Kryptonian conditions, his biology might have gone "Ahhh...I'm home!" but his mind must have gone, "No WAY!" being different in a thousand different ways from the earthly culture he was brought up in.

---Al
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« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2007, 10:04:21 PM »

I think alschroeder is right on the mark about Kal_el being a man of two worlds.  and i also like his thinking about Kara, she'd have memories, knowledge and feelings about argo city and krypton that Kal would never really understand. I was always amazed when they showed Kara in a school seting she never thought to herself, algerbra in the 10th grade? did they put me in the slow class? or why she never seemed to have a bad day remembering her family and friends that where destroyed. She always seemed to much like a TV ad, "Hey Kara,  your world world just died a slow death, you were shot of to a strange planet, where your only relative is dumping you in a primative orphanage, what are thinking"  Kara's response (big smile) "I'm going to Disney Land" Considering what she had gone thru she was too adjusted and accepting of it all, or maybe that was the fore shadowing of the whole emotionless krypton we saw post crisis?
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