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Superman: Overpowered or Underrated?

A few of my thoughts on The Man of Steel

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Recently for school, I wrote an essay on how the first superheroes in comics have affected pop culture throughout the past seven (almost 8 now) decades. For this essay, I had to research the golden and silver age of comics. Interestingly enough, some of the things I learned have now inspired me to write an article on my favorite superhero of all time, Superman himself and whether or not he is too overpowered of a superhero in today’s industry.

In 1938 and 1939, the characters of Superman and Batman were created. I mention just these two for now for a few reasons. It was from those two characters and so many more that defined the golden age of comics. Really, it all started with Action Comics #1 bringing a superhero, Superman, into the world of comic books and kicking off the golden age. However, it obviously wouldn’t have kept up if not for the other slew of heroes being thrown into the mix such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, etc. The reason I only mention Batman along with Superman for this specific article, though, is because if you fast forward 76 years from 1938, you’ll arrive at today.

Now, if you’ve been on the internet in the past, well, ever, then you’ve probably seen the never ending debate on “Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?” What’s interesting (and obvious) about that debate is that most of the time, it comes down to people’s personal opinion, and to me it seems that the majority of the time, Batman wins even though he’s a human and Superman is a Kryptonian with god-like super powers. So looking at that debate all the time and seeing how many people side with the caped crusader for the big win, I started to ask myself, “Well, why?” What happened to Superman since 1938 that, while standing tall as a pillar in pop culture, he’s so often put down below other heroes that defined the golden age of comics over seven decades ago? Has the man of steel become too overpowered and therefore boring to ever be DC’s most selling character again? I love Superman, he’s my favorite superhero, so my answer to that question is “No.” However, I must remain as unbiased as possible and look at some clear evidence to figure out the true answer.

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Comics

Before I dive into this though, I’d like to first say that everything I am about to say is simply what I have personally gathered, and others may have differing opinions. Although, this is the internet so I suppose that’s bound to happen anyway. Oh well, let’s just dive in.

It’s no secret that after the New 52 reboot of DC Comics, the Superman title wasn’t doing so hot especially compared to Scott Snyder’s impressive sales on the Batman title. The creative team for the main Superman series has changed hands several times already in only thirty-eight issues. Also, if we take a look at many of the other things to come out of the New 52 with Superman, it’s quite easy to find things that are less than interesting (to put it delicately).

Now like I said before, I am a huge fan of the man of steel. I’ve read close to everything that has his name in the title the past three years since the reboot, and there is in fact a good chunk of it that is worth the read brought to us by some great writers (thank God for Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder, am I right?) However, while there have been some… poor writers (cough Lobdell cough) on Superman the past few years, there have been some exceptional writers that still couldn’t quite grasp a good story with the man of tomorrow.

This brings me back to the original question of the day: “Well, why?” Why is it that we so often have to bring on superstar writers just to be able to have a good Superman story? In my personal opinion, it seems that the man of steel is simply difficult to write because of the kind of character he is. I personally feel that the character has far more depth to him than people realize, but unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to make him easier to write. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing necessarily, but it is something to look at nonetheless. Is that the same with other properties, though? Let’s find out, by taking a quick look at movies and video games!

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Movies

Say what you will about Superman Returns, but it was better than whatever the heck The Quest for Peace was. I can hardly even picture what happened in Superman III, it’s been so long since I watched it. Let’s be honest, there have been some crappy Superman films, but there have also been some great ones. So let’s take a look at them!

The first Superman film, released in 1978, is one of the most important superhero films ever to be released. Fans absolutely loved it. Superman IV… well, not so much. Superman II was good. Superman III was surely… something. Superman Returns was a bust if I’ve ever seen one. The Man of Steel film is what I would like to focus on here, though. It seems to be in some sort of middle area with fans. Some people hate it and others love it. This brings me right around back to my original question yet again, however. “Well, why?”

Man of Steel was in no way a flop by any means. It made a good profit, it had some relatively good reviews, it is the very start of DC’s massive cinematic universe, and yet… It wasn’t perfect. First of all, Superman killed the villain which was pretty weird, but that’s not the point. The point I’m going to make is the same point everybody else makes. Superman destroyed a pretty sizable area of Smallville during his battle there, and worse, he and Faora destroyed the IHOP! Now where is Pa Kent going to get his morning pancakes? Oh… right.

Anyway, yes Zod and the man of steel did mess up a good bit of Smallville and Metropolis (I still argue that the Metropolis part was really mostly Zod, but hey whatever). Now, the thing about that is the battle between Zod and Superman was really freakin’ cool, you can’t deny that, but it did seem like there was some sort of price to creating a fight on such a scale. So the question is: Is Superman such a powerful character that you’ve simply gotta mess up a bunch of crap to capture how mighty he is? Does that make the character… overpowered? I don’t know, let’s look at video games!

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Video Games

I’m just going to cut to the chase here. Superman video games absolutely blow. All of them. They just don’t work. Superman doesn’t work in video games. He just doesn’t. And that brings me back to my original question yet again. “Well, why?”

The answer to this question this time around is pretty simple actually. While Superman has an abundance of villains that give the boy scout a run for his money, in essence he can’t really be hurt. In video games, you need constant flows of bad guys, something for the player to fight and get better at. Just look at the Batman Arkham games. Batman has random thugs and bad guys thrown at him throughout the course of the game that can hurt him and get progressively tougher.

That can’t happen with Superman. To have a good video game like that, the character needs to be able to die and the player needs to have some sort of challenge. Even if you were to try and go in a different direction with it, you’d just end up with Superman for Nintendo 64. So in the end, the answer to that question, at least on the video game side of things, is “because Superman is too powerful for video games.”

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In Conclusion

Superman is awesome. I love the character with all of my everything. There are many films and comics with Superman as the central character that are, in fact, worth the watch or read. The question is though, “Is the character too overpowered, at least some of the time?” It breaks my heart, but the answer is yes, sometimes he’s just too powerful to make certain things work that does work with some other characters. There’s obviously some clear evidence towards that. Does this make him a bad character? In my opinion, no it doesn’t. In my eyes there is a far greater depth to Superman than some people seem to realize that makes him a character anyone can look up to.

What’s your opinion, though? Do you think that Superman is too overpowered to be interesting? Do you kind of want to see a good Superman video game even though it probably won’t ever happen? Do you even like Superman to begin with? Let me know in the comments below! Also, thank you so much for reading. Make sure to check out my comic podcast Baby and The Beard (new episodes every Saturday) right here on The Koalition! I’d make some sort of DC or Superman pun to wrap this up, but I could literally give you 52 reasons why that’d be silly.

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Matthew Dixon Comics
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