Superman turned 84 yesterday, marking the anniversary of the publication of Action Comics #1 on April 18, 1938. The series has been rebooted, the costume has changed and changed back, and Superman has died and come back (a few times), but the first superhero is still being published monthly and still fighting the never ending battle.
And boy do we need him now more than ever.
Think about it. Everything Superman stands for seems to be under attack.
"To best be in a position to use his amazing powers in a never-ending battle for truth and justice, Superman has assumed the disguise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."
The American Way was later added to Superman's fight, making the better-known phrase "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
But what is truth when unpopular realities can be dismissed as "fake news" or a documented record can simply be denied. When the images we see must be evaluated for their level of manipulation. When scripted dramas are passed off as reality television. What is truth when feelings and opinions matter more than facts.
What is justice when it seems to be applied unevenly at best. When the color of ones skin can be the difference in a business meeting in a coffee shop and an arrest at a coffee shop or between life and death in a traffic stop. When antisemitic, white power, and alt-right groups are on the rise. When the gender pay gap still exists. When affluenza is a recognized condition. What is justice if it is not blind.
What does the American Way mean anymore. Especially when our country is as fractured as it is.
Sadly, even the "reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper" part is going away in our society.
Superman has always existed to be our ideal. The hero of heroes. The greatest. He has been a social-justice warrior before the term ever existed (look back to those initial comics where he was beating up slum lords and corrupt business men). The Blue Boy Scout. A father figure figuratively and literally. The leader of gods and men.
He has been portrayed as a Messiah figure of late, though that is a little misguided in my opinion. He is much more of a representation of Moses, the leader-deliverer. A child sent away in a vessel, raised by adopted parents who discovers his heritage and becomes a leader and inspiration. An important distinction given the heritage of Siegel and Shuster, two Jewish kids growing up in the Depression, with a war raging in Europe. Into these dark times, these two guys created a beacon of hope. A strong man who could stop all the bullies and protect the little guy.
Over time, Superman's character continued to solidify. Powers and weaknesses came and went; some of them very, very strange. But the core of the character remained. Superman is honest, fair, and decent. He is a paragon of virtue who knows and does what is right. He is the strongest one there is, but uses that strength to protect only, not to intimidate or bully. Strength with responsibility.
And through the years, we have seen him bubble to the surface when he is needed. Christopher Reeves fully embodying the character more than any other actor, making us "believe a man could fly." More than any actor, Christopher Reeve gave the character a lightness, a comfort in his own skin than shone brightly through the screen. The movies may be a little corny and only two of the four really work, but there is no denying the sincerity of the portrayal that would define the character.
It's that character we need again. Not the struggling, near-objectivist protagonist present in the more recent Warner Brothers films.
We need that paragon, that beacon of hope to inspire us again. The example that causes us to find a better way. That figure that causes us to lift our heads and look...
Up in the Sky!