He has conquered every medium from print to television to film, starting in 1938, but Superman has not been cool for at least three decades. The Man Of Steel’s reputation started to slip in the mid-1980s, starting around the third or fourth installment in his movie franchise. Not coincidentally, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a groundbreaking series of comic books about Batman, debuted in 1986, just as Superman’s career was hitting the skids. That was a tipping point in comics history, after which the non-superpowered Batman was determined to be the more interesting and “realistic” of the two main DC characters. And look who still gets top billing in Dawn Of Justice 30 years later. Now, loyal Superman fan Sami Jarroush, who even has an “S” insignia tattooed on his forearm, ponders the viability of the character in a half-hour documentary entitled Must There Be A Superman?, produced for Consequence Of Sound.
Talking to a variety of comics fans, experts, and creators, Jarroush first cycles through all the usual arguments against Superman. He’s too powerful, some say, meaning that he’s not easily defeated in battle without some plot contrivance. (Hello, Kryptonite!) He’s not conflicted enough. He’s not “dark” or “gritty,” whatever those words even mean anymore. He’s too good. These are cynical times, pockmarked by terrorist attacks and mass shootings, and they require a cynical antihero like Batman. Attempts to turn Superman into Batman, as in 2013’s Man Of Steel, just result in a “whiny” version of the character. At heart, Superman is a figure of hope, maybe even a stand-in for Christ or Moses. And it is from hope, not cynicism, that the character’s future derives. The documentary points out that there are excellent Superman comics being written today. Those who doubt the character’s potential ought to give those new stories a chance.