Superman is my spirit animal. True story, I swear. In another fictional life, Superman would be my spirit guide to everything that was good in the world. I am perhaps misinformed about what spirit animals are supposed to do for you (if anything), but basically I feel like the whole Superman/ Clark Kent dichotomy is of immense importance to my moral compass as an ‘adult’ in this world.
I am obsessed with superheroes in a fairly lazy way. By that I mean, I’m more of a fair-weather fan, rather than someone who attends Comic Con and owns a least one comic book. I’m mostly in love with the concept of them and the things they represent. For one thing, the idea that we as mere mortals can be anything more than our ordinary, flightless selves is enticing. Superheroes like Spider-Man, The Hulk and Dr Manhattan are prime examples of what we hope could happen when science goes wrong or interferes with humanity. By some divine intervention, these superheroes get all the best bits from what were potentially fatal accidents.
It is characters like these that I am the most fond of, who make the best of a bad situation and decide “Well, I’d better save the world now then. No other option really.” It’s nice to think that as humans, when faced with superhuman strength and abilities, we want to believe that we will naturally want to take care of our fellow humans, rather than use it for our own personal gain; and if we do, well then that makes us super villains. We are a judgemental race aren’t we?
At least within the superhero genre they always balance the good with the evil, with cool fight scenes and some personal struggle for the hero. And no hero’s personal struggle has intrigued me more than that of Superman, which is why he is my spirit animal. As I said though, I’ve never actually owned a single Superman comic, but I fell in love with the TV series Smallville when it first hit our television screens in 2001. For all you die hard Superman fans, you might have loved or hated Smallville, but this isn’t about you, it’s about my love for it. I just wanted to make that clear.
Why did I love it you say? Erm, because it was awesome perhaps? Because it was the origin story we’ve all been waiting for (well I’d been waiting for it ever since Christopher Reeve first played Superman)? Because it humanises Superman as this insecure teenager trying to balance the feeling of being an outsider and also belonging, making him that much more likeable and realistic, which leads us to believe that there’s a possibility that we too could be superheroes one day with the right morals and a good heart?
OK, so I know we don’t necessarily have the same superhuman powers, but that’s not really the point. Smallville as a TV show presented us with a Clark Kent who was flawed and uncertain but equally unwavering in his fight to save the lives of those who needed it, regardless of whether they were good or bad people. I think his compassion is something we could all learn from. And don’t think I haven’t noticed the glaringly obvious religious references to Superman as this messiah who will save humanity from itself, but I guess I don’t really care and Smallville wasn’t shy about referencing the same point and highlighting that Clark Kent was not God, despite the way people might see him.
Now there’s a thought; was that perhaps a jab at Christian religion? People following a very nice and caring man (Jesus) beyond his death and putting him on a pedestal because they revered his divine unwavering for forgiveness and helping the needy, even though he never wanted to be worshipped in the first place? Who’s to say, but once again Smallville, you’ve made me think.
In addition, Smallville approaches the concept of good and evil with something akin to a slow burning elegance, in the form of the friendship between a young Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. The show gets into the nitty gritty of people not being born evil (a quite common misconception in my opinion), and instead looks at all the things that lead Lex Luthor to become the super villain we all know and love to hate. In particular is Lex’s sadistic father Lionel Luthor, who constantly treats his son like an enemy, pushing him to betray friends and those he cares about, and making him believe that he was born to become an evil that he cannot change.
Conversely, Clark Kent comes from a loving home where he is constantly cared for and showered with pride from his adoptive parents. And at every turn, Clark is the thing that makes Lex want to be good. I think Smallville stirs the nature and nurture debate that superhero stories are famous for very well. So basically, I fricking love the complexity of it.
Ultimately, I love Superman/ Clark Kent the most because he is different to all the other superheroes. One of the best explanations for this can be found in the film ‘Kill Bill Volume III’. Right at the end of the film when Bill has The Bride sat on the sofa, he’s giving a monologue about something or other, and he says that Superman is the best superhero of them all because he’s the only superhero who’s secret identity is that he is a normal guy; i.e. Clark Kent. Yet his true identity is being Superman. He goes on to postulate that Superman’s view of humanity is that of a bumbling, shy man, who is clumsy and not very good with women, which makes us look bad apparently.
I’ve digressed off my point (as usual) but that’s what sets Superman apart I think; that he is not the result of some crazy experiment in our ever increasing reach for greatness beyond our physical human capability; he is just an alien. An immigrant or ex-pat, separated from his parents at a young age and adopted by a new family; brought up in a world that he didn’t originate from but still calls home. His story is that of the child that doesn’t belong and is always searching for home, like a lot of us. And just as we get vitamin D from the sun, he gets superhuman powers. It’s not the same but forgive me for trying to connect myself with someone who is a symbol for hope.
I realise that it sounds like I think that he’s real, and if you think that then you’re severely underestimating the power of comic books and superhero stories. But don’t worry, I know that he doesn’t exist; I just really wish that he did. We could all use a little more hope in our lives.
Image credit: Superhero by Zech Nelson from the Noun Project