Culture War Correspondence: Superman and Superheroes

GORDON: Up there! In the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…! It’s…!

It’s a cheesy rehash of the same joke we closed out on last time!

EVAN: How dare you, sir.

GORDON: Citizens, today our topic of discussion is Superman, and to a lesser extent, superheroes in general- though you could hardly go wrong to kick off a discussion on the subject by starting with the Big Blue Boy Scout.

Who, for the record, I despise.

EVAN: It’s funny, because between the two of us you’re the actual boyscout. Our [in]ability to tie knots aside, we should probably get right into it and have you explain to these nice people where exactly your hatred comes from.

GORDON: I’d probably say the critique that immediately springs to mind is this:

“What do you call it when your home is invaded and occupied by an overwhelming power who proceeds to dictate how you must live your life?”

Either a foreign colonization, or Superman’s come to town.

EVAN: That would be a perfectly valid justification, if there were ever a point in time at which the Last Son of Krypton actually did that.

GORDON: I guess we’re not counting his role in the Metropolis Massacre of 2013. 

EVAN: As I would hope our readers know by now, I think that movie is the living worst. He also tries to save the Earth from people who do want to dictate how people live their lives. He just happens to suck at it.

GORDON: In all honesty, I don’t so much have an issue with that on paper anyways. If you believe something is ethical, the reasonable response to attempt to see it enacted out in the world.

My issue is more with the ethics, or lack thereof, that Big Blue represents. The man is a brute instrument of the law, not of justice.

I mean, we’ve essentially got a supercop flying around, only without any check or balance to him and no way to protect against him. I mean, let’s level him against our constitutional rights. 4th Amendment protecting us from unlawful search or seizure? Superman’s got x-ray vision and ain’t shy about using it (same goes for super-hearing).

2nd Amendment right to bear arms? I have to get a background check and a waiting period and can be stripped of this right if I’m proven a malicious danger to others. Superman, on the other hand, IS a weapon.

This is too much power for any one man…

We can go on and on here.

EVAN: I feel like you’re heading in a few different directions at once, so let’s take things one at a time. To start with, what exactly do you mean by saying he’s “a brute instrument of the law”? If the implication is that he’ll always abide by the laws of the USA he explicitly disobeyed orders not to stand alongside Iranian protestors, and even renounced his citizenship during that issue.

As far as your second issue, is it that there’s no way of keeping him in check? If we want to look at the expanded DC mythos the truth is that he does. Superman entrusts stores of Kryptonite, which we all know is his weakness, to Batman. He does this because he knows ths Caped Crusader will shut him down if he ever loses control.

GORDON: Be that as it may, ya gotta admit that giving a single person the sole ability to MAYBE take him down if he ever gets out of hand isn’t exactly a comforting thought. And as much as I did enjoy that issue in which Superman renounces his American citizenship, it doesn’t strike me that he’s been doing a lot to address the root causes of evil in the world beyond making that gesture, no matter how dramatic it may have been.

EVAN: Again, this all has to be viewed within the context of the world he exists in. If Superman lived in the here and now then yes, he would be nigh unstoppable. In the DC Universe there’s Batman, Wonder Woman, and numerous Green Lanterns to take him down. There’s even the option of the aforementioned approaching Lex Luthor for help if it comes to really needing to stop him.

Your second point, whether or not he’s doing anything to really help the world, falls back on the “Reed Richards Is Useless” trope. Essentially any form of media in which there are characters with super powers or fantastic technology there needs to be a suspension of disbelief to explain away why the world isn’t overall a better place. If you can create dimensions to other planets and cultivate them into agricultural food planets then why are people starving?

When you apply realism to any media that is meant to be fantasy or escapist it falls apart. Why doesn’t Batman just take the billions of dollars he throws into his own person R&D and improve the city by other means? The argument that there would be corruption feels weak in light of his vigilance and ability to apply checks where they’re needed.

GORDON: In Batman’s defense, he DOES have the Thomas and Martha Wayne charities in which he does just that, but let’s change things up for a second here.

You mention the “real world”, and it’s on that topic I’d kinda like to focus. Let’s talk about the famous Spider-Man quote for a second: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

There’s a lot of implication packed into that statement- DOES might make right?

EVAN: No, it doesn’t.

GORDON: In that case then, I gotta ask why it is that folks in the greater DC and Marvel universes only seem to start putting their nose to the grindstones in humanity’s favor (or the law’s) when they’re zapped by some wave of radiation or a genetically modified spider?

EVAN: The Flash was actually a forensic scientist before he gained his super speed powers, and Green Lantern worked for the USAF. Captain America starts out as a scrawny nobody trying his best to get into the military to help his country during World War II well before he becomes a super soldier.

I’m not sure what you’re implying, that without the powers they receive the vast majority of these characters would do nothing whatsoever to further the human race as a whole. A ridiculous amount of Marvel’s roster is scientists, [primarily] men working towards bettering the planet via their work.

GORDON: More of a philosophical inquiry than anything else. Inversely- and this would perhaps apply more to the X-Men part of the universe than anywhere else- if great power does NOT equate great responsibility, does being graced with superhuman abilities leave you responsible for only yourself?

I don’t think this was how the dialogue went in this scene…

EVAN: I never said that great power didn’t equal great responsibility, I said that might didn’t equal right. You can’t impose your own will on others because you’re more powerful and you should absolutely be held accountable to whatever you do with said powers.

On top of the latter, I think we have a responsibility as decent human beings to help others in need. If that means using your ice powers to help put out a fire that breaks out along the street then so be it. I dont’ think that necessarily means you have to join your local fire department, though.

GORDON: Ok, that’s definitely an interesting take then- responsibility to assist in an immediate problem, but not to devote your life to it?

EVAN: I think that the latter necessitates a certain loss of autonomy, and everyone deserves to be able to make their own choices. There’s also the question of where exactly it stops if the latter is true. Does the Flash run around the world every second of every day stopping petty crimes and preventing traffic accidents? Is Superman tasked with deflecting every bullet from every gang war that springs up?

GORDON: Surely the implication of being more than a mortal man is that you have expectations placed upon you greater than any man can handle- but on that note, we’re fast approaching our time limit, so how ’bout we turn this question over to the commenters-

To return to our first subject: Superman- do his powers obligate the last son of Krypton to be a superhero, and if so, what should we demand there?

EVAN: Also feel free to pick up the argument Gordon dropped as to whether or not the character is worth being despised. I’m more than willing to play advocate for an alien.

GORDON: As has become expected of Evan. See his highly controversial closing defense in the case of The State of California vs E.T.

EVAN: And while I would love to further discuss the merits of 80s movies I haven’t seen, we really must be going. Answer our questions! Like us on Facebook! Eat more fibre! Tune in next week to hear Kat and me discuss something completely non-comic-book-related!

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