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In Defense of the Man of Steel

This is something I’ve been pondering for a while. I’d actually resolved to sit down and type something out, post it here, several months back, after I returned from the library event I did in Vegas. Didn’t think I was quite ready yet, still didn’t have all my thoughts in order.

But life conspires, an explanation of which is coming in a bit.

So here’s the thing, and it starts with a truism, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me for that: it’s easy to tear things down, even those things of worth; it’s far harder to build up and maintain those self-same things.

“Well, y’know, my problem with Superman is that he’s totally unrealistic. Nobody with that kind of power would be that good, that altruistic. Nobody who could do whatever he wanted, however he wanted, whenever he wanted, would choose to do the right thing all the time. Hell, nobody would choose to do the right thing half the time.”

I used to get angry when I heard people spout that line of cynicism. Used to really piss me off; not anymore. Now? Now it just makes me sad.

Think about it. Think about where you have to be, what your view of the world, of life, of humanity, of all we have accomplished, of all we’ve learned, of all we do everyday, of all we’re yet to do, of all we can become… and then think about what it means to say you can’t buy Superman because he’s “too good.”

It’s fashionable to be cynical, or, as many a cynic is wont to say in his or her defense, “realistic.” But realism has nothing to do with it. Superman isn’t supposed to be real; Superman is an ideal. Superman is about potential. And ultimately, Superman is about our potential.

There’s a reason why five year-olds make capes out of blankets and pretend to leap tall buildings in a single bound. There’s a reason why the S-shield is arguably the most recognizable single icon on the planet, why you can find it from Zimbabwe to Algeria.

But it’s easier to not vote than to vote, after all. It’s easier to let ignorance slide because confrontation is always hard. It’s easier to stay quiet than it is to speak out. And easier to tear down an ideal than it is to try to emulate it in any number of small ways. It’s always easier to say no to any number of small things that might, in some way, change the world for the better, rather than to say yes.

In Cleveland, Ohio, stands the house where a seventeen year-old kid dreamed up Superman. And the house is barely standing.

As of today, Tuesday, the 2nd of September, the Siegel & Shuster Society is launching a campaign to restore and preserve the home of Jerry Siegel.

At Brad Meltzer’s charitable website, Ordinary People Change The World, an auction is being held to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of the Siegel home. There’s a hell of a lot of extraordinarily cool stuff to bid on, donated by people both within and without of the comics industry…

…you want names? Fine.

That’s just some of the people contributing. Including myself.

(Here’s the deal. You get to be in Stumptown. Not a walk-on. You get to be the client. You hire Dex. You get to be the center of the mystery. You might even be a double-crossing no-good fink who tries to stiff her on the bill. Seriously. You…me…you win this in the auction, we’ll be talking. And I promise, I won’t make you gay (unless you want to be or, you know, already are.))

Coolest thing in this auction? Has to be the Superman T-Shirt SIGNED BY JERRY SIEGEL. Seriously. Before Jerry Siegel died, he signed six Superman t-shirts, saying they should be sold if the family was ever in need of funds. One has been donated to the auction.

Second coolest thing? The Siegel & Shuster Society t-shirt, designed by the unconscionably talented Chip Kidd.

Or you could just donate, and nuts to the auction, because it’s a good damn cause. To quote Bendis, “Mythology that will never die away or disappear. There is no difference, to me, between this house and Mark Twain’s house. We have to honor and exalt such creation.”

All – repeat all – donations go %100 to the Siegel & Shuster Society.

And now, some FAQ:

How much is the Siegel And Shuster Foundation trying to raise?

Depends on how successful we are. Phase 1 involves working on the exterior of the house: securing the roof, making sure the paint isn’t rotting, doing the concrete work. That will hopefully protect the place from the outside. Joe Shuster’s house (a few blocks away) was in such disrepair, it was torn down. The first goal is to collect $50,000 to deal with the outside. If we do that, then we’ll go and tackle the much-needed-repairs on the inside.

Who lives there now?

The house is located in one of the tougher neighborhoods of Cleveland and is currently occupied by an African-American couple who have lived there for approximately 20 years, who have put up with all of us who have come visiting, but who don’t have the money to do these repairs. Rather than kick anyone out on the street, the goal is to repair this place for them. Why? It’s the right thing to do. In return, The Siegel & Shuster Society has the right to buy the house when it eventually goes up for sale.

Is there a long-term goal to make a museum?

The long-term goal is still being decided, and that’s why you’re invited to join The Siegel & Shuster Society and help us with those plans. Meetings are held monthly in Cleveland – when you buy a shirt, they’ll have your name. But one of the dreams is that one day, buses full of students will drive from all over Ohio, from Michigan, from any nearby state, and come to the fully-restored house – covered and decorated with children’s artwork inside – and see where one of the world’s greatest dreams was born.

Take a moment. Check out the auctions. Pass on the video. Give what you can, if you can.

This is the home of the man who gave us Superman.

It deserves to stand.

20 Responses to In Defense of the Man of Steel

  1. alephz

    While I’m not quite rich enough to afford the auction?

    I give SO MUCH agreement to your thoughts on Superman.

    Thanks for putting it out there.

  2. thetathx1138

    On Superman “not possibly being THAT good”:

    I disagree for two reasons.

    One, DC has always done an excellent job of explaining exactly where Superman comes from, in terms of morals, and in terms of lessons learned. We’ve had quite a few stories where Superman learns that even his enormous power can’t fix everything the hard way. He can make the world a better place, but not a perfect one, and he knows that. I actually enjoyed the contrast Superboy Prime provided in Infinite Crisis: here’s what a BAD Superman really would be like, a Superman who didn’t understand that any action has consequences, intended or unintended.

    Two, he rarely runs into this problem anyway. He’s fighting giant robots, saving people from acts of God, dealing with alien invasions. Take murder; sure, Superman could kill left and right…but he rarely needs to in the first place and why would he? The only things that can hurt him are magic or a glowing rock. A full-power response would be pointless to any reasonable person: it’s overkill and probably wouldn’t solve the problem. When he HAS run into this problem, he’s generally demonstrated that while he’s very moral, he’s capable of dealing with problems in a slightly nastier way than one might expect (Manchester Black springs to mind).

    So, yeah, I don’t find it remotely out of the realm of possibility. I’m just glad it’s a fictional universe, and not real life. :-)

  3. jonlaw

    The brand of cynicism you highlight is particularly painful and saddening. Amazingly, the one thing anyone and everyone on Earth could emulate with Superman is the way he behaves, the way he treats others, the goodness with which he approaches life. Not likely that any of us will fly unaided into space, or catch falling jetliners, or see through concrete just with our eyes, but we can all aspire to do good, to do justice, to act with respect and sincerity.

    Yet, paradoxically, that is seen as Superman’s most unrealistic attribute.

    Yes, power can corrupt, but it doesn’t have to.

    My children love Superman, and they do as best they can by his example, as do I.

    I am a dad of limited superpowers, but setting a good example is the one I try to use every day.

    Just like Superman.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. jeditigger

    Greg, you’re such a great writer. I love reading your stuff…but in a lot of ways I enjoy reading your blog even more because entries like this are so handsomely coined and compelling. Thank you for putting into words what makes Superman so wonderful, thank you for commenting on the altruism that I love of him, and thank you most of all for bringing this cause to our attention. Characters like Batman and Superman are too often dismissed because of their medium, and I happen to think they’re some of the greatest contributions to modern fiction we’ve seen.

  5. jeffrey

    Sadly it’s not even just the general public that has that perception of Superman, but plenty of comics fans and certainly most of Hollywood. the fact that we ever got any Superman movies or television shows where he’s even remotely in-character is shocking and a testament to those involved on the projects who actually understood. This is why every time a new Superman mass-media project is announced my inner fanboy gets excited and then very quickly turns to worry and concern.

    Maybe the problem is people don’t see enough actual goodness in their lives, so they can’t believe someone could be that honest and genuine. A whole lot of people are selfish, ignorant bastards for a wide variety of reasons (any trip down an LA freeway will show you that in spades!)… I don’t know, maybe a lot of people just need more Superman in their lives (not even the character necessarily, just the ideal he stands for, as you mentioned).

    The world could certainly use a lot more good in it.

  6. oakenguy

    I just watched your auction go up $40 in fifteen minutes. Not so great for my budget, but excellent for this very worthwhile cause. :)

  7. lithera

    I have no idea if there is anything in this auction I can actually win but I’m certainly willing to try.

  8. jaydici

    I’ve always seen the idea of Superman as one of the great examples of how great Humanity can be, that we can imagine an all powerful person like Superman and have him do nothing but good.

  9. sionheaney

    Your paragraph challenging us to think about all that we hold in value; our lives, world, views and accomplishments reminded me of Carl Sagan’s words regarding the Pale Blue Dot of our planet, its inhabitants and history. I choke up whenever I read those words. It moves us from despair for our insignificance to the hope for growth into something so much more than ourselves.

    It is not unrealistic to hold an ideal in light of the daunting odds, or to recognize the potential in ourselves, or to aspire towards the greater good. It is also realistic to think of such ideals as anything but easy to encompass, which is why the hero has played such a pivotal role throughout the history of myth and storytelling. The hero is not real but rather a symbolic representation of the reader experiencing the story which is why such representations of the hero are important even to this day. There is no Superman other than that we see within ourselves and that can only come from aspiring towards those ideals.

    I do agree with you and it is saddening the degree to which cynicism is quickly pulled to trump idealism but all things have their cycle and the wheel turns and change does happen.

    Meantime, I’m in on the auction. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  10. mercuryeric


    Great post, man.

    Let me know if I can do anything to help, aside from donating.

  11. fuzzytypewriter

    I recently wrote a piece called In Defense of Superman for We’re on the same page, I think.

    Aside from the piece itself (a quick read, I swear), I think it’s also worth looking at to see the cross-section of comics fans in the comment section. There’s a lot of love and a lot of animosity towards Superman these days, but much of that animosity is misguided and based on a misunderstanding of what he’s all about it.

  12. uzumerid

    An excellent post, and it’s astounding how so many people continue to miss the point of the character so thoroughly. Your point about the difference between destroying something and fixing it really crystallizes a lot of the work you and Geoff were doing around Infinite Crisis now; Hell, come to think of it, the entire theme of the DCU from a cosmic sense, for all of their big events and recent baddies from Parallax to Superboy-Prime to Mandrakk, is exactly that conflict – between the forces who wish to destroy what they see as flawed and those who want to soldier on and maintain and attempt to fix it.

    People always say Superman is for someone’s inner child, but I always thought that wasn’t true. Children have temper tantrums, they destroy things. Maturity is recognition of the world’s flaws and an attempt to better it anyways, and Superman represents that.

  13. cpxbrex

    I find myself thinking that the hating on Superman’s “realism” is pretty bizarre because, frankly, most people I know act a lot more like Superman than, say, the Punisher.

    One of my best friends is a psychiatric nurse. He spent months of his own time in New York after 911 giving psychiatric care to people, and he spent six weeks in NOLA after Katrina. He volunteers to do outreach to homeless people, stuff like that. If he could bounce bullets off his chest, he’d totally swoop down from the sky to help people out. Totally. And he’s not the only one. Most of the people I know are WAAAAY more interested in building things up than tearing them down – yeah, it’s easier to destroy than create, but there are a lot of things out there that have been created! People, overwhelmingly, prefer to create! To be helpful and kind and all that.

    Plus, y’know, I just hate that argument about realism in comic books. I mean, I think to myself, “Y’know what ELSE would be really realistic? No superpowers.” We’re already off the page of realism once you have Sons of Krypton and galactic policemen with green glowing wishing rings. Verisimilitude? Sure, we should have a bunch of that. Interesting? That’d be neat, too. But realism? Guys, yo, that’s already out the window.

  14. davidwynne

    I’ll have to donate, cos there’s no way in hell I’ll be able to afford anything at auction… but I just wanted to say that that is a brilliant sumation of what makes Superman so great.

  15. michaelbailey

    Very impressive piece, Greg and not to sound like someone jumping on a bandwagon I agree with you. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that turning on someone to Superman is a lot like trying to turn someone on to many of the major religions. If it isn’t “in their heart” so to speak they just won’t get it no matter how hard you try to make a case for the Man of Steel.

    I’m not comparing Superman to Jesus, mind you, because other people have done a much better job of that than I have and I always saw him more as a Moses figure, but you probably get the idea.

  16. jared465

    I wonder if some of your post was triggered by Warner Bros knee-jerk reaction to reboot Superman “as dark as the material allows” becuase since The Dark Knight was successful, than every other super hero has to be dark, right? Right?

  17. admin

    Not so much. Remember, this is the same guy who last year said that it was obvious “audiences didn’t want to see movies with female leads.”

  18. pjperez

    1. I believe in the inherent good of people. Even if no one else does.

    2. Great cause, wish I hadn’t already given all my “economic stimulus” check to 6 other charities; otherwise, I’d definitely jump in on the bidding.

    3. I’ll definitely share the news over on my pop culture blog, Thanks for posting, Greg!

  19. hdefined

    I think the reason people don’t like Superman is the same as the reason why so many people like Batman: maturity.

    Longer explanation:

    Batman is the pinnacle of a mature protagonist. He essentially grew up when he was 9 years old and kneeled in front of his parents’ corpses. He took responsibility for two deaths he had no way to prevent. When he grew up, he then extended that responsibility to his entire city. He makes weapons and gadgets for every conceivable situation and monitors the goings on of all freak criminals and mob bosses. He keeps up-to-date with information circulating the globe, and then some. He is completely in touch with his responsibility, and every loss and failure he experiences, and those combine to make him mature.

    Whereas Superman has never experienced loss. His planet blew up, but he found a new one. His parents died, so new ones found him. He left his hometown and adopted a new city. People love him for who he is and what he does. He doesn’t have repercussions for his actions, other than Lex Luthor cursing his name a bit more often. His family loves him. His wife loves him. His coworkers appreciate him. All the heroes look up to him. He has everything and has earned none of it. There’s nothing sympathetic there.

  20. savageknight

    I think this is a great cause. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    It’s important to have a dream of greatness.

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