Superman’s Relevance in a Changing Society

On April 18, 1938, Superman made his first appearance in Action Comics #1, and in the 81 years since he has become a pop culture icon. But is he still relevant in modern pop culture today? This brief, short poll may help with that question: 

That is 82% of those participating feel Superman is still relevant to modern pop culture. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the reasons why.


He’s Not From Around Here

IMG_20190927_145016.jpg
Source: Action Comics/DC Comics/WB/Atlas Entertainment

There isn’t enough time to summarize 81 years of character evolution. Superman has done everything from tackling corrupt politicians and gangsters, to protecting Earth from alien invasions, to being a modern representation of immigrants in America.

Now think about this: In only the last decade, we have seen his status as an immigrant come to the forefront in both comics and films.

In “Action Comics” #3, from the New52 run, it shows we discover Superman confronted by protesters holding signs with a variety of with phrases such as “Earth 4 Earthlings!” or “Alien Free World”. We also see similar signs and protests outside of the Capitol Building in Batman v Superman. Yet, there he is, protecting (other) immigrants with bravery. 

In “Action Comics” #287, Superman saves a group of undocumented workers from a mass shooter. It is a powerful moment that illustrates one of the timeless attributes of the character: his willingness to protect the defenseless.

It’s hard not to see similarities between Kal-El and Dreamers.

Kal-El is an alien himself (no pun intended). Much like the Dreamers, Superman did not choose to come here. Over the years, he has grown to embody what is possible in America. Like many Dreamers, Superman adapted to our culture and values, while maintaining his own Kryptonian heritage.

Remember that poll? @DLKeatis gives a great summary

It’s Not an ‘S’

it is not an s

The Superman “S” is instantly recognizable around the world. It has carried different meanings over the last 81 years: Superman, Truth, Justice, and The American Way. It became his family crest. Then, in 2003, writer Mark Waid decided to have it be the Kryptonian symbol of hope.

“Superman Birthright” may have introduced the idea, but Man of Steel is when it entered mainstream pop culture.

“It’s not an ‘S’…On my world it means hope”.

This simple line from Man of Steel directly connected Superman with hope to the general audience. I think it is fair to ask how a comic book character can bring hope to people in the real world.

Hope can mean different things to different people. It can be a belief, a feeling, an expectation of a certain outcome. Kal-El’s optimism and belief in the best of people has personally given me something to emulate.

For some, the hope comes as nostalgia — a feeling of awe and wonder when they first saw Superman fly. Sometimes hope means never giving up, no matter the odds. We don’t believe Superman will literally swoop in and save the day, but we believe that we can be hopeful for a better tomorrow.

Just a Guy

superman hope
Source: Warner Bros./Legendary Entertainment/Syncopy

For me, the thing that will always keep Superman relevant is that he is just a guy trying to do the right thing.

On the special features (Heart of Justice) for Justice League (2017) Geoff Johns said “The thing that is really interesting, you could say any situation ‘What would Superman do?’ and you would do the right thing.”

superman respectSuperman is often derided for being the “Big Blue Boy Scout”. Is that such a bad thing? There are other DC characters that are morally gray (looking at you Batman), but Superman is the moral compass of the DC Universe.

His innate desire to do the right thing should never be seen as a negative quality, but rather something to celebrate.

This idea of living respect is not limited to fighting crime. It can be something as simple as doing a small act of kindness for someone else: holding a door open, saying hello to your coworkers, genuinely listening to a friend in need.

You don’t need a costume to be someone’s Superman. Although we may never know what it is like to fly, we can follow Superman’s example of never giving up on making the world a better place.

It has been 81 years and the character of Superman still proves his relevance by showing us how to protect the defenseless, give hope to others, and to always strive to do the right thing. 

See that? Up in the sky? It’s hope we all can reach. It took a man from Krypton to teach all of us that. 

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