I feel like I’m getting a crash course in Superman lore with all of these Man of Steel comics lately. Each trade teaches me something new about Superman, be it revealing one of his super abilities or providing a glimpse into his personal motivations. While fairly simplistic in nature, these stories nonetheless present an intriguing image of the man of steel.
The stories in this particular trade were a departure from those presented in the previous Man of Steel collections, putting Superman in more than one surprising situation, all with rather surprising outcomes.
The trade opens with Superman aiding Batman in a battle against a Vampire in a small southern town. Somehow, Superman is overpowered by this demon and is about to be bitten, until Batman swoops in and saves the day by driving a steak through the murderess’s heart:
It just seems odd for Superman to need saving from what seemed like imminent death. Sure, no superhero is perfect, plus the vampire could be magic which Superman is vulnerable to, and it’s entirely plausible that the vampire’s teeth wouldn’t even be able to penetrate Superman’s skin, but come on. This is Superman. It just seemed strange seeing him rescued by anyone, even Batman. (Not that I’m hating on Batman. Definitely not.)
While many of the stories in this trade have a supernatural element, none was more horrifying than “The Union”, a haunting story in which an entire South Dakota town’s population disappears. Sent by the president to investigate, Superman learns that an alien being has killed all of the living creatures’ bodies and stored their brains in a series of jars:
Superman defeats the alien, but the truly poignant moment of the comic occurs after that. With no other recourse, the brains telepathically ask Superman to end their half-lives, a wish Superman very begrudgingly grants. It was fascinating watching Superman struggle with his desire to protect all human life in the face of such a grotesque existence. These moral dilemmas are some of the most fascinating reads, especially when the incorruptible Superman is involved.
These comics are also proving that we are no longer in the Golden Age of comics, when there was a clear delineation between good and evil, and good guys always got along with one another.
Superman confronts Booster Gold in one issue in this collection, and it is clear that there is no love lost between them. They clearly share vastly different opinions, yet their animosity reaches a new level when Booster Gold actually suggests he hold on to a piece of kryptonite:
Even Batman wouldn’t be that cold, and we all know there’s no love lost between him and Superman.
I admit to not knowing much about Booster Gold, but from what I’ve read in this trade, I’m not a fan. Still, while he may not be a good hero in my book, he makes a great antagonist for Superman. We’re so used to seeing Superman battling the bad guys; it’s refreshing to see him have to confront someone who, though an enemy, is still technically on his side in the fight against evil. These are the types of stories I want to read. Characters interacting with one another, disagreeing, banding together when needed. The human element of these superhero stories cannot be understated. It’s the only thing that lets the reader relate to these incredibly powerful, sometimes otherworldly beings.
Is Superman perfect? No. Are there times in this collection when he is bested in battle? Absolutely. And you know what?
I love it.
It’s so much better to read about Superman knowing he’s not undefeatable. Older comics would have him defeating villains with the utmost of ease. Now, there’s real action and suspense. It’s so much more exciting reading a comic when you can actually begin to wonder if Superman will be triumphant.
It’s refreshing to know that he may not win all of his battles. After all, if he loses every once and a while, it will make his victories that much more enjoyable. Do I want him to lose? Of course not. It makes for a far more compelling story though, and it seems the writers finally started to realize that.