Saturday, 3 April 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - Superman

By most accepted definitions, Superman is without a doubt the first and most iconic super hero. Fanboys may like to debate whether he or Batman is the best, the most successful or the most inspirational character in the DCU but, to the world at large, Superman defines the very concept of what a superhero is. Without him the comics industry would be very different to the one we know today.

The figurine made by Eaglemoss for the DC Comics Super Hero Collection is rather more caricatured than most of the other figurines, a huge barrel chest tapering down into an impossibly slim waist. This seems an odd decision given the realistic proportions of the other figurines in the series, but I suspect very few will complain. The Big Blue costume is such an instantly recognisable brand that you could dress pretty much anything in it and it would still be identifiable as belonging to Kal-El, the last son of Krypton.

The skin tight body-suit, the "underpants" worn on the outside, the insignia emblazoned across the chest and, of course, the cape - back in 1938, Siegel and Shuster supposedly based the costume on that of a circus strong man. These days, that's all but forgotten. It has been imitated so often by the rest of the super hero community that it now defines the entire super hero genre. Modern creators may try to vary the basic template by dropping the cape or losing the underpants but they seldom stray far from it.

If there's one thing that defines the super hero more than his costume, however, it's his superhuman "powers". And, over the years, Superman has acquired more than enough powers to equip a whole super team. The core abilities originally given to him by Siegel and Shuster are summarised neatly in his now legendary tag line: "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!" You'll notice there's no mention of his various ocular abilities. No telescopic vision, no heat vision and no x-ray vision. Even more notable, however, is the fact that, back in the day, he leapt rather than flew. The power of flight was added to his array of powers later, when Superman was given his own radio show.

And this is where many, myself included, start to lose interest in the character. There is a feeling among many comic book fans that Superman is simply too powerful. His only weaknesses are kryptonite (also introduced by the radio show) and that weakest of all plot devices - magic. He is, in effect, a god. A character for whom no enemy is too powerful to defeat, no problem too difficult to resolve. Compared to the threats faced by other heroes, the dilemmas dreamt up by Superman's writers are ridiculously artificial and contrived. They have to be. What else could challenge a god?

That Superman remains so popular today is due in no small part, I think, to the fact that he clings to his secret identity as mild-mannered reporter (now editor?) Clark Kent. Readers might have difficulty relating to a man who can fly, but we can all relate to a socially inept Mr Average who never gets the girl (although why anyone would want to win the acid-tongued Lois of the 1930s is a mystery!) You see, as much as today's writers try to say otherwise, Superman is Clark Kent. Even when in costume, Clark's "nice guy" persona still wins through. The fashion may be for heroes to be dark and gritty but somewhere, inside all of us, we all want to know there are still people out there who are as good and as brave, as honest, as loyal and as decent as Clark. After all, even without the "super", that pretty much defines a hero.

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