Superman, affectionately known as the man of steel, is a character that is as loved as much as he is hated. Some think that he may be too strong, too perfect and too powerful. These kind of thoughts about Superman’s personality and character probably stem back to his early days. Before John Byrne made the Man of Steel miniseries in 1986, Superman had no limitations. And honestly, powers were made up on the fly. I mean, he is a super-man! Doesn’t that mean that he can do anything?
The truth is that Superman’s personality comes from not what he can do, but from what he cannot do. Raised by quaint, old-fashion American parents on a farm, Clark Kent was not exactly well-educated. He did not attend an Ivy League school, and was not challenged academically more than he was challenged morally. Having to keep his super-powered abilities a secret while holding his moral ground were his biggest challenges. Luckily, his parents led him down the righteous path. If he were raised elsewhere, things could have gone differently. Proof of this can be seen in the story Superman: Red Son. It shouldn’t be surprising that much of Superman’s personality came from his parents, both positive and negative. Him often being seen as a “Boy Scout” straight as an arrow, never bending the rules sort of person is the root of friction between Superman and Batman. It is this character trait that splits them apart, for Batman would do whatever shady technique necessary as long as it would not involve killing or using a gun.
You could also argue that Superman’s personality stems from his “never-ending battle for truth and justice”. This goes back to the 1940s when Superman was portrayed in Max Fleischer’s Super-8mm propaganda films during World War Two. In these short cartoons we see Superman battling Japanese officers, a mad scientist (who may have represented Nikola Tesla) and, my favorite, flying robots. You can buy and watch these entertaining snippets of history online.
Since 1986, physical limitations began to appear against him to make him seem more plausible as a character. For example, no longer could he breath in outer space. John Byrne (writer and artist) describes Superman’s powers as being whatever a human could do, but to a higher degree. For example he would have super strength and super vision. He also allowed him to have heat vision (since he gets his energy from the sun) and also have x-ray vision, as he could focus past the atoms. If you want to read more about this in detail, he discusses it in Amazing Heroes 96. In the same magazine interview, Byrne says that he gave Superman’s personality self-depreciating humor influenced from Christopher Reeve’s acting in his Superman films.
Superman’s biggest weakness of all is his lack of intelligence. The brawn vs the brain, you could say. This is what makes Lex Luthor such a brilliant enemy. He is just an ordinary human being. Yet he keeps outsmarting Superman, despite appearing to have the power of God. Not only does Lex Luthor not appreciate Superman’s personality and choices to oversee the planet, but nor does Batman. In fact, Batman fantasizes about how much better use those powers would be if he had them instead.
What do you know about Superman? Have I encompassed his personality? Let me know in the comments.