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 kinds 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 breathe 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 (Affiliate Link). 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, renowned for his unwavering determination, exemplifies a remarkable personality trait that sets him apart. His resilience knows no bounds, evident in his selfless acts and unwavering commitment to protecting humanity from the gravest threats. Faced with insurmountable challenges, Superman has displayed a steadfast resolve comparable to none other, a resolute spirit that shines through in pivotal moments of his extraordinary journey. Notably, in the iconic narrative The Death of Superman, he valiantly sacrificed his own life to vanquish the menacing Doomsday, proving his indomitable resolve. This selfless act stands as a testament to Superman’s unwavering determination, a testament that echoes through countless instances where he has pushed himself to the absolute limits to safeguard those in need of his protection.
Superman’s optimism is a vital element that significantly contributes to his heroism. As a remarkable defender constantly engaged in saving lives and protecting the world, it is essential for him to firmly believe in the possibility of salvation. Amidst the numerous trials he witnesses through his superpowered senses – the cries of those in pain, the unending cycle of suffering, and the atrocities that plague the world – Superman’s optimism remains unshaken. Rather than succumbing to despair, he actively chooses to embrace a positive outlook.
Superman’s unwavering optimism stems from his ability to recognize the small acts of kindness that people display towards each other. His heightened senses allow him to perceive even the subtlest gestures of compassion and empathy. It is in these moments of human goodness that Superman finds hope and inspiration. Unlike others who may only focus on the world’s horrors and difficulties, Superman magnifies the significance of these small acts, recognizing them as pivotal in shaping a better future.
This optimism fuels Superman’s heroism by bolstering his determination and unwavering commitment to serving others. With a steadfast belief in the inherent goodness of humanity, he becomes an unwavering symbol of hope, demonstrating that even amidst darkness, genuine acts of kindness can prevail. By focusing on the positive aspects, Superman inspires those around him to rise above their own challenges and strive towards creating a world filled with compassion and justice.
Moreover, Superman’s optimism enables him to see beyond the limitations of his powers, allowing him to connect with people on a deeper level. Through his understanding of the human spirit, he can instill hope and inspire others to embody their own heroic potential. His optimistic demeanor radiates strength, encouraging individuals to believe that they too can make a difference, regardless of their circumstances.
In essence, Superman’s unwavering optimism not only sustains his own spirit amidst the chaos of the world but also serves as a catalyst for his heroism. By emphasizing the importance of small acts of kindness and believing in the inherent goodness of humanity, Superman remains a beacon of hope and a symbol of inspiration for all. His optimistic perspective empowers him to save lives, protect the innocent, and champion the cause of justice, demonstrating that true heroism lies not only in physical strength but also in the unwavering belief in the power of good.
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.
Superman’s steadfast refusal to kill villains has led to a considerable amount of debate and questioning about the morality behind his actions. While it may be commendable that he upholds the value of preserving life, this refusal to take decisive action against his worst enemies has often been criticized as a negative trait.
One of the main criticisms is rooted in the potential preventability of civilian deaths. Despite having the power to permanently stop these villains who repeatedly cause widespread devastation, Superman chooses to spare their lives, allowing them to escape and pose a continued threat to innocent lives. This raises the question of why he does not take the initiative to neutralize these villains more permanently, keeping them from causing further harm and destruction.
Additionally, the inconsistency in Superman’s decision-making when it comes to killing is another point of criticism. While he refrains from killing beings with consciousness, he does not extend this same restraint to consuming meat from intelligent animals like pigs. He has even destroyed machines that demonstrated intelligence, suggesting that his moral boundaries are not firmly defined. This lack of clarity in his reasoning for who is deemed acceptable to kill and who isn’t raises concerns about the ethical foundation upon which his actions are based.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that Superman has crossed the line of his own no-killing rule in some instances. He has made exceptions, such as his attempts to kill Doomsday, which further muddles the perception of his strict stance against taking lives. This inconsistency in upholding his core principles feeds into the criticism that his refusal to kill villains is an arbitrary decision, lacking a solid moral framework.
But, even though Superman is strong and brave, he still has weaknesses. And these weaknesses make him more relatable and human, just like you and me. Because, you see, Superman may have superpowers, but he also has feelings and fears, just like any other person. And that’s what makes him a true hero. Not just his powers, but his heart. So, the next time you see Superman flying through the sky, remember that he may be powerful, but he’s also just like you and me. And that’s what makes him truly super.