Tag Archives: Superman

The Problem with Superman

A while ago, I wrote a story called Superman’s Golf Ball, which portrayed Superman as cocky and arrogant. It was playing off a website that highlights all the bad and jerky things Superman has done in the comics over the years.

I know that my story rubbed at least one Superman fan the wrong way and I do understand why. Superman is beloved because he is an ideal. He is an insanely overpowered person who could rule the world if he wanted to, but still tries to do the right thing and help everyone he can. He is what we all wish we could be. And I like that about him; he’s a fascinating character.

I just don’t think he always makes for a very interesting story. I went to see Man of Steel over the weekend (this post does not contain any big spoilers) and it was the first Superman movie I’d seen in a long while. I liked it well enough, but still, there are some things about Superman that nag at me. Here are three of the main problems I have with Superman stories:

1.   The lack or quality of external conflict.

The main conflict with Superman that I can see is that he is divided into the two parts that his name suggests: he is both Super and Man and a lot of the conflict comes from him trying to reconcile these two parts. He is both an alien from Krypton and a citizen of Earth. But that is all internal conflict.

When it comes to external conflict, there seems to be three main types. One is to make the conflict Superman’s race against time or distance, making the conflict his inability to do everything at once. He simply cannot save everyone and be everywhere at once (although he does pretty well sometimes).

Another way is with kryptonite, his Achilles Heel. I know that it has been justified in his back story, but it still seems like a manufactured plot point to keep him from being totally invulnerable and make the story a little interesting. Also, it seems like it should be such a rare material that it would really never show up more than once, at most. I was happy to see that while Man of Steel used the kryptonite idea, they didn’t use it overtly.

The third way is to make the conflict between him and other insanely super-powered beings, such as General Zod and his comrades, just to give Superman a challenge. The problem with this scenario is that a fight between indestructible beings is not all that interesting to watch for too long. No one really gets hurt, except for any unfortunate humans (and buildings) that happen to get in the way. Which brings me to my second point.

2.   Humanity is largely irrelevant.

When I watched Man of Steel, one of the biggest impressions that I got was how humanity was irrelevant to the final outcome. Sure, we help out a little, but in terms of fighting, the conflict is entirely out of our league. I felt bad for all the brave special forces members who are running into combat with absolutely no chance of doing anything but dying quickly. It’s like watching rabbits chewing on the treads of a tank. And although we can cheer on Superman while he defends us, it’s hard to get too invested in a fight between two indestructible titans while we sit on the bench and hope not to get crushed by accident. Incidentally, if Superman really wanted to help humanity, I think he would have lured Zod away from one of the busiest cities in the world to somewhere like Greenland where the destruction would have been a lot less.

3.   It’s too easy to break the rules.

This one is less about Man of Steel and more about Superman in his other movies and incarnations. The fact is, Superman is more or less a god. He is indestructible and his powers are so great that they aren’t even definitely defined. This is unique. Pretty much every other superhero has one power or set of powers that defines him. Spiderman has his spider sense, lightning fast reflexes and he can climb and swing on webs. Wolverine has an adamantium skeleton, claws, super healing, plus heightened senses. They’re both pretty powerful, but they have defined powers and never suddenly gain the ability to fly or use mental powers.

What can Superman do? He is indestructible, can fly, has super strength, has X-ray vision, has heat-ray eyes, has super hearing… etc. He also tends to occasionally get powers that are important to the story. In the original movies, he has turned back time and erased memory. Sometimes he flies around in space. He can do that? Sure, why not. I know that these are all in different movies, where the writers have different conceptions of what Superman is like, but still, Superman is a bit like magic. He can do whatever you need him to do at that moment. A living, breathing deus ex machine is not as interesting to watch as a character that has real, defined limitations.


I was a bit hesitant about writing this, since I know that some people take superheroes very seriously and would possibly disagree with me. But that’s okay. If you disagree with anything I said, let’s debate the matter like friends in the comments.

In Your Dreams, Inc.

People are weird. Their thoughts are weird and their dreams are even weirder. I should know—it’s my job.

Have you ever had one of those dreams that made perfect sense, even after you woke up? It was like someone was writing a movie and playing it out in your brain while you slept. It had production value. Of course, the next night, it’s usually back to some jumble of nonsense about teddy bears, an ominous-looking toaster, and your Grade 4 teacher driving a taxi.

Imagine you could dream those cool, complicated dream every night—chasing bad guys, flying around like Superman, and still waking up fresh as spring breeze? You can now, thanks to In Your Dreams, Inc. It’s popular, let me tell you. The guy who founded it is a multi-billionaire now. Not that I see much of that though—I’m just an extra.

*         *         *

“Brad, here’s the script for the Harper drug-bust scenario.” Heather hands me a single sheet of paper.

“What is he this time, the drug lord or the cop?” I ask.

“Actually, he’s the briefcase. They carry him in, open him up, then test the drugs. When the cops show up, he’s thrown into the evidence locker for a while, then ends up as Exhibit B in the trial. That’s when he wakes up. Hey, I got you a speaking part this time.”

I look at the script and find my name. “‘I gotta go pee”? What kind of a line is that?”

Heather shrugs. “He wanted to throw a subliminal hint into the dream somewhere. He says he always wakes up with his bladder almost exploding and he wants to start waking up before that point. Don’t worry; everybody starts at the bottom. You do a couple ‘I gotta go pee’ gigs, then move on to ‘you got the drugs?’ or ‘the giant lemon bounced that way.’ Before you know it, you’re the guy explaining to the dreamer how he’s the only one who can save the planet. Baby steps, Brad.”

An hour later, I’ve gotten through makeup and am on the sound stage with the rest of the actors. Abraham Lincoln is the drug lord this time. I’ve worked on a few Sammy Harper dreams before and for some reason Abraham Lincoln always shows up somewhere. I was a giant Raggedy Andy in a tea party dream of his and sure enough, Lincoln was the one serving the tea.

“Places, everyone!” the director Kyle Dresden shouts. “Sammy Harper just fell asleep. We’re live in twenty minutes.”

We always do dreams live, while beaming them remotely into the dreamer’s brain. There is a huge screen set up at one end of the stage that shows us exactly what the dreamer is experiencing. That’s essential since dreamers rarely stick to the script, even ones they’ve helped write themselves. We always have to keep an eye on it while we’re acting.

In this scenario, I’m one of the drug dealers. I’ve got a bazooka—which is insane—but that’s Sammy Harper for you. Other drug dealers have AK-47s, elephant guns, and one has a tiger on a leash.

The blue “Dream On” light goes on and we advance towards the middle of the room. Abraham Lincoln is in front, holding the briefcase. The director signals the giant marshmallow Peeps to start jumping around in the background. The theme song to “Cheers” starts playing.

The actor playing Lincoln-as-a-drug-lord puts the briefcase on the table and opens it. The other gang leader samples the drugs inside. I look up at the dream screen and see that in the dream, the briefcase has grown wings and is flying around the room. I knew Sammy Harper couldn’t be content to just lie there as a briefcase and let everyone else have the action. The briefcase in the dream has now sprouted arms and is firing a Tommy gun at us.

This is where improv takes over. We all keep an eye on the screen to see where the briefcase is firing and when it gets near us, we fall back as if we’re shot. The customer is always right, after all.

The dream briefcase fires in my direction and I drop to the ground, writhing as if shot. I’m about to full-on die when I realize that I haven’t said my line yet. The first line of my career and the dreamer goes off script and kills me. Not this time. I let out a dying scream. “I gotta go pee!”

*         *         *

It’s 6am and I stumble through the door of my apartment and fall onto the bed without even undressing. I just want some nice black-screen sleep. I used to like my dreams, but now, I don’t want to remember a thing. It’s too much like work.

Superman’s Golf Ball

This picture was actually a prompt for a Friday Fictioneers story a few weeks ago, but I got another idea, so here it is.

Superman's golfball

Copyright Doug MacIlroy

I’m making a huge golf ball for Superman. Because literally nothing normal is good enough for that guy.

“Hole-in-one, first try,” he said, puffing out his chest.

“You know it won’t fit in the hole, right?” I said.

“I’m not playing on a golf course, though. I’m aiming for an open manhole on the Champs-Élysées. That’s in Paris, France,” he added, with his typical super-smirk.

So here I am building this dang thing while he goes to find a 3-ton golf club, because why not, right?

I’m even filling it with TNT, just because he wants the extra challenge.



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