It doesn’t take much reflection on superheroes (see my previous Batman post) to remember Superman. For me, he always brings to mind a strange, funny, and poignant song by The Crash Test Dummies from their 1991 debut album, “The Ghosts That Haunt Me.”
What the song underscores is an intuition that has shaped my approach to characters in fiction: they need to be larger than life but flawed and human too. Though the plot needs super-strength, without his kryptonite allergy, the guy in the cape would be pretty boring. Besides, it’s Clark Kent who we bond with. Holding tight to his geek persona, in the days before geeks were cool, Clark sacrificed his hopes for human happiness out of dedication to a public that could never be allowed to know who to thank. If you like stories of unrequited love and hopeless triads, Superman, Lois, and alter-ego, Clark, had it going decades before Twilight.
Even more poignant than fiction was the life of Christopher Reeve (1952-2004), one many actors – and I think the best – who played the Man of Steel.
Reeve became a paraplegic in 1995, after a spinal injury suffered when he was thrown from a horse. For the rest of his life, he lobbied on behalf of spinal-cord injury treatment and stem-cell research. In overcoming the kind of loss that is most people’s worst nightmare, Reeve found the steel of courage in the depths of his human misfortune.
Just like Clark Kent, in the last years of his life, Christopher Reeve lived a selfless life, dedicated to other people’s good.
The Crash Test Dummies had a similar intuition about Superman several year’s before Reeve’s accident, one both deeper and richer than what the word, “superhero” generally implies:
Folks said his family were all dead
Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself
To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going.
Superman never made any money
For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him