Monday, July 03, 2006

Is Superman Brave?

In thinking about "Superman Returns" (which I haven't seen yet, so no spoilers!), a thought occurred to me today:

Is Superman brave?

To be brave means to overcome fear in order to do the right thing, to attempt some act that carries with it the possibility of danger to oneself. Clearly, being mortal, Superman can feel fear, but not from most of what he encounters. He's virtually invulnerable, so does it take bravery for him to, say, try and stop a giant robot from marauding downtown?

I suppose he must be afraid of failure, of someone getting hurt or killed because he is not smart enough or quick enough or strong enough to stop the menace. But there is no (or virutally no) risk of personal danger for his physical well being.

Does that make him less of a hero? Would any of us, guaranteed a free pass from harm, do the same as he does? Would we be more or less inclined to stop the robber, crush the monster, foil the plots of Lex Luthor? Without fear, does it count as bravery?

I do know Superman is a great hero, an icon of a pure and brilliant ideal that I hope never fades from our culture. I just don't know if he's brave or not. What do you think?


Denise said...

What an interesting concept. I guess you could say he's brave in a way that he helps other people who are scared and for risking their lives to save them, he's brave for them. I've always remembered what you said, Jeff, about Superman's not really that interesting because -- he's invincible. Give me a Spider Man with his inferiority complexes or a Bruce Wayne with his schizophrenic brain any day. Great brain exercise, my dear fellow. I suppose you could say he's brave because (I do know we're talking about a comic book guy here, I really do) he risks the ridicule and the deaths of others to do the right thing. And doing the right thing isn't always easy. So, if we say that, then Superman is brave, but Clark Kent's braver. But, ya gotta go with the Batman for a real super hero because he doesn't have any super powers! Just an ingenious brain. I have officially crossed over the line into "geekdom." Welcome me, oh fellow geekers.

David M said...

Based on physical danger, I'd have to go with No, he's not brave.
I think a fairly strong case could be made for bravery if a) emotional danger were included as a factor and b) I knew anything about the Superman comics.
I've never followed him much for reasons similar to those that Denise recounted - he doesn't seem to struggle with much.

Denise said...

I saw the Superman movie today, and was quite disappointed. I went in with high hopes, but Gene Hackman's campy Lex Luthor beats Kevin Spacey by a mile, and I'm a Spacey fan. Also, this Superman didn't have the personality that Christopher Reeve had. But -- at the end, when the credits are rolling, right at the beginning is the dedication: To Christopher and Dana Reeve. Made me cry immediately. In real life, Christopher Reeve was a brave, brave man. He made himself keep going, even when most people would've said pull the plug, and he became a champion for people with disabilities. Dana Reeve was right by his side. That both of them died so young is such a shame, but they did the brave thing -- they fought for a cause they believed in. In this case, Superman is a fictional character who really isn't brave. In real life, the man who played him was one of the bravest men around. I left the movie thinking that.