Poll Position: Character issues

"Inspired" by the recent Tiger Woods gossip, I started thinking about character issues when it comes to super-hero characters. Modern comics are chock-full of heroes with significant personal defects, most pointedly in various Image books like "Dynamo 5" (five bastard children of a Superman analogue, each having inherited one of the father's powers) and "Noble Causes" (super-hero family soap opera), or the Millar-Hitch "Ultimates" stories (wife-beating, philandering, treason, etc.).

Big Blue, however, has long since been untouchable in that regard. Whatever else he is, Superman has always had not just the best super-powers, but the most stringent and inspiring personal code of ethics. Except for the lying about his identity and the various bits of Super-Dickery documented on SuperDickery.com, of course. But hey, that was mostly in the Golden Age, and you can hardly harsh on a guy in a world that also had Bulletdogs getting flung out of windows.

So I wondered how you would personally feel if Superman were revealed to have had a serious personal failing in a non-super-related event:

{democracy:111}

The question brings up a lot of issues. What does it mean to be a hero? What relevance does a person's non-public actions have to his or her public duties? How much weight do we give a person's failings when compared to their successes? How much of ourselves do we let get wrapped up in our idols?

For me personally, I don't think it would diminish my respect for him as a defender of the public good, if that's what you consider his "job" to be. I'd still think he's great for, you know, keeping Brainiac from blowing up the planet or Luthor from enslaving us. Stacked up against that kind of thing, what he does sexually with whom is small potatoes.

But.

Part of what makes Superman, Superman, is the idea that he's not just the best anyone could be in terms of physical prowess, but also in terms of moral prowess. The latter is almost more important than his physical greatness because no one, no matter how hard they work out, can stop bullets with their skin. But we can each hope to be the best moral creature we can be.

So on those terms, yes, I'd lose some respect for him as a person, if not as a public defender.

Another facet to consider is whether this is Earth-2 married Superman, or just Superman and Lois "having a good time". It shouldn't matter in terms of betraying a trust, but on the one hand there's a vow taken, and in the other something a level below that.

Anyway, what do you think?

34 Responses to Poll Position: Character issues

  1. I wouldn’t care either way.So long as he isn’t cheating on saving me as I fall from an exploding dirigeable or some such, I have no concern on how he chooses to live his private life.

    If it were Earth-3 Superman (Ultraman), then I would be apalled (said kingmonkey, ironically).

  2. In the case of most of the Heroes, hiding their true identity is a matter of safety for their love ones and friends, so you can’t blame them for lying about that.

    Cheating on the person they love(or say they love), makes you think of what else they are cheating on. If they can’t be truthful with someone they care for, how can they be truthful with anyone else.

    Know that they are in the public eyes and that there are people that look up to you, especially children, they should hold themselves to a higher standard.

    Big examples are sports players,singers, and actors, children look up to them, and want to be like them when they grow up. But what do you see on the News all the time, so and so got busted for drugs, so and so got caught cheating at one thing or another, so and so broke the law this way or that way, and another big one so and so was beating their love one. The worst thing is they get by with it because they 1. Have money, 2. Know someone in Washington, 3. They are on the home town team and the home town thinks they need them to win, and many more so called reasons. All that is doing is show “our children” that those things are right to do, as long as you are famous.

    If the average person crashed their car and were fighting with their spouse in their front yard, there is no way in heck the Police would call them up to make an appointment with them to go over the facts, their a**es would be taken to jail. If the average person was in a “slow” speed chase with the Police, the their tires would be shot out. If the average person was caught with drugs in their car, they would be arrested, tested, and locked up, which would cost them their jobs and possible their family.

    But if you are famous(have money)you get,interviewed on T.V., you get your own T.V. show, you get signed on for more years and get an up in pay, you sell books, you get six months at a prison resort with access to the media, your get out of jail(after gambling on dog fights) and sign back up to another team.(Pete Rose Gambled and got ban for life from baseball. Are we just getting soft.)

    Jeff, this is what happens when you put the soap box out there for me to preach on.

  3. Y’know, I do believe that in some instances how one conducts their private lives will reflect or even spill over into their professional/public affairs (Yikes! A unintended pun!). Truth is, there are certain offices– callings even– that demand moral character and one must understand the responsibilities that go along with them. I’m not talking about entertainers, mind you, though HammerKnight brings up an interesting point.

    If Superman were caught cheating on Lois Lane than it would destroy his credibility. Sure, he can fly and crush coal into diamonds, but his greatest ability is that he inspires. He is Christ-like, let’s face it. Our heroes are often burdened with moral responsibility– some accept it as a gift, others a curse. The difference between a hero and a person who does heroic things is that the hero understands his character carries alot of weight and will TRY to live up to what his position represents. That goes for Presidents too.

  4. If it were any other hero (or anti-hero), I don’t think we would really care what they were doing with their personal lives, because it’s expected of them. However, we are talking about Superman, the epitome of moral values, so of course I would think less of him if he was cheating on Lois Lane.

    HK brings up a good point, children look up to popular figures (entertainers and athletes) as role models. Nowadays, it’s not surprising if a rock star or star athlete is caught in some type of scandal. In fact, it’s almost expected of them. And I think that’s why the Tiger Woods’ case is a little different, because he was perceived as the “Superman” of golf (or the entire sporting world really). Now, it seems like he’s just like other degenerate sports figures.

    However, as a golfer, there’s no denying he’s the best at what he does, just like Superman is the best hero of all-time. Their private lives empirically have no basis on their actions as a professional athlete and a superhero. You would be just as happy to be saved by The Punisher or Wolverine as you would Superman. However, perception is reality, and as the public watches these morally clean icons do something “unexpected” of them, it gives the public the right to doubt their characters and lose trust in them, even though their actions don’t affect their “job performances”.

  5. I might be disappointed but, it really shouldn’t be any of my business what a person does in their private life as long as they keep it separate from their professional life.

    I would lose respect for him as a person however; that doesn’t make him less of a hero. It might be something like the man every one loves who helps the community but, beats his wife. They feel bad about beating their wife so they believe they can compensate by being very good every where else. If superman was cheating on Lois Lane I would think it would be a lot like the wife beater who does good deeds. That is just me though.

  6. Good deeds or not, a person that beats their wife is the lowest scum on earth and needs to be locked up.

  7. Yeah, I’d say beating is on a whole different level from cheating.

  8. If Superman cheated on Lois, I think it’d make him more of a hero, not less. You see, I don’t really concider Superman much of a hero at all. His unyielding, uncompromising, compulsive goodness is so alien to me that I don’t really think of him as a moral agent at all. To be a hero is to have the ability to make difficult choices, but since Superman never even conciders other possibilities than doing the “right” thing, he doesn’t really qualify as a moral agent to make choices. He’s like a fleshy robot of goodness. But if he made the choice to cheat Lois that would indicate that he is indeed a moral agent capable of doing something besides the “right” thing and therefore his heroic exploits would signify his benevolence. Without that humanlike element Superman is merely a force of nature that just by coincidence happens to be causing “good” results – a sort of hurricane of positive results.

  9. @Kalkin– Well sir, that is a new approach regarding the issue, mind you…a f*#ked up one, but to each his own. And about Superman shrugging off hard moral choices? Sir, I kindly disagree and can point out (…at least) two issues that would argue against your opinion: Superman #222 and even the Emperor Joker arc. Just because Superman seemingly does the right thing doesn’t mean he doesn’t struggle with those decisions. Sacrifice, despite being a virtually invulnerable Kryptonian, often comes with suffering…and that is a pain Superman CAN feel.

  10. Struggling or not, the outcome in moral issues is never once in doubt. Other alternative routes of action are never serious contenders, not even close. Super’s not a moral agent. His absolute goodness is too alien to qualify as one.

  11. @Kalkin– Sir, have you read Superman #222? He actually executes the Phantom Zone criminals. Not only did Superman play judge and jury, which is against his belief in the judicial system/civil authorities, but he went against his creed to kill and executed these beings. And that right there shows that he can fail to do the ‘right’ thing, at least by his own standards. Personally, I would have had Zod kneel before me then watch him slowly die of kryptonite poisoning, “Who’s kneeling now, bitch?!”.

  12. William A. Peterson

    I clicked “Yes”, but what I *really* mean is that I would start looking for Magic, Telepathy, and/or Red Kryptonite…

    Joshua, yeah, he did that… AFTER Zod and company had killed EVERYONE on (that) Earth!
    Extenuating circumstances, wouldn’t you say?
    Even so, it gave him grave psychological problems for something like a year afterward…

  13. Mr. Peterson, if Superman were a true moral agent without failing or compromise he would have imprisoned Zod and Company back into the Phantom Zone. And as far as his mental breakdown? Forgive me, but I fail to see how that disproves anything.

    I also fail to understand why some people think Superman has some ‘super-morality’ power that always allows him to do the right thing. Sure, that might have been a Pre-Crisis ability (…I kid you not), but that’s since past. Let me level with you: Superman is one hero that I don’t want to identify with. He does the right thing where I know I wouldn’t. We need real life examples just like that. Now, I figure Superman sometimes struggles with making the right choices, but like most of my grandparent’s generation (…and yes, I do know he was a PRODUCT of that generation) he doesn’t (…or rather, he shouldn’t) bitch about having to carrying it out regardless of what he’ll lose or how much he will suffer for it. Spiderman sure does, and how!

    And look on the flip side, do these same people think Batman is any better? Yeah, Superman will treat you like you’re his grandson– buy you a Coke float, pat you on the shoulder, and ask if you’ve had a swell day at school. But Batman? He will bitch-slap you once open your pie-hole to tell him about your day. And no Coke float for you, you get tepid water– if even that. He’s the god-damned Batman, don’t you know? 🙂

  14. k, for one….. SuperDickery.com kicks mucho booty! I have clinical depression and even that site makes me laugh no matter what!!!
    Second, cheating on Lois doesn’t make him less of a super hero. Just less of a man. However, with the way things are these days, Lois probably cheated on Supes first, so he was just getting back at her. Doesn’t make it right, just justifiable. hehehehe

  15. He cheated on Lois in the Superman 3 Movie.
    He spent half the movie with Lana then spends the night with Lorelei after getting drunk and picking her up off the Statue of Liberty. When Lorelei confrunts him with the fact later he says he wasn’t himself.
    Perhaps Tiger Woods should try saying that.

  16. Superman III does not exist. It was a mass hallucination. Or a fraud. Or a hoax. Or something that means it didn’t really happen, because nothing that purely awful could possibly exist in the real world. One of the few movies I ever actively considered walking out on.

  17. I have the #222 and it forms one exception to the rule (every rule has one, including this one). It forms additional proof to how detached Superman is to convensional morality. You’d have to kill everyone on the planet to make him develope some humanity in him and even then it didn’t stick for long. The whole point of being a moral agent (and thus a hero) hinges on having a genuine moral choice – ability to do the wrong thing every time, but choosing not to. That choice Superman doesnt’t have.

    Batman doesn’t really qualify in the goodness robot category. He’s just a nutcase acting out his fantasies of revenge. He’s like a serial killer without the killing part (only because that’d make criminals win), but likewise obsessive. Same thing with Spider-Man, but atleast we know he’s made few free willed choices (letting uncle Ben’s killer go in the beginning and stealing the solid gold notepad).

  18. I’d just like to point out:
    A Mean Drunk
    Two men are sitting drinking at a bar at the top of the Empire State Building, when the first man turns to the other and says “You know, last week I discovered that if you jump from the top of this building, the winds around the building are so intense that by the time you fall to the 10th floor, they carry you around the building and back into a window”. The bartender just shakes his head in disapproval while wiping the bar.

    The second guy says, “What, are you nuts? There’s no way that could happen. “No, its true,” the first man says. “Let me prove it to you.” He gets up from the bar, jumps over the balcony, and plummets toward the street below. As he nears the 10th floor, the high winds whip him around the building and back into the 10th floor window and he takes the elevator back up to the bar.

    He meets the second man, who looks quite astonished. “You know, I saw that with my own eyes, but that must have been a one time fluke.” “No, I’ll prove it again,” says the first man as he jumps again. Just as he is hurtling toward the street, the 10th floor wind gently carries him around the building and into the window. Once upstairs he urges his fellow drinker to try it.

    “Well, why not.” the second guy says, “It works. I’ll try it.” He jumps over the balcony, plunges downward passes the 11th, 10th 9th, 8th, floors. . . . . and hits the sidewalk with a SPLAT.

    Back upstairs the bartender turns to the other drinker and says, “You know Superman, you’re a real jerk when you’re drunk”.

  19. I wouldn’t care about the bedroom habits of most capes, but with Superman…he’s like a D&D paladin–without the inflexible moral code, he’s just not the same hero.

  20. @Kalkin– Sir, once again I think you’re mistaken when you claim Superman…”has no choice but to do the right thing”. In fact, because I believe this claim is without merit, I must ask that you provide a source proving that Superman has no alternative in a moral dilemma. I don’t think it exists outside of Pre-Crisis. And to close, that you would even suggest Superman has no humanity…I have to ask you: are you Lex Luthor or working for him? 🙂

    @PCFDPGrey– That.was.hilarious!

  21. No, I’m not Lex Luthor…but I did do an online personality test once that claimed I’m a robot, so Lex might have built me.

  22. I had to say yes, I would think less of him, but I feel a deep need to clarify because i usually feel so strongly about separation of personal and public life.

    Superman is possibly the ONLY superhero I would think less of as a superhero because of some personal failing. The reason for this is the fact that, for over half a century, Superman has stood as an icon of a specific moral code. His representation of this moral code is as much a part of his superhero identity as his powers, and so failure to live up to the moral code does effect his status as a superhero.

    That said, I really don’t think superheroes should be as tied to moral codes as Superman is. I don’t think any superhero should carry such moral weight that it matters who ( or what) they’re having sex with.

  23. Would I think less of him as a super hero? No. Would I think less of him as a person? Yes. The two things are not the same. The thing with Tiger Woods isn’t about whether or not he’s still a good golfer, it’s about his personal life. That doesn’t mean people should suddenly think of him as a bad golfer if he’s cheating on his wife. They can still admire Tiger Woods the golfer but not admire Tiger Woods the man. That’s the same case here, cheating on Lois doesn’t make Superman a bad hero, admire the hero but not the man.

    Now if he were a politician it would be a different story.

  24. William A. Peterson

    Joshua, Superman was never morally *perfect*!
    Heck, in his early runs, he would beat people up for cutting in on Lois when CLARK was trying to dance with her!
    He is, however, the best there is in that Universe, among the Supers, at least…
    He may not be Human, but he is Mortal, and thus prone to the occasional mistake.
    His morality derives from his upbringing, not his genetic code…
    Notice, most other Kryptonians think he’s a bit flakey!
    As for that ONE issue, the whole point of that issue was to break the general rule…
    Blame the scriptwriters, if you must, but not the character!

  25. William A. Peterson

    Knight, there’s a difference between Tiger Woods, and Superman… in fact, there’s several!
    First, Tiger is a celebrity, not a Superhero!
    As Superman will point out, Superheroes MUST be held to a higher standard…
    They ask to be held above the law, and they have powers and abilities that allow them to escape, or evade, the law, often with impugnity!
    Tiger, if he should try to rob a bank with the aid of trick Golf Clubs, could still be shot to death while resisting arrest…

  26. William, I must disagree that there is a differnce. We hold celebrities to a different standard than we do normal folks, a higher standard. But nobody can possibly live up to such high standards, not even superheroes. We expect so much of celebrities and are ready to jump all over gossip, any kind whether it’s good or bad, that they can not live their lives in peace. And then when they are not what we expect or they do something we think they couldn’t possibly do because of this false image we have of them, we either rush to their defense shouting their being wrongfully maligned by the press or we’re disillusioned and quick to tear them down.

    As for above the law, consider that there really are double standards for celebrities and normal people that essentially put them above the law too often. Crimes of lesser offense could land us in jail for six months to a year and we’ll have to serve out that time. The same exact crime commited by a celeb can land them with thirty days and their back out on the street after only serving ten. They are far more likely to get away with just a slap on the wrist. If they commit murder they may face the same treatment as we do or they may get off largely scott free just because of who they are.

  27. Mr. Peterson, that’s what I’ve been trying to get across this whole time: Superman is not a perfect being and when he commits to doing what’s right it’s not because he’s forced to by some type of genetic predisposition, but because he chooses to do what’s right (…and you’re right: it IS because of the Kent’s). Am I wrong here? I believe the argument was that Superman never has a choice in these matters and will ALWAYS do the right thing. I disagreed and used Superman #222 to show that he will actually make the WRONG choice at times (…or wrong by his own standards). Oh, and Golden-Age Superman? He’d put the “god-damned Batman” to shame 🙂

  28. So would it make a difference to you all if they were just dating and not married? Or even, whatever it is they’re doing, since they’re not really “dating” in the comics — he just saves her life on a daily basis while she rejects his alter ego and he fools her about who he actually is.

    You know, when you think about it, their relationship is a weird kind of chastity mixed with dishonesty …

  29. The Kent family is being given far too much credit as super morality developers. The world is full of “good” families with human kids that still grow crooked despite straight backed background. It is Supermans genetic makeup that allows him to follow his “good” code with such single-mindedness. The Kent were just the ones to supply the code. If Superman had been adopted by the Manson family, he’d pursue “evil” code with similar vigour.

    When Superman agonizes over moral choices he agonizes over difficulties caused by following his code. I don’t recall him ever considering just dropping the code and doing something else. It’s never an option – the only exception being #222 and that was under very, veeeery exceptional circumstances.

  30. Oh, one more addition to the previous: It is my theory that Supermans single-mindedness is caused by exposure to the yellow sunlight. Just like his flesh becomes impervious to external hits under yellow sun, his mind becomes also impervious to external ideas and alternative paths of reasoning. Under red sun he might be more flexible in his choices like normal people.

  31. First…a PSA from yours truly: Microsoft Windows, from coast-to-coast, you blaze across screens providing PC users with a supposed easy-to-use operating system. Operative word: easy. You are on notice for failing to comply. I leave that notice here because I had written an extensive post and you, Microsoft, decided to reboot the system for a Windows update. That post was erased from existence. It felt what Marty McFly felt at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Microsoft…you’ve been warned.

    Now, let me make two brief points: 1). Jeff– You’re right, the whole Clark/Superman/Lois love triangle is mighty odd. Alias or not, had that been me I could NOT do that to the woman I love. And I’m married, so even with powers if I decided to keep that secret from my wife…she would enact the most dreaded vengeance known to married men: the Silent Treatment and No Sex. 2). Kalkin– Sir, I must ask you provide a source to back up your assertion that Superman has some genetic disposition to his morality. Pre-Crisis does NOT count. Elseworlds doesn’t count, because for every Superman raised evil but ends up good story out there, there is a counter to it, like Red Son for instance. The Kent’s deserve a lot of credit for ‘Clark Kent’. I await your reply, sir.

  32. No, no, no, Joshua, I didn’t say that Superman’s morality was genetic based. I said that genetics produces his single-mindedness with which he practises it. You totally misunderstood me. And what is this crap about pre-crisis not counting? Everything counts, man.

  33. @Kalkin– I apologize for misunderstanding you, so now the question is: how do you figure his genetics alter the way he responds to a moral dilemma? The reason we have to over-rule Pre-Crisis is because Kal-L is a different variation from Kal-El. Their history, their story, even their powers. And if you wish to use Pre-Crisis as your sole argument then which version: Golden Age or Silver Age? Mr. Peterson was right, Golden Age Superman responded to the common criminal much differently than Silver Age or Post Crisis. In fact, both Silver and Post would be dismayed on how Golden handled them. Believe me, I find your theory interesting…but to a point. You have a task ahead of you to prove your assertion that Superman is incapable of moral choice.