Is Superman brave?

It's easy to get caught up in Superman's many physical powers. He's got them all -- strength, speed, invulnerability, vision powers, super-cold breath, you name it and he's there.

But what's always set him apart from any other character is his unwavering sense of personal honor and his code of conduct. Mirroring his physical prowess, he has all of the great virtues -- humility, compassion, sincerity, honesty, you name it and he's there. More than the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it's Superman's ability to hew to his own high standards that inspires.

It must be tempting, for this son of an alien world, to look down on us mere mortals. And yet he yearns, more than anything, for the same things the least among us does. To be loved. To be human. To be accepted.

He has these enormous powers, and uses them for good. But is that bravery? Or does the fact that he can't really be hurt sever the very basis of bravery? Cowardice is a refusal to act out of fear for your own safety. But if you are always safe, can cowardice even be a consideration?

On the other hand, how many of us, given those powers, would be as willing to get up every day and fight the latest Lex Luthor-inspired giant robot rampaging through the city, even if we knew we couldn't be hurt?

In many ways Superman really is the best symbol of 20th Century America, or at least how most Americans want to view themselves. As a mighty nation, impervious to all harm (physical or otherwise), willing to come to the defense of the defenseless, bringing hope and freedom to people desperate for its taste.

I can't help but wonder, though, how much of that integrity and compassion exists only because of that sense of invulnerability? If he were deeply, grievously hurt, as America was on 9/11, how would he react? Would the code against killing, the honor of steel, withstand the enormous pressure of a wounded pride and heavy heart?

I like to think he would. Even if he went off the deep end, I hope he'd come back to what really makes him a hero. Not his muscles, but his heart. Not his powers, but his ideals. Because really, that's what makes him super.

8 Responses to Is Superman brave?

  1. DJ says:

    I’ve thought about this myself and I don’t reall have an answer. I believe if he was deeply hurt emotionally he may change his rules for a little bit but in the end he would see he was wrong to change his rules and go back to being his old self. Superman is one of those characters that I would love to see powerless. What would he be like if he was in Batmans shoes? Or if he was a mutant living in the Marvel universe? Would he be for or against the mutant registration act?

  2. Level says:

    A while ago I read a discussion about what a hero is. Using the definition that a hero is someone who displays courage and the will for self-sacrifice in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness. They came to the conclusion that Superman was not a hero. Using the original meaning of a demigod, he could fit the characteristics.

    As to whether he is brave, he may not need to have “physical courage” very often, but when he does need it he does have it. He often displays “moral courage”.

    In comics I have read the more he is tried the stronger he sticks to his codes. On the other hand in one where he was “the leader of the world”, he was corrupted by power and he no longer had a code. In a comic about how the DC characters reacted to 9/11 Superman fell to his knees crying and said the firefighters were real heroes.

  3. The Imp says:

    One of my favorite takes on Superman was ‘Red Son’, where Supes lands in the Ukraine instead of Kansas. Even though he’s morally ambiguous throughout much of the story, at the end he still pulls it together and shows that he’s got the moral cojones to help Earth by _leaving_ Earth to its own devices instead of trying to baby-sit the planet. Great story.

  4. kryptkal says:

    Superman always gets the bum wrap when it comes to this kind of question because nobody can seem to get passed that whole “invulnerable” thing. However if you actually read a Superman comic you’ll find he’s every bit a developed character as Spider-Man or others. Being capable of all these powers is sometimes really daunting for him and at the same time guilt-ridden because you feel like with all these things you can do you should be able to…say…save everyone, or solve all our problems etc. Superman however doesn’t do that, and although if you look, it is a hard road morally for him, it is the right one and he’s knows it.

    I digress though…Superman is every bit as brave as any “mortal” hero. A perfect example is Kryptonite. If Superman was only brave because he couldn’t be hurt then he would cower in fear everytime Luthor whipped out a rock; but Superman bravely faces his weakness and even greater foes who have or could kill him (Doomsday, Darkseid). Besides, there have been times that Superman was rendered powerless or severely weakened and it only strengthened his resolve. Powers or no powers, Superman IS BRAVE and a true hero!

  5. Jeff Hebert says:

    Interesting comments. I agree, Supes gets a bit of a bad rap on the whole invulnerable front. As I said, I don’t think I’d be nearly as heroic if I had the same powers; it definitely takes more than just muscles to do the right thing.

    I think Level makes a good point about him being more of a a demi-god than a traditional hero. He’s definitely larger than life in a way no other comics character has ever achieved.

    And for the record, I love the character — I have three different Superman statues on my desk as we speak 🙂

  6. TheNate says:

    I have to agree with Kryptkal. Superman may be invulnerable, but he regularly faces villains and situations where he can be outwitted, defeated, or killed.

    No matter what color his emblem is, anyone who does that at least once a month for seventy years ain’t yellow.

  7. Tejas says:

    ya!but is he a non vegetarian?

  8. kryptkal says:

    Actually Tejas, in the recent semi-update of Superman’s origin (Superman: Birthright) Clark said in an E-mail to his Mom that he’s a vegetarian. Although growing up on a farm, I’m sure he’s had steak before.