Week 2: Superman the Self(ish)less

Superman is an idealist, guided by morals that he owes in part to his adopted human father Jonathan Kent. As part of this idealism some may also attribute altruism to Superman’s adventures, that he acts with the selfless object of helping others (i.e. humanity).  However, in the moments that this altruism lapses we discover a more complex, human, and relatable character. For Superman his agenda behind certain decisions may not be nefarious but they are not always altruistic and at times selfish.

I want to focus on a specific plotline from All-Star Superman Vol.1. when he gifts Lois his abilities for 24 hours. I believe this act can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, it is, to a very large extent and most likely intended to be, a generous act that highlights a moment of vulnerability where he opens up to Lois and shares his world with her. However, in many ways this can also be seen to be a selfish act. Regardless of Superman’s intent and whether or not he has the ability to create longer lasting superpowers by giving Lois them for a temporary 24 hours reinforces the biggest gap within their relationship; his super powers/her lack of super powers. Furthermore, it goes on to reinforce the distance between Superman and his readers. It serves as a way of making him simultaneously more relatable (via the vulnerability of giving the gift) whilst making him more different (by reminding us that he is superhuman). In many ways it echoes the impact of Episode 1’s cover where he sits thoughtfully overlooking the world on top of a cloud, amplifying his superpowers but increasing the connection to the reader by repeatedley showing vulnerability.

10 thoughts on “Week 2: Superman the Self(ish)less

  1. I like the part where you mention the fact that giving Lois his superpowers for a day makes him more relatable to the readers. I think it shows his human need for companionship on a deeper level, because now through the act of giving her his powers for a day, superman has someone that can understand him in a way that no one else can. In a way I think it shows how superman longs for human connections which he can never really have because his world is totally different from the rest of the people he interacts with.

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    1. That is an really interesting point about Superman’s need for connections, but specifically human connections. I have only really considered humans’ desires to be like Superman, not necessarily Superman’s desire to be closer or more connected to humans (which I guess is exercised through his Clark Kent persona). Thanks!

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  2. Hello Katie,

    Your post was reflective and allowed me to see Superman from a new perspective that I never thought of before. I do not think he was deliberately being selfish but from Lois’ point of view, it may seem so since she gets to experience the thrill of being super human for only a day (Morrison, 48). Afterwards life may seem dull so it might have been best that she not experience it in the first place?

    But I think Superman knew Lois long enough to assess her character and whether or not she would have felt that way. If he thought she would have, then perhaps, he may have given her a different gift?

    Generally, I think Superman is a selfless being since he even tried to save Lex even though Lex sought his demise (Morrison, 112).

    It was wonderful reading your work! It was very insightful.
    Sincerely, Alicia Chung

    References:
    Morrison, G. (2013). All Star Superman Vol 1 & 2. New York, USA: DC Comics; A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. Retrieved from comiXology.

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    1. Hi Alicia! Thanks for the feedback, I totally agree with all your points! I too think Lois Lane can handle it and Superman presumed this as well but as you say he couldn’t be certain if it was going to work out 100% OK in end (For example, Lois did almost kill Superman when she entered the base from his assumption of a good response from Lois)Also, saving Lex Luthor was almost an ultimate proof of Superman’s overall selflessness. I think regardless of Superman’s intent, and how Lois Lane took the gift, there is a power dynamic between the two of them that has ‘naturally’ arisen as a result of him being this godlike near-immortal figure and Lois being human i.e. mortal. So by him sharing his powers only temporarily, for me as a reader it reinforced that power imbalance between the two of them which I guess is more of an impact on how I interpret the story than necessarily the actual impact on the characters we see in the portrayed resolution. Therefore, the act of only temporarily gifting his powers was selfish on some level to me but i think Superman is still overall a selfless hero and intended to be so. In general, I think a lot of superhero actions are made with good or altruistic intent but often there will be alternative interpretations or questions of true motives that can be percieved as selfish but it is most likely an issue I have read into this scene too muh and am trying to figure out in my head how truly selfless superheroes are! – Katie

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  3. Katie,
    The fact that you mentioned that Superman only gave Lois powers for 24 hours really intrigues me. Now that you mention it, I completely agree and see the “selfish” side of Superman. I get that giving her powers for a day is suppose to be her birthday gift, but upon seeing that it makes her so happy, why does Superman not just keep on supplying her with the serum and giving her powers? Perhaps it is because he is scared that Lois could be taken her? We see this when Samson and Atlas appear and and though they stated that their main intention was for Superman to defeat the ultra sphinx, there must be something in the back of Superman’s head that thinks Lois might leave him for another Superhero if she is granted powers for her whole lifetime. The question, however, is, are there any other reasons for not granting her happiness and unlimited powers? Perhaps Superman knows that having powers for his whole life is actually a curse? Overall, your post has sparked many thoughts about Superman and his selfish and unselfishness. Great post!

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    1. I definitely agree with the idea that Superman believes his powers are a double-edged sword – as people say ‘with great power comes great responsibility’! I would guess this could be a major source of Superman’s regular brooding and looking pensively at the world from atop a cloud… However, I don’t think it is Superman’s choice to make (whether or not Lois should continue having the powers), in my opinion he forfeited that right when he gave them to her. Obviously, Lois didn’t appear to have a problem with the powers only being temporary, but she was given no other option. Also, there is evidently an worry or insecurity that Lois has regarding the capacity of his powers and his previous secrecy for her to freak out as she did. That is on Superman to address, which he did try to do by being more honest/vulnerable, but he also threw temporary superpowers at the situation which isn’t that constructive, in my opinion.

      As a reader I feel like it should have been an all or nothing situation, either Superman didn’t share his powers with her at all OR now that she has had a chance to try them, be given the choice herself if she gets them on a more regular/permanent basis. For Superman to be willing to share his powers but for only 24 hours was part of why I think this action was a selfish one. This is assuming that the serum doesn’t have any side effects if it is continually taken (judging by how tired Lois was I am guessing there might be, in which case maybe I am being a little harsh on Superman… but he has a lot of resources at his disposal I am sure he could work something out).

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  4. I agree with what you wrote about how giving Lois his powers for only 24 hours could be considered selfish and I also think that perhaps he was setting Lois up to see how vulnerable he would become? Since he was dying throughout the comic, perhaps he showed Lois the world from his perspective so that she would see how much they make up who he is and how he lives?

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  5. To be honest, it felt so bullshit that superman could just gift his powers to someone else. It kinda stretches the suspension of disbelief surrounding his backstory-if he is just an alien why the hell can he do that?

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  6. “Regardless of Superman’s intent and whether or not he has the ability to create longer lasting superpowers by giving Lois them for a temporary 24 hours reinforces the biggest gap within their relationship; his super powers/her lack of super powers.”

    It’s entirely possible that this makes me a jerk, but I really wish I had seen some kind of tension between them because of that, particularly on Lois’s end. Maybe I’m just a weaker person, but if I were in her position, even if I were, you know, in love with Superman, I feel like I would be kind of resentful/insecure. I wouldn’t want to be, yeah, but I probably still would. That kind of power imbalance and the often resulting mess manifests itself in couples as money issues (does one person have a much higher income than the other?), for instance, or maybe career conflicts (one partner might have a job of greater prestige/standing than the other), so I don’t see why it wouldn’t also crop up when considering a superpowered partner and a non-powered partner.

    Additionally, Lois seems pretty damn excited about getting powers. I don’t know, does she not feel even a little bitter that it only lasts a day? A person’s gratitude might outweigh their jealousy, but it seems kind of odd to me that the latter appears absent entirely.

    Another note: does it not–does it not bother Superman that Lois is in love with his hero persona but shows no interest in his “human” side? It doesn’t get to him that she loves the perfect side, all muscles and secrecy and feats of virtue, but not the open book, clumsy reporter?

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  7. Hi Katie,

    I think you bring up a great point in how Superman can be selfish at time and that giving Lois powers is an example of this. I think this act can be interpreted in multiple ways, but I don’t agree with your point that it reinforces the gap between their relationship. I think that giving Lois powers is bringing them closer if anything. It allows Lois to see things from Superman’s perspective, which would strengthen their understanding of each other.

    – Wilson

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