[intro-text size=”25px”]A prevalent conceit in comics is that it is difficult to write a good Superman story. It can be done, and from time to time we’re treated to such gems, but so much of literature is born from man’s struggle with life and death that it can be hard to associate with a god-like Kryptonian.[/intro-text]
Near-omnipotent, we don’t aspire to reach Superman’s level the way we can with Batman or Green Arrow; both humans who trained for their spots in the Justice League. Unlike Green Lantern and the Flash, Superman’s alter-ego, Clark Kent, is milquetoast. He survives through not being noticed, therefore, he is boring too. These are all hurdles a writer has to cross before dealing with Superman’s less than illustrious rogue’s gallery. Sure, Lex Luthor is famous, but he’s just a smart bald guy with a Napoleon complex and lots of money, basically Walter White. That is why it is always refreshing to see a Superman story work on such a fundamental level. Superman #39, written by Geoff Johns with art by industry veteran John Romita Jr., shows that it is not brute strength or the ability to fly that makes a hero. It is the nature of the man who wears the suit which makes him a force of good.
After developing an explosive new power, Superman is depleted and left human for twenty-four hours. It is in this refractory period that the issue opens, with Superman revealing his secret identity to Jimmy Olsen, because, ‘what the hell, why not?’ What follows is a literal walk in the park for the two as Olsen serves as the audience, asking Superman all of the questions that have nagged us for years, How does Clark Kent know which coat to wear if weather doesn’t affect him? Can he taste food? Is it depressing hearing everybody ask for help all day long? Should he be listening in on people’s daily lives?
This issue reminds us that Superman’s greatest power is his restraint and patient compassion for those weaker than him. When a mugger takes a hostage in an alley it is a depowered and completely vulnerable Superman who looks down the barrel. He does not have the ability to melt the gun with heat vision or crush the mugger’s hand with his strength. All he can do is talk to the man, to reason with him. “You can serve time, because you’re going to have to do time,” Superman concedes, “but you can do it with integrity”. He never once takes away the man’s humanity. He asks the mugger, “make the right choice, please.” It is not an unrestrained show of power that forces his surrender. It is the mercy and compassion that Superman possesses and inspires in all of us. When his powers return Olsen asks how it felt to be human. He answers, “To be honest, Jim. Not as different as I thought it would.” This issue is a perfect example that what makes Kal-El our Superman isn’t his powers, it is his humanity.