The Hero Returns

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two high school students from Cleveland, Ohio, created the Superman character in 1933. The man of steel has fought for “truth, justice and the American way” in DC Comics, the movies, TV, radio and more.No, the world isn’t spinning backward. Superman is indeed back. Again. But, if you checked out this past summer’s installment in the comic-turned-movie series, you might notice that the Man of Steel is a little different this time around.

“As a child, the kids don’t like him. Even as an adult, he seems like kind of a loner,” said Ellen Rigsby, associate professor of communication. She studies depictions of race, gender and society in comic books.

Rigsby thinks the flaws are exactly what make him more compelling to a current-day audience. Flaws that we would have never seen in the Superman of the 80s, when the hero was basically perfect.

What has changed in the years between Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill? Rigsby posits that 9/11 was a major turning point in the superhero narrative. As our view of America became more flawed and realistic, so did our heroes.

“9/11 was a really shocking event, so we had a very strong need for superheroes. But not the same unquestioned belief in the rightness of our way of life. We need to know that [our hero] is real, and the flaws kind of help us see that.”

If our need for these characters is tied to anxiety, will that need disappear when, God willing, Americans have nothing to be anxious about? Rigsby doubts it.

“When things are going very well, people get a little less interested in superheroes. But I would be surprised if they ever died out completely.”

Sara LaFassett