comic books

Superman Unchained Discussion: Does Superman stand for nothing?

superman unchained art

If you’ve been keeping up with the now concluded Superman Unchained, written by current Batman writer Scott Snyder, then you probably would have picked up on an interesting analysis Snyder made about Superman. Most of us look at Superman and consider him a symbol and to stand for something. Whether that’s hope, truth, justice, what ever. Snyder on the other hand has a completely different interpretation of this aspect of the character, which was clear in the way he wrote Superman in Superman Unchained. Snyder views Superman as a guy who doesn’t really stand for anything in particular, so the question is, is Superman really a symbol to humanity?

First off if you’re a Superman fan, or if you’re not a Superman fan, you need to read Superman Unchained. The writing is fabulous and the artwork is just as amazing, of course because it’s by Jim Lee. It’s only 9 issues long so it’s not a huge commitment to read it. Anyways Scott Snyder, who is currently writing the amazing Batman run, has a very interesting view on Superman. Classically Superman has been a symbol for people. His S (it’s not an S) is known to be a symbol of hope. He is a beacon that humanity can follow. Snyder doesn’t see Superman that way though.

Snyder sees Superman as less of a god figure, and more of a normal guy. I have to agree with that perspective. I’m not a fan of making Superman/Jesus parallels (and even though I loved Man of Steel the overt religious imagery was a bit distracting). In an interview with Comic Book Resources Snyder even says that “Superman doesn’t mean anything to Clark in terms of being a beacon to people”. He looks at Superman and sees a guy who can’t show us the right way to be, because he doesn’t know what the right way is.

Superman is living his life just like the rest of us normal folks-day by day. He’s just making  it up as he goes along, following the moral compass he founded through his upbringing and experiences. Snyder says “Superman doesn’t stand for anything; he’s doing the best he can, and in doing that he stands for the best of us”. But then Snyder says “But then we realize he is a symbol because he’s not trying to be. Superman says you make your own decisions even in the face of adversity or your own fears and you do what you think is right, and that can be inspiring.”

superman unchained 9

Okay so in Snyder’s eyes Superman is essentially an unintentional symbol. He isn’t preaching to humanity how they should live their life, he isn’t purposefully showing them what the right thing to do is, he’s just doing what he thinks is right, and because of his nature he is also indirectly influencing others to do the same.

I in part agree with Snyder’s interpretation of Superman. I never liked the idea that Superman was some perfect hero who was showing humanity how to be, because he knew best. In my opinion I agree with the fact that Superman is Clark Kent, and Clark can be very unsure of himself. He doesn’t always know what he’s doing, and he doesn’t have definitive answer to what the right thing to do is in every situation. But, I think that he does stand for something, and I think that he is a deliberate symbol.

First of all, saying he stands for nothing is a bit silly, because we all stand for something. You don’t have to be a superhero to stand for something. Superman does stand for truth and justice. Standing up for those values is in his nature. Look at his job, he’s a reporter. He’s a reporter that likes to bring the truth to the people. Even when he quit his job at the Daily Planet a couple of years ago, he still wanted to bring the truth to the people, so he got a blog (modern day Clark Kent right there).

superman unchained lex luthor

But what Snyder is really trying to say is that Superman isn’t a deliberate symbol. Because Superman is figuring it out as he goes along, how can he be a symbol for anybody? That’s the question Snyder poses. But I don’t think you need to be moral expert to be a symbol, because there is no such thing as a moral expert. Superman may not have all the answers to our moral questions, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a symbol, because I think that he is a symbol for hope. He is a symbol for justice. When he’s in the air or on the ground doing his thing he becomes that symbol for the good the world can have. And that is deliberate, Superman does what he does so he can be that deliberate symbol of hope for people, that’s his purpose. He gives people the comfort of knowing that there is always going to be someone there for them. So he may not be neccessarily leading humanity into becoming better people because he’s all morally righteous, he’s leading them into becoming better people because he gives them a hope for a brighter future.

If you think that everything in the world is going to turn to shit, then you start thinking your actions are pointless. What’s the point in being good or being positive and doing something with your life if the world is permanently crap anyways? Superman shows us that there is goodness in the world and that there is a point. And because of this he gives people the hope and motivation to be better people.

superman unchained cover

So I guess I half agree with Snyder’s interpretation of Superman. He actually showed his perspective of Superman through the perspective of Lex Luthor in the comic, which was interesting. But again if you haven’t checked out Superman Unchained, I think you definitely should, it’s a great series also with some great supporting characters e.g. Batman, Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor and the villain of the story is Wraith. Wraith was written by Snyder as the characterisation of the way many people view Superman. A thoughtless all muscle no substance guy who just punches his way out of situations. So it’s a great constrast between Wraith and Superman.

Anyways what do you think? Do you think Superman really stands for nothing as well? Is he actually a symbol of hope? Let me know!



4 replies »

  1. I am not really much of a fan of Jim Lee’s artwork. I mean, he’s good, but I think he’s a bit overrated. I’m not too fond of how he draws women. And he cannot seem to meet a deadline to save his life. But I’ve been hearing so many good things about Superman Unchained, both in terms of Lee’s art and Scott Snyder’s writing, including your own review of it. So I will probably pick up the inevitable trade paperback.


    • Yeah Superman Unchained is awesome, and you’re right about him and deadlines, this series was supposed to be longer but Lee took so long they had to end it early, which is a shame because the ending is a bit rushed. But other than that it’s a really good superman story, you should pick it up 🙂


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