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Not-so-super man?

For those who don’t follow comics, the movie character Iron Man comes from a long tradition of comic stories about a billionaire playboy who moonlights as a superhero. This hedonist-with-a-heart has played well for some time. It is no surprise Iron Man enjoys high popularity in today’s society. But now publishers are altering other, even more iconic characters in order to “relate” to modern audiences. This is not a crisis. But does it really serve us and our social dialog, or does it just further promote our propensity to live in bubbles of isolation?

The changes in Superman are the ones that catch my attention the most. In a recent movie reboot called Superman Returns, several changes were made to make his morays align more with modern personalities. The near-flawless, flag-waving, naive “good guy” of two generations was made far more introspective. His chivalric code took a far back seat to his emotions. His trademark red-and-blue was shifted to burgundy-and-blue, to distance the association with America. (This was recently taken further in the comics themselves. There, Superman renounces his American citizenship). Ignoring the patriotic angle, in the Superman Returns reboot, we essentially watched a character of untarnished morality twisted into some kind of cosmic, absentee baby-daddy.

Superman is supposed to be “a bit too much” morality-wise. That's what makes the character work. He can take the straight arrow, paladin-esque, good guy road in any situation. He can be the stereotypical Boy Scout even in the face of acid-breathing alien invaders. Why? The indestructible Superman is the only person on earth who can survive it. Take that away and he's converted into a sometimes-thug with a cape.

The high moral code of Superman was always perceived as a “challenge” and “somewhat unrealistic for mere mortals to attain.” It was idealistic even in the 50’s and 60’s. Yes, characters should speak to you. But no, not all characters are designed to be relatable. Some are in fact supposed to challenge you… to give you an “outer bounds check” on your idealism and imagination.

It is one thing to take the traits and actions of an icon and update the trappings of the story while retaining the icon’s personality. This direction with Superman is quite another thing altogether. I personally hope we have not entered a phase were even our most iconic characters lose their voice and become merely brands, tailored every 5-10 years in endless reboots and re-inventions. If we become lost in that, we lose the ability to have meaningful cross-generational discussions about the character or use it as a learning tool for our children.

It is a lesson that transcends. A brand is not just a logo.

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