Is Superman Being “Overpowered” Actually Genius?

Cover of Superman #7 showing Superman descending with bullets bouncing off him, next to the text "World's Greatest Adventure-Strip Character"

Once my sister said to me that Superman is the best character because he’s bulletproof. So many action characters, such as Batman, just seem to miraculously dodge the bullets every time. Either that, or everyone attacking them apparently has a horrible aim. So in a way, Superman is the most “realistic”. Obviously his powers aren’t realistic, but if we accept that they exist, him not dying from a bullet wound makes a lot more sense than it does for most action characters.

It occurs to me that this principle applies pretty broadly. In most mainstream entertainment, it’s a forgone conclusion that the hero will win. There may be some losses on their way to victory if you’re lucky, but their ultimate triumph is usually inevitable.

Nothing wrong with this in and of itself, but I gotta say, sometimes it tests my suspension of disbelief a bit. After all, most stories also try to make the villain seem extremely intimidating, powerful, and awesome. And oftentimes, heroes will have major weaknesses or disadvantages to make them relatable or to make them seem like the underdog that we’re predisposed to root for. And yet the hero still wins…again, and again, and again. And oftentimes it’s not really that challenging, or at least not nearly as challenging as it “should” be.

A common complaint about Superman is that he’s overpowered, so there’s no doubt he’s going to win. But think about it…is there really much doubt that the hero will win in most mainstream fiction?

I appreciate the honesty of Superman. His powers allow that whole charade of the main character being challenged to be skipped over if the author so desires. Even when authors want to give Superman more of a genuine challenge, there’s a larger chance his victories will be completely believable considering his awesome power set.

Maybe it’s weird for me to constantly be thinking about if heroes actually “earn” their victories. Sometimes I even sort of feel “bad” for the villains even if they’re terrible people, because it feels like in terms of effort, experience, and skills, they “deserve” the victory (even if they certainly don’t deserve it morally). But it’s something that can’t help but occur to me. And sure, sometimes it affects Superman too, don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain frustration in the fact that he’s so high above us, so powerful that even the best, brightest, and hardest-working among us humans can rarely get on a similar level to him. But at least with Superman, you kinda know the villains are fighting a losing battle, and they usually do too. Even presenting any kind of challenge for him is incredibly impressive in and of itself.

Maybe to some it seems like a weird thing to care about, but at the end of the day, I really do appreciate that in Superman media, the hero winning is rarely unbelievable. And for that reason, I believe that Superman’s seemingly excessive power level was actually an intelligent design decision. Of course, there are other advantages of Superman’s power level which I will no doubt discuss in future blog posts.

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