I don't remember the first time I saw Superman. It feels like I've always known him, like I was born with the knowledge of Clark Kent and the Man of Steel, like the S-symbol was encoded into my DNA. Grant Morrison has pointed out that his origin is so well-known and so simple that it can be told in just eight words: "Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple."
Today, 80 years after he first appeared on the cover of Action Comics #1, he remains one of the most popular fictional characters of all time. He's been adapted into every possible medium from books to film to TV to video games. He's generated untold billions in revenue. He's been plastered on everything from peanut butter to underwear. His shield is tattooed into people's skin. People love to say that Batman is cooler, but honestly, everyone really wishes they could fly. (And Batman vs. Superman? Please. Shortest fight in recorded history.)
Other people have complained that Superman is too boring, that he's got a superpower for everything, and so there's no drama in his stories. Worse, he's such a boy scout. He doesn't lie, or cheat, or murder anyone.
But see, that's the secret. That's what makes Superman so enduringly popular, even now. Because his real superpower isn't flight, or invulnerability, or strength.
It's integrity. Despite having the power to make himself king, to crack the planet in half with a tantrum, or to burn everything he sees to ash, he chooses to help others. He chooses to do the right thing, no matter what. He humbles himself to lift other people up.
In other words, Superman's real superpower is being Superman.
I admit, it's been a rough couple of decades to be a smiling, optimistic hero. Superman was such a potent symbol during the first half of the 20th Century because he embodied the best hopes for the future. He came from a perfect world to make ours better. He really believed in justice for all. He wasn't made for dystopias.
But I am confident that Superman will soar again, no matter how many times we try to kill him. His other super-power is adaptation. There is something in him for every generation if we look hard enough. (These days, it's sort of fitting that Superman's arch-nemesis is a power-mad billionaire who puts his name on everything he owns. And that he was created by two geeky, Jewish kids from Cleveland.) There are still stories to tell.
I still love Superman, and I always will. Because he shows us how high we can rise, if we'll only look up.
Up in the sky.