Thor and Superman and why they’re not the same

So Steve Murray wrote an article that a friend sent me.  I don’t know Steve Murray but his article was thought provoking and I thought I’d take the plunge.  It’s not a long article but here’s the gist of it:

“Thor feels more connected to humans in his movies, more their champion. More their Superman”

There’s a reason for this.  You see Thor and Superman are two totally different characters that come from two totally different places.  The reason why Thor seems more relatable then Superman is because he’s made to be.  Both characters were created at different times, for different reasons.  Comparing the two and saying one is better (based solely on their movie portrayals) then the other isn’t really fair if we don’t get into the whole story of who they are and what they were made to be.

Thor first appeared in the comic titled Journey into Mystery #83 in 1962.  At the time Stan Lee was said to have been looking for a follow up to the Hulk and decided to go into Norse mythology just to avoid the more traditional Greek and Roman gods.  His initial plots and stories stuck (thanks in no small part to his brother Larry Leiber and the legendary Jack Kirby) and the book took off.

Superman, as many know, was the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  He was a mostly original idea and the natural progression of ideas like John Carter and other pulp stories that came out of the 20’s and 30’s, but he was also something entirely new.  He was the first SUPER hero.  The archetype.  As such, the requirements for Superman to be Superman are quite a bit different then anything Thor has to go through.

To put it more simply, Thor is the Jock we all knew in high school.  He was handsome, athletic, and popular.  He could get any girl he wanted and get away with anything he wanted to as well.  Any time the school tried to crack down on him, his rich daddy would ride in to save the day (In Thor’s case, literally).  Unlike most of the jocks we knew in school, Thor gets his comeuppance and a huge dose of humility in the bargain.  It’s this eventual redemption as a hero that we route for, and his taking to the lessons his father imparted him with the trials he went through to get there.  A turn that’s fully realized in the sequel from this past summer.

While there are many aspects of Superman we can relate to, there’s also one important thing that separates him from the rest.  Superman is the ideal.  He is supposed to represent the best of us.  And let’s be blunt, that’s something that’s just flat out hard to relate to.  Someone who always does the right thing, and never misuses the power he has.  He treats both his friends right and his enemies the way he wants to be treated.  It sounds too good to believe and most of us can’t wrap our heads around it.  And that’s why we can’t really relate to him as easily as we can the jock who learned his lesson.  Never mind horrible movies made attempting to capitalize on Superman’s power and completely ignoring what it means for him to use that power.

At the end of the day, Superman isn’t about his powers, his enemies, or even his mission.  He’s about hope.  The movie made a stab at getting to this point, but botched it so badly, I wish they had left the scene of him explaining his chest symbol to Lois on the cutting room floor.  It would have hurt less when we saw none of it realized.

But go back to the Silver Age.  Did you know they killed Superman back then?  There was a huge story that went out and I think shortly after that they brought in someone to do a reboot and helped kick off the Bronze age.  But anyway, as he was dying he went and did this.

Superman is an aspirational character.  Thor is an inspirational one.  Thor inspires people to be better because they see who he was and how he changed to be a better person.  Superman is an aspirational character because he’s someone everyone can be if they just try.  Both great messages, but very different.  So no, Thor is not the new Superman.  There is no Superman worthy of the name right now.  Here’s hoping someday that gets fixed.

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