Originally published at notwhatwemeant.com (no longer active)
Okay, so there were those Batman films recently, the cool ones. And there’s Arkham City which I haven’t played yet but it’s supposed to be pretty sweet. Batman’s kind of the hip, with-it thing these days, as far as DC characters go.
Which is weird. Cool kids shouldn’t like Batman, they should like Superman. Not because he’s a better character (because he isn’t, he’s naff as all fuck), but because he’s one of them.
Superman is the super hipster.
I mean just look at him. His glasses, his hair, his clothes. The only thing stopping him from riding a fixed-gear bicycle is the fact that he can fly. If Clark Kent existed in the real world he wouldn’t be a reporter, he’d be posting about his exploits on tumblr.
DC (and its monolithic parent, Time Warner) have put a lot of work into making Batman cool, gritty, relevant. But with Superman they played the long game. Because he’s looked this way for a long time. He predates the hipsters by decades. He can say he was into oversized spectacles before they were cool and genuinely mean it. This scene must have been repeated endlessly in the DC offices: “Should we give him cool spiky hair?” one illustrator asks. “No,” says the editorial staff, “Let’s keep the overly slick, combed back professor look.” “But kids don’t think that’s cool!” wails the illustrator (this is probably happening somewhere around 1998). “Don’t worry,” says the editor, “They will eventually.”
And now that time has come. Cassette 9 and Whammy are full of people dressed like Clark Kent, all sweater vests and thick-rimmed confidence.
It totally lines up with the music, too. Superman is like the Mumford & Sons of comics: quietly powerful, emotive yet twee. He would listen to alt-country. Batman, by contrast, is like Slipknot or Mudvayne – deep-seated rage processed through technical, acrobatic proficiency. That’s not even remotely hipster.
And the whole ethos of Superman fits with indie kids these days too. Superman is a god who pretends to be a geek, and they can totally get on board with that. They like the idea that awkwardly dressed, meek-mannered nerds can secretly be something awesome because it supports their belief that despite being awkwardly dressed and fucking bland themselves, they’re right in thinking that secretly within them there’s something unique and special. Even if they can’t fly, they can express this uniqueness by listening to Pavement on vinyl and hunting down just the right pair of second-hand, brown leather shoes.
Finally, Superman is outdated. As an idea. He’s not timeless the way DC would like to portray him. Batman is timeless – obsessive revenge is a human constant. And the X-Men are timeless, because there will always be underdogs and they will always feel freakish in a way that can empathise with blue fur or an inability to touch other people.
But Superman isn’t timeless, not really. He’s a mid-Twentieth Century idea. The clothes, the hair, the hopeful, America-best attitude, the idea of having a ‘pal’ like Jimmy Olsen and a dog that wears a cape (I mean he even works at a fucking newspaper – since when have they been relevant?). These things all scream 30s-to-50s America. And the storytelling is an older style, too – no complicated ethical grey areas, no weary anti-hero grimacing. Just a good man trying to do good, hard work. An American making the world a better place, because he has the power to do so. That’s an idea from before the Vietnam War if ever there was one.
But what’s that got to do with hipsters? Everything. Superman is from the past. That means he’s retro.
So think about this, you indie fucks, as you’re rolling up the cuffs of your Bane-inspired cargo pants, or ironically writing ‘Why so serious’ in the About Me section of your pinterest account. You’re backing the wrong horse. You’re following the wrong hero. Batman isn’t for you, because Batman is about rage and actual nastiness in a way that you will never need to consider. Go with Superman. Accept your nice hero. Your big blue boy scout. A hero for whom being dapper and quietly smug is enough, just like you.