Monday, July 12, 2010

Reader Question - Does Superman Have An Obligation To Save Lives?

The recent Philly.com advance review of Superman #701, the first issue of J. Michael Straczynski's Grounded arc, paints a sad picture of the once heroic Superman, who is now reduced to bumming his way across America.  In this first issue, he's unaware of what a Philly cheese steak is and orders one without any money to pay for it.  He is then forced to work in the back to pay off his debt. 

My question to you is, does someone with the powers of Superman have the obligation to save lives?  Does Spider-Man's motto of 'with great power comes great responsibility' hold true in this case?  Should he not be cleaning store rooms to pay off the cheese steak he ordered?  Should he be obligated to be on patrol and using his powers to save lives instead of 'rediscovering America'?  

Personally, I'm not sure how to view it.  No one should be forced to do anything, but with the powers of Superman, it's kind of selfish to be doing such menial chores when he could be doing so much more.  He could build bridges, stop landslides, till land and plant crops in underdeveloped countries or just plain save people from every day crime and mishaps.  Instead, he's cleaning dishes and store rooms as some kind of penance for not saving some woman's husband from a terminal disease.  What do you think?  Is he morally obligated to save lives?  Is he doing more harm than good by 'grounding' himself?  Let us know what you think in the comments below.


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19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ive usually found philosophical discussions on comic book websites to be pointless, but I may as well have a go here.

I would say that there is no moral obligation to save as many people as you can. And even if there were there is no way to measure it.

On the other hand, saving people is a good thing, so it kinda understandable why Supes would maybe beat himself up about not saving someone.

On the other (third) hand, how long as Supes been in the game? This is something he would have had to learn about a month after his powers manifested, that he cant save everyone.

If JMS wanted to do 'Clark goes on a roadtrip' he should of just had Perry White give Clark some sort of assignment which requires that.

Minhquan Nguyen said...

I would argue that the responsibility of the world's well-being belongs to the world. Each and every individual should be responsible for offering solutions within their sphere of influence and within the limits of their capabilities. If these individual responsibilities are not being met, then it is unjust to expect one person to overcome this neglect, nor should he. If Superman wants to use his powers and influence to encourage collaborative response to problems, then that's valuable. Solving problems for people will most likely encourage weakness in human character, behavior, and values in the long-run.

I would furthermore argue that every individual deserves rest from his labors and attention to his personal happiness. I don't see why Superman should be exempt from this on the basis of his formidable powers. Without taking time to step back from the problems of his work, he can actually become less capable of evaluating them and initiating a thoughtful and effective solution. I guess my overall point is: hasty implementation of simplistic solutions has no profit

hydrogenizedsoy said...

No, he doesn't.

Do I have an obligation to save every penny so I can send money to save starving children?

No I don't.

Do I have an obligation to devote my life to public service, giving my life on some battlefield or living a life of quiet desperation as a social worker in impoverished Appalachia?

No.

Just because a person may be born with increased faculties (whether mental, physical, or monentary) does not mean they have an "obligation" to use them in a selfless manner. It's a testament to the character of those social workers/soldiers/etc. that they give their lives to others OUT OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL whether then be coerced by some sort of obligation (whether cultural or political). I think the same standard we apply to ourselves should be applied to Supes as well. He may be Kryptonian in his physiology but 95% of the time his psychology is depicted as being human.

hydrogenizedsoy said...

No, he doesn't.

Do I have an obligation to save every penny so I can send money to save starving children?

No I don't.

Do I have an obligation to devote my life to public service, giving my life on some battlefield or living a life of quiet desperation as a social worker in impoverished Appalachia?

No.

Just because a person may be born with increased faculties (whether mental, physical, or monentary) does not mean they have an "obligation" to use them in a selfless manner. It's a testament to the character of those social workers/soldiers/etc. that they give their lives to others OUT OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL whether then be coerced by some sort of obligation (whether cultural or political). I think the same standard we apply to ourselves should be applied to Supes as well. He may be Kryptonian in his physiology but 95% of the time his psychology is depicted as being human.

tonemilazzo.com said...

I can't remember the last time I saw a superhero save anyone who wasn't in their supporting cast. These days they mostly fight off personal assaults. They aren't superheroes they're super powered guys who get sucker punched a lot.

Mathemanic said...

Is he morally obligated? Possibly - Whatever his reasons, he is letting die people he could have saved.

But even if he is not, by acting as a global protector as he has previously done, then it could be argued that he is LEGALLY obligated to save those in need of rescue (as is required in several countries, including some states of the US).

snow00 said...

Why would a quasi-god be obligated to us in any way?

Who makes Superman pay for his meal?

We are talking about a guy who can spin the earth in the opposite direction. He does what he wants.

MisterSmith said...

If he's not obligated to save lives then what's the point of dressing up as Superman in the first place? Not having obligations is the Clark Kent side of the Kal-El equation.

MisterSmith said...

If he's not obligated to save lives then what's the point of dressing up as Superman in the first place? Not having obligations is the Clark Kent side of the Kal-El equation.

(I posted this once before but it doesn't seem to be showing on my end. Apologies if it actually did show up before)

Ivan said...

Well, if Superman doesn't use his powers, that makes for some potentially dull comics.

I don't know, I don't like the premise of this arc. Superman is experienced enough to know that he can't save everyone all the time by now. For fuck's sake, once he tried to take over the world with robots because he felt he wasn't doing enough, you'd think the guy would have learned a lesson from that.

He does it because he can, and because he wants to. He probably does feel obligated because of how he was raised, but he'd never be bitter about it.

mchan said...

I feel like the real problem is that Superman in Stracynski's run (as far as this article depicts him) is quite an idiot. I'm pretty irked that Stracynski thinks that Superman is so stupid that he would not do something like carry money with him. Obligation of people to make him pay aside, I can't believe that Superman would be so naive to expect that kind of entitlement. It's not like he's been sleepwalking through the Clark Kent side of his life; he knows how currency is used.

Anonymous said...

First, Superman is above all about inspiration. I don't necessarily like JMS' story direction, but I agree with the basic idea that if Superman does not inspire he is of no use.

Second, In the DC Universe there are tonnes of heroes that can save lives as well or better than Superman. He certainly shouldn't be ignoring obvious problems, but even he can't be everywhere and responsible for everything (which is why the tumour plot-point is so ludicrous).

We don't expect research doctors to run into burning buildings, or firemen to patrol our streets at night. There are many ways to save lives, and all we can expect is for Superman to do his best (which he invariably does).

If we really expected Superman to save every life, the most logical course of action would be for him to destroy Death.

The Dangster said...

i feel like this is gonna turn into some pretentious storyline about sticking with humanity. We can't expect Superman to save everyone but it's better to save one life than bumming around america paying off cheese steaks.

natureboyHH said...

JMS may be on to something here.

Blaming Superman for a tumor he didn't even cause is asinine, and I have to say, JMS is a better writer than that. But the one similarity in all his incarnations is that Superman actually wants to save everyone. Its not his legal obligation, but it is a moral obligation he imposed upon himself, perhaps because of his humble upbringing by the Kents.

See Red Son and All-Star Superman. Though out of continuity, it can be said that these stories, especially All-Star, captured Superman's essence. In both, Superman exhibited his obsession for saving everyone, utilizing all his physical and intellectual abilities for the improvement of mankind.

Wanting to save everyone from every mishap or illness is a pipe dream, but as long as he believes in it, Superman will at least be able to save, not all, but as many people as he possibly can. At any rate, "Saving everyone" is standard superhero motivation, and what better character to embody it than Superman.

As for Superman grounding himself, some of the best issues of JMS' Thor saw the title character deal with his leadership and moral responsibilities. JMS made for himself a good opportunity to get into the essence of the character, to be more cerebral in approaching Superman instead of the usual flying and punching that he does so often. JMS wants to tell a story about Superman that necessitated the limited use of his powers, and I don't think he gave much consideration to the other things he could have done. I may be alone in this, but I'm willing to give this Grounded story a shot.

It wouldn't hurt to have a few fights though. This isn't Daytripper, after all.

And unlike Spider-Man, who carries money for hotdogs, Superman doesn't need food. Hence, the failure to carry money. Besides, those trunks of his would look stupid if it had a pocket.

Dennis N said...

Superman doesn't know how to order a cheesesteak? The guy lives in a comic book homage of to New York City. And he's a reporter. He eats street meat from cart vendors every day. I've seen him do it.

He's lived a full human life like everyone else for 30 years, in addition to being Superman. The guy has a real job, real friends, and a loving wife. I haven't read it yet, but this sounds like JMS forgetting that Clark Kent exists.

This is ticking me off, Superman is in many ways the most human of heroes, despite his great powers. He has more of a normal life in his free time than anyone else in the JLA. Even the heroes without powers don't have the regular life Clark Does. Batman and Green Arrow are rich playboys in their alter-egos, Wonder Woman is almost always Wonder Woman (pre-retcon). GL is always out in space. Aquaman lives underwater. Martian Manhunter is a Martin. Barry was dead for like 5 years. Red Tornado is a robot. Black Lightning is a public figure. Only Wally has had the kind of normal life outside of heroics that approaches Superman's.

I find this all utterly ridiculous. Sure he may need to get back in touch with Earth after time on New Krypton, but making him non-functional in normal society?

ArtfulDodger said...

He doesn't know what a Philly cheese steak is???

He doesn't grasp the concept of paying for food???

He doesn't just zip to Metropolis and back to get cash???

What the hell does he do at the Daily Planet? Get paid up in unsold newspapers?

God damn JMS....god damn..... you're making me lose my faith in you...

Charles said...

Yeah, I feel a bit iffy about this issue as well.

Still, the idea of Superman getting some r n' r is a little interesting.

To adress the guy before me "ArftulDodger." I don't see where it's implied that he doesn't know what a philly cheese steak is, Just that he wants one. Plus, he grasps the idea of payment. It's just that I doubt you'd carry that much money IN YOUR SPANDEX.

Matt Duarte said...

@Charles: It's the fact that he orders a "philly cheese steak sandwich", which makes it redundant. It's like someone asking for a "hamburger sandwich".

I don't see it as that big of a deal, I worked in a restaurant for a couple of years, and I've heard people order it like that before. I guess people from Philly are sensitive about their cheese steaks?

revelshade said...

Hate to be a cranky old man, but here goes...
Whether Supes has a moral obligation to save people is a boring (and unanswerable) question. I hate this storyline because it violates everything I know about Superman's character. The Supes I grew up with (here comes the cranky oldness) learned right and wrong from the Kents. To hurt someone is wrong. To help someone is right. To Superman being blessed with amazing powers isn't a burden or obligation. It just means he is privileged to be able to help more people in more ways than he could otherwise.
Oh, and the cheese steak/money thing is stupid. What, did he arrive on Earth yesterday?

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