Superman is the original superhero, and he's still one of the most iconic heroes in any genre. But even though everybody loves Superman, everybody also talks about how hard he is to get right. You can practically hear the wheel-and-pulley sound of everybody lowering their expectations for Man of Steel. That's not just the basic concept — it's also a result of some weird decisions that have been made over the years. As prolific Superman artist Jon Bogdanove says, "Superman has jumped lots of sharks over the years."
Here are 12 things that have ruined Superman forever.*
* - Or at least, for a little while. Or a little bit.
1. Superman starts flying
As lots of people have pointed out, Superman started out as just a really great athlete. He could run really fast, he was massively strong, and he could "leap tall buildings in a single bound." But eventually, that wasn't enough for people, and he had to start exerting the power of anti-gravity. He had to become basically indestructible, and able to shoot heat rays out of his eyes. And then why not have him be able to fly through space? At faster-than-light speed? By the time you get to The Earth Stealers, he's towing the planet Earth around in space. WTF. Even when you try to depower Superman slightly so he's no longer at "planet towing" levels, we all still expect him to be basically a demigod.
2. Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane
Both the comic with that title, and the overall concept where Lois is constantly trying to trick Superman into marrying her, and he's constantly doing dickish things to stymie her. In fact, the whole "super-dickery" thing kind of ruined the Man of Steel, but the Lois Lane stuff is often where the worst of it happens. Like Superman using his heat vision to burn the roast Lois is cooking for him, so as to embarrass her and ruin their date. That kind of dickishness clings to the character, making it hard to like Supes. He also had horrendously dysfunctional relationships with his "best friend" Jimmy Olsen and the rest of his supporting cast.
3. Random superpowers
Okay so you've got Superman flying and zooming through space and shooting heat beams out of his eyes. Great, that all makes sense. But over the decades, the writers saw fit to load him up with more and more powers, including super-ventriloquism and super-hypnosis. Until you reach the point where he's able to read an entire book on a microdot in a few seconds, and super-memorize the whole thing. The movies picked up on this "Superman has whatever powers we feel like giving him" ethos, and took it to a whole new level — letting him turn time backwards by flying around the world. And throwing his "S" shield and having it turn into a massive cellophane trap. And kissing Lois and giving her amnesia, otherwise known as the super-roofie-kiss.
4. Clark becomes a newscaster
In the 1970s, the comics writers decided that Clark being a newspaper reporter was boring and old-school — didn't they watch Lou Grant? — and decided to "promote" Clark to become a newscaster at the local TV station, WGBS. Meaning a couple things: 1) Clark's face was being broadcast to thousands, possibly even tens of thousands, of people every day, making the already-ludicrous "secret identity" thing even harder to swallow. 2) Instead of ducking out in the middle of doing reporter stuff to change to Superman, Clark kept having to run out in the middle of a newscast. Which might be the sort of thing people would notice. Judging from Michael Eury's book The Krypton Companion, tons of veteran Superman writers feel as though this is the status quo change that came closest to wrecking the character.
5. Superman III (and IV)
Superman III is justly mocked, and has supplied many joyfully painful screencaps over the years. In case you missed it, Richard Pryor is a supercomputer genius, and he builds a doomsday computer — but meanwhile Superman is too busy getting drunk and being evil. His evil side is comically unshaven, like a cartoon hobo, and his idea of being "evil" is straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and knocking over a kid's ice cream. He does cause an oil spill, too. It's kind of sad that Superman's version of Star Trek's "The Enemy Within" is so weak. And then there's the low-budget, pieced-together-from-scraps Superman IV. The Superman films went from fantastic to pathetic in an amazingly short time.