I like to ponder ultra-popular characters and consider why they hit a sweet spot with the public like they do. Harry Potter, for instance, has always made me think he came along just when technology we were using every day was starting to seem like magic, so Harry made a good icon for the age. Sherlock Holmes, of course, was something a bit the opposite, an avatar of science and reason when those things were on the rise in a period of change. And the other day I came around to thinking about Superman.
More recent films have tried to get into him being an alien and use him to speak of hating aliens, or looking at him as a god and tell tales of man's relationship with his gods. But neither of those really worked, because neither was what Superman was created to be. And what was that?
"BUT WAIT!" you might protest. "Superman is no Professor Moriarty."
No, Superman was a simple Kansas farm boy, raised on those wholesome American values that Ma and Pa Kent instilled in him. A real argument for nurture over nature. He might have had the whole "yellow sun gives me powers" bit of luck, but Superman's real core is the strength that his good wheat-field grown heart gave him to win battles over who?
The science guys. "Mad" scientists like Lex Luther or the Toyman. Silly creative imps like Mr. Mxyzptlk who could change reality. A guy literally called "Brainiac." And Superman even came from a planet full of scientist types who just couldn't seem to get it right. So, just as Sherlock Holmes came along when science was a hopeful beacon of the future, Superman seems to have arrived at a moment when we were going "Hey, wait a minute, maybe we should let our better selves keep technology in check!"
Superman doesn't have to figure out what the deal is with the demon hound on the moors, he just has to get in its way. Superman doesn't have to figure out that Hosmer Angel is really Mary Sutherland -- his x-ray vision can reveal the truth without having to think about it at all. (Kind of like Wonder Woman's magic lasso of truth -- a real cheat for skipping right to the answer without working it out.) And unlike that Sherlock Holmes, who thinks he's smarter than the legal system and lets some criminals go, Superman faithfully drops villains off at the police station to let the judge and jury do their work.
I just don't know if Superman and Sherlock Holmes would have gotten along. It would have probably taken Watson to act as an intermediary, as a probable fan of both approaches, impressed by the amazing powers of whoever he was with at the moment, and seeing the rightness of their cause. Because Watson has always been us, really, in dealing with the icon of an age. He'd have probably gotten on with Harry Potter too.
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