These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Archive Panic: As one of the most enduring and popular characters in fiction, this is to be expected.
Broken Base: After Superman Returns, the fans were deeply divided over whether the next film (if there was to be one) should be a sequel to said film or a reboot. This cumulated with Man of Steel which some fans viewed as a betrayal for going in a Darker and Edgier direction, while other fans thought the film was the modernization the hero needed.
Naturally this happened with the New 52 reboot as well. Some fans didn't like the body armour (because why does an invulnerable man need body armour?), the increased aggressiveness and rebelliousness, the slightly odd "collar" design and of course the fact that he no longer wears his red trunks on the outside. Other fans think of it as a "modernization" of the character.
Fandom Rivalry: Who's the best Superman? Christopher Reeve? George Reeves? Dean Cain? Tim Daly? George Newbern? Tom Welling? Henry Cavill? Fans fight endlessly over this.
Alas, Poor Scrappy: Superboy-Prime's apparent demise in Blackest Night. Of course, it might not have happened. The Legion Threeboot featured a very creative storyteller who looked just like Superboy in one issue, and we now know the Threeboot took place on Earth-Prime.
It didn't happen. He showed up during the last couple of issues of Teen Titans alive and well, having apparently spent much time in the background putting together his own Legion of Doom. He was defeated and imprisoned on the Source Wall by Superboy and Supergirl in #100, just before the reboot occurred.
Pre-Crisis Superman was very much the dominant personality, with Clark Kent as mask he puts on in order to "hide." He noticeably wasn't very committed to it, as the Clark Kenting trope is quick to point out, and several times tried to just give up on the persona and be Superman 24/7
The idea that Superman was the dominant personality was theorized by Jules Feiffer, whose words were paraphrased by Bill the Snakecharmer in Kill Bill Vol 2.
While that was the case in The Silver Age of Comic Books, several Bronze Age stories, most notably the "Mr. Xavier Saga" (no relation), came to the conclusion that he valued both identities equally, and felt miserable and stressed whenever he was forced to neglect either for an extended period of time. Without Clark, he had no way to ever relax; and without Superman, he couldn't help people in danger.note "I tried to decide whether Clark or Superman is more important... and realized that to do away with one would be to kill half of myself—whoever I really am! So... I'd decided meek, mild-mannered Clark Kent will still walk the streets of the city—while up in the sky... the world will still watch and thrill to the sight of—a job for Superman!".
One good story involved a pair of gambling aliens separating Clark and Superman. All that happened was that there was two Supermans, and that when one of them was Clark the other felt compelled to be Superman, and vice versa.
Michael Fleischer once suggested that if Krypton had not exploded and Kal-El had grown up there, he might have been so overshadowed by his brilliant father that he might have been more like shy, mild-mannered Clark.
Post-Crisis is the opposite, Clark is the dominant personality with no knowledge or memories of Krypton until well into his adult years and after he started operating as a super hero. This means that Clark comes off as a far more assertive and aggressive person than the Pre-Crisis "wimp." This makes Superman come off as stiff and artificial because, as Clark puts it, "Clark is who I am, Superman is what I can do."
To a certain extent this is how George Reeves played Clark. He was easygoing, but could be assertive if there was an emergency. There were times when Reeves' Clark seemed to forget he wasn't supposed to be Superman.
Modern writers now suggest that there are actually three personalities, the first is Clark at home, who is a decent, normal guy like any other. Then there is Clark at the Daily Planet, still a nice guy if occasionally clumsy and a little goofy, likes to play things safe but also an ace reporter and Deadpan Snarker par excellence. Finally there is Superman, who is every inch The Cape and honestly believes in Truth and Justice, almost to a fault. He sees Krypton as his birthright, but not his home and tries to bring the best of that society to Earth while trying to steer away from its shortcomings.
It has been implied that, similarly, there are three personalities; Clark Kent, the mild mannered, calm and somewhat geeky dude. Superman, the superhero, who fights for Justice and Freedom and wants to inspire the world to be good. And Kal-El, a merge of both personalities and who he really is for those who are closest to him.
Superman is typically portrayed as an eager hero, happy to save everyone else. Five For Fighting's song about him, also called "Superman," portrays him as "a man in a silly red sheet" who's aware that he's not as special or heroic as everyone else thinks he is, and who struggles under the pressure of being the person everyone looks up to.
More importantly, Superman was originally a hard-nosed bruiser who went after not just criminals, but businessmen and lawmakers who he perceived as screwing people over.
Is Clark Kent an exaggerated disguise Superman takes to fake everyone out? Or is Superman a projection of Clark's desire to help others? Or, does Kal-El struggle to balance the nerdy reporter with the macho crimefighter? Before 1986, the answer was clearly the former, but between that point and about 2003, it was the later. From that point forward, it's been somewhat opened to interpretation, but in 2011, the New 52 pretty much got rid of the exaggerated nerd angle once again.
This is NOT counting appearances in film, western animation or live-action TV, but only comic books. For the record, the exaggerated nerd appeared in most cinematic interpretations, but not Man of Steel or Superman & the Mole Men whereas of the four live-action shows, he only played the exaggerated nerd in Superboy. Animation has tended to follow whatever interpretation the comics were going with at the time.
What is interesting is that the Golden Age Batman had Batman the mask Bruce Wayne wore, while Clark Kent was the mask Superman wore. Now, it's reversed - Bruce is the mask that Batman wears, while Superman is the mask Clark wears.
Cracked has pointed out that for a person who is fighting for truth among other things, he has chosen a way of living with separate identities that is not only inconvenient but involves a lot of lying to some of the people that are closest to him. Does he have a psychological need for being not only the next-to-invincible alien but also a regular human?
Another interpretation for Mxyzptlk's motives is that he's trying to keep Supes from taking everything so seriously.
Superboy Prime: An Omnicidal Maniac who destroys anything he doesn't like, or a kid who's been given incredible power and thrust into a situation he was in no way ready to handle? Or a deliberate parody designed to screw with the fans heads with lines like "I'll kill you to death!" Or maybe he's just dumb?
Incidentally, are his lines really that stupid? Could you do better after having the equivalent of a nuke explode in your face? Or would you also scream the first thing that came to your mind, even if it made no sense?
Super-Boy Prime is us. That's all. People on all of the other earths are just different from people on Earth-Prime. When someone on New Earth or somewhere gets random superpowers, they run around, fight evil, and make more or less the right decisions for the big picture. Because of their superpowers, they are essentially good people. There are another caste, supervillians, that have excuses such as Well-Intentioned Extremist or insanity. Whatever their reason, they are evil. Permanent Heel Face Turns are uncommon. But what happens when you give a normal, Earth Prime kid the powers of a god? Consult your psychology textbook: He doesn't know what to do with himself. He has problems, he makes stupid decisions thinking they're the right ones, and he says random things in the middle of a fight. Other superheroes have no problem making big flowery speeches beating somebody up. Other superheroes will be able to make the right decision. Supervillians will always know what they want. But Superboy Prime? He just wants to go home.
Another way of looking at Superboy-Prime: He grew up in a world where all these people were fictional characters. Deep down, he still doesn't see them as real. If he kills them all and then creates a world where he didn't, he hasn't really killed anyone, any more than Geoff Johns has. To him, the whole thing is no different from playing Grand Theft Auto, he's not killing anyone because nobody's really alive. And so long as nobody's getting hurt, isn't it much more fun to play the villain than the hero? After all, Evil Is Cool.
Maybe he never killed anyone. No really, In the real world (Earth-Prime) its been implied that the DC team controls everything! So who's to say that they couldn't just write everything Superboy's done away? If they wanted to, they could simply teleport him back here, bring back everyone he killed and reset the mind of all the DC characters that hate him. Prime's not even the real threat to DC, its the Writers
In fact several of the people he's killed have come back since then. Given that he's seen the do that time and again from his prison, it's possible he's at least subconsciously aware none of his victims will stay dead forever.
Lex Luthor: Pure evil? A hero striving to show the human race that it has some worth when set against the impossible, unreachable ideal that is Superman, rejecting no act that would prove his point as worth it to the greater good? A tragic figure who's actions are ruled by obsession based in deep insecurities unearthed by Superman's mere presence? A titan of industry and politics driven mad by a world that truly can't appreciate his genius nor see the threat Superman poses? A petty dick who'll stoop to any level of crime, including stealing forty cakes, which is as many as four tens And That's Terrible?
Ass Pull: Silver Age Superman stories were notorious for coming up with convenient new powers for the main character all the time.
Superman had pure kryptonite injected into his veins, yet was still able to overpower a villain who had been a match for him even when he was healthy.
Audience Awareness Advantage: Probably the ultimate example of this, and has been for decades (since the Silver Age at the least). For instance, a remarkable number of criminals seemed to not only know that Superman was weakened by Kryptonite, but exactly what each color of Kryptonite would do... even if it was that color of Kryptonite's first time showing up. Because everyone knows Superman is hurt by Kryptonite! But even more than that is the whole "people don't know Clark Kent is Superman wearing glasses" deal. Again, having gotten blatant enough that even characters in-universe who are in on the secret have mocked others for not getting it. And the number of times "Clark Kent and Superman are never in the same place together!" is used as evidence is almost appalling.
Base Breaker: Lex Luthor: Competent antagonist who provides an interesting Evil Brains contrast to Superman's Good Brawn, or weakling that the writers make too big of a deal over purely out of the Grandfather Clause?
Naturally, the changes made to Superman in the New 52 have divided fans, from the changes to his costume to some differences in his personality to the fact that he's dating Wonder Woman instead of his usual default love interest Lois Lane.
Captain Obvious Aesop: This article mocks the GroundedAborted Arc for this, pointing out that Superman appears to be making the statement that drug dealers and child abuse are bad and treating it as though it's some radical new idea.
Brainiac has counted since his first appearances in the 1960s. When you force Silver Age Superman, perhaps DC's ultimate boy scout, to resort to lethal force, you know you are a monster. His crimes over the years have ranged from shrinking cities and planets for his private collection, to coldly slaughtering thousands in a quest to destroy the "Master Programmer" and become God, to brainjacking Luthor, leading to the deaths of Lex, Lana Lang, and Jimmy Olsen in Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow?. And that's just Pre-Crisis. Since then, he has fed on human spinal fluid, possessed countless victims and destroyed their minds in the process, exploited the ImperiexWar in an attempt to rewrite the fabric of the universe, tried to destroy New Krypton, and, most recently, gone in for planetary destruction and city collection in a big way. He has never shown any remorse, his presence in a story inevitably signals that the bodycount is about to rise, and he has been a genuine physical threat to Superman since the early days when his Deflector Shields made him untouchable.
The Bronze Age incarnation of Galactic Conqueror Mongul was a deeply nasty piece of work, particularly given the time period. In his first appearance, he kidnapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Steve Lombard in order to blackmail Superman into giving him the keys to Warworld, then tries to kill both Superman and Supergirl with the weapon. He later travelled to Prince Gavyn (one of the Starmen)'s homeworld, murdered Gavyn's sister, and tried to force Gavyn's girlfriend into marrying him so that he might take over the planet. Beaten by Gavyn and Superman, he seized control of a Sun-Eater and unleashed it on Earth's solar system, seeking to wipe out all human life. It was in his last appearance, however, in the iconic For the Man Who Has Everything storyline that Mongul showed just how low he could sink. Ambushing Superman on his birthday, Mongul trapped him in a fantasy world, from which Superman could only escape by sacrificing his heart's desire; in Mongul's own words "It must have been like tearing off your own arm." While Superman is occupied with this, Mongul tries to beat Wonder Woman to death, while gloating about how women are too weak to stop him. Eventually trapped by the same weapon he had used on Superman, Mongul dreams of a galaxy awash in bloodshed, with himself seated on a throne, orchestrating it all.
The first Post-Crisis version of General Dru-Zod was from a Pocket Universe. Manipulating Lex Luthor into freeing him and his allies Quex-Ul and Zaora, the three take over Earth. When Luthor leads a resistance, the three basically wipe out all humanity on Earth. After New Earth’s Superman depowers Zod and his allies, they vow to find a way to his universe to slaughter everyone on his Earth as well, causing Superman, in a rare occurrence, to kill them.
Of all the Evil Counterparts Superman has had over the years, Superboy-Prime is easily the most repulsive one. While the reader could at first sympathize with him a little, since he lost his homeworld, it quickly becomes clear that he is nothing more than a selfish, immoral and absolutely ruthless sociopath who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Throughout his numerous appearances, he has done nothing less than killing and crippling several Teen Titans (Superboy among them), massacring countless alternate Supermen and blowing up their Homeworlds, because he saw them as inferior to him, killing his own girlfriend because she was repulsed by him and much more. His most common excuse is that his victims brought it upon themselves. In Blackest Night, it seemed like he wanted to redeem himself, but he promptly threw his chance out of the window in his next appearance, when he tried to attack the Titans again.
And Pink Kryptonite. Lookin' pretty hot there, Jimmy.
Crowning Moment of Heartwarming: Considering Superman's idealistic nature, he's prone to causing a whole lot... but let's face it, one of the biggest one has got to be the Kents' discovery and adoption of the infant Kal-El, regardless of the version of it.
Crowning Music of Awesome: Superman has inspired a lot of great music over the years. The original march in the Kirk Alyn serials count as this trope, as does the more famous John Williams theme from the Christopher Reeve movies. The song "Save Me" by Remy Zero ended up getting immortalized and remembered as this trope after it was chosen to be the theme song for Smallville. And perhaps the most famous use of this trope as applied to Superman is 3 Doors Down's career-making rock single "Kryptonite."
Either that or Five for Fighting's "Superman".
Damsel Scrappy: This is the characteristic once strongly associated with Lois Lane. Ironically, it can be argued that Lois' role as a Distressed Damsel was far more important to the Superman plot than her role as a love interest, Depending on the Writer. In the 1940's, she did need to be rescued a lot (usually while pursuing a news story), but was fairly intelligent and could sometimes get herself out of scrapes by kicking ass and taking names. Once the 50's, 60's and early 70's came around though... Yeesh. She was an empty headed twerp who was constantly putting herself in danger for no reason, and whose sole goal in life was to trick Superman into marrying her. She took Too Dumb to Live to uncharted levels. In recent comics and other media she's a much more well rounded and developed character, who is extremely competent and able to take care of herself. She still needs to be rescued sometimes, and the trope may pop up occasionally, but for the most part she's a very independent, intrepid and intelligent reporter who just needs a little help against super powered aggressors from time to time.
The sixties-era book Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane seemed dedicated to making sure every single reader hated poor Lois. If you Google around, you'll find scans of multiple letters columns where readers asked for Superman to spank Lois (which would in fact occur, though in the context of Super Dickery). A few may have had other motives than scrappyhood, though.
Even when there's neither any Super Villain's ill will nor a big scoop one jump away from her window, she can be trusted to find something dangerous. Letters on the label are bigger than her eyes, so... they just don't fit in, right?
Starting late in The Seventies comics, Lois was written to be more assertive to avert this trope, and needed rescuing much less often, including in her solo stories in The Superman Family. This included Lois having mastered a Kryptonian form of martial arts named "klurkor."
Being associated with this trope is probably what spurred John Byrne, in his Post-Crisis retelling of Superman's origin, to make it very, very obvious that Lois was now an Action Girl. This eventually led to an Inversion immediately after her wedding to Clark when he was kidnapped after temporarily losing his powers. Lois took her Army brat background to extremes, becoming a G. I. Jane in order to come to the rescue.
Dork Age: Superman is now more than 75 years old. Everyone has one period they consider a Dork Age. The most common candidates, however, are:
Superman transforming into an electrical being, then splitting into Red and Blue Superman, in the 90s. (This odd development was in fact a take on a 50s "imaginary story" with a similar concept.)
JMS' half-aborted run on the main title which involved Superman walking across America "to rediscover the country" was so critically derided that it was called the worst comic of the year.
The "New 52" version has its detractors, mainly due to a relatively radical costume redesign and a perceived attempt to make Superman Darker and Edgier.
Fashion-Victim Villain: Both versions of the villainous Ultraman. The Pre-Crisis version wore a blue bodystocking with huge spiked shoulderpads, and the Post-Crisis version is wearing pajamas with weird circular bubbles on the belly.
Foe Yay: With guess who... and Lois. Doesn't help that he has the same initials as all of Clark's major love interests. Though technically he's Alexander Luthor.
Fridge Logic: How the hell is Superman vulnerable to his own planet?
We are also vulnerable to portions of our own planet that are radioactive.
Between Crisis on Infinite Earths and The New 52, it was established that part of the process of Krypton going BOOM was internal chemo-nuclear reactions resulting in the formation of Kryptonite. The natives called it the Green Plague. The New 52's take on it has yet to be revealed.
Kryptonite has been subject to so much Fridge Logic over the years (like how you can just about buy it on any street corner on earth by now, etc..) that it's best to mutter Bellisario's Maxim and move on...
Symbolism-He's an immigrant to America, kryptonite is the old country.
Sometimes (most notably, its first Post-Crisis appearance), kryptonite very painfully drains the solar energy from Superman's cells, hence why it weakens him as well as hurts him, and also why it glows. Of course, how this works opens up a whole new can of Fridge Logic.
Hilarious in Hindsight: In a letter at Superman: Man of Tomorrow #3 a couple of readers said that it would be cool, if Lex Luthor killed Superman and took over his titles, like Action Comics. What do you know, fifteen years later the second part of their wish came true. And it was awesome.
Ho Yay: His comments about how Jimmy looked in a bow-tie were not subtle. This is arguably a variation on Kissing Under the Influence since he had just been exposed to pink Kryptonite.
Love It or Hate It: It seems that the audience is divided between those who thinks Superman is an awesome superhero who represents the best side of humanity and those who thinks he's a boring and unrelatable Mary Sue.
General Zod achieves this status during New Krypton, going toe-to-toe with Luthor and Brainiac (who would qualify for this trope, were it not for his utter monstrousness) in the MB Olympics and matching them play for play. Every move that Alura, Superman, Luthor, General Lane, and Brainiac make only further cements Zod's position, and brings the two sides closer to war, and while that's what Luthor and Lane want, it ends up backfiring on them horribly when it turns out they cannot take Zod in open warfare.
My Real Daddy: Many of DC's own staff will point to Mort Weisinger as being this for Superman, as it was his direction as editor that expanded Superman beyond being a guy who could lift cars, jump high, and run fast into the super-powerful Flying Brick fighting other evil super-powerful aliens, as well as turning Lex Luthor into the implausibly intelligent Mad Scientist.
Stane is an odd example; he predates Corporate Lex by a couple of years, but physically the comic book Stane is Lex's identical twin, the only difference being he is slightly taller and doesn't have green eyes. Just look.◊ Even more bizarelly, 80's corporate Lex was the spitting image of The Kingpin◊.
Siegel and Shuster's original proto-Superman character was a bald villain with Psychic Powers.
Nightmare Fuel: The Alternate Zod's genocide of the entire planet at the end of John Byrne's run. We only see bits of it in flashback, but it's just as horrific as one can imagine.
The Problem with Licensed Games: Sadly one of the biggest examples of this trope. Aside from the various fighting games he's appeared in, virtually none of the games starring Superman has been considered better than So Okay, It's Average. Superman 64 is even considered one of the worst video games of all time, with the NES Superman game being considered almost as bad.
In universe example, Mr. Mxyzptlk, also The Unpronounceable. Even the other characters think he's an annoying little snit. In reality, he's one of Supe's most famous enemies.
Stoic Woobie: When Lois at one point breaks off their engagement and returns his ring (with fair cause; marrying Supes is a daunting prospect for a dozen reasons), a brokenhearted Superman flies out to the middle of the Atlantic to try to calm down. There he bumps into Lori Lemaris of Atlantis, his ex-girlfriend, and confides in her how frustrating it is that he's the only man in the world who can never allow himself to get angry. He chucks the ring miles over the horizon. Then Lori asks, "Wasn't that Ma Kent's engagement ring?" Supes realizes she's right and bolts off over the horizon to retrieve it.
Strawman Has a Point: Superman in the Action Comics comic Muscles For Money. Sure he was being a jerk, but his argument that he deserves a reward for all his good deeds does have merit.
Superboy Prime may be insane, but he's not far off when he says that superheroes have gotten too dark for their own good.
Lex Luthor may be pure evil (and a bigot) but some of his criticisms about humanity putting its collective faith in the godlike alien that is Superman are not entirely unreasonable.
Tear Jerker: The Death and Return of Superman arc. Especially having to do with his parents is almost hard to read.
Hell Is That Noise: Kryptonite made a pulsating noise when Supes opened the lead box. The original Dolby Surround mix (available in later pressings of the Theatrical Cut on DVD, as well as VHS and laserdisc) is louder.
The 5.1 mix uses all channels during the Sonic Warning scene (This is Lex Luthor. Only one thing alive of less than four legs can hear this frequency...)
Hilarious in Hindsight: The relavitely modern idea that Superman is something of an ersatz of Jesus Christ is quite ironic when you know that not only were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster Jewish, Superman himself was partially inspired by the concept of Judaism! Specifically, by the story of Moses.
Hype Backlash: While this and Superman II are often touted as still the best superhero films ever with Reeve as the epitome of superhero casting, modern DC and Superman fans can come away less than impressed about the story, though the technical achievements for the time are undeniably great. There are plenty of elements that may not ring true with today's fans. Today's Superman identifies as Clark Kent first and Superman second and he became Superman on his own initiative, while the films emphasises his alien identity to the point of having Jor-El mind-meld with him for many years to make him Superman (and give him the suit), after which "Clark Kent" is just a sham. For all the praise Reeve gets, because of plot contrivance he never played Clark as the "real guy" like Dean Cain or Tom Welling did. The characterizations of Jor-El and Luthor (who comes with a politically incorrect bimbo gun-moll) are also departures from the comics, and Pa Kent's death can seem unneccesary for people who are used to depictions with him still alive. The theme of Superman as a sort of space Jesus (and Jor-El as a space God) just isn't true to the comics, now and then. Then there's the issue of Superman being "overpowered" because of Silver Age power levels, as with turning back time.
The characterizations of Jor-El and Lex Luthor aren't the only ones on trial for modern fans - Lois Lane wasn't exactly the smartest reporter on the block, and her shrill chain smoking voice, scatter brained illiteracy, and in general her "quirky", daffy 1940s screwball personality with just a hint of Stalker with a Crush - which Lois Lane sadly was throughout the Golden Age, Silver Age and even a little bit in the Bronze Age - would probably rub modern fans the wrong way and leave them wondering just what exactly Superman sees in her.
Moment Of Awesome: Jor-El's amazing speech at the end of Kal'sFortress of Solitude education. There are people whose parents weren't even alive when this was made, who can quote the speech word for word.
Live as one of them, Kal-El. Discover where your strength and your power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, and they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son.
Narm Charm: General Zod is made of this. He's a titanic ham with lots of dialogue that could have been very painful, but he tends to come of as genuinely deranged and dangerous rather than goofy considering he has the godlike power to back up his threats. It also helps that he can bounce back and forth between Large Ham and dangerously understated almost at will, as his introductory scene shows.
Never Live It Down: For some people, the ending with Superman spinning the Earth backwards to reverse time completely obliterates any other merits the film may have. In fairness, this wasn't the original plan — in earlier versions of the story, Superman travelled back in time, diverted the second missile and returned to the present, only to be stripped of his powers for what Jor-El's essence felt was going too far — but due to the production problems and friction between Donner and the Salkinds, it ended up being curtailed into the ending that we got.
Romantic Plot Tumor: Superman and Lois Lane long had an uneven dynamic in the comics and that uneven dynamic is on full display here.
Sacred Cow / Fandom Heresy: Criticize any part of the first two films and you're an ingrate who's slighting the late Christopher Reeve.
Seinfeld Is Unfunny: Although the first movie basically invented the modern superhero film, looks impressive even after 30 years, it is sometimes dismissed as a museum piece with little appeal to modern audiences.
R/Greenberg, which previously specialized in TV advertising, created the opening credits. They later branched out into a visual effects firm, their other claim to fame being the invisibility effects in Predator.
What an Idiot: After Superman first makes his presence known in Metropolis by stopping many crimes in a single night, Lois deliberately asks about and prints for all to read one of his non-Kryptonite Factor weaknesses —his inability to see through lead. And unfortunately, Lex reads the next morning's edition of the paper (Supes naturally escapes though).