Must There Be a Superman? is a Superman story published in Superman (Volume 1) #247. Elliot S! Maggin wrote the plot and Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson handled art duties. It is widely remembered as the story which opened Maggin's seminal Superman's run.
After Superman helps the Green Lantern Corps out with an emergency, the Guardians of the Universe show him around Oa, subtly hinting that he may be involuntarily disrupting Earth's social progress by making humans too dependent on him. Feeling troubled, Superman leaves Oa, wondering whether he is indeed causing more harm than good.
Superman makes it back to Earth and lands on a Californian village, where his worst fears are confirmed: the villagers absolutely expect him to solve all their issues, from punching a mean plantation owner on the face to fix a roof leak. Superman is about to explain why they should not wait for a superhero accidentally dropping by and solving their problems for them when suddenly an earthquake strikes the area.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Guardians of the Universe plant the idea in Superman's head that he's been holding back the human race's development by making them too dependent on him. Ganthet states to another Guardian that they did their job by just mentioning it to him, and it would be enough for him to not do too much.
- Angry Collar Grab: Superman grabs the collar of Harley -an abusive plantation owner- after shoving him away from a young worker whom Harley was beating.
- Appeal to Force: After talking with the Guardians, Superman feels disturbed by the implication what he has been hindering humanity's social progress by bullying the world. After all, there is only one person who is strong enough to stop him from pounding whatever or whoever he dislikes into paste, and it is more likely than not that she takes his side.Superman: Maybe I have been interfering unnecessarily! I decide what's right or wrong— and then enforce my decision...by brute strength!
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Superman gets rid of a pod full of alien spores which, should have hatched in Earth, would have grown into giant, multi-limbed, headless yellow monsters.
- Bridal Carry: Green Lantern Katma Tui carries an unconscious Superman to the main Power Battery to be healed.
- But Now I Must Go: After helping the Californian villagers, Superman must leave.Superman: Now I've got work of my own to do...
Manuel: (sobbing) You leaving already, Superman?
Superman: Yes, Manuel— But we'll keep in touch!
- Bystander Syndrome: On a Californian village, Superman spots a man slapping a young boy while a crowd watches. Superman steps in and finds out the plantation owner Harley's employees had agreed to strike, only to back out later... except for Manuel. Neither of Manuel's co-workers tried to defend Manuel when their boss started beating him up, but as soon as Superman arrives, everyone begins goading him into walloping Harley. Superman asks them point-blank why they did not do anything.Farmer: You saw Harley beating up Manuel, Superman! Mash him!
Superman: You fellows were here! Why didn't you handle it?
- The Cameo: Green Lantern Katma Tui makes a surprise one-panel appearance.
- Central Theme: Heroes are a nice thing to have, but people must learn to be self-reliant and solve their own issues.
- Continuity Nod: One of the Guardians mentions the JL's mission in planet Kalyarna, told in Justice League of America (Volume 1) #86.
- Covers Always Lie: The cover features the Guardians judging and finding Superman guilty of crimes against humanity. Nothing like that happens in the story where the Guardians subtly suggest him let Earth people learn how to solve their own issues.
- Dare to Be Badass: Superman tells a whole village they don't need him to deal with an abusive plant owner. They can solve their conflict by taking a stand and refusing to back down.Superman: But you must not count on a Superman to patch up your lives every time you have a crisis— or disaster— Young Manuel here— has the right idea! When the rest of you backed down to Harley, Manuel refused to knuckle under... You don't need a Superman! What you really need is a super-will to be guardians of your own destiny!
- Fight Off the Kryptonite: Superman must stop a massive alien pod which is travelling through a part of galaxy full of red stars. The Man of Steel can feel his strength waning and his powers weakening quickly, but even so he manages to deflect the pod before passing out due to overwhelming physical exertion.
- Flashback: Upon meeting a Mexican kid who migrated to California, Superman flashes back to his parents sending him to Earth.
- Gratuitous Spanish: Superman drops by a small village in Central California where people randomly spout Spanish words and expressions as "Sí", "Señor" or "Madre de Dios" as speaking plain English.
- Holding Out for a Hero: In it, The Guardians of the Universe drag Superman to Oa and (with help from a little mind-control ray) tell him, point-blank, that his superheroics are causing human evolution to stagnate and to cut it out. He's shaken by it and decides to hold back on the situations that regular humans would be fine with dealing.
- Imagine Spot: As preparing to intercept the alien pod, Superman briefly visualizes what kind of chaos and devastation would ensue if those spores hatch in Earth.
- Kryptonite Is Everywhere: The Green Lanterns cannot get rid of a massive pod of dangerous alien spores breaking into the galaxy because those spores happen to be yellow, so the Guardians call Superman.
- Mundane Utility: At the end, Superman uses his powers to rebuild a village destroyed by an earthquake.Superman: How can I tell them now that they must be self-sufficient when I have to rebuild their homes for them?
- No-Sell: Kal-El must stop a massive pod of dangerous alien spores before it crashes into an inhabited world. Superman expects a shoulder tackle will do the job, but the pod will not even slow down. It is too big, and Superman is too weakened.Superman: But I can still whip up enough speed and force to deflect the pod...Didn't even budge it!?
- Not Drawn to Scale: Superman bumps into a cluster of spherical alien spores whose size varies depending on the panel, ranging from larger-than-a-human to football-sized.
- A Planet Named Zok: Superman is reminded of a JL mission in planet Kalyarna as he is visiting planet Oa.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: The Guardians of the Universe subtly hint to Superman that there is a real danger of his doing too much for humanity and stunting our society by making us too dependent on him— he sees the wisdom of it and reluctantly takes their advice to heart, resolving not to try and solve some problems people are better off fixing with their own two hands.
- Skintone Sclerae: Throughout the story, Superman's eyes are consistently given a flesh-colored tone.
- Standing Between the Enemies: As flying over a rural area, Superman spots a man beating a young guy up, and quickly descends between them and pushes them apart.
- Tornado Move: Superman de-pollutes a sea in planet Kalyarna by spinning quickly over the surface, creating a tornado which sucks in the junk littering the waters.
- Waking Up Elsewhere: Clark Kent collapses on the surface of a remote planetoid after preventing an alien pod from crashing into an inhabited planet. When he awakens, he has been brought to Oa by Green Lantern Katma Tui and placed in the Central Power Battery to get his injuries healed.
- We Have Become Complacent: Superman realizes that people have become so reliant on him swooping in and solving all their problems that they will not even try to stand up for their rights.