This is a thing I often ask myself, certainly Superman could right? Sure, if any character is worthy to wield Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir , then its certainly comic book’s greatest hero Superman? Many other great heroes fall short of this, though because it tests a person’s virtue, how heroic the character is. Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, all of them are great heroes and are some favorites but are they worthy? Only a select few of characters have ever wielded it.
In fact its a very short list of people who have wielded the hammer. The Vision as shown in the Age of Ultron and on one very special occasion Captain America have even wielded it in the comics. We even see Cap nudge it a bit in the movie. But what makes those few who have wielded Mjolnir worthy exactly? It’s selflessness and compassion, plain and simple. These are the two traits that make you a hero, not your powers. That is the lesson that the egotistical Thor learned while he was exiled to Earth in the first Thor movie. His purpose was to serve those weaker than himself, to be selfless and to have compassion for others. Being King isn’t about having people serve under you, it’s about serving your subjects. After coming to this realization Thor regained the right to wield Mjolnir. Story ends, credits role, we have ourselves a bona-fide hero.
Not many other characters could wield Mjolnir even if they wanted to. Brute force doesn’t work with it. The Hulk with all his might was unable to use the hammer. Sure in comics he could lift it but not wield it. The Hulk couldn’t swing it at a person like Thor does. Like putting Mjolnir in an elevator and taking it up to the next floor above. The elevator is lifting it up, not using it as a weapon. Neither Hulk nor the elevator is actually wielding it. In the seemingly paradoxical joke situation, the elevator is not worthy, you can’t cheat Mjolnir . Either you’re worthy or you’re not. It sees into your soul.
But as a nerd I like to often stretch my imagination, picture in my head Superman picking up Mjolnir . He is often considered the most heroic character ever imagined. No one is more selfless than he is, or even as compassionate. But what of this modern iteration of Superman? The one from the films Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman. He has been reinvented for the modern era and is no longer your Christopher Reeve’s Superman.
Henry Cavill has done a respectable job in the role, as far as acting is concerned, but the character has played a much more different role in modern movies. He has been portrayed totally different than what came before him, for better or worse. Grant me this small consideration, I’d believe the older versions of Superman could definitely wield Mjoneir but is Henry Cavill’s Superman worthy to wield Mjolnir ? I’d say no, he is not.
The Modern Superman
It’s not so much how Henry Cavill acts. True, he plays Superman as cold and distant, one could say even say it’s alien. I’m fine with that. But I’d bet this is what Cavill has been asked to do or in other words directed to. It’s more of the situations Superman is put in and how he deals with them than anything else that speaks to his character. It’s how he reacts to the situations. It’s the plot and dialogue that troubles me.
Man of Steel
Take for example a scene from Man of Steel where Zod takes Superman aboard his main ship. Superman passes out from the stress of adjusting to the Kryptonian atmosphere and the two of them share a telepathic vision. Zod shares his plans of rebuilding Krypton here on Earth and in a very visually stunning way shows the pain and suffering terra-forming Earth would be like. (Or I guess Kryptoforming). Billions of people will die. In a metaphor imagery, Superman is seen in a pile of human human skulls that he slowly starts to sinking into it, like some macabre quick sand. It’s a great scene but it’s Superman’s response that is a let down. It hints at the kind of person he is.
At first all he has to say is “Zod, your plan, I can take no part in this.” Not anything like “I’ll stop you” Or “you’ll never get away with this.” A normal person would be revolted by the idea of so many people dying. Even if you took an ordinary person off the street and put them in this situation they would be appalled and scream out in protest or defiance at least. Imagine if Spider-Man were drowning in skulls, he may call Zod a monster. Even a villain like Lex Luthor would be disgusted by such a vision if not for the wanton destruction. Genius after all has more finesse than Zod’s brute force approach to domination. Instead Superman is cold and distant, aloof as so many other viewers have described him. He does eventually cry out in protest but it comes as too late. As with many of the other scenes, it’s Superman’s cold distant reaction to the tragedy around him that defines him, it speaks to his virtue and worthiness of wielding Mjolnir. He shows no compassion at all, if he does it’s too late. He has no compassion to compel to act quickly and suddenly.
Batman vs Superman
In the much more recent Batman v Superman, things haven’t changed. Superman is still cold and distant. In one scene Superman is called to testify to the government. He walks through the halls ignoring everyone in a very robotic alien manner, perhaps in an almost stuck up attitude. He is god like after all. After Superman arrives, tragedy strikes and innocent people die. Afterward he just stands there, being invulnerable. He doesn’t assist in the rescue efforts or mitigate the pain and suffering in anyway. He could’ve used x-ray vision to help search for victims or used his super breath to put out the flames. Not even an angry shout or furled brow can be found on his face. Just a cold distant stare.
I don’t know, but if I just saw something like a car wreck, I’d at least pull over and see if everyone was okay, maybe give some first aid. My capabilities pale in comparison to Superman’s. Even compared to a doctor or just some ordinary medic, I don’t have much to offer. But it’s not the capabilities that matter it’s the willingness to act that matters, it’s the willingness that makes you heroic. Compassion making you forget any hesitation.
In some respects the modern Superman is shown doing acts of good. Rescuing people and saving the day. In Batman v Superman he is shown pulling a stranded boat, rescuing a space launch, and saving flood victims to name a few. But its his reactions and his emotional connections that are telling. He is cold and distant, alien. I can understand this approach as he isn’t human after all, he’s the orphan immigrant from Krypton. But there is more to it than that.
The Cold Distant Alien
He still has some emotional ties to Earth, people he cares about. He grew up in the Midwest after all and has adoptive parents that he obviously loves. You can take the boy out of Kansas but not the Kansas out of the boy right? Not to mention his connection with Lois Lane and his mother. When these select few people are threatened he does indeed have an emotional response, usually just flat anger. The love and compassion is hard to see if it really is ever there. Maybe Superman is just faking it all? Even his romantic scenes with Lois Lane are hard to swallow and come off as being more physical than emotional. What often is described as a lack of chemistry by viewers is more to blame on Superman’s aloofness than on the acting. It’s hard for a cold and distant character to fall in love.
I could understand the argument that this new Superman is an outsider, an alien. He has trouble connecting to ordinary people who are not his girlfriend or family, I guess. He is invincible after all. In many ways the new Superman is like Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen. Cold, distant, and aloof from the pain and suffering of ordinary people not so much because the center of his brain was removed or anything ridiculous like that. It’s because Dr. Manhattan just can’t relate to humans, he can’t sympathize with the fragility of human life because he is invincible. He is above us. He couldn’t anymore relate to humanity than we could relate to termites.
Take one scene from the Watchmen in particular, the one where victory is declared in Vietnam and the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan are at a bar, celebrating. The Comedian is confronted by a spurned lover and the Comedian kills her and her unborn child in an exaggerated act of self defense. But Dr. Manhattan does nothing. He could have intervened and saved her life but he hesitates. That ability to empathize has left him indecisive. Where real heroes would’ve acted out of compassion without thinking, Dr. Manhattan hesitates because it doesn’t compute.
A caring super hero would act without thinking. Dr. Manhattan had no such emotional compass to guide him so he hesitated and just let her die. Much like the modern Superman, he can’t relate to people, he can’t empathize with anyone. He doesn’t jump at the chance to save people from an emotional source, he does so out of some obligation. Manhattan doesn’t do it because he cares, he does it because it’s his job. In many ways the modern Superman behaves like Dr. Manhattan.
Although a being can’t empathize with humanity it can still react with compassion for life. Take for example The Vision from Marvel. Though he is artificial, aloof, cold, and logical, he still can feel compassion for suffering people. He has sympathy for life. When something evil around him happens he doesn’t sit and ponder it. If you showed him a pile of human skulls he wouldn’t say something lame, he would be compelled to act immediately. He wouldn’t just say he couldn’t participate like what Superman said to Zod. The Vision would fight without hesitation. The Vision would be a hero. Because of his empathy and selflessness the Vision is able to wield Mjolnir but I’m not so sure about the modern Superman.
Sure the modern Superman is selfless but he is far from caring. He is cold and aloof, alien after all. The only humans he cares about are those the ones he knows personally. Nothing wrong with this, a lot of people in real life are like this and it doesn’t make them evil exactly. But it’s this combination of selflessness and compassion that defines heroism and the modern Superman is only half of this equation. He is incapable of empathy and is far less heroic for it. They took one of the best parts of Superman out. Left it discarded on the movie making floor, a relic of a bygone era.
It has been said that the Modern Superman is a product of our times. The old Superman as portrayed by Christopher Reeves could never be accepted by people today. Maybe this is true but he was far more heroic. He never hesitated, and his compassion was as formidable as his strength. The classic Superman could probably wield Mjolnir but not this cold modern one we are left with.
True, a character sometimes has to evolve with the times, to represent society. But sometimes it more fun to buck the trend. To be a rebel, to be different. Just take Captain America as an example. He is such a fish out of water, a product of the nationalistic times of World War II. But after the culture shock of the Vietnam War, a much more gritty and realistic kind of character started to take hold on the American conscious. Just think of characters like the X-men and the Punisher. Heroes like Captain America lost their relevance. It wasn’t until much later that he was revived and reincorporated in to the comics and later on into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that people started to love him again. Sure he’s outdated and old fashioned but he still has character with out losing what makes him a great hero. There isn’t a moment of cold hesitation or alien aloofness in Captain America. He charges in with out hesitation because he cares for people and the fans love him for it. Even if he just some fossil, he’s a loved for having some character.
In the films Captain America is portrayed as the most heroic of all the Avengers. Often he puts the safety of innocents above the current objective. Like when he instructed the police to evacuate people during the Centauri invasion. Or when in the sequel he put safety of people in the path of the out of control train as the team’s top priority . He still had compassion for innocent people during hectic battles. When danger happens, he charges in because he is both selfless and compassionate. The modern Superman, not so much.
Even when the modern Superman gives up on the patriotism of his”Truth, Justice, and the American Way” Captain america holds true. During the Marvel Civil War, when his government enacts laws that are against the country’s principles he still holds true to his ideals of liberty and freedom of the individual. He becomes a patriot with out a nation, a Ronin with out a master. Because of this he is far more heroic than the modern Superman who has sacrificed his virtues for the sake of being just as popular as Batman. And you know what, Captain America has wielded Mjolnir.
Kingdom Come and the rejection of Modernization
Superman’s whole shift of his character away from compassion and consequently heroism reminds me of the Alex Ross story, Kingdom Come. The story alludes to Superman doing something wrong and stops being a superhero. In the end it is revealed that a new hero arises, one who kills a criminal. This new hero doesn’t have the compassion to “take him in alive” in the way the good old heroes used to. There is a court hearing and this new violent superhero is acquitted. But more, the people accept the idea of a hero killing a criminal. This heartless hero is accepted by the people. Superman gives up and leaves in disgust but I believe the real moral of the story of Kingdom Come isn’t that Superman failed to evolve, to become more stern and gritty. But instead that society failed Superman, they chose the wrong hero and things got worse because of it. This new hero they chose was neither selfless nor compassionate, he certainly could never have used Thor’s Hammer.
And that’s the sadistic part of the modern portrayal of Superman, he is less heroic. He lacks compassion and sympathy. D.C. Comics, trying to modernize itself in Marvel’s gritty realistic image isn’t without a price. Superman has become less heroic and in no way do I think he could ever wield Mjolnir. It doesn’t make Superman more interesting, it makes him a hero with less character; it diminishes him. It was Superman’s heroism that defined him, it’s what made him special, not is powers. This was why so many people loved him, they didn’t care how strong he was. Superman was the most heroic character ever, now he’s just another over powered being.
I want to hate the modern portrayal of Superman, his coldness and aloofness, his lack of compassion and humanity, but it’s not his fault. This is what society wants, a more realistic character that they can relate to I suppose. But I can’t stand him. It’s not the powers that make someone heroic, its the willingness to do good and the new Superman just isn’t that man. He has no compassion. He isn’t worthy Mjolnir, he isn’t worthy of being the greatest hero any more. They took that from him, we took that from him by modernizing him. We are to blame for Superman’s failure.
Superman as a Friend
To put things another way, having super powers is like being wealthy. Powers and money both give you a lot of ability to do good or evil in this world. Superman, occasionally saving people in the films, comes off as him just contributing the minimum amount to a charity. Like withdrawing funds from his pay automatically or donating at the office, just because he has to. It’s expected of him. Like a moral tithe. But when it comes to Superman going the extra mile, having compassion for innocents around him, he does so reluctantly if at all. Like some rich guy paying a bill at the restaurant and not leaving a good tip. With all of that power he should do more than the minimum, or else he looks like a jerk. He has to do more.
In the end I don’t think I like Superman these days. I don’t mean like being a fan of his or anything. I mean if I was to hang around him I don’t think I’d like him. He’s too much of a jerk. I know it’s real popular these days for characters to be gruff and all but when someone is incredibly powerful and has nothing to lose from having compassion and sympathy he runs the risk of being a jerk if he doesn’t at least try to care. It was that combination of incredible power and compassion that won over people’s hearts. I don’t think I’d count Superman as being a friend and I certainly wouldn’t think he could ever wield Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.