Had a bit of a talk yesterday with my wife, regarding the role of pulp heroes. This was in part by my annoyance that they want to give a 'dark, tragic' past to Doc Savage. See, Doc was a paragon in the pulp era, the 'perfect man'. But, for some reason, Hollywood is deciding he has to have an abusive father who 'drove' him to be this way.
Part of the conversation regarded Superman. I pointed out that (to me), the best Superman stories aren't the one where he 'falls from grace' or is 'vulnerable'. The best ones are the ones where he's the paragon he's supposed to be, humanity fails him, and yet he continues on his way, and allows humanity to grow because of it. He's iconic.
In a movie, or a 'rebooted' comic, Superman should be Superman. He should be the representation of the best we could ever hope to be, he should shoulder the responsibility of being the "super man". An excellent example is the original Superman movie. It was perfect.
Later movies can show the cost of his ideals. Not that he 'falters' or anything, but that doing the right thing isn't easy - that there is a price. Good examples include Superman 2, Superman vs the Elite, and Kingdom Come, all of which were good for different reasons.
Superman 2, he sacrifices himself to have a normal life, and learns that this is not something he can do. We can sympathize with him here, but his duty outweighs his personal desires. Superman vs the Elite, humanity decides that criminals need a 'harsh' justice, and the Elite provides it. They consider him to be soft, and the public turn away from him. Superman shows just how terrifying he could be if he went that route - but teaches a valuable lesson, while remaining true to who he is. Kingdom Come is much the same, humanity turns to the vigilante heroes, and when Lois dies, he doesn't become 'hardened', he retreats - turning inward. And when he comes back later? He holds true to his ideals.
But Hollywood and DC seem to have forgotten this. Superman is Superman. His strength of conviction, his insistence on doing the right thing, is what defines him. But no, they want him 'gritty' and 'flawed'. They want to show him fall from grace, because that's exciting'. They forget that the story of Superman isn't about 'look what he can do!' it's about the impact he has on the people around him - how it affects US.
Yes, it is awesome to see Superman throw down from time to time. I get that. Just like it is awesome to see a lightsaber duel in Star Wars. But you know what? The duel itself is not the point in Star Wars - every duel is part of a larger narrative (which George Lucas seems to have forgotten in the Prequels). The duel isn't there because 'we need a duel now', and Superman doesn't throw down because 'fights are cool'.
I was told once that Superman is a parallel to Moses (which makes sense). And if you're going by that parallel, Moses is the person who is leading the people to freedom and to a greater world. It is the people who follow him who falter - who turn away, and then suffer for it. Then they return to him, and he says, 'see, I told you', and continues to lead them. Moses isn't the one who goes 'oh, look, I'm going to sin'. Moses isn't the one who falls - it is the people he's guiding who are the ones who go astray, and he's the one who draws them back onto the path. That's what Superman does. He's the constant in the universe, and he's the one who inspires the people around him to be better than they are.
This is where the Man of Steel movie failed. This is where the New 52 failed. They forgot who Superman was. They tried to make him into something that he isn't. Superman is supposed to represent the best in us, and it seems that there are people who think that's 'boring' and 'cliche'. You know what? Sometimes people need symbols of hope, and not all symbols have to be tarnished. We need something to strive towards, and believe in, and we don't need that symbol to be flawed. We're flawed enough as it is.