Strange Visitors From Another Planet

I realize it's a little weird that my almost-weekly discussions on superhero archetypes hasn't covered the Superman archetype yet, but I've been struggling with just WHAT that archetype is. In a very real sense, Superman's archetype is that of the superhero. Period. They are, for the most part, variations on his design. I also didn't want to equate him with "Bricks", which are super-strong, invulnerable characters, because he's a lot more than that. The Brick will get its day, but not today. Superman is many things, then. One of these things is "a strange visitor from another planet", and that's what I'm going in.

Superman, Supergirl, the Martian Manhunter, Silver Surfer, Jemm Son of Saturn, the New Gods and Forever People, Samaritan, Captain Mar-Vell, Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Zauriel, Miss Martian, Thor, Starfire, Wonder Woman, Namor, Rom Spaceknight, the Transformers, Omni-Man, Icon, many other Superman analogs, and in the realm of comedy, Ford Prefect, My Favorite Martian, Alf and 3rd Rock from the Sun... What they have in common is that they are aliens among us, most of them publicly so. As you can see from the list, we can even count heroes from Earth who come from places that might as well be alien worlds, like Amazon Island, or that are other dimensions, like Asgard. Even characters from the past or future stranded in the past - say the Legion (Lost) or the Shining Knight could be considered "strange visitors".

These are not merely "alien" heroes. They are the alien confronted with humanity. Their powers (and often, attitudes) set them apart, but as they learn more about us, they BECOME more like us. As we, in return, can see ourselves through the alien's point of view. And just as the hero is alien to us, we are alien to him, her or it. Will we embrace this savior from another world, or will we xenophobically reject the unlike? That's on us. Superman remains a special case because, Tarzan-like, he was raised on Earth, by human parents. He's physically an alien, but he has very human values and attitudes. So our reaction to him is a more important piece of the story (ergo, all those essays on what Superman means, and one of the more iconic human supporting casts in comics history). But there's something else these heroes bring to the table, whether they "act human" or soliloquize on how strange we are (looking at you, Surfer!). Can you guess what it is?

Each of those characters comes with a strange and interesting cultural background, a whole world to explore on the comics page. Flashbacks, chronicles, contemporary visits, each appearance and reference adds to the world and thus, to the hero. And because these places weren't home to a single inhabitant, they tend to spawn new members of the hero's family, friends as well as enemies. Krypton may be gone, but Superman is far from the Last Son of Krypton he once was. We're interested in Strange Visitors because they are our window into the worlds from which they came. If it's all an immigration story, it's about embracing what the immigrant brings to one's own country.

Why do YOU like these visitors to our shores? Do you revel in the minutiae of their alien worlds, or would you rather explore what it means to be human with them?

5 comments:

Zundian said...

I think it's interesting that of all the changes Byrne made in the reboot, subtly subverting the baby rocketed to earth ended up changing the character the most.

A.) Being born when the gestational chamber opens in Kansas makes Clark officially a US citizen (Kryptonian Anchor baby!)

B.) No superpowers until he was 18 empowers the adoptee/immigrant factor of his, because having superpowers from birth would clue him in on his "otherness"

C.) Super powered teen is a horror movie waiting to happen.

Jeff R. said...

Samaratan is from the future, which, while it may be another country, isn't quite another planet.

American Hawkman said...

He's from an alternate future timeline, which is a little closer.

Jeff R. said...

He's certainly not an alien, though. If he's on this list, then so is Booster Gold.

(Looking more closely at the original list, Wonder Woman and Namor are also questionable. And why in the world Namor and not Art Curry?)

Actually, I'm a splitter at heart, and I'd really want to divide this category between the Last Children of a Dying World, the Ambassadors, and the Exiles.

Siskoid said...

Like I said in the body of the text, there are many ways to interpret that other "planet".

 

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