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Superman: Why we've loved him through the years

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(Read caption) Henry Cavill is the latest embodiment of Superman, but Superman biographer Larry Tye says that over the years the Man of Steel has "evolved more than the fruit fly."

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Unlike many of his counterparts, Superman doesn't have enough issues to fill a newsstand.

This mostly well-adjusted nice guy never embraces the darkness like Batman, Spider-Man, and all the other superhero orphans who could use a spot of therapy.

That's pretty remarkable considering the potential for phobias (eek! Kryptonite!), parental resentment (he was abandoned), and low self-esteem (do these tights make me look fat?).

Superman was a sunny character in the beginning, actually, and his goody-goody nature doesn't change in "Man of Steel," the big Hollywood film that opens today.

How has he remained such a softie – a "Big Blue Boy Scout," as some call him – after all these years? And what has changed about the Man from Smallville? For the answer, I turned to Boston writer Larry Tye, author of 2012's Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero.

Q: Darkness lurks in the lives of many superheroes, from the violent loss of parents (Black Panther, Daredevil) and alcoholism  (Iron Man) to family rejection (various X-Men) and even child abuse (Incredible Hulk). Did Superman ever become a dark character?

A: Relatively speaking, he's been on the far light side of the spectrum. At various times people have played around with him being a darker character. But fans or editors have pushed him back to light every time they've done that.

Q: How do you think this affects his appeal?

A: At moments like now, when it like the world has enough dark heroes, Superman's plucky and righteous familiarity makes him reassuring. He was the model that Batman and Spider-Man were built on. Spider-Man is the anti-Superman, and Batman is the dark Superman.

Q: How did he diverge from Batman, who – 1960s TV show aside – is one grim guy?

A: At his best, Batman is as dark as he can get. At his best, Superman is as light as he can get.

If I wanted to be crude and cynical, I would say they were each filling a niche in the marketplace. There's been an understanding that there's an opening for a dark hero and also an opening for a hero of light.


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