What Is Superman’s Toy Situation?

A month or two ago I was at Walmart. Since that is something that happens most often when I am looking for a gift for my niblings, I spent a lot of time in the toy section. And, in spite of myself, the same thing happens every time I am in a toy section at a store like that: I wonder why Superman is so underrepresented.

I know I shouldn’t be bothered too much. The Superman of my mind wouldn’t want to be too represented in overpriced merchandise sold by corrupt corporations. But I also see such toys as a way to open the minds of children to the ideas that I wish were being delivered by Superman media.

Still, it doesn’t bother me that much until I see something like this:

It’s not a great picture because I just snapped it with my phone while looking for other things, but what that is is that that is Batman-branded playset featuring Batman, Superman, and Lex Luthor and named “Wayne Tower Mayhem”. I don’t know if this is referencing some specific story, and don’t get me wrong the whole thing looks like crap, but it still bugs me. We’ve got two figures for two Superman characters and a tall building theme. There are plenty of tall buildings this could have been as a Superman-branded toy. Coulda been the Daily Planet or the LexCorp building just for starts. But no, instead some toy making people said that this is Batman’s house and Batman has two jerks from Metropolis show up and ruin his night, the playset.

I get that Batman is popular and probably moves toys, but honestly I bet he’s got characters enough of his own who should be fighting on that rooftop.

There is, I have to assume, no line of Superman toys coming out. I’ve heard claims that Batman is easier to make toys of because Batman has all kinds of cool toys like batarangs and the Batmobile, but once you have a Superman toy you have everything you can get from Superman. I don’t agree with that. First of all, you’ve got all the supporting cast members and villains that could be turned into figures. Sure, people could argue that a lot of them aren’t very toyetic, but if I were in charge, I’d be trying to improve them as characters, so I could work on that too. And there’s no reason Superman and friends can’t have a bunch of cool gizmos. It’s a sci-fi franchise! Make stuff up!

Now, I don’t know anything about modern toys, but if I take this line from the Wikipedia page for TMNT toys as correct, “The premiere series included the four Turtles, Splinter, April, Shredder, Rocksteady, Bebop, and a Foot Soldier. Vehicles included the Cheapskate, Turtle Trooper, Turtle Blimp, and Foot Knucklehead” there were ten figures and four vehicles in the first line of Ninja Turtles toys. Well, I can replicate that for Superman, surely. And all the weird transformations and stuff!


  1. Superman: Obviously you need to have him. We’d need to start the run off with a pretty basic Superman figure. Accessories? How about a Phantom Zone Projector? We could make it look cool and light up or something.
  2. Lois Lane: Famously the toys in the era I grew up in would avoid the lady figures because they wouldn’t sell as well, but I’m not going without Lois.
  3. Jimmy Olsen: I figure there’s a couple ways to go with it. You could do a thing about his transforming, where he has different heads and hands and can be like a werewolf or whatever. Or maybe you do a camera thing where the camera flashes? Or it could be a viewfinder thing?
  4. Steel: He’s got a cool look and a big hammer. You need to have him.
  5. Lex Luthor: For a toy we’re probably want a Luthor in some sort of power armour, even though I think the suits look cooler. He could definitely have kryptonite as an accessory.
  6. General Zod: The other big one of Superman’s foes, we stick him in the first set.
  7. Toyman: He’s had several designs, so we’d have to figure out which would be best, but I think he’s an obvious fit for a line of figures.
  8. Metallo: Cool robot design and maybe he can open up to see his kryptonite heart? That’s something. Some glow in the dark might be cool.
  9. Bloodsport: Tons of guns are his accessories and that’s what toys were in my day.
  10. Bizarro: You get to basically reuse the Superman design with minor differences, so that’s good.

None of that is revelatory. Apart from maybe Bloodsport I assume they’ve all had toys before (and even Bloodsport probably has now that he was in that movie). I kinda wanted to delve into more obscure territory, so maybe I should’ve done this thought experiment as the second wave of toys instead. Ah well, I’m too tired to start anew right now, so let’s let that happen some other time. We still have to deal with:

  1. Supermobile: The classic Supermobile design, but I say we make it so it can transform into a “normal” car.
  2. Bizarromobile: We take the Supermobile design and make it all weird. And it transforms into a weird car. I’m in.
  3. Lexcopter: A LexCorp-branded helicopter that probably can shoot missiles.
  4. Teddy Mech: A teddy-bear-themed mech that a figure can ride in, designed for Toyman.

And I didn’t even get into playsets. Anyway, the fact I didn’t have to get into the obscure stuff I wanted proves how easy it should be. It’s clear that the reason I don’t see more Superman stuff in stores is simply because companies don’t want it there. What a shame.

If I revisit this, I’m sure I’ll get weirder with it.

Superman and Luthor = Frenemies?

I’ve said a lot of things about a lot of Superman villains on this little site of mine, but I don’t think I’ve said much about his most iconic villain: Lex Luthor. I think the concept of Lex Luthor as a nemesis has reached the world at large. I’m sure I could think of some little ways to improve on Luthor’s usage as a Superman foe, but honestly, once they expanded his mad scientist role to include all the evil capitalists that Clark fought in his early days, they got what I needed from him. Maybe I’m less concerned with him being the “smartest human on Earth” (I think such superlatives are a poison to the superhero genre) and I know I like him to be a little bit goofier than many readers, but in general I think we’re getting good Luthor most of the time.

But one thing that I’ve found controversial even among Superman fans is whether or not Clark Kent and Lex Luthor should be friends who tragically became enemies? I always preferred when they weren’t.

It’s one of my least favourite things when creators think superheroes have to have personal connections to their enemies for the sake of drama. And Superman especially! Superman shouldn’t need personal connections to a problem to want to solve that problem. And anyway, Superman has too many enemies with personal connections anyway! Brainiac is a space-faring baddie who once captured a city right off of Superman’s homeworld! This time it’s personal! General Zod (and most of the Phantom Zone criminals as well) is actually from Superman’s homeworld and maybe even knew Superman’s father! This time it’s personal! It’s a crutch and I don’t care for it.

It also bugs me that Superman just happens to grow up with the kid who goes on to be one of the richest and smartest businessmen in the world? It strains credibility and makes Clark less of the everyman they wanted him to be when they made him a smalltown boy.

But it’s surprisingly popular considering how rarely it’s actually been the status quo. It came about during the Silver Age, and I am acutely aware that Silver Age concepts seem to grow back any time they are removed. A lot of the time I’m in favour of the Silver Age concepts coming back. It was also the case in the live action Superboy television show, but compared to the various movies and show’s where it hasn’t been the case, that show can’t compare. The comics did away with it in the 80s reboot, but it has swung in and out with different revisions of continuity. Of course, the biggest reason for the popularity of this setup today is the show Smallville, which was about young Clark and Lex. That show did run for a decade, so it’s got a generation of Superman fans who like the friends setup.

And I don’t know. I don’t like it, but at this point I’m kind of just accepting it. I don’t know if either of the currently-running Superman shows have Clark and Lex as former friends or not, but if they do, I’ll just accept it.

Here’s what I think we need to do to make it acceptable for Lex and Clark to have been friends: We need Superman to have other nemeses who are as important as Lex but are not This Time It’s Personals. If I accept Brainiac and Zod as being slightly personal, let’s get at least three more who have no personal connection to Clark or Superman before they met as foes. As I’ve said, the Terra-Man is a good criminal inversion of some Superman tropes, so let’s put him on the list. But also, let’s finally give the Ultra-Humanite a chance to shine. I’m sure I’ll do a post about them sometime, but yeah, they were Superman’s big foe before Luthor came alone, so let’s get that back.

Or, of course, there’s always Tal-Var.

A Flailing Attempt At Being A Superman Fan

A few days ago a lot of the people I follow on Twitter to see their Superman-related thoughts were all answering the same set of questions, which began with this post. It’s one of those things they do on social media to get to know each other better and feel like they’re all being fans of the things they love together, y’know?

I’ve said it before, but I always feel kind of outside of the Superman fan commuity. A lot of my “takes” feel so contrary to the accepted mainstream views that I feel like when I chime in, I’m being overly negative.

But then I find I don’t feel comfortable in “fandoms” in general. One of the primary reasons for that is I don’t often see the value in ranking and picking favourites among the things I enjoy. But hey, even as an outsider, I can feel the fun in participating. And I gotta put something on this darn site. So here goes:

1. Favorite member of the Superfam?

So, to translate into PDRese, which of the Superman-related cast of characters do I like best? Realistically, without Superman himself, would I even be here? But I’ll give some honorable mentions: I have high hopes for Natasha Irons to become a great character. Lois Lane is nearly as iconic as her husband and with good cause.

2. Adding onto the other one, who’s your favorite ‘Superman’? Like whether it be Kenan, Jon, Clark, or some other world variant.

At this point, if I’m deciding which person who has gone by Superman is my favourite, the boring answer of Clark is the truest.

3. Who do you believe is Superman’s best rogue and/or your personal favorite?

Different supervillains serve different purposes and which one is “best” really depends which purpose your story is going for. Lex is good for scheming superscience and corruption. Zod is a nice stand-in to be the kind of fascist strongman that Superman is occasionally incorrectly called. Really, I just have more thoughts on Superman villains than my head can contain.

4. Thoughts on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen?

They kick ass. As I’ve said before, if you want Superman to be a character who inspires people to be their best selves, it is handy to have Jimmy as someone in-text who is living that inspiration. And Lois is great because she shows the audience that you can be as driven as Superman and fighting the same kinds of battles even without being a godlike superhuman.

5. Thoughts on Jon Kent as both Clark’s son and successor?

I like Jon a lot. His current iteration, where he’s been trapped in other dimensions and whatnot throughout his childhood isn’t something I care for, I’d rather he was born and raised in Metropolis and had a childhood that is at least somewhat more relateable, but I still love him. I’d love to see him become an eternal and iconic part of the mythos. I’d also like him to go into school to be a psychiatrist.

6. Do you prefer Superman with or without trunks?

With. Mostly I like it just because it is how Superman has looked for most of his career and it has become iconic. It also helps that I have zero self-consciousness about goofy stuff in the stories I like. I feel like a lot of the trunks-haters are still kind of embarrassed to like Superman and want to make it less goofy so they don’t need to feel that way. I don’t care about that. And also, if we’re going to have other Supermans like Jon and Kenan around, leaving Clark his trunks gives them to have their own unique trunkless looks.

7. Follow up to the previous one, what is your favorite suit that Clark has worn?

Assuming this means Superman suit and not just a suit-and-tie combo he wore to the Planet, I’ll just go with the classic look that you can find through most of the Silver and Bronze Ages and beyond.

8. Preferred origin story?

I don’t think my preferred version of the origin has been told yet. I generally find retellings of the origin to be useless to me at this point. They’re easily skimmable at best.

9. Favorite Superman writer?

No strong opinion.

10. Favorite Superman artist?

No strong opinion.

11. What do you believe is Superman’s best story? And what is your personal favorite(s)?

I can’t pick a single best. Just give me stories with a mix of science fiction and journalistic mystery where some threat to the world is opposed by Superman and his allies. I’ll be happy.

12. If you could make any change to Superman’s lore/ mythos, what would it be?

This would admittedly be a hugely sweeping one, but I’d want to sever any and all connections between Superman and the DC Universe. This is definitely a PDR opinion that is note shared by the masses.

13. Favorite adaptation of big blue?

I have a fondness for the radio show. It’s not perfect, but no representation of Superman has been perfect and this one does a lot of things right. Not everything though. It never really delved into Lois and Clark as a romantic couple and I never like the loud dramatic stings that are so overused. But it gave a good mix of Superman sci-fi plots and social causes and fighting supervillains and character stuff.

14. Favorite live action actor?

No strong opinion.

15. Favorite voice actor?

No strong opinion. I guess Collyer would be the reasonable choice.

16. Favorite Superman theme?

I dunno, the Williams one I guess. But what really bugs me is that all of Superman’s themes are these big orchestral deals when what I want for him is a theme that compares to the 60s Batman or Spider-Man themes. Superman needs a theme that a four-year-old could sing.

17. Favorite and least favorite Superman takes?

I think my most and least favourite takes on Superman are kind of the same one. Does Superman represent “Hope”? I have gone on the record that I don’t think so more than once. I think Hope is meaningless without followup and I think we need to keep fighting even when it’s hopeless. But all the same, some of the people who espouse the Superman = Hope stuff are coming at my ideas about Superman from a different angle. They want him to be a figure that shows us what we can aspire to and should be fighting for. I’m fine with that.

18. Who is your favorite Superman ‘analogue’?

Supreme, the Image character, specifically when written by Alan Moore. That run was one of the big steps in the path that made me the Superman fan I am now. It showed me that you can use Silver Age-style silliness, but still take the story seriously. There are flaws in the run (and its incomplete nature is frustrating), but I enjoyed the heck out of it.

19. Your favorite shield?

I don’t really care, but lets just go with Fleischer-style. I will say that I prefer it to just be an S for Superman over it being the Kryptonian symbol for the House of El.

20. Finally, why do YOU like Superman?

As a child I watched Superman movies and the Lois and Clark show and recognized Superman as a fun action hero. At some point in my teens I got into the weirdness and imagination in the stories from the 50s and 60s and realized the potential for sci-fi plots closer to Star Trek and Twilight Zone instead of always just being about fights. I followed that path into the Golden Age stuff when I was in my twenties, and there I saw Superman angry about corruption and fighting to better the world. Finally I looked back to the 90s comics (which realistically should have been where I started, but I missed them somehow) and saw the fantastic worldbuilding built around the character. Those all added up into a single franchise that had so much potential to give me what I enjoy. And sometimes it even lives up to that potential. Sometimes.

Super-Ventriloquism > Heat Vision

I’ll come right out and say it: I think super-ventriloquism is a better Superman Power than heat vision.

I'm sure all this nonsense here makes sense in the story, but I ain't puttin' the effort in to explain it right now.

This goes against the majority opinion, I’d wager. I know that, on the internet at least, super-ventriloquism is routinely mocked as silly, and as a sign that Superman has too many powers. Meanwhile, the heat vision is cool. It allows Clark to get into big laser fights and, more recently, to threaten people with glowing eyes when he gets angry. And I don’t deny that laser fights are cool. I may not care for threatening glowy eyes, but overall I don’t have too much problem with the zappy eyes. But once you start mocking the super-ventriloquism, well then I have to disagree. If you think that Superman has too many powers, I say you cut the lasers before the voice.

For posterity I should explain: Super-ventriloquism is a power that Superman had in the olden days allowing him to throw his voice to anywhere in the world (and imitate people as well) without needing to move his lips. It was used more often than you’d think, not a one-time deal. If he needed to get a message to someone across town, he could do it. If he wanted to make it seem like something inanimate was talking, he could do it. These were the days when superhero comics were about finding innovative uses for super powers, not about who can do the punching the best way to win all the fights.

For the most part, Superman’s powers are just things that regular people can do, turned up to Super levels. Superspeed is basically just running, but Super, right? And flying (an outgrowth of the “leap over tall buildings” thing) is just jumping, but Super. Telescopic and X-Ray vision are just looking, but Super. And so on*. But then look: Super-ventriloquism is speaking, but Super. Heat vision is starting fires, but Super? That one doesn’t fit the pattern.

There’s a logic to how the heat vision came to be one of his powers, though. In the early days they gave him the ability to see through solid things and they called it X-Ray vision. Superman’s powers didn’t actually function exactly like X-Rays, but that’s the name they gave it, after an invention that was at that point younger than many of the people in the world. The connection to X-Rays was there, and they knew that real X-Rays gave off heat. They carried that over into the stories, Superman using his X-Ray vision to heat things up. Over time, it drifted to became a totally separate ability.

The fact that superhero stories have grown to be more about combat than anything is a big part of why heat vision is beloved, but I don’t think it is the whole reason that super-ventriloquism is reviled. I genuinely think it is the name. I feel like if it were called “voice projection” or something similarly bland but more accurate, it would be accepted.

I do think that if we brought super-ventriloquism back, we’d probably need some manner of limitations on there. Instant communication to anywhere being something hard to write around is why so many horror movies have to write out cellphones right away. Here’s a couple ideas:

  • Firstly, I’ve seen him use it to talk to people in space. I don’t think I need that. Let him need to find other ways to solve that problem.
  • He should need to know where he projecting his voice to. It isn’t telepathy so he can’t magically reach a person by thought. I envision super-ventriloquism as a physical ability of sending sound waves to a location, so he’d need to know where the target is to send them there. Given his vision powers, this wouldn’t be too hard, but it is something.
  • Maybe he has to put more effort in to not be drown out by other sources of noise at the target location? If the target (let’s say Lois) is in an abandoned warehouse with not a lot of noise, Clark can be heard easily. But if she’s standing on a busy Metropolitan street, he needs to put some more effort in. We know Superman can be loud (after all, one of his other powers is shouting, but Super), but putting that effort in might make it a little harder to look like he’s not speaking to people around his real location.

What I’ve got here is not a significant limitation of his powers, I could probably come up with more if I were doing it as more than a mere thought experiment, but those limitations weren’t the important part of this whole post anyway. The take-away message here is that heat vision is a sillier super power than super-ventriloquism and anyone who disagrees is incorrect.

* Freeze breath is basically just blowing on stuff to cool it down turned up to Super levels, but it is a dumber example than the others I gave there.

Perfecting Kelex

If you only casually know about Superman stuff, it is entirely possible and understandable that you don’t know who Kelex is. Kelex is essentially Superman’s Alfred, but since Superman is a more sci-fi concept than Batman, Superman’s butler is a robot, so he’s also kind of Alfred and the Bat Computer all rolled into one.

As with anything in Superman’s long history, there are contradictory explanations of Kelex, but there’s enough in common that we can basically distill it down to this: Kelex is a Kryptonian robot that belonged to Kal-El’s parents before that planet exploded. Through some manner or another, Superman acquired Kelex decades later on Earth and the robot now lives in the Fortress of Solitude to take care of things around there and perform scans and stuff.

This is all well and good. I like Kelex, even though most of his appearances consist of him either floating around the Fortress to make it look cool and futuristic, or being destroyed to show how powerful some threat is.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. Here’s what I’d do to give us a perfect Kelex:

Kelex Was In Kal-El’s Spacecraft:

When we first learned the origin of Superman, we saw young Kal-El’s parents desperately trying to save their son while their planet fell apart in minutes. Over the decades stories have added to that simple concept by suggesting that Jor-El, Superman’s father, had had years of setup for this. Sometimes we’re told he’d scouted out planet Earth (or even visited it). He had sent out test rockets with dogs and monkeys. He’d made plans for what his son would do on Earth and so on and so on.

I hate all of that stuff. I like it when saving the baby in a rocket is an act of desperation by people who just couldn’t make the world listen to reason in time. They tried other ways to save Krypton for years and this is not something they were ready for. Now they have maybe ten minutes to save the kid via rocket, and that’s it. And maybe they need an AI in the rocket to keep life support systems in the running and steer it away from stars or whatever? And maybe they improvise by using the AI from the household robot? This works a lot better for me.

(Incidentally, I remember reading a script for one of the failed Superman film projects over the years (maybe it was Flyby?) and it included an AI on the ship called K. The movie was never made, but I felt this justified my preferred method of getting Kelex to Earth. I legitimately don’t remember what happened to K later in the script, though, so for all I know they turned him into Brainiac‘s stooge or something.)

Kelex Taught Clark About Krypton:

Most of the most prominent tellings of Superman’s origins have Clark learning his origins from some sort of AI recreation of his father that was included in a crystal that came in the rocket with him. I don’t like that. In part, it’s related to my complaint above about Jor-El having accomplished way too much in what should have been far too short a time. But it just isn’t my preferred origin for Superman. Maybe it’s because I’m such a fan of the Golden Age Superman who didn’t know or question his origin much until he was an adult, but I like teenage Clark to be uncertain where he came from, let alone have a whole talking encyclopedia devoted to his origin. It also bugs me that the Jor-Elogram origin also tends to serve as a replacement for Clark going to university and I like Clark to be a student.

Here’s what I’d do: We have Kelex’s AI in the ship and perhaps he is damaged in the crash. Kelex is inactive for decades while Clark grows and becomes a superhero who doesn’t know his origin. At some point he learns of Kelex and activates it. Kelex becomes a sort of super-teacher from Krypton then, but isn’t an omnipotent repository of all Kryptonian knowledge, but rather a household robot that was damaged in a rocket crash. Kelex and definitely lay down the basics, reveal the name Kal-El, explain who his parents were, what happened to the planet, but Clark and Kelex will have to work together to learn more about what the lost world.

* I should clarify, I don’t mind Clark having AI simulacra of his parents at the Fortress when he’s an experienced hero who has been through hundreds of fantastical adventures. By that point in his career, those should be one of the most mundane things in the Fortess. I just don’t like it being a factor in his origin.

Kelex Never Calls Clark “Master”:

I think this is just something some writers like, having robot servants call the people they work for “Master”. Superman, as I prefer him, should never allow anyone to call him “Master”. I won’t say this is one that Kelex is always shown to do, I’ve seen him use “Kal-El” as well, but it has happened and I don’t care for it.

Kelex should have a protective attitude toward Clark, as if he’s a robotic aunt who is cooking for a child they used to babysit, but in no way should Kelex act like a slave of Kal-El. Even an employee relationship goes too far for me. They may not biologically be family, given that one isn’t even biological, but they are family. One of them just happens to like taking care of the Fortress of Solitude an awful lot.

Kelex Is Friends With Natasha Irons:

At some point in the 2000s there was a running joke in the comics where Natasha Irons upgraded Kelex’s program so that it would use contemporary urban slang. The main joke was that we were seeing an uptight robot talking “street” and that’s not how they usually talk. But it also gave Kelex a friendship that wasn’t related (directly) to Kal-El. I don’t know that Kelex would enjoy going out on the town (Kelex may, in fact, not enjoy leaving the Fortress at all by nature), but having a friendship with a tech-based superhero genius is an opportunity to socialize. I liked it a lot and want it back. We don’t need the “street” talk thing to continue, but it could. As long as Kelex has someone to talk to.

Kelex Doesn’t Get Along With Jimmy Olsen:

I just think it’d be funny if Kelex sees Jimmy and all his foolishness as a bad influence on Clark. That would amuse me.

This has been a long one. Maybe those four things won’t perfect Kelex, but I feel like they’re a good start. Look how Alfred is now this father figure who raised Bruce Wayne and serves as a father figure to him. Then remember that for the first four decades that wasn’t an aspect of the character. Until the 80s, Alfred was just some guy that full-grown Batman hired to butle his lonely mansion. If Batman’s Alfred can move from that to such a prominent role, then Superman’s equivalent character can be made into something really great.