If Superman had a cat…

There’s something I’ve been missing in the superhero movie genre — characters who aren’t defined entirely by their superpowers. There’s always been some of that, of course: the whole point of Spiderman, for instance, is that he’s a teenager struggling with responsibilities, and Batman is the grim vigilante. Sometimes the personalities are getting lost in the milling crowd of magical abilities vying to be expressed in glorious CGI, though.

And what about Superman? He was vastly overpowered to the point where his multitude of unstoppable powers were utterly boring, and got in the way of the story. But the one thing that did make him interesting was that he was the personification of kindness and decency, something that’s been lost in the movies, at least since the Christopher Reeve version.

Sometimes the comics still remind us of that core of his character, though. So here’s a little story about Superman’s cat.


It’s not the superpowers, it’s what you do with them that makes for a good story.


  1. says

    Awww crap. I just read that and broke down at my desk. :( And I don’t even *have* a cat.

    I totally agree that that’s a *far* better story than the majority of superhero films.

  2. themadtapper says

    Thanks to the power creep over the years, many of the classic superheroes are basically gods, and sadly the “solution” is to simply create ever more god-like villains for them to fight. This is exacerbated by the advances in modern CG and the very nature of film as a form of media. Conflicts that can be quickly ended with physical confrontation are far easier to depict than more philosophical/moral conflicts that take time to resolve.

    While I’m not a fan of fighting games, and mechanically speaking such games are precisely what we’re griping about (big powerful characters beating each other senseless), the comics that were put out alongside “Injustice: Gods Among Us” were exactly the kind of thing that is needed. The basic plot might seem a bit cliche (Superman goes bad, takes over the world), but it deals with some very real problems with the idea of god-like heroes living in a real world full of ordinary humans. There are more problems than just big scary monsters or crazy super villains. There is injustice, and starvation, and pain, and suffering. And there is war. Though it takes Lois’s death to drive him to action, Superman realizes that he has the power to do more. In a speech very much related to your recent blog post about the trap of objective journalism turning into callous indifference, Superman laments that as Clark Kent he covered many conflicts without batting an eye when all the while he had the power to do something. He decides that he can’t just stay apolitical when there are innocent lives at stake, so he declares a global ceasefire and uses his power to enforce it.

    But funny thing about humans: they’re perfectly content for superheroes to fix their problems when they benefit from it. When it turns out that they’re the problem, they’re not so keen on getting fixed. So the world tries to reject Superman’s help, which of course only leads to more suffering, which leads to Superman fixing things ever more forcefully, until at last he goes full dictator and just takes over everything and makes everyone play nice by force and fear. Of course the game ultimately resolves everything by bludgeoning all the problems with super powers, but the comics add a more philosophical and interesting take. Would that the films could do the same.

  3. says

    Superman had a variety of superpets back in the ’60s, the best known probably being Krypto the Superdog, who has appeared in a number of 21st Century storylines. There was also Streaky the Supercat, but the Streaky name has been used for Supergirl’s unpowered, normal pet cat over the years.

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    why cats specifically? cuz cats don’t give a shit? regardless, it is odd that not any superhero has any kind of pet, even hamster or gerbil. but then, pets take a lot of time and attention. Superheroes will end up neglecting their pets due to their super task filling so much of their time. They could arrange care givers though… It would be interesting to see them show empathy for a pet…

  5. wzrd1 says

    Ah, but we’re talking about American movies, all spectacle, no plot, moral questions, angst, just use force to resolve your problems and the problems resolve.
    We can see that in real life in the desperate short lives and violent deaths in our inner city, where all disputes are resolved by violence and solutions other than violence never considered and the solution to the problems, far beyond violence.

    I have a friend who’s working on his thesis, it’s quite literally an epidemiological study involving lethal violence in the city of Baltimore. One thing he’s danced around was the addiction to the use of violence to resolve any problem, he sees it on the streets of Baltimore, the older peers here saw it in every John Wayne movie ever filmed, we see it in our films, violence is the only answer to any problem.
    Rather than the use of thought, resolving problems without violence and finding common ground.
    So, more superhero movies using ever escalating violence isn’t a bug, it’s a feature of the symptom.

    Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
    Those people were a kind of solution.
    -C. P. Cavafy

  6. numerobis says

    Aw man, now I miss my cats, even though I know they’re perfectly happy hanging out with my sister while I’m gallivanting around the continent this month.

  7. Menyambal says

    Sweet. Touching.

    Just to compensate: Is there no gravity on the moon? His tears and his hair seem to be floating. Or is that something to do with his means of flight?

    I think the trend of defining superheroes by their powers is reflected in a tendency to define people by their sex, sexuality, nation, religion, ethnicity, and conception.

  8. Marie the Bookwyrm says

    Menyambal @10–the moon’s gravity is definitely less than Earth’s . I’m thinking 1/6th, but I could be misremembering.

    Got teary-eyed reading that story. :)

  9. woozy says


    I think… that’s a goof. Although he seems to be able to fly by a self-willed form of levitation (never understood that) so one can argue that. But I think the tears and the hair is a bit of non-thought. People float and tears ball into spheres because there’s no gravity or atmosphere in space shuttles and a space stations because they are in outer space. The moon is in outer space and there being no atmosphere on the moon confirms this. So…


    Well, …. yeah… but coyotes do eat cats, and we humans make a conscious decision to empathize with the cats and the honest among us acknowledge it was an arbitrary emotional choice, and superkid didn’t retaliate or extract revenge or inflict any harm or express ill-will on the coyotes; he merely rescued the cat. But … well … phoo.

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    woozy @12:

    But I think the tears and the hair is a bit of non-thought.

    Not at all. On the Moon, Superman is floating via his powers. If the field he creates extends at least a few inches from his body, anything close enough (hair, tears) would be as weightless as he is.

  11. kagekiri says

    It’s funny contrasting Superman with various deities like Yahweh who claim omnipotence, omniscience, and absolute goodness. Funny, because Superman is just obviously a more moral and reliable god than God, even without matching any of God’s super-traits.

    Apologists try to say God is the absolute maximally good being they can imagine, but his record is already worse than other beings we could imagine, like Superman.

    He’s a hero who would stop murderers and protect innocent lives worldwide, instead of whining about his own majesty and glory, or how he has to stay hidden to preserve faith. Superman helps out his “lessers”, to the best of his much-less-than-God’s abilities, answers calls for help, and fights evil men. Whereas God lets the die, kills them himself, and otherwise lets the world continue to be rule by “evil”, even blessing evil men with success.

  12. says


    Well, …. yeah… but coyotes do eat cats, and we humans make a conscious decision to empathize with the cats

    And cats kill all manner of creatures, often not bothering to eat them, because they just felt like torturing something to death. In particular, cats delight in finding a nest of baby anythings and killing them. And this human doesn’t empathize with the cats. Full disclosure: one of my beloved monster dogs is half coyote, and I get sick of seeing them maligned.

  13. says

    Aww, that was awesome.

    It just makes me wonder, again, why they spent so much on Batman V Superman and still had such a lousy story. I guess they had the wrong writers.

  14. karpad says

    There’s also This little gem wherein Superman has an extended conversation with a professional murderer who lives in Gotham (not Snyder’s Batman. A different murderer)

    It’s actually a great insight into both characters. Arguably the weakest part is when said killer gets a bit soapboxy being broadly pro-assimilationist (that being the “American Way.” He came an alien and became a farmer from kansas, later reporter) But since the writer is an Irish immigrant himself, it’s a bit forgiveable.

  15. microraptor says

    There’s only been one story about Superman getting the whole Darker And Edgier treatment that I liked: the DCAU Superman Vs The Elite.

    Very good deconstruction of the 90s antihero archetype.

  16. tbtabby says

    Their goal wasn’t to give us a complex, interesting character. Their goal was to give us a brainless juggernaut that Batman could beat up.

  17. karpad says

    Microraptor: That was based on a comic, available in trade paperback, entitled “What’s so funny about Truth Justice and the American Way.” It’s an intensely meta story, as the “Elite” are modeled on Warren Ellis’s The Authority, itself modeled on the Justice League primed into a “grittier, more realistic world.”

    Superman has lots of wonderful takedowns of the edgy 90s superheroes. That’s the central conceit of Kingdom Come, where a bleak, pouch-covered murder-hero briefly sends Superman into retirement feeling obsolete.

    I have opinions regarding Superman interpretations.

  18. emergence says

    I’ll admit that most stories about magic or superpowers are made interesting by what the hero chooses to do with them. The flip side of that is that the types of powers that a character has determines what they can use them for. That can be compelling too. What you can and can’t do is just as important as what you choose to do.

  19. Alverant says

    My cat, Lena, is in slow decline due to kidney disease. This one really hit the feels.

  20. Matrim says

    @15, Caine

    Doesn’t change the fact that coyotes will kill cats (and dogs). I empathize with both cats and dogs, the fact that they occasionally kill each other (and other creatures) doesn’t change that fact. And living on a farm, as the Kents did, coyotes are often a threat to animals. My mother lost two cats, a dog, and a bunch of geese to coyote predation when she was living in a rural area. It’s a fairly common occurrence. Also, sounds like you are anthropomorphizing cats pretty heavily. Their behavior, including killing things without eating them and attacking nest have non-emotional reasons (respectively because they’re trying to teach you how to hunt and babies make for easy prey), delight isn’t really a good description of the motivations at work. Presumably they feel some sort of analog for satisfaction, but ascribing human emotions to them isn’t really useful.

    You have a proper coydog? That’s unusual, coyotes tend to be antagonistic toward dogs, their breeding patterns don’t align, and their courtship behaviors are different. Did you breed it? They’re very rarely naturally occurring. I know quite a bit about wolfdogs, but coydogs have always been a curiosity.

  21. emergence says

    My grandmother had a little toy poodle that almost got carried off by a coyote by her neck. I never met the dog, but apparently she could never bark right after that. Coyotes can be dangerous for small pets. It’s nothing personal against coyotes, they’re just hungry and small house pets can be an easy meal. Trying to attach moral responsibility to any animal that doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand the consequences of its actions doesn’t make sense. That applies to both coyotes, and house pets like cats and dogs.

  22. xmp999 says

    I have a 13 year old dog that I rescued when she was a puppy, and who’s always been there with me through all the good and the bad. She started going downhill lately, and I’m finally really realizing that she won’t be with me forever… This comic really hit me hard. I had to take a time-out from work. Fortunately, working in a hospital, there are plenty of quiet spaces reserved for a good cry…….

    Sorry, just venting…

  23. woozy says

    Cain @15

    That wasn’t exactly my point. My point was that if I were to hear a true story about someone rescuing a kitten from coyotes, or a bird from a cat, or a coyote pup from a mountain lion, or a mole from a crow (don’t ask) or zebra finch from a scrub jay (please don’t ask), I’d have to believe the story and not view it as a malignment of the other animal.

    So logistically I can’t really fault a story for describing a situation that does happen very commonly.

    On the other hand, this is a deliberate fictional story. And I have my own personal favorite animals I hate seeing maligned. I especially love spiders and bats and crows (although crows aren’t that badly maligned). And I’m very fond of coyotes, wolves and mountain lions (… did we really need all those boy scouts…). So that’s why I concluded with a “well…. phoo”.


    Well, I did say one could argue that. But if so why doesn’t his hair float like that when he hovers on earth. And what the heck is he hovering on the moon for anyway? He didn’t hover looking at the moon on the porch nor did he hover on his bed.

    I think it just wasn’t thought through. Hovering, water balling into spheres, hair floating is just such a common visual trope that the writers probably just didn’t think they really don’t make sense on the moon. I certainly didn’t notice it.

  24. Owlmirror says

    Tears probably wouldn’t ball like that because surface tension, regardless of gravity.


    I youtube searched for “tears in space”, and found Chris Hadfield demonstrating this.

    Maybe it could work if Clark Kent super-shook his head to fling the tears off? Or . . . on the moon, the water would probably boilfreeze (zero pressure+below-freezing-temp). So maybe the blobs are actually tears flung off by boiling and then freezing?

  25. Dark Jaguar says

    I see Superman as literally the most privileged possible person, and that’s what makes good stories with him. I mean, his godlike powers basically mean that even if he was a black trans woman, he’d STILL be the most privileged possible person. That’s basically what omnipotence does for a character.

    When a story tries to make us feel sorry for him, or tries to give him caps on his power, or makes him walk across America for some reason, they forget that Superman at his core is an incredibly lucky individual who can basically do whatever he wants with no consequences except the consequences he ALLOWS himself to experience. When “heat vision your critics from orbit” is an entirely possible option, you’re the definition of privilege, no doubt about it.

    So, stories about him trying to find ways to physically overcome some new weapon or bad guy or newfound weakness come along, they are boring to me. I don’t care about kryptonite, or Doomsday, or some weird weapon that sonically shakes him apart, or magic spells, or any of that. Tell me what someone with all that power DOES with it, and you’ve got my attention. What does the person who has everything do with it all? That’s where the best Superman stories come from, for me. Superman COULD take over the world, easily. Superman COULD bully the entire world into some ideal he’s got. That’s easy too. He could also just flat out leave. He could go to his ridiculously amazing fortress of solitude, kick out Santa, and just sit there forever ignoring everyone else with an “I’ve got mine Jack” attitude.

    Instead, he chooses to help the less fortunate, and not only that but do so to the absolute best of his incredibly privileged ability. For him, the “less fortunate” is literally everyone else, and the best stories are about the struggle to figure out what that is, and the struggle to relate and understand those less privileged than he is. Now, truth be told, EVERY super hero by definition is privileged, but they focus on other things, and in order to do that, the basic rule is “don’t be as overpoweringly strong as Superman”. So, Batman can be a damaged vigilante of the night struggling to stop crime, and that works because he’s just one guy (with billions of dollars). Spiderman can be obsessed with taking responsibility for his actions, and that works because he can, at least hypothetically, be killed.

    Being the personification of trying to be a decent person doing the right thing is part of what makes Superman interesting, but if that were enough, we’d all be making remakes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood right now. (By the way, why AREN’T we doing that? I don’t care that he was a religious person, he was still one of the nicest people as reported by everyone who knew him. I’ll take a kind religion head over a cruel and heartless atheist any day, Mr. “Amazing” Atheist.) What makes Supes stand out, to me, is that he doesn’t HAVE to be any of that. It’s not a survival strategy, it’s something he does because he recognizes just how bad everyone who isn’t him has it and wants to change it for their sakes. He’s an example of just how the privileged should be using that privilege. Privilege isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it’s the blinders that make it dangerous, and Superman’s super eyes help take those blinders off and keep him from avoiding the reality of how everyone else lives. I say that Superman is an ideal that the rich and powerful should look at. Just, you know, not the most recent Superman.

    They should read All-Star Superman instead. I don’t read comics generally, but I read that one, and I don’t regret it. It’s what made me come to that realization about what makes Superman interesting.