Every Tuesday I post excerpts from best selling at not selling super blog, Playing Favorites.
Again, just like with Booster Gold and Damien, his desire to do good and his total commitment to good counts for something. He's willing to sacrifice and risk a lot just to do what's right, and that counts for a lot.
The fact that he's kind of a douche about it might hurt him in the long run.
So, Spider-Man is selfless, relatable, uncompromising (in the way that he won’t weigh one evil versus another, but try to fight against both), humble, and committed (in that once he makes a decision, he’s committed to it, until he changes his mind. I know, it’s not exactly, “committed,” but what would you call that?). In many ways, he’s also responsible, in that much of what he does as a hero is done with his loved ones in mind.
Superman. Making a comic about how heroic Superman is like trying to define why caffeine is so great. I mean, you know it's great. I know it's great. There's like, a few guys out there that don't agree and no matter how much you explain it to them they won't. It's not because you're wrong because, effin' really, if this thing isn't the quintessential quality holder of the subset of items to which it belongs, then invite any skeptic to offer a replacement. If they tell you 'organic' or 'Batman' anything, you can kick them in the balls (though, I would be interested in a solicit for “Caffeine Superman vs Organic Batman”).
The biggest detriment to Superman's heroic qualities is his nigh-invulnerability. Kryptonite aside, nothing really hurts this guy. It's easy to be gentle and trusting when it's damned unlikely you're going to get hurt. Aliens attacking the city? Approach them respectably and ask how their trip was. What are they going to do, inconvenience you by knocking you around with an impotent death ray? Lex Luthor monologing? Fuck it, let him finish. It's harmful for him if he couldn't release all that irrational hatred towards you every so often. What's he going to do after all, launch his master plan that neglects the fact that one of your powers is actually boss enough to stop it when he thought it wasn't?
Getting that out of the way, I'll get on to Superman's more defensible qualities: he is a paragon and he makes time for everyone. If you haven't heard Superman get compared to Jesus, then you haven't been part of the Superman discourse over the past few years (or even reading about it quietly from the internet between checking webcomics and reading about Magic: the Gathering). To the people of the universe he lives in, Superman is a symbol of how great people can be. How they can give to each other and be good people and aspire to be something more. He inspires people. It is kind of weird, seeing as how he's an invulnerable alien from another world, but alien or not, he is emulatable. I mean, people can't perform most of the miracles Jesus could (at least not as miraculously), but they do still try to emulate him. Superman will never, ever convince the citizens of the DC universe to fix all of the problems with their planet and make it a paradise (though occasionally, the good deeds of The Justice League will touch humanity enough that they will-when collectively given powers in the face of [yet another] armageddon scenario, they volunteer to fly into space alongside The League to punch it in the doomsday-face with a few billion fists, though considering the alternative was extinction, it doesn't seem quite so much of a “thank you” as a “we'd rather be sure you guys didn't fuck you up. I've had these powers for a whole afternoon and consider myself an expert on these things now.”), but the small acts of kindness from average citizens we get to see when we get a story about this are good enough. In Grant Morrison's first run of Justice League of America, it's Batman who takes down four White Martians, but it's Superman who convinces the world to stand up and fight their invasion force. People believe in Superman and he believes right back in them.
The individual attention he gives to everyone who needs it is something else that sets him apart. It isn't just that they're something to be checked off of his to do list. In fact, Grant Morrison makes a point of this by giving a non-linear, but almost hour-by-hour account of a day in the life of Superman that shows just how much work the guy does in a day, but also shows the amount of detail he puts into every aspect of his work; amongst all the chaotic voices on a derailed subway train, he hears a psychologist trying to talk down a suicidal patient. He travels to the ledge where the patient is and talks to her, telling her that her psychologist and other people care about her. Worst case scenario, he saves a pretentious emo-kid and a human life. Best case scenario, he just saves another life.
The “Superman/Gen 13” crossover exemplifies these things. Initially, the totally hip members of the irreverent super-crew don't respect Superman for being uptight and old-fashioned. Eventually, they see the consideration, experience, and attention to detail that he exhibits and become inspired by him themselves. It's a dynamite story.