Towering skyscrapers can be intimidating. A grid system may seem tyrannical. Feeling alone amongst a crowd is an uniquely urban experience. However, it is within these modern, manufactured environments that we can find the greatest expressions of humanity. New York City holds within it the dreams of generations of people who came from all over the world to seek a life worth living. Its fictional counterpart, the city of Metropolis, is home to Kal-El, a superhuman alien from the extinct planet of Krypton. When he soars above the city skyline clad in his Kryptonian costume, the world knows him as Superman.
Superman’s duality and the urban setting in which he operates, however, need not be looked at as negatives. While many successful immigrants to America go on to achieve affluence and influence in society, Superman, the ultimate immigrant to America, realizes from an early age that his contributions to the world must be anonymous improvements neither as Kal-El or Clark Kent. The catastrophic event of his home planet of Krypton being destroyed and his upbringing by human parents provides him with motivation to serve the humanitarian purpose of helping others. His superhuman skill set ostracizes him from participating as a regular member of society but the anonymity provided by the urban environment of Metropolis gives him a chance to live a peaceful life as well as have an occupation which provides him with a key vantage point to absorb information about what is happening in the city. In other words, Superman’s drive for justice is fostered by the urban setting of Metropolis.
Aesthetically, Metropolis does not display the same dark pessimism which colors Gotham. So what does this say about the city dwellers of Metropolis? In Superman’s view, they are worth saving. There is a hope and optimism which Superman sees in humanity despite their potential negativity towards him. His mission is that of saving and protecting ordinary characters through the use of extraordinary powers. Since Superman began as the brainchild of Jerry Seigel and and Joe Schuster, two young Jewish men from Cleveland, in 1938, the character has gone through various reinterpretations and revisits through comic books, radio, television, and film. One of the key elements that has stayed the same, however, is the urban environment in which the character operates. The superhero ethos of Superman is reinforced through this setting and in it we find an encouraging view towards humanity: compassion.