I just realized superhearing is impossible. Comic book physics might be almost infinitely pliable, Superman's physical abilities might fly, pun not intended, on the face of conservation of energy, whatever, but I draw the line at Chaos Theory: superhearing is mathematically impossible, the signal-to-noise ratio of trying to listen to somebody yelling for help a continent away being what signal?
So: what if Superman is impossible? What if, and hear me out, Superman is invulnerable to almost everything but magic because he's magic?
What if Martha and Jonathan Kent, alone in that dark hotbed of wild magic that is Deep America, built as it was on genocide and oblivion, went crazy with grief and in their desire for a child made a pact and got a perfect, a perfect child in return, fallen from the sky like his true father once did?
What if the cost of that pact was the death of a planet far away? Why would the Kents have cared, with their empty nursery and the midnight fields whispering possibility?
What if kryptonite is mortal to the immortal because the souls of sacrificed billions haunt the Universe-strewn ruins of their home and want, need, claim their revenge?
I think the difference between Lord Superman in JLU: A Better World and Superman in Injustice: Gods Among Us or, and this is more damning, as it's theoretically the same character, Justice League Beyond's Lord Superman, illustrates pretty well the abysmal differences in writing between those stories.
JLU's Lord Superman was a dictator, but he was the kind of dictator canon Superman would be if he were a dictator, and for the reasons he would be. Justice League Beyond's Lord Superman is a dictator, but he's also a bully, and worse things as well, and in no recognizable way a point B to canon's point A. He's not an answer to how would Superman be a bad guy?, he's just a generic bad guy with Superman's face.
As an aside, Injustice's Superman is not even that. He's just a plot device making whatever bad decision the story requires him to. I understand that the death of Lois and the baby (not to mention Metropolis in toto) twas supposed to crack him, but I don't think that's how his mind works - that's not the way he would crack. Even here, the animated show did it before and better: the world in which Lois died and Superman and Luthor "allied" to protect the city was one in which Superman was a rather oppressive crimefighter, but even then he was still recognizably himself, and the worst of what went on in Metropolis happened without his knowledge, not under his command.
Nota bene/Warning: I'm neither a Christian (nor, for that matter, a believer in any religion) nor very well versed in theology. Nor is this more than speculative thinking-aloud-while typing. If the use of religious images to muse about comics might be offensive to you, I apologize, and ask you not to keep reading.
After the recent SD post, I went and read the entirety of Black Summer. That it's not really very original doesn't detract from its interest, although it was so Bush-specific (without ever naming him) that I suspect it won't age very well. In that sense, it's a lighter version of Kingdom Come, without the biblical approach and gravitas of the narrative, not to mention the art. The carnage is more graphic (although I think the Kansas Incident was worse in any objective sense), but, well, these are clearly just people with powers. They have no other narrative or social standing, which I think is closer to how our world works than DC.
In some aspects, the Kingdom Come disaster comes because Superman couldn't be anything else than Superman, and the Black Summer disaster comes because John Horus tried to do what he thinks Superman should do, but because he isn't Superman, it doesn't work.
The question remains: would it work if Superman did it? A Better World *dared* to suggest that yes, up to a point, it would. That's one of the moments in which comics mythology came the closest to implode and break under the weight of its own contradictions without approaching it from the satirical or the grotesque, and it's still pivotal, I think, to understanding the DC multiverse.
You can't quite do the Superman thing with other characters (e.g., Apollo or Majestic), because, fantastic and interesting as they are, they just don't have the same narrative and cultural specific weight, both intra- and inter-textually. I mean, even leaving aside the latest, not lamented at all Superman movie, the Christological element has always been clear in all sorts of ways (although some writers have tried to go for a more Greek-like approach, e.g. Morrison's JLA).
Perhaps it'd be interesting to compare the Lords' Earth of A Better World with descriptions of how some Christians expect a post-Second Coming kingdom of Jesus on Earth to look like. In a way, Superman *is* the all-powerful man-and-God who never sought secular power (in his case, defending individual lives, etc). And DC 1,000,000 was practically explicit in their apotheosis of late-future!Superman. So you might very well look at A Better World as what'd happened if at some point during the Calvary Jesus would have dropped the cross and said "You know what, fuck this, let's do it the direct way. I'm going to fix _this_ world, and I'm going to do it _now_."
While standing over the burnt ashes of the Roman Emperor.
[...] disguised as mild-mannered middle-management Michael Scott, Superman [...]
Quoting Bill, Clark Kent was Superman's critique of humankind. I'm not sure he would be so kind a second time around.
Turned out to be your standard "Lois sort-of-dies, Bruce and Gotham get addicted to a cola who turns them into crazy cyborgs ---Bruce then blows up the city and uploads himself into a bunch of robot bats---, Clark hides in Indonesia, then his fake daughter sent from the future goes back to the future carrying the Brainiac virus, who then attempts to take over the world until Superman from the past (actually the comics timeline present) drops him into a nanosecond-long gap in time" story. And afterward Clark fucks up the timeline so well that baby-Kal dies in Krypton, which results in (magic!) Mr. Majestic being dropped into Metropolis, and Superman appearing in the Wildstorm universe.
For some reason, everybody in both universes is confused by that. Except possibly Majestros, who is basically Kal, with Bruce's brain, as raised by a Paradise Island in full war mode.