While I was writing, Superman came up behind me and waited.
I turned around. "Oh, it's you," I said. "Hell of a time for you to be here."
He didn't smile. He just stood there in his red, blue, and yellow, arms folded, looking like a combinaton of Christopher Reeve and Curt Swan input. "I'm not really here," he said.
"You're a figment of my imagination," I said. "Or Jerry Siegel's."
"I thought that was already established," he said. "You want to talk?"
I ran my hand through what was left of my hair. "I guess so. Sure, you want to talk, talk." I shook my head, half-laughed. "This is crazy."
Superman leaned against one of my walls that was all bookcase. "When you say that, I know you don't mean this conversation."
"No," I said. "No. Only wish I did. This thing that's happened, Supes, this...disaster, tragedy, fit a word to it..."
He looked sad. "There are no words to fit to these things," he said. "Only things to hide them away."
"As if we could."
Superman nodded, soberly.
"Couldn't you have done something?" I asked. "With all your powers, couldn't you have done anything?"
"Not on your world," he said. "Here, I'm just a concept. An idea-ghost. I exist by the same provenance as Mickey Mouse, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan."
"You can't change the course of mighty rivers," I said. "You can't bend steel in your bare hands."
"No. Not here."
"Then what can you do?"
"Isn't it enough?" he said. "Isn't that why you brought me here?"
"I brought you here?"
"Couldn't have shown up if you hadn't."
I leaned back in my office chair. Fict writing was not only starting to get to me, it had passed that point long before I wrote my first metafic.
"Okay. So we're supposed to have a conversation?"
"If you like." The Man of Steel shifted his stance. "Should I go drag in a chair?"
"If you like," I said. He went in the kitchen, brought back a seat, positioned it so that the back was facing me, and sat down in it backwards, his arms folded on the back of the chair and his chin resting on his arms.
"You know, Supes," I said, leaning one elbow against the countertop of my desk, "sometimes I wish I lived in your world. Makes me think of ‘Celluloid Heroes' by the Kinks... 'I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show, a fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes.'"
"In some ways, it's tougher over there," he said. "Be glad for what you've got."
"I don't have a choice," I said.
"That's where you're wrong. You have a choice every minute, every second of your life. It's just that they're not always what you'd like."
"Spare me the cliches."
"Okay." He got up and started out.
"Wait. Supes. Where are you going?"
He turned back, briefly. "I thought you wanted to talk. Then I thought you didn't. Which is it?"
"Oh...stay, will you? Please? I could use somebody like you to talk to."
"Are you sure of that?"
"I guess I'm as sure about that as I am of anything today," I said. "Please. Sit down. Want some decaf?"
"No, thanks," he said. "It'd go right through me."
I sighed. "I've lived through a lot, Supes."
"In terms of seeing things, I suppose. Not that I've been in the front row for anything. But when I was a kid, nine years old, JFK got shot."
Superman nodded. "I knew him. He played Clark Kent for me once. On my world, that is."
"I didn't comprehend what it was," I said. "I didn't know him personally, I mean. The big thing us kids were disturbed about was that all the good programs on TV were preempted by the coverage. Then we got into Nam...then the other assassinations. Watergate. Desert freaking Storm. The Oklahoma bombing. Lots of things I'm leaving out. And now, this."
"Yes," he said.
"I thought about you," I said. "I thought about you when this was going on."
"What did you think?" asked Superman.
"I thought, if only Superman was here, on this planet. If only. It might not have–"
"Don't say it," he said. "Even on my own world, I'm not God."
"The inevitable question is, why, God?" I asked. "And I'm smart enough not to ask it."
"Good for you," he said.
"Why are you here, Supes?" I asked.
He shrugged. "Why am I anywhere? I didn't ask to be created. I just was."
"You don't do us any good," I said.
He looked hurt.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean it that way."
"It's all right," he said. "I think I know what you mean."
"It's just..." I tried to fit the concept into words. Damn the inadequacies of writers. "We create you. We create all the other superheroes, from the Spectre on down to ‘Mazing Man, and almost all of them have powers and abilities to stagger the freaking imagination. Bad things keep happening here. Wars, depressions, deaths, bad love affairs, the state of current spinoff comics...sorry, I've got to inject a little humor there."
"I don't mind." He smiled a little.
"And we create guys like you, and they make no difference whatever in our world. You can't save falling airplanes. You can't rescue dying people. You can't do a single thing to help us."
"You expect me to?" he said, quietly.
"Well, no," I said. "Not really. It's just that...jeez. What good are you?"
"What good do you expect me to be?" he said.
"I...I don't know."
"Why do you think I was created?"
"Would you stop being so Zen?"
"I could leave, if you want."
"No, I'd really rather you stayed."
Superman turned the chair around, sat facing me, crossed his arms before me. "You think I've got answers for you. Don't you think you might be looking in the wrong place?"
"I don't know that there are any answers, right about now." I sighed. "This is the most fearsome, the most intense..."
"All right, all right," he said, waving his hand. "I could tell you about what I've undergone, in my universe. But it wouldn't seem believable to you, in this one. I ask you again: why do you think I was created?"
"Oh. Well," I said, "probably because Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wanted to get published, rich, and famous."
"Do you think that's all there was to it?"
"Uh, no. Not really."
He waved a hand, idly. "How would they have gotten rich and famous in this way?"
"By, I suppose, giving people a hero. Somebody to believe in, as, well, as the cliche goes, when they needed it most."
"Do you think they could believe in me?" he said, evenly. "Somebody who can fly? Who can lift a car over his head and demolish it? Somebody who can see through solid steel and stone? Nobody on your world can do such things. Not by his own power."
"Well, no," I said. "But it was the Depression, Supes. They needed heroes, then. They needed...I don't know...
"And was that the only time I was needed?" His eyes wouldn't let me go.
"I wouldn't say so. You wouldn't have survived this long just on marketing."
"I'm glad to know that. Why do you think they need me? Why do you need me?"
"Um. I wouldn't exactly call it a need, Supes. It's more like...well, I like you. It took me a long time. I used to think of you as really old-hat, really dated. But I fell in love with Supergirl, and then got to investigating you."
"What did your investigations turn up?"
I like to think I smiled. I don't think I could have managed not to.
"That you were still the most primal super-hero around. That, even though the rest of comics might be going dark, you never did. You represented the light. The man who wouldn't dabble with the darkness. The man who kept to an absolute moral code, and did what was right. Always."
"Is that important, in your world?"
"It should be important in any world."
Superman smiled. "Then what do you think is my purpose? If I can't perform the great things here that I do on my world, what good am I?"
"You're always asking questions."
"Isn't it so that you can find the answers?"
I chuckled. Didn't think Superman turn out to be a Professor Kingsfield surrogate.
"I think..." I paused, trying to make certain of what I did think. "I think it's because you inspire us. Or at least some of us. Well, maybe a whole hell of a lot of us. I don't know if anybody goes around thinking, ‘What would Superman do?'. But I do know...I do believe...that the morality you taught us, that you and the other good heroes taught us, stays with us. That there is an ideal, and we should try to live up to it. That somewhere there is a good...and one of the symbols of that good could be Superman."
He smiled again.
"Does that make any sense?" I said. "That you're not created to do great things for us, but to help us know what things to do, and to motivate us to do them?"
"What do you think?" he said.
"I think I might have the answer," I said. "Or part of it, anyway. Maybe."
He nodded. This time he wasn't smiling.
"I also think we should be careful which heroes we choose," I said. "But I doubt very many went wrong, if they chose you."
"Sounds like you might have found your answers, then," he said.
"Yeah," I said. "Maybe so."
Superman stood up. "I have to go," he said. "Things to do on my world."
"And on mine?"
He looked at me wisely. "Isn't that your department?"
I don't know what I said, or if I said anything. But then again, I didn't have to.
Superman stuck out his hand.
I grasped it. He had a firm handshake. And he smiled at me.
I flashed on the time I joined the Supermen of America, back in 1964. I wondered if I still had the button.
"Supes," I said. "Could you say hello to Kara for me? When you get back, that is?"
"I'll see about it, when I see her next," he said. "By the way, she likes the stories."
I don't know if anybody with the powers and abilities of mortal men could have helped me say a thing at that time.
He went out. I stood still, for a couple of seconds, then ran after him. The front door was not open, but I distinctly heard four words:
"Up, up, and away!"
I threw open the door, looked up into the night sky. I didn't see anything but stars. But then again, he would have been travelling too fast to see, probably.
I stood there for a few moments, wondering if, on his own world, they appreciated him as much as they ought to. Then I went back inside.
I wasn't sure that I could formulate an answer, or a moral, or anything with which to end the story properly. All I could do was go back to the computer and give it a try.
A percentage of Superman lies within each and every one of us.
The real world presents challenges, tragedies, things with which all of us must deal.
This is a job for Superman.
So be it.
Superman is property of DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
You don't have to ask what inspired this one. Hope you enjoy it. So much for that.