Over in the comments section from last Monday's post, StevieB brought up this point:
The difference between Batman and Superman is this, Batman is what he
is. Everyone knows what he is and you either love him for it, or don't.
Superman means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
There is a vast difference between the Golden Age Superman and the one
you see in the New 52. That can be said for a lot of heroes, even
Batman, but I feel like the gap is much bigger with Supes.
In a lot of ways, I find myself agreeing with this sentiment, except that during the 40s and especially the 50's, there wasn't too much difference between the two characters. During the atomic age, they were both sort of average do gooders who had wacky adventures.
However, during the 60's, Batman started to get redefined. First with the 60's New Look Batman Era: during which Batman's stories took on a darker/edgier tone (for the time).
Meanwhile, Superman was about the same:
As the characters marched into the 70's, the divide grew even more vast. Batman's personality was established in a way that resonated so well with fans that it became the guide for all modern stories. Going back as far as I can remember with Detective 439 Steve Englehart's Night of the Stalker, Batman was defined as a sort of relentless vigilante - and that definition has been thoroughly reinforced over the years.
Meanwhile, Superman was still sort of stuck in average do gooder mode who had to rely on the gimmick covers and stories to keep readers interested:
So while Batman was gradually becoming a truly modern comic book character, Superman fell out of step with contemporary storytelling expectations. Modern readers like their characters to identifiable personality quirks, but what are Superman's personal foibles and idiosyncrasies?
Thinking about it reminds me of a conversation I once had with legendary Disney artist Don Rosa. We were discussing the difference in popularity between Mickey Mouse and Donald and Uncle Scrooge. What we both decided was that the Duck characters were more popular because they had quirks (Donald's temper and Scrooge's avarice)
Mickey on the other hand doesn't really have any defining personality quirks.
Superman has the same problem. His comics don't really sell very well unless you put a superstar artist on the title. He needs his personality tweaked in a way that makes him more interesting. I think Geoff John's tried to do this in Justice League, but it didn't get much traction. Nor do I think that pairing him up with Wonder Woman is the solution. As a result, the Superman family books haven't fared too well since the DC 52 reboot. And Hollywood seems to have decided to redefine Superman in a way that doesn't seem to jive with a lot of fans expectations.
So, with that in mind, how would you make the character of Superman someone that resonates with today's readers?