Look, Up in the Sky! The apparent end of the Smallville TV series, rumors of another feature film reboot and a new book on the Superman phenomenon remind us of the important role Superman has played in a mythology of the future that includes Star Trek. (Apparently it also played a role for J.J. Abrams, as he is reputed to have written one of many scripts for the movie that eventually became Superman Returns, before he got involved in Star Trek JJA.)
Superman is among the first in line of modern popular mythologies that model heroic action based on ethics and compassion, that later includes Spider-Man, Doctor Who, Harry Potter and of course Star Trek.
More specifically, there's this observation by scholar Thomas Andrae that Superman is "the embodiment of society’s noblest ideals, a ‘man of tomorrow’ who foreshadows mankind’s highest potentialities and profoundest aspirations but whose tremendous power, remarkably, poses no danger to its freedom and safety.”
Star Trek also embodies "society's noblest ideals", and humans of tomorrow who model humankind's "highest potentialities and profoundest aspirations." Maybe even more radically, these commitments are embodied not just in fallible heroes like Captain Kirk and Captain Picard, but in fallible institutions like Starfleet and the Federation, as well as in the members of these organizations. Star Trek recognized that the changes necessary to save the future and to build on the best of civilization to expand and deepen the human adventure would need leaders, but these changes would have to include institutions and culture---and human civilization itself.
For my essay on the history of Superman and his many stories, in photos as well as words, follow this link.