Following closely on the heels of September 11, comic book stores across the country offered a poster for sale, the proceeds of which went to one or more of the various funds established to provide for victims of the attack. It was a WWII-era image of Superman standing in front of large red, white, and blue shield and above the slogan, “Support Our American Heros.” I bought one, and in the days when “American Heros” invoked the police officers and firemen at the World Trade Center, it felt like a humanitarian gesture. Now, of course, the term takes a different valence.
The relationship of Superman to war, however, is more complicated than this poster would lead you to believe. The very first appearance of Superman has him taking the owner of an arms manufacturing company to the frontlines of some unnamed war in order to show him first-hand the horrors of combat. It’s a powerful scene. Bob Dylan covers similar ground in “Masters of War”. Lately, however, it occurs to me that things have gotten more complicated.
We’ve all read the news stories about which American companies have won the plum contracts to rebuild Iraq after the ravages of (our) war. What a nice humanitarian gesture, no? What could be more generous than to help put this country back on its feet? So what if these companies have ties to the decision makers who waged war in the first place.
Here’s a suggestion for the United Nations: pass a resolution that says that any country that wages war on another country is required by international law to pay for the rebuilding, but make it illegal for any corporation from the aggressor nation to receive a contract to take part in, or profit in any way from, the rebuilding.
I like that idea a lot, George, but our current so-called president doesn’t seem too deeply concerned about international law or the United Nations.
As for Superman, it is pretty complicated. That image of him showing the arms manufacturer the front of the war is quite powerful. Sadly, I think more people associate Superman with some of the propaganda-ish comics and cartoons with Superman beating up Japanese caricatures (I actually showed some of these in class when I taught Kavalier and Clay), but it’s a very complicated history.
Good points, both.
I think that the classic critical portrayal of Superman as frontman for America’s military aggression will be his appearance in Frank Miller’s _Dark Knight Returns_, in which he’s the muscle behind Reagan’s foreign policies.
A less critical portrayal, one that romanticizes a laissez-faire Superman/America, can be found in the deluxe-format _Superman: Peace on Earth_ by Paul Dini and Alex Ross. From the Amazon.com editorial reviews section: “Superman plans to provide rations from America’s overproduction of grain, but learns of the difficulties presented by regimes that come between the offer of food and their starving underclasses. He comes to the ultimate understanding that the best he can do is to teach those in need how to farm for themselves.”