What's the deal with
Superman and the American way, you might ask. Isn't that just an
outdated remnant of the 40's or 50's? After all Superman represents
planet Earth right. Well just hold on there just one moment.
Hopefully, in the course of this article, I plan to explain not
only the origins of the famous slogan, "Truth, justice, and the
American way," but why it's just as important today as it was in the
1950's when George Reeves stood proudly next to the American flag
during the introduction of the
Adventures of Superman.
Superman hit the ground running for the American
way. His first adventures saw the man of steel taking out foreign
spies, and teaming up with his other Justice Society buddies to help
in the war effort, even meeting with Franklin Roosevelt himself from
time to time. He even helped uncover corruption in the U.S. Senate
in Action Comics #1
As the war began to grow in Europe, Superman
would increasingly fight more ruthless dictators in his comic
adventures. In Superman #10, Superman would take on a dictator who
proclaimed his country would be the masters of America, which was
definitely inspired by the speeches of Adolf Hitler.
From Superman #12 (Sept 1941) during the war,
Superman began a solid alliance with American soldiers. That cover
showed Superman walking arm in arm with a soldier and a sailor. From
that moment on, Superman was shown sinking battle ships, tying
cannon barrels into knots, and riding bombs toward "Japanazi's", a
term first coined in Superman #18 (Sept-Oct 1942) to define the
unified threat of Japan and German armies.
On the cover of Superman #17, Superman takes on
Hitler and the Emperor of Japan.
Covers appearing in Action Comics
from 1941-45 were also very patriotic. Superman artists such
as Joe Shuster, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray and Wayne Boring
routinely showed Superman attacking German and Japanese
pill-boxes (Action Comics #31, #35, #39 and #53), destroying
tanks (Action Comics #17, #40 and #59) or submarines (Action
Comics #21, #54), and racing to protect American soldiers
and sailors from imminent danger (Action Comics #10, #31,
#48, #55, #60, #62 and #63). One of the most famous of these
was the cover of Action Comics #60, drawn by Burnley, in
which Superman delivered supplies and medicines to an
American machine-gun squad fighting in the jungles.
In Superman #23 Superman helped train American
soldiers, and in one story from issue 25 "I Sustain the Wings",
drawn by Jack Burnley and written by Mort Weisinger, Clark
Kent joins the Army Air Force on assignment from the Daily Planet.
The story was written to explain to the general population what the
Army Air Force Technical Training Command does in the area of aerial
reconnaissance, target optimization and general repair of bombers.
Superman fought the war effort in cartoons as
well in the
Fleischer studios series with four of these cartoons dealing
directly with the war effort. Japoteurs (Episode #10), The Eleventh
Hour (Episode #12, Released: November 20, 1942), Jungle Drums
(Episode #15, Released: March 26, 1943) and Secret Agent (Episode
#17, Released: July 30, 1943) dealt with Lois and Clark discovering
As mentioned above George Reeves had no problem
with standing next to an American flag while an announcer proclaimed
that Superman was dedicated to "Truth, justice, and the American
way". Patriotism was probably just about as big then was it was in
Several covers since the 40's have used the
phrase, "the American way" and Superman next to American flag like
this Superman #424 cover from the 80's featuring Superman and an
eagle which looks to be a tribute to early Superman #14.
And right after 911 occurred, Superman comics
proudly positioned Superman as a symbol of America proclaiming on
the cover of issue #600, "Now more than ever--For truth, justice,
and the American way!"
One really weird thing happened in Superman's
Returns came out in 2006, and one scene had Perry White jokingly
ask, referring to Superman, "Does he still stand for truth, justice,
and all that stuff?". Was it just meant for humor? Maybe, but it was
kind of like a slap in the face as if it was suddenly a shameful
thing to have Superman stand for what America stands for. Had
America stopped believing in truth, justice, freedom and equality
for all? Were we somehow not the same country anymore?
Fast forward to 2011 and the writers actually
made a story where
Superman denounces his citizenship to America in 'Action Comics'
#900. Outcry was great. Was this just a story gimmick or the
ultimate slap in the face to Americans?
DC quickly released this statement after a few
days, "This short story is just that, it will not be followed up
upon. Superman will remain as American as Apple pie."
And that was that. I'm still not sure what to
make of it. As of this writing I still haven't read that issue,
although I do plan on it.
I hate to judge something I haven't read, but
it's the symbolism of the statement that story said to the world
that really bugs me.
I can't say where DC stands in their heart toward
Superman and the American way, but I can say this: to Superman fans
the never ending battle for truth, justice and the American way was
never expected to ever end. We never expected Superman writers to
try and take away Superman's deep connection to the U.S.
But why even to this day, does the phrase,
"American way" mean so much to Superman fans besides the obvious
fact we grew up with it. Not only did I see George Reeves reruns,
there was also Christopher Reeve in Superman the Movie proclaiming
to Lois Lane, I'm here to fight for truth, and justice, and
the American way". Don't forget about all those scenes with Reeve
and the American flag, and think of the troops that today, while
fewer in number, still read Superman comics.
Superman is the ultimate American immigrant. He
comes from another planet sure, but other than his super powers
there's a real human character there named Clark Kent. Clark's alien
heritage doesn't really influence him during his growing up years.
It was that time on that small farm in Kansas with Jonathan and
Martha Kent that shaped him to be the hero he became in the comics.
It doesn't take much imagination to imagine what kind of upbringing
a boy raised by two hard working farmers from small town America
would have. It wouldn't be the most sophisticated upbringing, but it
would be one filled with themes of love of country, integrity, hard
work, perseverance, and probably even a few church services, and he
might even hear references to the Bible. Yeah, it would be a pretty
old fashioned upbringing. Would this handicap a super powered man of
steel? I wouldn't think so. I think the humility of common American
farmers would instill a character like Superman with what he would
need to never abuse his power. He would realize it was never all
about him, but about doing for others. He would grow up realizing
how hard a man works to own his own land and provide for his family
by watching Jonathan Kent. Freedom would mean something to him
because he'd see it in action every day growing up. So sure, he
wouldn't hold back in helping folks from other countries. He'd do it
in a heartbeat, but the kid from Smallville that lives inside Kal-El
would always cherish his adoptive home in the good old U.S.A. He'd
as soon as leave the planet for good as to denounce the home he
I just hope when they do the next Superman movie
they look back at Superman's history, and the character's story
before deciding on giving us some robotic alien with little or
nothing we can relate to. I don't think even people from other
countries could hold it against old Superman for just loving the
home in which he was raised. That's just normal human emotion.
Superman has become a symbol of America just like
the bald eagle and the Statue of Liberty.
You might believe from time to time that America's government might
make mistakes, but Superman isn't a symbol of the government, he's
the symbol of her spirit like Uncle Sam or
Marvel's Captain America. A
symbol can do a lot of things. It can inspire men and women to keep
going when things get tough. It can take our minds off of our
troubles while we dream a man could really fly, and in that moment
when we dare to let ourselves dream about make-believe aliens with
super powers and boy scout like morality, we can believe that
because we live in the land of the free and the brave that maybe we
can achieve all our goals and dreams and symbolically fly past the
bonds this crummy world tries to limit us with.
Of course dreams aren't limited to Americans, but
I think we cornered the market on them. After all America is where
the idea of Superman came from.