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Superman and the American Way
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Superman Articles  

 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 Isn't that just an outdated remnant of the 40's or 50's? After all Superman represents planet Earth right.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.


 

1938 -1940's

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

click for a larger image

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.


Superman 17 Superman takes on Hitler click for larger pic
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 Nazi forces.

1950's - On

 


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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 the 1940's.

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 patriotic legacy, Superman 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 loves.

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.

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