Defender of the American Way

Some comic book fans ask why modern story lines do not have, let’s say, Superman hunting down Osama Bin Laden and stopping Al Qaeda. I think these WW2-era covers make a very good case for avoiding those sorts of storylines.

17 thoughts on “Defender of the American Way”

  1. Green Lantern’s ring, on the other hand, could not help out in the battle against the Yellow Peril.

  2. Actually, you’ll find that the magical ring of the Golden Age-era Green Lantern (Alan Scott) had a weakness against wood. It was the Silver Age scifi-themed relaunch of the Green Lantern concept in 1959 that was stymied by yellow. Realizing how stupid a weakness that is, writers have recently erased it completely. And yes, in case you were wondering, the only thing in this comment I actually had to look up was the year 1959.

  3. Are there more anti-Japanese Superman comics then Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany ones, or did you specifically pick out the Japanese ones? Just wondering, I have no hidden agenda.

  4. I posted all the WW2 propaganda covers of any type I saw on that particular website.

    That aside, yes, I’m fairly sure there were more anti-Japanese covers overall. Check out John Dower’s book War Without Mercy for an excellent discussion of how racism informed public opinion of Japan in a way that wasn’t an issue for the caucasoid German and Italian enemies.

    Was there much anti-Italian propaganda at all? It could just be my perspective, but I feel like they were never considered more than an appendage to the massive German/Nazi war machine.

  5. I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. These comic cartoons are a product of the times, and thus were caught up in the national mood of racist-flavored “defeat the enemy.” Why that should stop today’s comments targeting terror is a collossal leap of logic. Action heros fighting terrorists wouldn’t have to say “get all them ragheads!” They could fight bad guys, the old-fashioned way.

  6. I think you don’t know what I’m talking about. It isn’t that today’s superhero comics would necessarily turn into a similar celebration of racism and jingoism if they decided to write storylines about fighting terrorists, but that the genre just works better when the enemies are as exaggerated and flamboyant as the heroes. It isn’t a question of whether Superman would, say, massacre poor Arabs or tell them that Allah is a false god (after all, Superman worships the Kryptonian sun god), but that realistic terrorists would be a pathetic enemy for him, and the story would suck.

    Example: there was an episode of the Justice League animated series a few years ago where they detected nuclear radiation from a small East Asian country that looks suspiciously like North Korea. When they arrived, it turned out that it was actually the power source for a 100 foot tall robot. Obviously the realistic scenario would have been a nuclear weapons test like the one that seems to have happened this week, but any member of the Justice League could take care of something that mundane so easily that there would be no real drama without amping things up.

    Sure, you can make superheroes stories that reflect current events, but incorporating them directly makes for lousy stories and impossible continuity. And of course, the terrorist as villian HAS been done in superheroe comics, when their plot was sufficiently grandiose, or they were perhaps backed by some sort of cult with magic powers. The best Al Qaeda could do was knock down a few buildings-that’s just not a Superman level plot.

    Now Nazis- those guys are such good comic villians that they STILL get used!

  7. the genre just works better when the enemies are as exaggerated and flamboyant as the heroes.

    You clearly haven’t seen TEAM AMERICA: World Police. And I took from your post that your concern was about the racist slurs about “Japs,” but I now take it that your opposition is more… aesthetic?

    Anyway, I think Superman v.s. Osama Bin Laden could be great — if only it was given a chance!

  8. Also, it wouldn’t have to be Superman — Spiderman, DareDevil, Punisher, the Fantastic 4, and plenty more could have a good whallop at terrorists and it could be great.

  9. Actually the Punisher is in Afghanistan right now, but I believe he’s fighting a rogue Russian general, not Osama.

    As for Superman vs. Osama, the fight would be too short, and I doubt most comic fans would like it.

  10. There was a storyline in a few Superman comics back in the 1990s where Supes was pitted against a tinpot dictator from the country of “Qurac” which had recently invaded one of its neighbours. I don’t really remember the plot exactly, but it turned out that Superman had been manipulated by the CIA or DoD in to doing something that he would not have in good conscience done otherwise. He then gets bitter and lapses into a monologue about deception in modern international relations. On the cover of the final issue concerning this particular story is Superman wrapped in an American flag. The bootom of the cover was emblazoned with the words “truth, justice and the American way.” I guess the cover artists hadn’t been in touch with the storyliners.

  11. I haven’t seen the Qurac storyline, but it seems just a little bit too transparent. I like some of the storylines they have today, that are vaguely influenced by modern geopolitics, but not by any specific events. Look at the new Checkmate series, in which issue 1 starts off with a UNSC vote deciding the future of the organization, and to prevent a veto by China, Checkmate agents go to China to uncover evidence that can be used as blackmail. Then, while there, they encounter the new team of Chinese superheroes that the PRC has been cultivating to act as a counter to the hegemony of the Western superheroes. And then it turns out that a mysterious snake worshipping terrorist cult is somehow involved, etc…

    As for Superman vs. Bin Laden- it just doesn’t work. Bin Laden is a pretty scary guy in the real world, but in Superman’s world he’s be third-class at best. Metropolis skyscrapers seem to routinely get demolished as collateral damage to stop the ENTIRE city from beind destroyed.

  12. “Bin Laden is a pretty scary guy in the real world, but in Superman’s world he’s be third-class at best.”

    Surely you could whack him in a bionic suit.

  13. Actually, as it happens, I’m researching comics right now — and if you look at Douglas Wolk’s book, you’ll find that Frank Miller is planning on having Batman face off against Al Qaeda in an upcoming comic called Holy War.

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