Look! Up in the sky!
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently reading Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. As author Bradford Wright points out, it was Superman comics that really began the comic book revolution. What I didn’t know, was that Superman was such a …liberal. The following snippets are about Superman comics written in 1939.
From the book:
The young creators cast their superhero as a “champion of the oppressed…devoted to helping those in need!” In his initial episode, Superman saves a falsely accused prisoner from a lynch mob, produces evidence that frees an innocent woman on death row, and defends a woman about to be beaten by her husband. In the second issue of Action Comics, Superman crushes a conspiracy involving a U.S. senator, a lobbyist, and a munitions manufacturer who wish to embroil the United States in a foreign war. He then ends the fraudulent Latin American war by informing them that they have been manipulated by greedy American industrialists. Echoing the Nye Committee’s conclusion that “merchants of death” had conspired to involve the United States in the Great War, Superman warns that moneyed self-interest remained a menace to the national welfare.
Other Superman stories explore the conflict between corporate greed and the public welfare. One finds Superman crushing a plot by wealthy American financiers working for a foreign power to manipulate the stock exchange and plunge the nation into another depression. His mission accomplished, Superman assures readers that “the nation is once again returning to its march toward prosperity!”
In another story, Superman encounters a pair of wealthy and murderous stockbrokers who sell worthless stocks to hundreds of clients, some of whom commit suicide after losing their life savings. Superman, not content to simply turn the crooks over to the police, first devises a complex scheme to swindle them out of all of their cash and investments so that they must endure the humiliating poverty that they inflicted on others. Once the brokers are themselves broke, Superman delights in their misery and advises them to stop selling stock and start selling shoelaces instead.
Superman’s America was something of a paradox- a land where the virtue of the poor and the weak towered over that of the wealthy and powerful. Yet the common man could not expect to prevail on his own in this America, and neither could the progressive reformers who tried to fight for justice within the system. Only the righteous violence of Superman, it seemed, could relieve deep social problems–a tacit recognition that in American society it took some might to make right after all.
Pretty interesting reading. Sure is a good thing that all of that bad stuff that Superman fought against is all behind us now…