Saturday, September 4, 2010

Strictly Non-Aryan

Sometimes I stumble across images that grab me and make me write about them. This is one. It's from Look Magazine's 1940 two-page comic, "What if Superman Ended the War?", which you can read in its entirety here.

There's a lot to think and talk about here; Corey Creekmur uses these two pages to bring up ethical issues concerning the ramifications of super powers. I don't know specifically where he goes with this, but I imagine it might start with something like, "Isn't Superman an American citizen? And if he is, and America isn't at war with Germany in 1940, then why is he invading that country?" Because in 1940, this was not yet our war.

But, of course, that was exactly what Siegel and Schuster -- two Jewish kids -- wanted to change. If I were using this story in class, I think I'd have less to say about the ethics of superpowers (interesting and geopolitical as they may be) and more to say about propaganda and the way that comics and popular culture are used to influence popular will. This comic, and many more like them, were a collective shout on the part of young Jewish men who were riding the crest of a new media wave. There were millions of people reading what these guys were writing, and these were guys who were not used to attention. When they spoke, they did not command the ears of the general multitude. But now, suddenly, what they wrote and what they drew were burning up the news stands, being passed around from hand to hand to hand, between both kids and their dads. So, naturally, these creators, heady with new audience and the electric power sparking from their fingertips, started to talk louder and louder, with more and more passion.

Still, one can't help but read the comic and wonder, "What if?" Superman ends World War II in two pages, before America is even drawn into it, before Pearl Harbor. We don't see him round up Mussolini and Hirohito, but presumably he could if they weren't smart enough to stop fighting on their own. He's sort of a one-man A-bomb, in the sense that he forces an end to the war through the fear of an overwhelming superior force. If we were making a new comic story about war today -- in Afghanistan perhaps -- we should not hold back or pull punches. We should not keep our hero out of that war. We should throw him in. With X-Ray Vision, Super Hearing, and Super-Speed our hero could round up Osama bin Laden with equal alacrity. But ... then what? Then what would happen?

I think we can all agree that the story that happened next would take more than two pages.

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