In 1940, Look magazine commissioned a short story entitled "How Superman Would End the War." In it, the steely-eyed hero charged into Germany to capture Hitler and then into the Soviet Union to apprehend Stalin. He then dragged both tyrants before the League of Nations to be tried for their crimes against humanity. And he did it all with a smile. But times change.
Today the patriotic icon who once encouraged children to "Knock out the Axis with bonds and stamps!" acts as a mouthpiece for the antiwar Left in a thinly veiled allegory of the buildup to the war with Iraq.
Writer Joe Kelly and artist Chris Cross use the July issue (#83) of the venerable DC Comics' series JLA - an acronym for Justice League of AMERICA, mind you - as the vehicle for their misguided attempt at political commentary. The issue opens with the superhero team - led by Superman - thwarting an advanced biological weapon attack on London. The heroes then consult with the president, who explains that his intelligence indicates that the attacks originated from the Middle Eastern terrorist nation of Qurac, a fictional stand-in for you-know-where. The president, by the way, is none other than Superman's arch-enemy Lex Luthor, though the general public believes him to be a legitimate businessman and an honest politician.
The Leaguers know otherwise and decide to focus their investigation on another suspect: politically independent supervillain Professor Ivo. A raid on Ivo's lab turns up the weapons, though the deranged scientist refuses to talk and demands extradition when asked if he has any connection to Qurac. Lacking a proverbial "smoking gun," the League strenuously objects as President Luthor moves ever closer to war, arguing, as President Bush did, that "I would rather be judged by history as having moved too soon rather than too late." Except it sounds far more ominous when Lex Luthor is the one doing the talking.
The next scene features a squad of riot cops holding back a mob of protesters on their way to an anti-war rally. Batman dropkicks one of the cops because he believes them to be part of a conspiracy to clandestinely use the military to stifle dissent. For proof, the Dark Knight Detective fishes Army-special-forces dog tags out from under the officer's uniform and shows them to a stunned Superman.
Superman finally confronts Luthor alone in the foreboding interior of the commander-in-chief's corporate headquarters in Metropolis. A massive crowd of protestors shout their pithy slogans outside to deaf ears. Fortunately for them, the Man of Steel happily parrots virtually every one of them in his debate with the president. "It's unbecoming to question your president during times of international unrest," Bush - I mean Luthor - retorts in his best "evil right-winger" voice. That's when things start to get surreal.
President Luthor - his hysterical, fascistic visage projected on a giant television screen - starts screeching numerous Bushisms about preemptive action and "going it alone". Then the "A" in the JLA logo emblazoned on a meeting table transforms right before Superman's fevered eyes into a diseased and incredibly unsubtle cancerous mass.
Summoning what remains of his wits, Superman manages to utter the following nonsensical monologue: "We exist... because those with the power to stop injustice simply must...With clarity, compassion and truth as their most powerful weapons. We can show them a better way. I know we can. Armed conflict may be an option, and I will support it... if the truth is clear, and the cause is just. But I will know the truth, and I will not be ashamed or be called un-American for demanding it." Then Luthor whips out some kryptonite and kills Supes for his traitorous behavior.
It was all a dream, of course. Superman was plugged into something called a "Transconscious Simulator" to help "unburden him of his anxieties". But Kal-El remains troubled by his horrible (yet strangely familiar) fantasy. "This dream...things spun completely out of my grasp. Luthor took the U.S. to war, despite our protests, the U.N.'s...He killed everything we stand for. And I let it happen because I couldn't make up my mind."
Do Howard Dean and Clark Kent use the same speechwriter now? Actually, the former Kansas farmoby leans even further to the left than the former Vermont governor. While the former may believe the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea, at least he doesn't claim that removing one of history's most evil regimes will lead to the downfall of Western civilization.
From his origins as a New-Deal social crusader and vigilante to his role as champion of the establishment and super-cop in his later years, Superman has always embodied the best attributes of America: our idealism, compassion and strength. The liberation of the Iraqi people showed that America still has the courage of its convictions, but it seems that Superman has lost his way.
AOL/Time-Warner may own Superman, but he belongs to America. And we deserve a hero who isn't a shill for murderous tyrants.