I recently said that I would withhold judgment on Superman: Earth One until it was given a comprehensive conservative review. I gave it a few weeks, and since it drifted for the news cycle without that happening, here now is my attempt to fill the void:
Superman: Earth One, written by J. Michael Straczynski, is a solid retelling of Superman’s origin. Part of this is because the story is so strong to begin with that any good-faith effort to preserve the most endearing elements of his origin can head off disaster. The other is because of Straczynski: he’s a professional. The reason why he’s had such a successful career is because even when he experiments with sacred cows (e.g., Spider-Man), he tries to be smart about it. This time around, the politics that riled up conservative media outlets are there, but there are enough bones thrown to guys like me to assuage a lot of our anger.
For example, Jonathan Kent, Clark’s father—the man who shaped his life—tells him:
You’re different from every other man, Clark. You’re more powerful than any other man in history. You’re unique in all the world. Extraordinary. Not just any man…and more than just a man…a Super Man.”
Americans have always viewed Super Man as a symbol of the country. The above wisdom, spoken to Clark as he receives the costume sewn by his mother, can easily be interpreted as making the case for American Exceptionalism. Substitute “America” for “Clark” and “country” for “man” and conservative comic nerds (like me) are right on board. As I’ve said before, The Rule of Law, Free Markets, Religious Liberty, Science, and an acknowledgement that our rights come from our Creator—not man or their man-made governments—fused in the United States to form the freest nation the world has ever known. Whether it stays that way depends on us.
Superman: Earth One does drop the occasional liberal allusion (e.g., the self-serving businessman who only cares about profits while people suffer, scientists warning of possibly catastrophic changes to the planet’s temperature who are ignored). However, more or less the comic avoids intentionally getting bogged down in politics. It’s really in the afterward, an “article” by Clark Kent where he “interviews” Superman, that an interesting conversation takes place. For example:
Superman: Lincoln said that the proper role of government was to do that which individual people couldn’t do for themselves. He added, ‘you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.'”
Clark Kent: Sounds like you are advocating trickle-down heroics.
Superman: Not at all. I’m just saying that until that ship [an existential threat to all mankind] showed up over Metropolis, everything that came along in human history to that point could be handled by average men and women who could rise to the occasion. But no amount of rising was going to stop this.
In this case I don’t want to waste time debating whether Straczynski’s analogy to supply side economics is correct or even appropriate. What’s more interesting is that the newspaper article is a way for the reader to see the internal debate Clark is having in regards to who he is and the proper role for Superman on the world stage. That is natural, and it’s a conversation that Americans have every day. As Thomas Sowell (the living legend) writes, we have a Conflict of Visions vying for our allegiance, even though many citizens don’t even realize it. The reader can ultimately decide if the following lines, tucked away in the interview, render Superman: Earth One unreadable:
I saw this documentary a few years ago about the British police force,” [Superman] says, speaking slowly and deliberately, making his point. “They interviewed a London bobby who said—and I’m not taking sides, I’m just repeating what he said—that American police enforce the peace, while British police create the peace. I like to think that’s why I’m here: to help create the peace by doing what’s right for people without trying to change them. Maybe that sounds naive, or superficial, but it’s the truth.”
Anyone who’s seen the student protests in England over tuition hikes has seen that the British police have not really created peace, but they have done a very good job of picking up rubble in the wake of ignorant socialist-kiddie temper tantrums… Regardless, I have an answer for Superman (i.e., J. Michael Straczynski), who says he’s not “taking sides” before doing just that: Yes, you are naive.
I would like to do right by the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and large swathes of the Middle East, while simultaneously enforcing the following:
- Chopping off heads when you disagree with someone isn’t acceptable. Attempting to down commercial flights in large metropolitan areas to make political statements will not be tolerated.
- Civilized nations do not stone women to death.
- Countries that make it “illegal” to be a Christian, convert to Christianity (i.e., allow religious freedom) are backwards, and they should be called out on it at every opportunity.
- If your culture includes large numbers of individuals and community leaders who go ballistic over cartoons that offend them—and threaten to kill artists like J. Michael Straczynski over said offenses—it has problems and needs to be reformed.
With that said, Superman: Earth One also routinely returns to the idea that it’s important to have individuals who are willing to “stay and die for truth.” And that is a good thing. I may disagree with Straczynski over what the definition of ‘truth’ is, but at least his writing leaves openings for those who think he’s wrong to make their case. Buy Superman: Earth One for your kid, and then tell them why The United States is such a great nation.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. We have a lot to be thankful for.