Friday, July 9, 2010

Episode #134: Truth, Justice And All That Stuff!

In honor of the recent Fourth of July holiday, this episode will focus on one of the most familiar phrases tied to Superman, "Truth, Justice and the American Way." Generations of Superman fans are familiar with that phrase. But its origins do not stretch back to Superman's beginnings. The phrase that described Superman in his earliest stories was, "Champion of the oppressed." he has also been known as, "The Man of Tomorrow", and more commonly, "The Man of Steel".

At the beginning, Superman was a lot different than he is today. He wa a lot rougher on the bad guys. The stories in Superman #1, published on May 18, 1939, according to, contains enough expamples of the Man of Steel's actions to filll this episode.

In the first story of the issue, an expanded version of the original Superman story from Action Comics #1, the Man of Steel forced a woman to confess to a murder she had committed. "Are you ready to sign a confession? Or shall I give you a taste of how that gun felt when I applied the pressure." Superman had earlier grabbed her gun and squezzed it into scrap metal. Superman then knocked down the Governer's door to give him the proof he needed to stop the execution of an innocent man.

Later in the issue Superman knocked a wife beater against the wall, hard.

After Lois was kidnapped, Superman caught the car, filled with her and her captors. After saving Lois and shaking the gangsters from the vehicle, he smashed the car against the rock, in a scene portrayed on the cover of Action Comics #1. Superman then hung one of the gangsters at the top of a telelphone pole, presumably by his belt.

In another story, Superman dragged a war lobbyist behind him while he ran across a telephone wire, then dropped to the sidewalk from a great height, with the frightened lobbyist in tow. With the information he gained, Superman then forced a munitions maker, who had been supplying both sides in a war, to enlist in the army. To make sure the businessman faced the horrors of war, Superman donned a uniform himself and made sure he learned his lesson. On the battlefield, the Man of Steel found a group of soldiers torturing a prisoner. Superman threw the torturer into the trees like a javelin. When a fighter plane fires on troops, Superman jumped into the air and shattered the propeller, allowing the plane and pilot to crash.

Back in the United States, Superman taught the owner of an unsafe mine a lesson by trapping he and his party in his mine, after the owner took his party inside the mine shaft. The Man of Steel purposely caused an avalance, and then saved everyone as their air was running out.

In the last story of the issue, Superman stopped a group of crooked gamblers who were trying to fix a college football game. To do this Superman kidnapped one of the team's benchwarmers, who looked like him, after giving him an injection to knock him out. The Man of Steel then took his place during the week's practice and earned a spot onto the starting lineup. Superman basically was a one man team, until late in the game, when he switched places with the real player.

Another example of a rougher Man of Steel came from the untitled story Europe At War from Action Comics #22, March 1940. While covering a European war as Clark Kent, Superman caught a bomber in the air, and threw it to the ground, where it crashed with the crew aboard. On an ocean liner heading across the sea, Superman spotted a submarine. He dove into the water, caught a torpedo heading toward the ship, and aimed it back at the submarine, destroying it.

Superman has also been known as The Man Of Tomorrow. When actor Ray Middleton became the first actor to wear a Superman costume, at the Superman Day of the 1939 - 1940 New York World's Fair, it was at the World of Tomorrow exhibit. Whether this is the source of that phrase I could not find out for certain. From 1996 - 1999, DC Comics published 15 issues of a quarterly Superman title, Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow. It would be published during the months with a fifth week during the era when four Superman titles were published each month.

Truth, Justice and the American Way was part of the introduction of every episode of the 1950's Adventures Of Superman TV show starring actor George Reeves. Comic book writer and editor Mark Waid has been attributed as saying that it became part of the introduction of the 1940's radio show, beginning in 1942. While I do subscribe to a podcast rebroadcasting that radio show, the latest episodes I have are not from that year. The ones I do have contain the intoduction, "... the neverending battle for Truth and Justice."

After just a few years, Superman quickly changed from a champion of the oppressed to a defender of the establishment. DC was quick to establish an editorial policy barring its heroes from killing, or allowing to die, any villains. They were one of the more conservative comic book publishers. Their control over Superman increased after Jerry Siegel joined the Army. Dc's control over Superman became complete after creators Siegel and Shuster were fired for suing their publisher.

During the 2006 movie Superman Returns, Frank Langella as Perry White was giving orders to the Daily Planet staff about Superman's return to Earth. One of the angles he wanted his staff to cover was, "Truth, Justice ... all that stuff." Apparently, director Brian Singer and the scriptwriters wanted to avoid the many connotations to "the American Way", and the many interpretations involved. They wanted to avoid any controversy about what would define the American Way.

Next Episode: An Imaginary Summer 2010!

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