What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

Every few years this article always finds a way to get back to the “top of the pops” as it were. My “Did Comics Outgrow Me” post a couple days back had me again thinking about the above title, and after a conversation on what single issues stand out as some of the greatest ever written… I thought a re-post was in order* – AD:


The title above is taken from the cover of Action Comics #775. Possibly one of the greatest Superman tale, no comic tale, ever written. I’d tell you to go read it, but it came out almost 10 years ago and you’ll be hard pressed to find a collector who would part with their copy. The plot is relatively simple. A new team called The Elite has taken to killing the villains in the world. When confronted by Superman they argue that by utterly and completely wiping out the evil in the world they are making it a safer place. Superman argues (as he always does) that killing for any reason makes you no better then the people you are fighting. The Elite asks the people to decide, and they do. In a painful moment Superman watches some kids playing “superhero” and NONE of them wants to be him because “Superman can’t kill”.

There in lies the core truth to Superman. He can kill. He can kill with such force and power that NO ONE could stop him. What makes him more human then any of us mortals is that he chooses NOT TO. Superman tries to make the world a better place without causing harm. It pains Superman when he is forced to resort to his fists and heat vision when protecting the people of the Earth.

The Elite tells Superman that he is washed up. That his morals no longer apply in the new world of terrorists and nuclear despots. The Elite challenges Superman to a fight. A fight that Superman KNOWS he can not win without killing the Elite. Superman spends a sleepless night watching the city, country, world, and wife that he loves resting peacefully; knowing that in the morning he must either kill or allow himself to die for his higher beliefs. Like all events in the modern era, the fight between Superman and the Elite is televised. Refusing to stoop to their level, Superman is killed…

We are that power. America is the Superman of the world. We can utter and totally obliterate any foe we face in an instant should we choose to. As a whole I want to believe that we don’t want to pummel our foes into submission. Like Superman, I want to believe that America would prefer to extend a hand in friendship then in violence. True, the world is dangerous and scary at times. Such dangers must be met with the appropriate amount of vigilance. America should, like Superman, temper our power. Such terrible power unchecked is a dangerous and frightening image.

The Elite returns victorious. The Elite begins to strike at forces it believes to be dangerous. Their argument is an old (and valid) one. If you could have killed Hitler before he took power, how many lives would have been saved? The Elite kills those that it feels will be a threat to the world. Soon, the Elite even turns to those that disagree with their philosophy. Just as Superman claimed, the people of the world become frightened and threatened by their new “protectors”. Luckily, these are the comics and we all know that Superman isn’t really dead. Faking his death Superman challenges the Elite to another fight. No cameras, no witness’, and no rules. Full of pride the Elite accepts. Superman knows he must cross the line.

Without the world watching what would America do? Would we maintain our higher moral ground or would we simply fall back on our astonishing power and level our foes?

America is at an impasse right now. Like Superman we must make a choice. We can open our coffers and unleash our power upon the world, forcing all to do as we say and desire. Or, we can channel our power into making the world self-sufficient. A world that no longer needs figures of complete and total power to protect us.


Superman fights the Elite to the grizzly end. He uses his power to make the Elite’s leader, Manchester Black, believe that all that he cares for has met hideous and violent deaths. Superman gives the Elite a taste of the fear they place upon the population of Earth. Black relents and Superman returns the other members of the Elite to Black’s side. However, in a final act of hubris Black asks Superman why he even bothers. Why does he care? Why bother to fight for a future that is nothing more then a dream? To this Superman responds:

“You know what, Black..? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share… I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”

Interestedly, whenever DC does a story about the possible future of Superman it tends to run along two themes. One, Superman sees that humanity can not govern itself and so he sets himself up as a god. He crowns himself “Superman Rex” and rules to the end of time. Then, there is the other future. The one in which Superman is no longer needed. Humanity solves it’s problems on it’s own. In this future, Superman is no more. There is only Clark Kent, mild mannered (and happily retired) reporter for the Daily Planet.

I wonder which future we will have?

*And, every few years I get very interesting comments and emails about it. Often reflecting the current mood of the land… Wonder what surfaces this time. – AD


3 thoughts on “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”

  1. Aaron, you say that America is at an impasse, the power to destroy the world 10 times over, or the power to thrust us into a sustainable future. It is not just America, it is humanity. Our species as a whole is at a precipice. We must learn to harness our brainpower, our passions, the things that make us great or we will perish at the flip side of those very same passions.

  2. Hi,
    I am a Spanish guy who happened to have a blog about whatever it’s on my mind at the moment… right now I am about to make an entry about the movie Supes vs The Elite… ok, my blog and what is inside is in Spanish… but while reviewing something about the comic I found your own blog and I am going to recommend it for background to my readers (friends).
    I shared with you most of your point of view: I am happy to have heroes that don’t treat today menaces (very real) wherever they come from (governs, big companies,…) using always a higher standard of moral, difficult as it can be, like that of “you shall not kill” … even the bad guys… you cannot change into a bad guy to treat with a bad guy tough it would feel appealing a lot of times….
    so thanks, keep the good work, greetings from Spain (a normally bad treated country in the war of image that is going on now in the world), and hugs from a fellow geek-comic lover,

    p.s. – you can google my blog: La Nada y la Fuga, if you are curious, : )

  3. WTF were you smoking when you wrote this?

    I was right there with you all through the first half, I was even with you with the allusions between Superman and America. Fine, good analysis.

    But what the hell were you talking about in the second half of your description? There was only one fight, not two. Superman appeared beaten, then counter attacked with his lethal seeming tactics. The Elite didn’t return to Earth and start a reign of terror, and Superman didn’t re-appear to challenge them to a second fight. And at the end Black didn’t “relent” he stayed defiant right to the end. He didn’t ask Superman why he bothered, or ask anything even close. He challenged Supes, threatened him, told him that he’d just get out and attack Superman again, told him if he thought it was over he was dreaming. THAT’s what prompted Supes’ dream speech.

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