Recently, we showed you what Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel thought of his character standing for the American way and why he approved of that. His words come from a 40-year-old interview but have new resonance today when DC Comics is changing and misusing the Man of Steel.
Well, another writer who knows a thing or two about the publisher and their characters went into further detail as to why Superman is such a pure American hero who would never turn his back on those principles.
In episode 83 of his Q&A series, writer Chuck Dixon devoted an entire video to the essence of comics’ first superhero and one of the USA’s biggest icons, and what his origins have to do with the experiences of Jewish American creators in the 1920s and during World War II.
Dixon observed that those times weren’t ideal for Jewish people in Europe or America, though life in the United States was better and freer compared to Germany at the time. Young first-generation Jews may have lived in cramped conditions with no heat in New York, for example, but they still had cohesion and relative safety within their community.
They still lived in a country, however, that didn’t fully accept them. Millions of people identified with the KKK who marched through Washington with impunity and Jews were locked out of many industries and trades because of actual systemic prejudice.
One category of crafts open to them vocationally was the arts – and particularly entertainment, films, and print media. Jewish immigrants and Jewish Americans who came from nothing could make a living producing movies and writing comics in which they often tapped into “what made America tick.”
They made these movies and crafted these stories largely as outsiders to the American experience. Despite not being welcome in society, they were fascinated with American ideals and the American Dream.
This history and these fascinations fed the narrative of early Superman comics, Dixon noted. Like Siegel and Joe Schuster, their character was an outsider who loved his home country, which people responded to en masse when Action Comics sold out due to demand too voracious for the supply chain.
The story behind Captain America’s creation is quite similar. Like Superman, Cap is a righteous crusader created by two Jewish creators in Jack Kirby and Joe Simon that tackled the problems of the day even if he couldn’t do so for real. He is at Marvel and Superman is DC but they both fought for the powerless.
Dixon explained the big difference between the two was Cap was more directly involved in the War and was boldly seen punching Hitler in the face on the cover of an issue. Although that’s true to a point, Superman would intervene in global politics occasionally.
In a special short story printed in Look Magazine in 1940, the Man of Steel really fought for Truth and the American Way – and a better tomorrow when you think about it – by meting out Justice on Hitler and Stalin. Single-handedly winning the war, he grabs the dictators and drops them off in Geneva to stand trial.
Another story that got the attention of federal authorities saw Superman witness the destructive power of the A-bomb – before the weapon was ever public knowledge.
Nevertheless, Cap being the war hero and Superman the friendly neighborhood savior and crime-buster remained the distinction between the two. Where they came together was their pride in America and Dixon bookends the beginning and end of his discussion by clarifying why their love of country is key to who they are.
As he states, Superman has seen and heard the best and worst of mankind – especially all their ideals and philosophy – while simply floating above the planet. When he’s heard it all and settled on the American Way, the idea he’d abandon that for something inferior or find something better doesn’t make sense.
The same is true for Captain America who has seen the horrors of war firsthand and wouldn’t be lectured about the nature of it by someone younger who’s never served on a frontline but realistically would do the lecturing.
That’s too much of a change for Dixon who says in closing altering these “indelible” American icons to fit the times “is a crime” when “their values are timeless.”
Do you agree with Dixon and did you find his deep dive into Captain America and Superman interesting? Comment with your thoughts and assessment down below.