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An expanded version of my Indian Comics Irregular essay Giving Up PEACE ON EARTH:

In Adolf Hitler: A True American (ICI #62), I neglected an obvious connection between genocide and pulp fiction: Superman. Among other sources, Hitler was inspired by Nietzsche's concept of the indomitable Aryan Übermensch. That idea is also implicit in the comics.

Don't believe it? Jerry Siegel originally conceived Superman as a villain. In Siegel's 1933 story titled "The Reign of the Superman," a professor snatches a homeless man for an experiment. In a variation on the Frankenstein theme, he treats the man with an unknown chemical and creates a monster called Superman.

Today's Man of Steel is more benign, but he still acts without thought for the world's "little people." Consider the oversized SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH comic.

For the first time in 60 years, it dawns on Superman that world hunger is a problem. He launches a full-scale campaign, flying food to the starving masses around the globe. "With every minute I feel more sure I have made the right decision," he thinks.

In one revealing scene, Superman delivers a food container to an old Indian (presumably a Navajo) in Monument Valley. Does Supes stop to talk to the man, to see if he has any wisdom to share? No. The Great White Father literally drops in, thrusts a quick fix on the Natives, and just as hurriedly departs.

After two setbacks, both minor, Superman—the big blue schoolboy with eyes wide shut—gives up. The world's masses remain poor and huddled while Americans remain rich and powerful. The strong rule and the weak suffer for it.

Isn't that what Hitler and John Wayne were all about: bringing their version of civilization to the world? A civilization where Christian white men dominated and "mongrel races" like Indians and Jews bit the dust? Superman tried to help, but finally retreats to his elitist enclave, where he and his ilk will decide who lives and dies.

Superman used to care
From Dan O'Neil's column on Superman Returns. In the LA Times, 2/12/06:

As long as we're rebooting the Superman myth, I propose we return him to the righteous, New Deal populism of his beginnings.

It's worth remembering that in Action Comics #1, Superman bursts into the governor's residence with evidence that will exonerate a woman who is about to be sent to the electric chair; he smacks around an abusive husband; he goes to Washington, D.C., to expose evil lobbyists and corruption in Congress—anyone come to mind?

The operating trope of Superman is Revenge of the Nerds-mild-mannered Clark Kent splits his shirt and strikes back for the powerless and disaffected. He is not the flag-waving tool of the power elite.

Superman, we need you now more than ever.

So Superman used to be a populist hero. He used to fight the system that allowed miscarriages of justice, domestic violence, and political corruption. No longer. Now he's too busy stopping bank robberies and other property crimes to help the little people. Not only is he pro-American, he's pro-rich white elite.

Man and Superman
More on the similarities between Nietzsche's and Siegel's Superman. First, from a biographical website about Nietzsche, summarizing his beliefs:

The Superman is a creator of a "master morality" that reflects the strength and independence of one who is liberated from all values, except those that he deems valid. Such power is manifested in the Superman's independence, creativity, and originality.

And from William L. Shirer's book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

Finally there was Nietzsche's prophecy of the coming elite who would rule the world and from whom the superman would spring. In The Will to Power he exclaims: "A daring and ruler race is building itself up....The aim should be to prepare a transvaluation of values for a particularly strong kind of man, most highly gifted in intellect and will. This man and the elite around him will become the 'lords of the earth'."

Such rantings from one of Germany's most original minds must have struck a responsive chord in Hitler's littered mind. At any rate he appropriated them for his own—not only the thoughts but the philosopher's penchant for grotesque exaggeration, and often his very words. "Lords of the Earth" is a familiar expression in Mein Kampf. That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche's prophecy cannot be doubted....

In Hitler's utterances there runs the theme that the supreme leader is above the morals of ordinary men. Hegel and Nietzsche thought so too....Nietzsche, with his grotesque exaggeration, goes much further:

The strong men, the masters, regain the pure conscience of a beast of prey; monsters filled with joy, they can return from a fearful succession of murder, arson, rape, and torture with the same joy in their hearts, the same contentment in their souls as if they had indulged in some student's rag....When a man is capable of commanding, when he is by nature a "Master," when he is violent in act and gesture, of what importance are treaties to him?...To judge morality properly, it must be replaced by two concepts borrowed from zoology: the taming of a beast and the breeding of a specific species.

"Of what importance are treaties to him?" Is that a Native American describing a Euro-American, Nietzsche describing his Übermensch, or an Allied leader describing Hitler? Or is it any non-American describing George W. Bush today? Anybody for all of the above?

The comic-book Superman is a hero. But he generally acts without official orders, doesn't consult with authorities while acting, and doesn't face any consequences after acting. No one demands that he report on his actions...no one summons him to inquests or court proceedings...no one sues him or even tickets him for his inevitable transgressions. He's above the law—the law he imposes without answering to others.

Like Nietzsche's Übermensch, Superman is "a particularly strong kind of man, most highly gifted in intellect and will." Like the Übermensch, he "is liberated from all values, except those that he deems valid." Most people would misuse Superman's power egregiously, and even Supes spends most of his time defending the American powers-that-be. As Batman once told him, "You always say yes to anyone with a badge or a flag."

Superman lets people who aren't white, middle-class Anglo-Americans die. He seldom intervenes to halt the world's wars, famines, poverty, or disease. Hitler threatened or killed the same unfortunate people intentionally. He was the ultimate expression of the Biblical/John Wayne/Superman mentality, the self-deluded Übermensch.

Related links
Adolf Hitler:  a true American
Genocide by any other name...
Violence in America
America's cultural mindset

Readers respond
"[Y]ou have totally missed the points of the story — hope, and the realization that in order to stop world hunger we all HAVE to work together."
"It is my sincere hope that you stop poisoning people's minds against the one real hero we have left and rescind this stuff."
"The heroes of our entertainment sometimes are just vehicles to advance the rollercoaster to the peak."

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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