For this entry into my ongoing Superman versus Bigots series I continue dealing with Nazis, and while it is in the medium comics, it isn’t a story from either of the comics in which Superman was regularly appearing at this time, but instead is a brief tale specially commissioned by a magazine.
I have professed my love for the radio show’s “Clan of the Fiery Cross” storyline, which is often noted for the effect that it had on the real world Ku Klux Klan. Today’s entry into the Superman versus Bigots canon is not in that league of real-world influence, but at least it caused a reaction.
“How Superman Would End The War”
For those who want to follow along at home, this story is only two pages long and is available online at: https://archive.org/details/HowSupermanWouldEndTheWar
We’re given a single page of introduction in which we meet Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and their character before we get to the story.
But once we get to that story, it goes quickly. Superman smashes through the supposedly-indestructible Siegfried Line in the European Theatre of the War. He twists up the Nazi cannons, allowing Allied troops to follow him. He punches down a plane. Then he’s off to Adolf Hitler’s retreat, where he grabs the dictator and carries him off. Next stop is Moscow, where he grabs Josef Stalin. Finally, he takes his two prisoners to a meeting of the League of Nations where they are found guilty for “modern history’s greatest crime – unprovoked aggression against defenseless countries.”
We end with a couple of paragraphs calling back to times Superman has performed similar feats in his comics.
And that’s it!
Issue: Look, February 27, 1940
Superman (to Hitler): I’d like to land a strictly Non-Aryan sock on your jaw, but there’s no time for that!
From the Look Magazine Introductory Write-Up:
“An imaginary man popped out of an imaginary planet less than two years ago. Today he is one of the most popular of all comic strip characters. He is Superman, a character who combines the talents of a Robin Hood and a god, and every day his feats of strength, speed and benevolence bring thrills to millions of newspaper and comic magazine readers.
Co-fathers of this amazing character are Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both under 30. As boyhood friends in Cleveland, Siegel and Shuster dreamed of what they would do if they were the world’s strongest men. Superman is the extension of their dream, and proof that Americans still like their fantasy raw.”
(Note From PDR: It psychically harmed me not to put a comma after “speed” in that first paragraph, so nobody ever claim I’m not doing all I can to be accurate for you all.)
SUPERMAN VERSUS BIGOTS?
In most ways this story is thematically similar to what I covered last time and said that they don’t really count as Superman versus Bigots stories. It seems a lot like Superman fighting Nazis because they are the bad guys. Though, unlike the stories from last time, America was not yet at war with the Nazis when this story was published.
But the thing that really wins this story over for me is that “strictly Non-Aryan” line. I just love that Jerry and Joe are positioning Superman’s heroic ideal in direct opposition to the Nazi’s superior race ideals. The Jewishness of Superman’s origins have been sort of eroded over time, but it’s there and I like it and I think it matters.
Hey, you know who didn’t like stories about a Jewish-created hero easily putting an end to Hitler’s career? Those Nazi types.
I feel like this article may be better served if I defer to a more competent researcher who has access to a translation of the Nazi’s response to the character, so I’m going to quote a bit from the book Superman Versus The Ku Klux Klan, by Rick Bowers (page 100 and 101, if you’re interested). I only warn that when he gets to quoting the Nazis, they don’t make it pleasant. Bowers bolded that text and so I have as well. So I begin here, quoting Bowers:
“The German propagandists did not respond well to the Superman stories, and the U.S. Press covered their response. U.S. Newspaper reports that the infamous Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels exploded in a meeting over the Superman anti-Nazi crusades were almost certainly exaggerated if not outright false. But it is true that Das Schwarze Korps, the weekly newspaper of the infamous Nazi Secret Service, denounced Superman. In April 1940 the paper ran the proclamation, “Superman ist ein Jude!” (“Superman is a Jew!”) The sarcastic, mocking piece referred to Superman’s primary creator as Jerry “Israel” Siegel and accused him of showing “hate, suspicion, evil, laziness, and criminality in young hearts”:
“Jerry Siegel, an intellectually and physically circumcised chap who has his headquarters in New York, is the inventor of a colorful figure with an impressive appearance, a powerful body, and a red swim suit who enjoys the ability to fly through the ether.
“The inventive Israelite named this pleasant guy with an overdeveloped body and underdeveloped mind ‘Superman.’ He advertised widely Superman’s sense of justice, well-suited for imitation by the American youth.
“As you can see, there is nothing the Sadducees [an ancient Jewish sect] won’t do for money! Jerry Siegellack stinks. Woe to the American youth who must live in such a poisonous environment and don’t even notice the poison they are swallowing daily.
“Superman did reflect the culture of his Jewish creators. The Jewsish-American story was baked into the personality of his character and his exploits. Superman also seemed to reflect the more modern – and frightening – Jewish realities of the time. The story of baby Superman’s journey from Krypton seemed to foreshadow the saga of the Kindertransports – The emergency evacuations of hundreds of Jewish children, without their parents, from Nazi Germany to safety in Great Britain prior to the war.”
And now PDR is back:
Obviously merely angering the Nazis isn’t as great as the idea that the Klan was actually financially hurt by Superman’s radio show. But still, if you’re to be judged by your enemies, I’d say being slandered by the Nazi press is the right way to go down in history, even if they do it with all the wit of Birch Barlow’s name-calling (“…the Dumbocrats and their bleeding-heart Smellfare program…”). While there were plenty of anti-Nazi Superman stories to choose from, I’m pretty sure from the timing (not to mention the specific reference to red swimming trunks) that that Nazi piece was written in response to the story covered here today.
- I don’t understand the choices for the “How Superman Would End The War” take on Superman’s costume. I get that the magazine appears to have a limited colour palette to work with, but that alone doesn’t explain the divergences from the traditional suit. He’s got the red trunks and his S-shield, but his shirt and cape are white and he’s got bare legs. I’m not going to argue that this is a great look, but I’ve read this story a number of times over the years and I’ve developed a soft spot for it. I’m just saying if we ever had a decent Superman video game and they included it as one of the costume options, I’d give it a whirl for a while.
- I had planned on doing another story alongside this two-pager, but it turns out that I got enough to work with just with this one. My talking points about that story would have been similar, in that it is a Superman versus Nazis tale that won points with me by challenging the Nazi’s claims of racial superiority. Maybe if I revisit the War again sometime down the line I can dig that back up.
- I know that the League of Nations is generally considered to have been a failure and all that, but I stand by my belief that it is a much cooler name than “United Nations” is. Anyway, I like that Superman doesn’t mete out a punishment on his own here, but brings the dictators to Geneva.
- Rita Hayworth is the best-dressed girl in Hollywood. Good for her.
- I am not trying to start any rivalry, after all I love Captain America and his book is the one that got me into regular comics reading, but this story predates Cap’s famous Hitler-Punching first appearance by more than year.
I have remembered that a part of this feature was supposed to be me pondering how these Superman versus Bigots stories could be remade for modern audiences, but I don’t really have any solid answers for this one. I have complex thoughts about the way comics helped the war effort in World War Two. Obviously the Nazis needed to be stopped, but I am ever uncomfortable with the idea of a kid who grew up wanting to be a hero like those he read about in comics winding up experiencing the horrors of a real war. Having stories about heroes joining modern wars and showing them to be awesome fun just does not appeal to me (and anyway, Hollywood has that covered, right?).
I do think that someone considerably smarter than I would be able to take this two page story and expand it to a Red Son-style alternate history miniseries. I’d suggest we set in a world like Superman’s Golden Age tales, in which he’s the only hero around and villains are far less super, and we go from there. We could have a bit of buildup to introduce Clark, have him see what the Nazis are doing and then springing into action. I think the real meat of the story could be seeing what came after. But really, I don’t think comics will ever again be in a position exactly like WWII. Hopefully that’s a good thing.
But I maintain that there are non-military battles that we need to encourage our children to get into, so it’s a good thing this digression into WWII is over. Next time we’re back to the radio show to hear Superman and friends oppose “The Knights of the White Carnation” in 1947.