Action Comics vol.1 #2 - Cover date July 1938
Nothing straightens out a crook like sheer, physical terror. It’s inaccurate to call Superman’s earliest opponents his “enemies” – in truth, they’re more like his victims. Upon identifying a gangster, goon, con man, corrupt politician or criminal mastermind, the Man of Steel is likely to yank them from their offices and juggle them fourteen stories about street level, fling them bodily through the sky, or shove them helplessly into assorted paths of mortal danger until they repent their evil ways.
Despite the abundance of rotten crooks populating his world, the inherent message of the Superman comics is that mankind is essentially good. It’s only when external forces – money and power, usually – intercede that people become bad.
In these cases, a short sharp shock is often the best tonic. Superman frequently uses physical threats and sheer terror as a tool of redemption, such as in this story where he convinces a war profiteer of the wrongness of his ways by forcibly enlisting the greedy coward in the army and personally flying him to the front where the bombs which make him rich are exploding above young men’s heads. Likewise, later in this same story, Superman ends the war by forcing the two opposing generals to duke it out themselves (or get a thrashing from the Man of Steel), at which point they realize that they’ve forgotten the source of their enmity and immediately call for peace.
It’s impractical, violent and naïve, but the core of Superman stories has always been that even the worst criminal is ultimately redeemable.
This is off to an excellent start. Suggested follow. :)
In the New 52, Superman used similar methods, and was criticized—sometimes vocally—for doing so. Partially because most modern readers weren’t familiar with his early methods, and partially because he didn’t have to. He was literally just terrorizing bad guys when he already had the information necessary for the police to act, just out of sadism. At least the fine gentlemen using ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques in real do so usually out of actual patriotism.
“Political correctness died somewhere around 1989.”
It’s “political correctness” to point out that he used TORTURE to force a Constitutionally illegal confession from this guy? Especially since any first-year law student could have gotten that confession thrown out of court, which makes it useless, just like ALL torture has been consistently PROVEN to be useless?
The fact that he’s using TORTURE on a one-dimensional creepy-looking and unambiguously evil corporate type doesn’t change the fact that it’s TORTURE. I served seven years in the military, including two as part of the “War on Terror” and I wouldn’t even support using torture on real-world TERRORISTS, because a) it doesn’t work and b) it reduces us to the level of monsters in the name of fighting monsters.
This Superman doesn’t CARE about actually SOLVING the world’s problems, or else, even with his reduced powers, he could have figured out a dozen different ways to get this guy locked up for life without even laying a hand on him, especially in his job as an INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST. All he wants is for people to FEAR him.
Also? As long as Morrison is attempting real-world relevance by having Superman torture corrupt executives and beat up on wife-beaters (as was alluded to in this issue’s dialogue), I’m going to point out what anyone who’s ever worked with battered women will tell you, which is that trying to give physically abusive husbands “a taste of their own medicine” is only going to feed their need to reassert their sense of masculinity by beating their wives that much harder. Superman probably condemned that guy’s wife to death by letting his fists do the talking, rather than engaging his brain and using any number of other ways of getting that woman into a safe place.
Basically, Morrison managed to get Superman’s Golden Age habit of intimidating people exactly wrong. He’s even doing it for the wrong reasons.
Great blog so far, though.