Posts Tagged ‘Superman’

Ali vs supermanI feel like I hit the jackpot when I came across this 1978 comic pitting two of our American icons against each other in the ring. In one corner, stands Muhammad Ali. In the other corner, stands The Man of Steel himself, Superman. While you could superficially gloss over this comic as merely a test of strength and masculinity for two heavyweight icons, this comic surely has much more to tell about the state of the collective American mindset. The biggest tell-tale surprise of all from this DC comic is who ends up winning the fight.

The late 70’s were a sort of watershed moment in American history. Gerald Ford, himself a sort of somber reminder of the mess of the Nixon years, had been defeated in the 1976 election by Democrat Jimmy Carter (as a fun side note, both Carter and Ford can be spotted on the celebrity-laden cover of this comic) whose entire campaign harkened back to the simplicity of small-town American values. Of course, these same values are the ones which Superman himself so adamantly defends. But, on the other hand, America was really not so simple in the 1970’s as Carter or Superman would wish for it to be. The Vietnam War was a failure, and America’s most famous artists such as Andy Warhol, Kurt Vonnegut, and Jerry Garcia (all of whom are also on the cover of this comic) had made huge careers as figures of the counter-culture. Even more radical was the fact that America’s most famous athlete was a member of the Nation of Islam! Arguably, there had been no other point in American history in which the ideals of “America as simple” and “America as diverse” had been so much at odds. DC brought both of these ideals to life in the forms of Superman and Muhammad Ali respectively and had them duke it in the boxing ring.

When I first come upon this comic in google images, I assumed that Superman HAD to win. I mean, he’s invincible! At the very least, I assumed it would end in a sort of tie, like the first Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed fight. It seemed inconceivable that DC would publish a comic in which Superman was defeated by a “draft-dodging Muslim” who seems to represent everything Superman would hate in an American! However, after some further investigation, I discovered that Ali not only won the fight, but he pummeled the daylights out of Superman! In 1978, by making the “greatest American hero” lose, DC writers seem to be admitting that simplicity isn’t always the winner in America. Superman’s version of the ideal America is no longer the only acceptable version of the ideal America. Now, even radical viewpoints such as those of Muhammad Ali can be accepted. Of course, it is worth noting that DC seemed to in a sense whitewash Ali and remove all of his stigma of radical Islam in this comic; however, at this point, the American public would rather have their own conceptions of Ali which they could place onto this comic.

Knock Out

In the comic’s ultimate double-page spread, Superman and Ali are shown shaking hands as Ali is exclaiming, “Superman, WE are the greatest!” In a sense, this is a sort of corruption and whitewashing of the conceptions of narcissist and radical that the American public had of Ali at this time. But, from a more symbolic standpoint, this reconciliation of ideals represents America as a place where even the unpopular or losing ideals can still be accepted, and they all come together to make America the great nation that the writers want to portray it as. Ultimately, the great irony of this entire comic as that only through brutal violence could such a peaceful reconciliation of conflicting ideals occur. Of course, this battle represents the greater American battle of racial politics. Like a Flannery O’Connor shortstory or a bit of Black Panther rhetoric, non-violence is shown not the solution to the problems of race and religion in America in this comic book. So, when Muhammad Ali is beating Superman to a bloody pulp, he is not only doing it for himself, but for the promise of a peaceful America in the future.



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When searching for something to post about this week and stumbled upon this image I couldn’t help but laugh. How fitting that two icons with similarities can be discussed within weeks of each other. Both characters tend to be associated with stories of being an underdog, which is awfully ironic as an American icon.

With previous icons in relation to American standards we’ve depicted that Americans tend to assert dominance and power in comparison to other nations. How does the underdog apply to America then? America at one point in history was an underdog– escaping British rule and becoming a powerhouse among nations. What a truly ‘rags to riches’ tale…

Ali and Superman’s interaction in this cartoon is nothing short of American. Two iconic heroes who face adversity in some shape or form. The gloating is definitely important to note because that is a naturally recognized sin. No one is supposed to have that self confidence, just merely accept the compliments and acknowledgment when presented with the opportunity to do so.

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Thinking about Superman, I realized I was drawn to similar themes from Rocky.  Clark, just like Rocky, is the humble underdog.  He’s dorky and clumsy.  He’s rejected by the cool kids in high school and he can’t get the girl in adulthood. Both protagonists are rule followers (although Rocky is cooler).  Both men come from humble beginnings and take their lives and futures seriously.  They are also funny and appropriately light hearted so as not to seem too cold and driven.  Rocky and Superman are not dissuaded from fighting the tough fight, be it against Apollo or Lex Luthor.

Both Rocky and Superman are good guys and their success does not turn them bad.  They both respectfully (arguable) pursue one woman and are patient with these women.  Lois asks Superman what color underwear she is wearing as he has x ray vision.  He then proceeds to peer through her dress, indicating that he would not do this had he not be asked.  After Superman and Rocky rise to fame they maintain their respect and interest in their one woman and traditional family values.

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Slum clearance was a topic that we briefly touched on Thursday with our guest speaker. It reminded me of Man of Steel, where Superman tore down slums to push back against the government, forcing them to build public housing. I believe this insinuates that Superman was biased towards small towns. Clark grew up in the countryside where he lived relatively safe and happy life, aside from the bullying at school. However, Superman only appears in the city, which insinuates that he is only needed in the city because the city is the location of danger and crime. By tearing down slums and building public housing, it gives that area a suburban-like atmosphere, which he believes will eliminate crime in the area. This idea is the exact opposite of urbanization.

Additionally, I think it is important to note that while Superman is trying to help the city by tearing down the slums, he is committing a crime. This is destruction of property. This was another idea that was mentioned on Thursday. He breaks and bends laws in order to do “good” and acquire justice. This idea led me to think about other human or human-like icons. I found many icons believed in this idea. One icon that immediately came to mind was Rosa Parks. She broke the law when she refused to give up her seat but she did this to acquire justice. I believe this illustrates the fine line between right and wrong. I find it interesting that Superman crosses this line but is still considered a hero.

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In 2003, an alternate vision of Superman was released. The author of this mini series, Mark Miller uses the following prompt for the series: “What if Superman’s ship had crashed somewhere else in the world than in the USA?” What if Superman had ended up in Communist Russia instead of America? This series subverts everything that Superman stands for by taking him out of America. Superman stands up for stereotypical communist values “…as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.”

Lex Luthor is still the antagonist, but he fights for America in this version. An interesting comparison between the canon Superman and this alternate universe is that he is loyal to the government still. The series, by taking out the American aspect of Superman, highlights its importance to Superman as a character by showing it when it’s gone. Superman is also hesitant of open conflict with the United States in this version. He is provoked into attacking after Luthor’s schemes push him to the edge.

An ironic twist is that the depiction of the Cold War here changes from America as the good guys and Soviets as the antagonists to the opposites. The Americans are the antagonists, trying to violently expand and spread their ideology (called here Luthorism, a spoof of Stalinism). The Soviets are the one peacefully expanding.

Ultimately though, Superman is still shown as having a strong sense of justice, albeit tempered in a different culture. He sacrifices himself towards the end of the story for the greater good, saving the Earth and all of it’s inhabitants, American and Soviet alike. Superman still decides to live peacefully among humans rather than acting as a lord over them in the end.

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Over the weekend, I watched Godspell with my family. Though I’ve seen the movie musical several times, it had been years since the last time I saw it. What I didn’t remember until I saw it again, is that Jesus wears a Superman t-shirt throughout the film. Like we discussed in class, Superman’s backstory is very similar to the story of Jesus and is often made very obvious in representations of Superman like the 1978 film we watched. While we discussed at length the way Superman could represent Jesus, it was interesting to see the switch of Jesus representing Superman. Jesus wearing a Superman shirt in the musical speaks to the accessibility of Superman, and the qualities a person would be expected to have if they were like Superman.

The possible religious allegory in Superman has seemed to lend itself to being promoted by the religious community as an Icon. Superman is the superhero in contrast to many others by his seemingly innate and otherworldly goodness.

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I grew up in a household of cartoons. My father, a super hero fanatic, raised my sister and I on the greats. Even though I have grown up with Superman, Batman, Captain America, the Avengers and so many more, I never really knew the importance. Reading “What Makes Superman so Darned American” enlightened my mind. Now that I think about it the myth of Superman reminds me of my first taste of the social and cultural implications of superheros. My father is obsessed with Captain America. When I was younger I can remember my father searching for the original Captain America comic books. What was special about these comic books was that Captain America was black. I believed my father about the origins of the superhero. To this day, I tell everyone that Captain America was originally black, and honestly I don’t know how true that is. All I know is that my father has the comic books to prove it!

What struck me the most in Gary Engle’s piece, “What Makes Superman so Darned American” was the Popular Culture Formula. Engles states, “The Popular Culture Formula” leads us to examine an artifact for important meaning and significance which might otherwise have been taken at face value. The Formula guides the student of popular culture to question and ponder many of the very things which unenlightened critics dismiss as “mindless entertainment” or “low art.” While reading the article I was shocked that Superman, the quintessential American male was Jewish. Then it occurred to me, I had already known that. But it had not occurred to me, until this exact moment where I learned that. This summer I watched PBS’s documentary series Superheros: A Never Ending Battle. Thinking about both the documentary and Engle’s article it’s like it is finally crystal clear why studying America’s icons is so important. Media, whether it be books, films, comics, photos or tv, really does define the point in history in which it originated. Superman is the perfect example. Shuster and Siegel created a super – human identity that is considered to be Jewish. They made his story one of the conflicts of assmilation and immigration because of their own problems. It is a perfect example of representing a historical era because in a time when the Jewish people were being attacked and demonized all over the world, here was this figure that represented the imagination and dreams of the oppressed group.When one thinks about Superman in this way, he becomes quite beautiful.

Superman is not just about saving the day and being the good guy, but about two boys’, and as a whole, a group’s dream of being accepted. What is also fascinating about not only Superman but also other superheros and popular figures is this ability to comment on current social issues. During the Vietnam war, comic book artists used their character to try to bring the conversation about the war to the masses. It was political commentary at its best – commentary for the betterment of a nation. I believe people with direct communication to everyday people through media should be using their power to enlighten the masses. So in this light, just as the PBS documentary suggests, the battle never ends. Superheros will always be needed to start conversations about popular culture, social issues and the possible contradiction between our idealized identity and our real identity during a specific era.


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