04 February 2012

“Superman was a super New Dealer”

Faster than a speeding bullet, The Horn Book has posted a webpage of my short Q&A with Rick Bowers, author of Superman Versus the KKK, a history of what led up to the 1946 radio broadcasts depicting the Man of Steel’s conflict with a racist hate group.

In a review to run in the next issue of the print magazine, I call that book a “crackerjack work of nonfiction” that harnesses superhero appeal to tell a story about civil rights, and also to show how historians investigate the past.

Bowers wrote a previous book for young readers on an aspect of the civil rights struggle, but he was new to, and impressed by, comic-book history. Early in our online conversation he observes:
Superman was first dubbed the “champion of the oppressed” and only later became famous as the champion of truth, justice, and the American way. The original Superman had a strong social conscience that led him to thwart wife beaters, corrupt politicians, greedy industrialists, foreign dictators, and Nazi spies.

Spawned during the FDR years, Superman was a super New Dealer who stood up for the little guy and believed we could all work toward a better world. He reflected the ideals of the New Deal and the hopes and aspirations of immigrants.

Given all that history it figures that the Man of Steel would one day take on the men of hate.
Superman would, but would a profit-seeking corporation take the risk of politicizing one of its biggest trademarks? In 1946, the answer was yes. But that seems to have been an unusual time, between V-J Day and the Red Scare. It was also the period of Gentleman’s Agreement, Intruder in the Dust, and the Dodgers’ contract for Jackie Robinson. Someday I’ll come back to those Superman broadcasts in a weekly Robin installment.

(See also “When Superman Was a Leftist.”)

No comments: