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A strange SUPER-tribute

DC Comics presents a perfectly respectful coda to our nation's darkest hour with a coincidental Superman tale

By Arnold T. Blumberg     September 17, 2001

Superman offers an eerily prescient message of recovery and hope in the aftermath of the nation's tragedy
© 2001 DC Comics
It couldn't have been better (some might say 'poorly') timed if it tried. Last week, just days after the most horrific event in modern American history, the week's comics finally made it to store shelves only one day late. There, amongst the issues of AKIKO and CAPTAIN AMERICA, was a bizarre bit of coincidental storytelling that gave readers a chill - ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #596, its cover a typical chest-baring scene of Superman revealing his symbol under his street clothes. Unlike the usual representation of this event, however, this issue featured a Superman with a red and black chest logo, a new version intended to reflect his new attitude in the aftermath of the summer's "Our Worlds at War" crossover event. Superman has seen the greatest tragedy of his career and he has been changed; his new logo indicates that he will carry on, but in remembrance of those that fell in DC's universe-spanning war.

The eerie timing of Superman's memorial to the fallen and the arrival of this aftermath issue just days after the events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was certainly serendipitous. While the film and television industries scrambled to shift the schedules of projects that included terrorist or Trade Center-based set pieces and references, no one could have expected that a comic book tale planned and written months in advance would have offered such a creepy coda to the real world attack on America. While most of pop culture seems eager to sanitize its stories and err on the side of excessive political correctness, I would argue that this issue of Superman could not have been a better tribute if it was intended as such.

The Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man survey the damage in ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #596. Note the World Trade Center towers in the center.

In this issue, Superman finds himself unable to function as before while the world rebuilds following the war. Several panels even feature spine-chilling images of the Trade Center towers being rebuilt, having sustained heavy damage in the invasion. But while the superheroes of the Earth assist in the rebuilding and recovery efforts, Superman struggles with his own grief, having lost his home and parents only a short while ago. Ma Kent and the farm have been recovered, but Superman still wrestles with emotional turmoil, and President Luthor even chides the Man of Steel for failing to help in a time of greatest need.

As Superman and comic book fans, we often ruminate on one of the biggest challenges facing any writer who wishes to portray Superman in a seemingly realistic world how do you deal with the fact that Superman should theoretically be able to handle all crime everywhere and basically prevent any hardship anywhere on Earth? Shouldn't Superman be able to eliminate the threat of nuclear war (an attempt immortalized in the lackluster film, SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE), terrorism and any other threat while rebuilding after tragedy in the space of a few seconds? Why wouldn't Superman save us?

Luthor asks the question we always ask of Superman: Why doesn't he just take care of everything himself?

It's a question that many young people may be asking of other powerful entities, perhaps even deities, during our very real tragedy here in this country, and I can think of no better way to help children deal with this sequence of events than to hand them a copy of ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #596. As one construction worker so beautifully explains at issue's end, he wouldn't want Superman to help everyone in an instant he wants to rebuild for himself and his fellow human beings. He wants to take care of his own, to make a difference in the world in which he lives and to accomplish it with his own hands. It's a warm and welcome tribute to the human spirit, to our need to come together when the hour is darkest, and to the potential of us all to become Supermen when history demands the best of us in body and spirit.

The reason revealed: humanity wants to take care of itself.

At a time when the entertainment industry has become absorbed in second-guessing its every move to avoid offending anyone, there may be some at the DC offices who regret the coincidental timing of this aftermath issue. I suggest that rather than worry about the few who might find its appearance this week on comic store shelves to be inappropriate, they should instead be proud: without any possible forward planning, they successfully managed to produce a heartfelt and respectful memorial to those who perished in this terrible tragedy while telling a tale that just may ease the souls of young readers faced with comprehending the true evil that exists in our world. ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #596 will be remembered, perhaps not as its creators would have hoped, but as an issue that offered a special and necessary footnote in American history.


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