Croskey’s Corner: Justice
“Superman! Strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands! And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way!”
– Introduction to the 1950’s TV Show, The Adventures of Superman.
Over eighty years ago, DC Comics published one of the first comic book titles, Action Comics. It marked the first appearance of Superman. Since then, the character has appeared in the comics pages of newspapers, radio dramas, movie serials, animated cartoons, television shows, feature-length movies, novels, coloring books, lunch boxes, bread wrappers, peanut butter jars, Halloween costumes, kites, beach towels, on pens and pencils, stamps, neckties, and way too many other times for me to count (or own!). Yeah, as I mentioned some months ago in this space, I love most things Superman. I am picky about my “S” logos and my colors, but if it has Superman on it, I’ll probably like it.
Why do I like Superman? People have actually asked me that a number of times over the years. My best answer is not as good as the one given by Glen Weldon, author of a 2013 book I have not read, Superman: The Unauthorized Biography. Weldon says that the reason that he likes Superman is because he reminds us to do what is right simply because it is right, helping us to be the selves we most desperately wish to be: Selfless. Strong. Compassionate. Not too different from the idea of “taking personal responsibility to uphold what is pure, right, and true.” That fits since that’s the Character First! Definition of Justice and we all know that Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way.
I’ve seen a few Superman movies, TV shows, and comic books in my day. Justice is at the heart of most Superman stories. It is embodied by the notion that the strongest person in the world could dominate anyone and everyone. He could kill whoever got in his way. Thus, he could take anything he wanted – wealth, privilege, status. After all, the random Kryptonite meteor is much more difficult to obtain than is implied in the stories in need of a plot device to create conflict. Think of it: where would you go to get a piece of Kryptonite? Even Wal-Mart doesn’t carry it. Well, no Kryptonite means Superman pretty much has things his way! But the thrilling part of Superman is that he could do the SELFISH thing, but does not! He wants to use his great power for GOOD. And even that is done with humility and restraint. He could want to do what is right and, with the power to impose HIS view on anyone else, could still end up being a benevolent dictator. Instead, he wants to do what is right but he wants to encourage others to see his view rather than forcing them to his will. He has unimaginable power which he then offers up to the service of all. To me, that is the ultimate devotion to Justice, to accomplishing the pure and the true. Some have said that Superman’s appeal is the ability to fly; others think it is his many powers. Which power would you choose? X-Ray vision? Invulnerability? Writers have struggled to produce gripping stories about Superman because being so, well, SUPER can be boring. I think his greatest power is the patience and restraint he shows in using his powers. He wants to do right. And he wants to protect US. He even wants us to learn to protect ourselves so that we feel empowered without his help.
Two young Jewish men from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, saw what Adolph Hitler was doing in Europe and hated it. They saw the effects of the Depression and those who were taking advantage of others, and they hated that. But their answer was not to create an alien who would mete out revenge. No, they created a character, Superman, who would establish Justice and promote the welfare of others. Gee, that sounds like the Preamble to the Constitution. I guess Superman does stand for the American Way, as well as Truth and Justice.
Educators have many opportunities to do what is right, simply because it is right. When you work with children, you are exposed to small, less powerful beings than yourself every day. You ARE Superman to them. That is why they sometimes mistakenly call you “Mom” or “Dad.” It reflects the respect and awe which they hold for you. You could overpower them physically, mentally, or emotionally. Instead, you restrain your “super” powers, and give them room to learn and to grow. You are pretty Super yourself! And Just. Thank you.
PS: For a look at a program that uses Superman, his life events, and his dedication to Truth and Justice as a guide to living a life of high character, check out The Superman Guide to Life. The set includes 25 short lessons on “Living the Super Hero Lifestyle,” as well as a set of comic book cover magnets. It is part of a Magnetic Wisdom series which features, Lois Lane, Betty and Veronica, and Nancy Drew.