Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Veterans' Day - Superman #23

Luke of El Jacone's Comic Book Bunker and Being Carter Hall would like to take celebrate Veterans Day 2012 with a rough comic blog crossover, marked by #WarComicsMonth, a trending topic on Twitter and Google+ spotlighting stories about fighting forces.

Now I rarely bought war comics growing up. Outside of the rare Weird War Tales based solely on a bizarre cover, I wasn't big on the theme. I wasn't sure if I would be able to add anything to this crossover.

But then I started to think about all the Superman war-time comics in the 40s and I thought maybe I could help out after all. In particular, in rereading some of these issues, the treatment of the American military stands in sharp contrast to the awful treatment they suffer in today's comics.

Today, I thought I would take a look at 1943's Superman #23 and its story 'America's Secret Weapon'. The story is written by C.A.M. Donne and drawn by Sam Citron. I first read this story in a hard cover collection of Superman stories called Superman From The Thirties To The Seventies, an anthology put out by Bonanza books in 1971. I received it as a Christmas gift about 10 yrs later and it was the first time I was able to read and appreciate some of the older Superman stories. I still own that book, my first glimpse into the Golden Age. Unfortunately, that is the only version I have of this story so I apologize for the black and white smudgy scans.

The story opens with a great splash page. Superman is standing above the fray of an infantry battle, all while hoisting a tank and a howitzer.

But it was the opening paragraph that warned me to be prepared for a tremendous shock. A rare Superman defeat was about to happen. And yet, in that defeat, he would find a great victory!

What is America's Secret Weapon??

Lois and Clark have been sent to Camp Towne, a military base where some war games are about to start. Before the games are going to go on, Superman is scheduled to make a visit. Unfortunately, Lois won't let Clark slip away to change identities. It looks like Superman will be a no-show.

Eventually a deadline approaches. The troops need to move out, even if they are crestfallen because Superman didn't arrive. I love Lois' line "They're heartbroken -- but eager for action at the same time!"

The troops roll out and that finally gives Clark the excuse he needs. The story was Superman and without Superman he is going to go home. Lois decides to stick around.

At last, just as the troops are marching to the fields, Superman arrives. That's right ... cheers for Superman erupt from the troops, the 'military heroes of today'. Even Superman is touched. He is being cheered by the army that the world cheers for. It is 'the grandest tribute'. Great patriotic stuff.

Upset that he is too late to send the troops off the right way, Superman instead asks to join the games. After a coin toss, 'Special Private' Superman is assigned to the blue team.

Now, I have to admit as a kid, I was surprised to see Superman actually use his powers in the games.

He flies over the red team air field and 'bombs them' with pine cone grenade, eliminating their air support. He flies the blue team troops and eqipment over a bridge the red team has destroyed. He flips over the red team armored column. And then he tunnels into the red team mountain stronghold, leading the blue team on a surprise offensive from the inside of the headquarters.

Heck, what chance did the red team have against Superman?

 As the red team is about to be overrun and imprisoned, their leader General Starrett delivers a rousing speech. He is going to unleash 'America's Secret Weapon'.

"Men of the red army! They say you're licked! But what if the men who came out of that mountain weren't your own buddies? What if they were [the Japanese] or Nazis? Would you quit fighting just because you were taken by surprise and outnumbered?

Would you let down the folks who are counting on you to save your country and the world?"

The speech emboldens the red team to go on a last ditch offensive.  And Superman sits this part of the war games out so he can see the secret weapon in action.

America's secret weapon is the courage of the common soldier.

No big surprise, the red team does turn the tables and defeats the blue army. Both generals are thrilled with their boys.

And then Superman gives his speech.

"Because I lost, this is the proudest moment of my life! I have seen proof that American soldiers cannot be defeated by Superman or anyone else -- not even Mr. Schickelgruber's so-called master race!

I hope the whole world hears of this and of out nation's real secret weapon -- the unflagging courage of her men, no matter what the odds, and their indomitable will to win! Against that, Hitler and Hirohito haven't a ghost of a chance!

And now it is my turn to cheer! Hooray for the American Fighting Man -- the real champion on land, on sea, and in the air!!"

It is a wonderful little story, giving the proper respect to the military who served the country then and who still serve our country now. I can remember as a kid reading this story and thinking how great it was for Superman to acknowledge the armed forces for the good they do.

Yes, these were basically propaganda comics back then. But there is a certain charm and a definite truth to this story. I would still rather read this sort of story than the comics we see today where Superman is attacked by and hunted down by the military, where the army is led by paranoid megalomaniacs who always seem to act more like fascists than defenders of freedom.

So enjoy Veterans' Day and go out of your way to thank a veteran today, someone who defended this country from outside threats. And thanks again Luke for organizing this crossover. I hope this fit the bill!


Luke said...

Thank you so much for posting this Anj! I love these classic propaganda style stories. And I don't even mean that as a slight. America's men were her secret weapon and they won the day after all!

Anj said...

My pleasure. Thanks for putting together the War Comics month.

I don't mind the propaganda either. I believe in the American Way and would want Superman to as well. These stories are a bit over the top, but in a nostalgic 'we can do it' sort of way.