A couple nights ago I couldn’t sleep. When this happens, I tend to listen to old-time radio — The Saint, The Shadow, Rocky Jordan, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, etc. This time I turned on my old favorite, The Adventures Of Superman.

Superman has been on my mind a lot lately, mostly because of the renewed debate over Zac Snyder’s Man Of Steel. Listening, I was thinking of how forward-thinking the radio show was, having him fight the KKK in 1946, equating them directly with Nazis. I’m glad that story has gotten a comics adaptation.

Peoplecomplain all the time about politics getting mixed into comics, as if that’s not what they inherently are. Captain America’s first appearance showed him punching Hitler in the face. Wonder Woman was all about female empowerment — and punching Nazis. The X-Men were an analogy about “other-ness” — at the time race and religion, today LGBTQ+ and more.

It was recently announced that Superman’s mission statement was ditching “The American Way” as something he was fighting for. Now it’s “Truth, Justice, And A Better Tomorrow.” Since “The American Way” was only added in the 50s to fight the Commies, I’m all good with that.

Many writers have trouble writing interesting Superman stories. While Superman is based in part on Moses, he is often used as a Christ analogy. Which is fine, I guess, but doesn’t leave a lot of room for interesting stories — analogies are not, in themselves, compelling. A lot of time, too, creators feel the need to address how powerful he is, either by depowering him, or else heaping new powers upon him (hi there, super-ventriloquism).

To me, the best Superman stories aren’t about his powers or his origins, but his morality. Which is what I was thinking about in the middle of the night as I listened to Bud Collier play Clark in some wild serial adventure.

What is the greatest moral threat to the world today? Is it totalitarianism? Maybe. But I kept coming back to something else. And I started plotting…

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Part One

Our story begins with Superman having a punch-up with some mechanical thing that self-destructs before he can figure out its origins. He suspects it was made by Luthor — he’s fought enough of Lex’s creations to recognize the style.

He returns home to Lois, and while they’re in their apartment, his super-hearing picks up an argument with the neighbors. His shoulders slump. Lois sees it and asks what it is.

CLARK: The Lyons.

LOIS: Again?

CLARK: I should just go over there.

LOIS: You can. But you know what happens next time.

CLARK: He hits her harder. (He shakes his head) I can’t just sit here.

LOIS: Let’s call the police.

The police come, but Mrs. Lyons won’t file charges. Clark has to do something. So he arranges for Lois to intercept Mrs. Lyons and give her information about a women’s shelter. Meanwhile Clark goes over to the Lyons’ apartment, as Superman. Mr. Lyons is amazed, and his face breaks into a grin.

MR. LYONS: Oh man! Superman! I can’t believe it! I’m such a huge fan.

Indeed, Mr. Lyons is wearing a Superman t-shirt. There’s Superman stuff all around the apartment. Clark starts talking to him, only to discover that Mr. Lyons considers Clark his role-model. “It’s all because of the site.”

Investigating, Clark discovers a website dedicated to misogyny — “The Super Man.” The tagline is “Not everyone can be Super, but you can be the Man!” There are all kinds of images of Superman himself taken out of context, to make him appear a misogynist. He also sees his image being used as an anti-LGBTQ+ icon, with statements along the lines of “only straight men can be super.”

Clark is shaken.

Part Two

The mechanical threat returns, stronger. Superman engages, and comes close to figuring out how to trace the signal controlling it, but again it self-destructs.

On his way home he sees a Black Lives Matter rally being met with violent counter-protesters. Superman shows up to calm things down, only to find the White Supremacists cheer his arrival, while the BLM supporters boo him. In discussion with the BLM leader, he is told, “It doesn’t matter what you do, Superman. Just by existing, you are a symbol of White Supremacy.” Clark is rattled, and begins to question how his well-intentioned actions over the years have reinforced the very tropes he opposes and abhors.

At home, he again discovers images of himself on White Supremacist websites. He is horrified.

Part Three

A xenophobic political rally uses Superman’s image as a “we need more immigrants like this, not refugees from the Phantom Zone” with images of brown-skinned people from around the globe. Superman goes down to make a statement, but before he can denounce these beliefs, the mechanical threat appears again. Superman fights it, and is cheered by the crowd. Rather than stay to argue with them, he follows the signal back to Lex’s lair.

LEX: (Smugly) Welcome, Superman. Just on time. I’ll come quietly.

SUPERMAN: Why do you seem so pleased? Your robots were rather pointless.

LEX: Were they? I think they served exactly their purpose. They distracted you. You’re always more eager to face the problem you can punch. And who can blame you? It’s not like you can actually fight the real battle.

SUPERMAN: Real battle?

LEX: The one I’m winning. It has taken me a long, long time, but I’ve finally figured out your true weakness. It isn’t kryptonite. It’s what you represent. Truth. Justice. The American Way — excuse me, a Better Tomorrow. What a fool I’ve been. All the millions I’ve wasted creating opportunities for you to be heroic, when all I had to do was buy a couple websites and TV networks.

SUPERMAN: What are you talking about?

LEX: I’m talking about destroying you with a weapon you are entirely incapable of fighting — misinformation. For every life you save, I can radicalize a hundred, a thousand. It’s been eye-opening. There is a very specific formula. First, find men who feel weak and make them feel powerful. How? By telling them who to blame. You start with gender. All radicalization begins with hatred of women. (He pulls up the misogynist website) What do you think of my slogan? I have a dozen similar sites, but this one works best. Next comes race. (Pulls up a pro-BLM website with Superman crossed out) This was my favorite — telling your allies that you’re the problem. The very people who you want to defend and support want nothing to do with you, while those you abhor see you as their emblem. (Pulls up a third site, this one about immigration) Same applies to xenophobia. By labeling you as a “good” immigrant, everyone is granted permission to hate the “bad” ones. (Lex laughs) Oh, the look on your face! You understand. And the best part — the most delicious bit — is that if you try to speak out, deny all these things, say what’s in your heart…no one will believe you! Either they’ll think it’s fake news, or else that you’ve caved to the “woke” mob. They have their truth. They don’t want yours. That’s how a symbol is corrupted, Superman. You want that S on your chest to stand for “hope.” I’ve seen to it that it only means “hate.” So take me to prison. These campaigns will go on without me. After all, it’s free speech. And a good American like you believes in free speech, don’t you?

Later that night, Clark is talking to Lois. He’s on the verge of tears. Lois, ever practical, gives him the only advice she has.

LOIS: All you can do is keep being you. Some people are always going to use you as justification for their awful behavior. The best you can do is what you know is right. What’s the saying? “Be the example you want to see in the world.”

Clark nods, then his head comes up. Mr. Lyons is hitting his wife again. Clark flies over at super speed and stops the fist in mid-air. He fixes Mr. Lyons with a hard stare.

CLARK: This is not how a man behaves.

Next we see him on the ground, marching. He can no longer be a passive symbol. He takes a stand against threats — of all kinds.

Every few years I send in a letter to DC Comics, saying I’d like to write for them. An editor once replied, “You write novels! Why would you want to write comic books?”

Because I have stories to tell.