To many fans, Superman has long been a U.S. superpatriot and staunch defender of “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
But no more. The Man of Steel, born on Krypton and reared in Kansas, will no longer be nation-specific in his battles with evildoers. DC Comics, his publisher, announced recently it is “evolving” the superhero’s motto – he will now defend “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.”
The dropping of “the American Way” from Superman’s lexicon has generated a dizzying amount of spleen-venting in the U.S. news media. Television commentators have railed on the change, some calling it yet another example of companies caving to the woke agenda and a new assault on symbols of American patriotism, including the Stars and Stripes itself. One prominent business news anchor asked, pointedly, whether there is a better way than the American way – like the Chinese way, or the Taliban way?
Is wokeism Superman’s new kryptonite? Not according to DC Comics. In a statement, the company said the motto change reflects the global story lines it is trying to develop for the superhero and that Superman’s legacy has always been to build “a better world.”
“Superman has long been a symbol of hope who inspires people, and it is that optimism and hope that powers him forward with his new mission statement,” said DC’s chief creative officer and publisher, Jim Lee.
The fact that the 80-year-old comic book character is creating such a kerfuffle, especially in the financial media, suggests that from a business point of view, U.S.-centric patriotism may no longer be a plus in an increasingly diverse global market. And the decision to announce the tweak indicates there is value in publicity that creates a degree of separation between the red, white and blue and DC Comics – as well as its owners, Warner Bros. and AT&T.
Like many forms of art and entertainment, comic books have long been platforms reflecting social change, dating back to Fantomah, a 1940s character considered to be the first female superhero, and then Wonder Woman. Fans remember comic book icon Stan Lee’s continuing public commentary in the 1960s and use of his Marvel heroes such as Black Panther to call out racism.
A more recent example: DC Comics said earlier this month that Jon Kent, the son of Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, would come out as bisexual in November issues.
Despite the current chatter around “the American Way,” the truth is the wording has been an on-again, off-again feature since Superman debuted, and usually tied to the U.S.’s international entanglements. In the original comic created in the late 1930s, he was fighting a “never-ending battle for truth and justice” – that’s all.
During the Second World War, a radio serial added “the American Way” to buoy morale among U.S. troops abroad. It was revived in the 1950s television series when Cold War and McCarthyism paranoia was rife. In a 1960s cartoon series, the motto was changed again, to “truth, justice and freedom,” but the “American Way” reference was reinstated for the blockbuster 1978 film starring Christopher Reeve as the caped crime fighter.
For pop culture watchers – and the businesses that feed them – one of the next big moments is expected to be the selection of a new actor to play James Bond, Ian Fleming’s iconic agent on Her Majesty’s Secret Service who burst onto the big screen and capitalized on Cold War fears. The latest Bond release, No Time to Die, marks the final appearance in the lead role for Daniel Craig, the latest in a long line of white male actors who have played the suave spy since Sean Connery debuted in Dr. No in 1962.
Among the dozen or so actors rumoured to be in the running for the next Bond are three Black performers - Idris Elba, Lashana Lynch and Daniel Kaluuya – whose places on the list of hopefuls may be yet another reflection of the changing business dynamics of an increasingly diverse and inclusive marketplace. Consider that the 2018 hit film Black Panther was Marvel Studios’ highest-grossing solo production, a bottom-line reality not lost on its parent, the Walt Disney Co.
What hasn’t been mentioned is whether the new Bond’s lethal “licence to kill” will be downgraded to a more diplomatic “licence to negotiate,” and whether the character’s credo of acting “for King (or Queen) and country” will be “evolved” into something less, well, English.
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