Superman: Super Dictator?

May 2013

By Gregory McNeill

The modern world has its shares of real-life villains who are truly evil and scarier than their comic book counterparts. Evil has no color, ethnicity, or gender. The original Axis of Evil started in the 1940s with Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, and Emperor Hirohito. Stalin later turned against Hitler and had fought with the allied nations against Hitler and his axis powers.

In a story in 1940, Superman abducted both leaders from their respective nations to face the charges of Aggression Towards Other Nations and War Crimes by the League of Nations which was the forerunner to the United Nations. This was of course a comic book story.

Even in the comics, Superman has to acknowledge that even his own actions, such as invading a sovereign nation to stop a dictator, has very serious consequences despite his good intentions. Power does absolutely corrupt and no one, not even Superman is immune to its tempting allure.

Thanks to the Silver Age of Comics that introduced the parallel world's concept, stories have explored Superman abusing his abilities and becoming what he has fought against. In recent years, that theme has become more serious and less cartoony due to the restrictions of the now deceased Comics Code Authority. In those parallel worlds, the heroes are the villains (i.e. Earth 5 where the Justice League are the villains and Lex Luthor and his fellow villains the heroes).

After visiting those worlds, those experiences have given Superman a lot to think about and a warning to always stay on guard against any thing that would tempt him to abuse his powers. Superman: Red Son, an Elseworlds story by Mark Millar is a prime example. In that story, Superman's rocket lands in Russia instead of Smallville, and he becomes a dictator. The same goes for Superman: The Dark Side where Superman is the acolyte of Darkseid. The difference between this story and Red Son is that Superman's heroic nature wins out.

Back in 1934, Jerry Siegel (under the pen name Herbert S. Fine) wrote the first Superman story entitled "Reign of the Superman". In that story, the main character used his abilities for evil, planning to conquer the world. That character is a departure from the Superman that we have grown to love for 75 years.

Various writers from Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, and IDW have regularly explored this theme. Case in point, last year's A vs. X 12-part series from Marvel Comics and the comic book adaptation of the hit video game Injustice as an ongoing series.

Having the power of Superman and dealing with the temptation of power has become a timeless theme even before comic books have existed. Books like William Shakespeare's Macbeth are prime examples. Thanks to his moral upbringing by the Kents, Superman chooses to use his powers for good. Even the holo-messages by his father Jor-El warn him to always be responsible with what he has.

Superman is really us; every human being has God-given talents that we can choose to use or waste. Like Kal-El, we must remain vigilant over our dark nature and not allow it to overcome us, we must overcome it.