During the DC FanDome online event on October 16, DC Chief Creative Officer and Publisher Jim Lee took center stage to announce that Superman’s motto would be “evolving” from the well-known “Truth, Justice and the American Way” to “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow”.
The news created quite a bit of controversy, with fans reacting loudly across social media. As always with Superman fans, there were a vast array of different reactions. Many positive, quite a few negative.
The motto’s history is an interesting one as its use has been very inconsistent over the years. While “Truth” and “Justice” have always been part of Superman’s mantra, “The American Way” was introduced on the 1940s Superman radio series during World War II, but was removed once the war was over. It appears to have been first used on September 2, 1942 in the first episode of “The Wolfe” saga.
The Fleischer animated shorts only used “Truth and Justice”, while the 1948 “Superman” serial starring Kirk Alyn had a scene where Pa Kent told Clark to use his powers in the interest of “Truth, Tolerance and Justice”.
It wasn’t until the 1950s “Adventures of Superman” TV series starring George Reeves that the “Truth, Justice and The American Way” slogan was used again, which has been hailed as popularizing the slogan ever since. However, once the “Adventures of Superman” TV series concluded, it wasn’t used as part of Superman lore again until many years later.
In Filmation’s 1966 “The New Adventures of Superman” cartoon series the motto was changed to “Truth, Justice and Freedom”.
In the 1970s the “Super Friends” cartoon, used the slogan “Truth, Justice and Peace For All Mankind”.
It wasn’t until the 1978 Richard Donner film “Superman: The Movie” starring Christopher Reeve that the “Truth, Justice and The American Way” motto was really cemented in popular culture for generations to come. And, as with most everything connected to that film, Superman fans have held onto it ever since.
The motto was used once again as part of the opening for the Ruby Spears “Superman” animated series in 1988, and has been referenced many times in comic books over the years.
For all his posturing on social media and in TV interviews, Dean Cain’s own Superman TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” only ever referenced “Truth and Justice” (S01E02 “Strange Visitor (From Another Planet)”).
In a 2002 episode of the “Smallville” TV series (S01E18 “Done”) Clark Kent, when running for class president says he stands for “Truth, Justice… and other stuff”.
In the 2006 movie “Superman Returns” Perry White asks his staff writers to find out if Superman still stands for “Truth, Justice… and all that stuff”.
In 2021’s “Superman & Lois” TV series, in “A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events” (S01E11), in an early interview with the Daily Planet, Lois Lane tries to find out where Superman’s Kryptonian spaceship landed. When Lois asks him what he stands for he states “Truth. Justice.” Lois adds, “The American Way?” He laughs and responds, “I think someone’s just trying to get me to admit I was raised here.”
The motto has been used any many comic books throughout the years, especially on comic book covers and promotional images. In 2020 Tom King used the phrase in an issue of “Superman: Up In The Sky,” while in 2021 Phillip Kennedy Johnson used the motto in “DC Future State: Superman – Worlds of War #1”. The writer even took to Twitter saying, “I wrote ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way’ in a Superman comic this year, with zero pushback from anyone in DC Comics. If I feel called to do it again, I’m confident I’ll get zero pushback again. There’s no company mandate to abandon the phrase.”
A change was hinted at in 2021’s first issue of “Superman: Son of Kal-El” (written by Tom Taylor) in which Jon Kent tells Damian Wayne that he wants to stand for “Truth. Justice. And a Better World”. The fact that his father Clark Kent is taking on a similar motto, with “A Better Tomorrow” instead of “A Better World” is nicely phrased, as Superman has long been known as the “Man of Tomorrow”.
Whether you agree with it or not, the change to “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow” isn’t as radical as some might have you think. As shown here, the motto has changed a number of times over Superman’s 80 years.
In an era in which the world is connected like never before thanks to technology, it’s obvious that DC is making the change due to Superman’s universal appeal. It isn’t an attempt to be “Anti-American” as a lot of detractors seem to think. After all, the ideal of “The American Way” has always been the hope for “a Better Tomorrow”.
NOTE: There has been some speculation that DC’s decision to drop the “Truth, Justice and The American Way” motto had to do with some issue surrounding the Trademark, with some people claiming the Siegel and Shuster families were fighting to reclaim the rights. After seeking legal clarification on this, I can report that it is true that the Trademark has expired. But the claim that it has something to do with the Siegel Estate or the Shuster family is unsubstantiated.
The Trademark did not exist before 2003. At the time Miramax and then Focus Features were developing what by 2006 became “Hollywoodland” (the movie about the life and death of George Reeves). At that time the movie was actually titled “Truth, Justice, and The American Way”. Warner was reportedly taking steps to protect its interests in various Superman elements used in the film, and they filed the Trademark on May 15, 2003.
The Trademark was filed under the category of entertainment services in the realm of TV, film, with an intent to use without a subsequent statement of use. When the title of the movie was changed to “Hollywoodland” and there appeared to be little chance that another company would be using the phrase in marketing, it would seem that Warner/DC decided that it no longer needed to plan to use the phrase in commerce, so the trademark filing was abandoned on May 18, 2006.
With thanks to Jeff Trexler.