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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Though the meme "Superman is a dick" has entered whatever immortality the Internet may confer, on this HOODED UTILITARIAN thread I've been arguing with Noah Berlatsky as to the inherent goodness of the Man of Steel.

The discussion is probably winding to a close, so for future reference I'll print my latest comments here, largely in line with my frequent admonitions against "overthinking the underthought."


In other words, you're saying that your only rejoinder to Marston is to say, "I don't agree with your interpretation," rather than trying to prove false logic on his part. Anything to avoid close reading, eh?

You're missing part of the quote, too. Wertham doesn't just say that WW is lesbian propaganda, he specifically says it's "anti-masculine," as if Marston were kissing cousins with Valerie Solanas. Not, I emphasize, just a "critique of masculinism," in other words, but taking a philosophical position that despises all things masculine.

It's my contention that *you* are the one interpreting Superman as "something else" when you resort to superimposing the morals of the stories with your own. Few if any of your comments about his dickishness can be justified from the context of the stories. If you just don't like the character of the S&S Superman, that's fine, that's a matter of taste. But you didn't state "Superman is not a good person" as an expression of your personal taste.

I might understand your queasiness about "extra-judicial violence" if we were frequently seeing Superman descending on African villages to make the natives obey the colonial powers. But Superman's first heroic deed in ACTION #1 is to prevent an act of bullying, beating down a man who is beating his wife (can't remember if the text calls her that or not). Yet in your view Superman becomes a bully even when he stops bullying. How many real-life bullies do that-- unless, of course, it's for some ulterior motive?

I don't buy your objection to vigilantism because you're applying it only to narratives you don't like for whatever reason. Wonder Woman is just as much a vigilante as Superman; she acts with no authority save that of the goddess Aphrodite, whom I suspect would be considered extra-legal in American courts. Any number of WW stories have scenes in which WW slaps down bully-boys with the same ease that Superman does, so is she a bully? Is she therefore "not good" for the same reasons? Or does she get a pass because you agree with Marston's politics?

I don't say accept the ideals of the comic at face value. But critics should at least ground their extrapolations in the words and pictures on the page, rather than imposing upon them ideologies that bear no relationship to the original work.


I'll add here one extra thought that I omitted, knowing that Mr. Berlatsky wouldn't give it any credence. He asserts that the Siegel-and-Shuster Superman is frequently seen treating Lois Lane shabbily. While this is a well-trod trope during the Silver Age, I don't think that it appears very often in the period when Siegel and Shuster had some degree of control over the feature. Only a "close reading" of the type I advocate to Berlatsky would prove whether or not Lois gets regularly trashed during those years. But even so, some terms would have to be set.  Is Superman/Clark "bullying" Lois when he scoops her? It might be a tad unfair that Clark Kent frequently scoops Lois because he can call upon the powers of a godlike Kryptonian-- but is it bullying?  In ACTION COMICS #5, in the story retroactively entitled "Superman and the Dam," Lois gives Clark a false message so that he goes for a story to the wrong address. The editor fires Clark, but nevertheless Clark dons his costume and goes on to rescue Lois from the bursting of a colossal dam. The story never depicts what happens off-panel so that Clark gets his job back, though naturally he's back on the payroll, without explanation, with the next Superman story.

What I think Berlatsky overlooks in the Superman-Lois relationship is that by nature they're combative types. I said on the thread that Superman is an alpha-male, but Lois is no less an alpha-female. At worst Siegel and Shuster depict her as foolhardy in her quest for news, but I don't think she's ever less than clever or gutsy, in contrast to the version of Lois that prevailed in the Silver Age, when editor Mort Weisinger called all the shots.

Verbal jousting between males and females as an expression of chemistry was certainly old when Shakespeare had Beatrice clubbing Benedick with snappy comebacks in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. The relationship of Lois and Clark borrows its structure from THE MARK OF ZORRO, but Zorro's lovers don't challenge him as Lois challenges Clark. Since fans have only spotty evidence regarding Siegel's earliest version of Superman, one can only say that the published 1938 version is right in the tradition of smart lady-reporters like Torchy Blane.

If I find time maybe I'll do a close reading of early S&S Superman comics, to demonstrate the superiority of close reading to over-ideological interpretations.

ADDENDUM: Upon re-reading the "Dam" story, I find that I was wrong on one point: when Clark calls in his scoop regarding Superman's activities at the dam, his editor promptly re-hires him over the phone.

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