Comics / Cult Favorite

I Believe in ‘a Better Tomorrow’


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By Philip Schweier
October 19, 2021 - 08:07

It’s been said the only constant in the Universe is change. Nevertheless, many people (myself included) are resistant to it. Often this leads to the image of old farts sitting in their chairs griping about “these kids today.”

So when DC Comics announced last weekend that Superman’s familiar motto of “truth, justice and the American way” was being modified, naturally many people were up in arms. Okay, Boomer. (Full disclosure: I’m of the Baby Boom generation)

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According to DC Chief Creative Office and Publisher Jim Lee, the new phrasing will be "truth, justice and a better tomorrow."

Is that so terrible? No, certainly not. Is there anyone who wants a worse tomorrow? Unlikely. I always thought “the American way” is to build toward “a better tomorrow.”

But of course, it’s not the new words that are the issue, it’s that the old ones are being discarded, as if it means abandoning the intent behind them. Thousands of fans are crying foul, citing “cancel culture,” and accusing DC Comics of “being woke,” as if it somehow invalidates “the American way.” I would argue that hardly comes close to the truth.

DC Comics is NOT trying to erase the American way of life (whatever form it may take). Instead, it is attempting to reinvigorate the optimism inspired by its flagship character.

"Superman has long been a symbol of hope who inspires people,” Lee said, “and it is that optimism and hope that powers him forward with this new mission statement."

In other words, “the American way” is good; “a better tomorrow” is better.

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Superman became a mass media sensation in 1940, during which time the introductory narration for the radio program read:

Yes, it's Superman – strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman – defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice.”

A comparable narration accompanied Max Fleischer’s animated shorts when they were released in 1941.Then World War II happened, and “the American way” was added, to reflect the patriotism of the era.

After fascism was defeated, Communism was regarded as the greatest threat to the United States. In the late 1940s/early 1950s, the so-called “Red Scare” was in full swing. When the Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves premiered in 1952, it’s opening introduction also included “the American way” phrasing.

An entire generation grew up hearing those words, and their children as the series circulated through syndication for decades. The narration became rote, as memorable as any Bible verse, Beatles song or Shakespeare quote one might recall.

To the general public, Superman is just a cartoon character, with as little significance as Snoopy or James Bond. They should not care so deeply about the star of comic books they don’t read.

To comic book fans, Superman represents an ideal to strive for, not because we have super-powers, but because we have within us the capacity for honesty and compassion, and the desire to contribute to “a better tomorrow.”

If you believe otherwise, I suspect maybe you’re missing the overall message.


Last Updated: November 14, 2021 - 13:52

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