Superman 13: Man of Steel Demonstrates a Loss of Faith in Media and Society
Superman #13 will forever be remembered as the one where Clark Kent quit his job at the Daily Planet. On a very basic level, the issue works as a condemnation of sensationalist media, while also bringing some humanity to a famously invulnerable hero. The Metropolis newspaper has been acquired by conglomerate Galaxy Media, and is turning legitimate news into entertainment, which doesn’t quite gel with the highly principled boy from Kansas. After all, Superman always saw his duties as a journalist to be an extension of his duties as a superhero. Of course, in accordance with the recent trend of making the Man of Steel more human, Kent is also suffering for still having feelings for Lois Lane and having to put up with his awful boss, both of which are something that impact his decision. Still, those issues have been there since the dawn of Superman and therefore cannot be the reason he leaves; the real reason our favorite Boy Scout decides to abandon the only home he ever knew outside of Kansas is because he, like much of America, is losing faith in our social institutions.
I know a lot of people have a problem with analyzing comic books the way we analyze the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but this really does tell us something. Comic books have historically been incredibly in touch with the zeitgeist, so Kent’s resignation is indicative of something bigger present in our society. What this latest issue works to show is just how much credibility and goodwill the media has lost in the eyes of its audience when even Superman, the epitome of democratic ideals and beliefs, can’t support this crucial institution. The Boy in Blue reflects the way people have come to think of our news outlets, and his resignation is a slap in the face to all media.
Often referred to as a pillar of democracy and civilized society, the media is supposed to expose corruption, highlight problems, force governments to act and be the voice of the people that can’t spend millions on lobbies. However, as Kent points out in a melodramatic speech to his fellow staff members, the Daily Planet no longer stands for the principles of truth, justice and the American way. Instead, the paper is now defined by sensationalism and politicization, something that so many of us justly believe to be part of our media. After all, can the media really blame ordinary people when, even before an anchor opens his mouth, I only have to look at his party affiliation to decide what he’s going to say? Be it welfare, civil rights, financial policy or even traffic legislation, instead of discussing the issues that affect me, most anchors, writers, commentators and bloggers will really just follow the party line: attack the opponent of your leader and ridicule his recommended policies if he’s a candidate or his legislation is he’s an incumbent. At that point, is it unfair for an American to believe that these anchors are not agents of truth and good, but just employees that speak whatever their bosses’ political buddies demand? If you want to answer that question, try and get an anchor to agree with one party on abortion and with another on financial policy.
Of course, with his resignation, Superman becomes the latest comic book character to reflect the most distressing trend in our lives: our slow loss of faith in societal institutions. Look back and you can see so many superheroes that have become disillusioned with the very foundations of our society, and we often can’t help agreeing with them over this rejection of legal bodies. Batman decided to abandon his longstanding association with the police in order to pursue true justice; it made him a villain for many but what it really showed was a lack of faith in law enforcement, a sentiment many good people are starting to share. Captain America overtly disobeyed the government he always stood for when they decided to enact the invasive and unconstitutional Superhuman Registration Act; the fact that Cap was actually a soldier made this even more treasonous but he reflected the oppression felt by those tired of governmental interference in daily life. Tony Stark took his empire to unimaginable heights by dedicatedly working with the government on technologies that helped expand their powers, yet he gave it all up the day he started to realize just how dangerous so much power can be; yes, he wasn’t willing to donate all the blood money but at least he abandoned the methods that were making people like him so bloody necessary.
And that is ultimately what this issue highlights: someone who finally gave up his belief in the pillars of society. It’s not particularly surprising, especially since being a superhero requires a somewhat maverick mentality anyway, but this is the first time a major comic book character forewent the government and attacked the media. As a fan of the hero and a big proponent of truthful reporting done for the betterment of my fellow citizens, this is incredibly disheartening; not only does it affirm just how many people have lost faith in our media and even our society, but it also shows just how much more problematic the world has become since the days when Superman could just push a planet aside and save us all. The history of comics is full of characters that supplement their costumed heroics with journalistic endeavors because this was legitimately a profession that stood for truth. Everyone, from Jack Ryder to April O’Neill to Captain Marvel, were people that fought with camera and mike in hand; now it’s actually more believable that men can shoot lasers out of their eyes.