Alternate versions of Superman have gone rogue after getting involved in global politics, but the one true Man of Steel won’t suffer the same fate.
There have been more than a few evil knockoffs of Superman who started out on their dark paths by involving themselves in politics, but recent issues of Action Comics seem to be solving the tricky situation that comes along with the Man of Steel taking part in foreign policy. When Superman is portrayed as getting involved in global political affairs, it’s typically gets treated as a worst-case scenario where a Man of Steel’s more authoritarian impulses can take over.
Both the Superman of the Injustice universe and the Squadron Supreme’s Hyperion fall into this trap as corrupted, dictatorial analogues of the Last Son of Krypton. Meanwhile, The Boys character Homelander went so far as to launch a superhuman coup, and the Utopian of Jupiter’s Legacy fame was actually ousted by his allies because he refused to take over the governments of the world. But the real Clark Kent isn’t that type of hero, and Action Comics #1033 by Philip Kennedy Johnson and Daniel Sampere highlights just how the Man of Tomorrow balances geopolitical demands with doing what’s right.
In Action Comics #1033, the U.S. and Atlantis stand ready for DC’s newest world war as the undersea kingdom blockades vital U.S. trade routes in response to Amanda Waller’s unauthorized Task Force X strike against an Atlantean outpost in search of the Genesis Fragment. With two of the most powerful nations in the world locked in a standoff, both sides threaten to annihilate the other if they set so much as a fin out of line. But just as the Atlanteans and Americans are about to escalate, Superman, Supergirl, and Jonathan Kent descend from the sky as a show of strength to prevent further aggression from either side. While the conflict isn’t fully defused, Superman makes it clear that any loss of life on either side will be unacceptable, and anyone who continues to fuel the conflict will answer to them, regardless of where they’re from.
Alone, and with his family at his back, Superman is a force to be reckoned with, and there’s no doubt he could bend the governments of the world to his will, but here he simply acts with compassion. Seeing him descend from the sky with his son, the other Superman, and his cousin, Supergirl, is treated as more glorious and uplifting than it would if he were being portrayed as the tyrant that alternate Supermen, like the Crime Syndicate’s Ultraman, or even the DCEU’s Anti-Life-possessed Man of Steel, so often become. The tone of his confrontation with the U.S. and Atlantean forces could’ve turned into quite the conflict, but his mere presence seems to be cooling things down, at least temporarily.
It’s not just Superman – superheroes getting involved in politics never ends well – and comics like Marvel’s The Ultimates 2 or even DC’s Kingdom Come proves this theory. Whenever metahumans start dictating the actions of mere mortals, an inevitable line is crossed and they turn from hero to tyrant. But seeing the real Superman in a setting like this is a breath of fresh air. He treats all parties in this situation as equals, and in that classic Clark Kent fashion, he also treats them calmly and diplomatically while refusing to let anyone on any side come to harm.
Between Action Comics and series like Grant Morrison and Mikel Janin’s Superman and the Authority or Superman: Son of Kal-El by Tom Taylor and John Timms, DC is finally tackling the notion that the Man of Steel can make a fundamental difference in the world by turning into a brutal dictator. An Evil Superman may be an intriguing take once in a while, but the real Man of Steel is a hero who understands the weight and responsibility of his power. And with Clark Kent’s new quest for peace, Superman is going to be feeling the weight for a long time to come.