SUPERMAN has finally met his match. Since his debut appearance in 1938, the last son of Krypton has faced off against threats as mundane as corrupt politicians and landlords to supervillains and a rogue’s gallery of alien conquerors. One of the only times he actually got pummelled was when he faced off against boxing legend Muhammad Ali to decide who would represent earth in an intergalactic boxing tournament.
And as times changed, so did Superman. Over the decades, we have seen many different interpretations of Superman who has gone from exemplifying ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’, to becoming a representative of the immigrant experience and everything in between. But some of the most popular and most controversial depictions of Superman ask the question: what would happen if this invulnerable and godlike alien decided he’d had enough of playing nice?
Exploring that theme, there’s ‘Red Son’, which has superman’s rocket land not in Kansas but in Stalin’s USSR, with the result that the Man of Steel grows up as a communist icon and ends up bringing most of the world under the Iron Curtain. Another interpretation, teased in director Zack Snyder’s take on the Justice League, has him falling under the sway of Darkseid and helping him conquer and devastate the world he had sworn to protect while also killing many of his erstwhile allies.
But what seems to really have landed Supes in a saffron-flavoured kryptonite soup is the version of him depicted in the comic book series-inspired animated film Injustice. Here Superman is tricked by the Joker into killing his wife, Lois Lane, and their unborn child. Driven mad by grief, Superman violates his moral code by murdering the Joker and then decides the only way to fix the world is to take over the world, thus beginning his slide into super-powered fascism. As superman grows more and more autocratic, Batman forms a team of heroes and former villains to bring him down.
Irate Twitterati want Superman to stop meddling.
While Batman doesn’t have much luck, it seems that one clip from Injustice has made Superman a lot of enemies who are arguably more dangerous, and undisputedly more ludicrous, than a rich orphan who dresses up as a bat and beats up criminals as a form of therapy. In that clip, Superman and Wonder Woman stop a genocide in Africa, force Israel and Palestine to come to terms and … wait for it…`enter ‘disputed Kashmir’ and destroy all military hardware.
The real-world result was utterly predictable, with the hashtag #antiIndiaSuperman trending across the border and irate Twitterati demanding that Superman stop interfering in India’s internal affairs and proclaiming that the real superheroes are the Indian army. Others demanded an apology and threatened a boycott. Sensing easily monetised outrage, sections of the Indian media also got into the act demanding an apology from the makers of the Superman comics and calling for a superhero of their own to pluck out the heat-visioned eyes of anyone who dared harm the territorial integrity of India.
Sudhir Chaudhry, editor-in-chief of Zee News and overall shill for the Modi government and all things Hindutva, took a break from screaming about ‘love jihad’ to lay into Superman, calling on Indians to “show their strength” by taking on Superman and DC, the publishers of Superman while decrying the use of superheroes for “American propaganda”. Such actions, he proclaimed, only proved that such ‘heroes’ were in fact villains …which is of course the entire plot and point of Injustice, the title of which is a play on the superhero team, the Justice League, which includes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
It’s another issue entirely that nowhere was India mentioned in the relevant five-second clip and nor was the Indian flag or any insignia visible on the destroyed tanks and fighter aircraft. Given that India considers AJK its ‘territory’ one could argue that Superman perhaps took out military hardware on the other side too, but such details don’t matter to the forever triggered outrage machine that is the India media ecosystem. Instead, one can imagine desperate calls being made to Lex Luthor to place an order for kryptonite lathis so that Superman can be lynched in proper sanghi style.
Despite being a fictional character, real-world fascists are warned to not take Superman lightly, as the very real Ku Klux Klan learned to its peril in 1946. That’s when the Adventures of Superman radio serial decided to air a 16-part episode titled the ‘Clan of the Fiery Cross’, in which Superman rescues a Chinese-American boy from KKK bigots and then proceeds to demolish the Klan itself.
Based on the research of activist Stetson Kennedy who had infiltrated the KKK, the show not just exposed the bigoted doctrines of the Klan but also its secret rituals and code words in front of a national audience and led to a steep decline in Klan membership. As for the sanghis? One super-powered sneeze should do the trick.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2021