- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Judging by the new Superman mission statement unveiled during this weekend’s DC FanDome, these days, it just might be a reference to the optimism inherent in the character. “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow” replaces the old-school “Truth, Justice and the American Way” — a shift that has garnered all kinds of attention for the shift away from a nationalism that, for those with long memories, he officially abandoned a decade ago when he renounced his American citizenship.
Dropping the “American Way” makes sense, given the increasingly global markets that DC is operating within. It’s also entirely in keeping with promoting the company’s premiere superteam as Justice League even though it was created and published for close to four decades as “Justice League of America.” But what does a “Better Tomorrow” say about Superman as a concept and his current place inside DC and pop culture as a whole?
Over the past 15 years or so, the Superman that most people are familiar with (Clark Kent, aka Kal-El of Krypton) has been slowly pushed into a new role: Superdad. What started with 2006’s “Last Son” comic book storyline and that year’s Superman Returns movie, both of which tentatively played with the idea of Superman as a father, became comic book canon with 2015’s Superman: Lois and Clark series and the subsequent Superman relaunch the following year, which codified a new status quo for the hero. Instead of the mild-mannered metropolitan reporter with romantic troubles with fellow journalist Lois Lane, now he had settled into married life with Lois, and the two had a son, Jon, who had his own superpowers. (The 2021 CW reboot of Superman following this lead, adding a second son, Jordan.)
Beyond simply reflecting his aging audience, the repositioning of Superman as a parent changed what the larger Superman story is all about. What had previously been the ultimate immigrant assimilation story was altered significantly by introducing a generational element. It’s no longer enough to save the day; now there’s an unanswered question about whether or not Superman has done enough to make the world a better place for his children, and their children, and so on.
Some Superman stories in the past year have leaned heavily on this theme; a House of El one-shot set in the far future dealt with the idea of multiple generations of Superman’s children struggling with their legacy and what it means, while the recent Superman and the Authority miniseries showed a Superman aware of his aging (“Call me the Samurai in Autumn,” he says at one point) determined to leave the world better than he found it through more than just direct action. “As far as I can see, young people like my son are more responsible and serious about social issues than we ever were,” he explains in the series’ final issue.
That’s a reference intended to be taken literally; aged-up via comic book logic, Jon Kent took on the mantle of Superman for himself in the Superman: Son of Kal-El series, which launched this July. Jon is the Superman that came out as bisexual last week, just as it was announced that he’ll also protest for climate justice early next year. “More responsible and serious about social issues,” indeed.
Superman is far from being alone in terms of one superhero identity becoming a virtual franchise; Marvel has no less than three Spider-Men at this point, as well as two Wolverines and a multitude of Hulks. Elsewhere in Superman’s own DC Universe, there are two Wonder Women (and a number of Wonder Girls, as well), as well as three Flashes and literally thousands of Green Lanterns. Consider it the result of multiple forces, from a narrative need to extend the lifespans of core concepts to a marketing impulse to create multiple variations on an idea in order to appeal to the largest possible audiences available.
Even as the Clark Kent Superman continues his own never-ending battle in the ongoing Action Comics series (He’s departing Earth to fight injustice in space, leaving the planet to be looked after by his son), Jon gets to take over the familiar S shield and remake Superman in his own image…one that is more inclusive, and more politically active. It’s an arguably more difficult approach to creating a being a hero than simply fighting bad guys — one that sees truth and justice as things beyond simply what is legal — allowing a glimpse at the intent behind the new slogan.
“A Better Tomorrow” is more than simply a replacement for “the American Way”; it’s a sign of higher ambition and, if done right, a more meaningful direction for Superman as an idea after more than eight decades of doing the right thing and inspiring people almost by accident. Daring to let Superman try to shape the future in his (kind, optimistic, accepting) image is, perhaps, the final step the concept needed to finally feature a true Man of Tomorrow.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
People's Choice Awards