In the graphic novel Kingdom Come, DC Comics imagined a future where Superman gave up. The world had grown, and adapted to a meaner, more violent culture that found the truth-and-justice morality of America’s first great superhero to be insufficient to handle the daily crises facing the world. As Superman entered self-imposed exile, the world turned to Magog, a hero of the latest generation who was willing to go to further extremes to fight crime and stop supervillains, including killing them. Magog’s rampant acceptance of collateral damage and lack of checks or balances on his power culminates in an overkill assault that destroys the American Midwest, killing millions.
A returning Superman faced his de facto replacement, a man praised as America’s greatest hero who instantly became its greatest mass murderer. Expecting an intense fight, Superman instead finds a tormented, broken god, who casts much of the blame for America’s fall on the apathy of its former champion.
“Proud? Proud of being the Man of Tomorrow? The world changed,” sobs Magog. “But you wouldn’t. So they chose me. They chose the man who would kill over the man who wouldn’t. And now they’re dead.”
Donald Trump is now the President of the United States. He was, at least through the perspective of the legality of power transfer we’ve managed to successfully maintain over several hundred years, the choice of the people. The caveat is implicit: He was not the choice of most people, and the technicalities that put him where he is are at best scarcely legitimate and at worst fraudulent.
But ultimately, enough people chose him. Enough people wanted the man who promised everything, most of it wrapped in security and brutality. And while I certainly hope the reference to a nuclear-blast-torn Kansas is only an analogy, we will, in the near future, look over a similar scorched rhetorical vista and reflect on what We now represent.
A lot of us, self included, were ecstatic about Fantasy Superman Obama and annoyed with Actual Human Obama. We often see our leaders as Superman, and yet we ignore many of his principles in favor of what we thought, maybe reminiscing about old comics we read as kids, what we thought a superhero was supposed to be. Superman believed in truth and justice. Superman doesn’t want people to suffer. Superman wants to protect a world that opened its arms to protect him. In the final pages of Kingdom Come, a simple statement is offered: “you exist to give hope.”
Americans who thought Superman wasn’t being Superman chose a new Man of Tomorrow. They chose the man who promised to be mean, and to hurt, and to flaunt power. We will, as a nation, have to face this decision we made at some point in the near future. I hope that day we are willing to believe in Superman again.
All images in this post from Kingdom Come, © 1996 DC Comics. Art by Alex Ross.