Superman can always save you.
That’s the powerful idea that is presented in this week’s SUPERMAN #28. It’s a fact that I think many comic fans don’t doubt. The Man of Steel has always been presented as a savior of the universe; the one being that can stop the imminent danger and protect us. Well, this week this fictional character demonstrated an ability that I’ve never seen. Through life and now death, Superman can save you.
He will save you.
This idea led me to tears. Not many comics can make me cry and Superman #28 did. Let me explain why.
Superman #28 is the second part of a tale involving the Kent family traveling America in the vehicle most suited to traveling our fine country: an RV. In this issue, writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason decide to focus on the military history of America. Clark and Lois take their son Jon around to the various monuments dedicated to the lives lost in the all the American wars. At first, this seems to be a tedious sight-seeing story where the reader will learn the same lesson that Jon will discover over the course of the story. But I never could have predicted where the story was going to turn.
This issue deftly lets Clark and Lois teach their son about America through the lens of the lives lost in the military. It’s a strong choice to have the most extraordinary hero in the DC Universe tell the tales of ordinary citizens who found themselves in extraordinary situations like war. The story even pulls a strong tie from Lois Lane’s comic past to have her honor her late uncle’s sacrifice in the Vietnam War. (One does wonder what happened to Pa Kent’s classic Korean War Veteran status, though.)
The family ends this issue walking around Gettysburg; observing the ghosts of the massive Civil War battle fought there. It even surprised me that the writers let Jon comment on the soldiers’ fear of dying, as he specifically mentions their screams. At the battlefield, the Kents meet a family who gathers at Gettysburg every year to honor the birthday of a fallen ancestor whose body was never recovered. For any military family, this is a sobering and sometimes hard to swallow fact.
Every American war has had many soldiers declared POW/MIA. Some reports claim that 73,051 servicemen and civilians are still missing and unaccounted for following the end of World War 2. Think of the families that have no closure from the loss of their loved one. It’s in this scene that Tomasi and Gleason present the full power of this idea.
At the end of this issue, spoiler alert, Superman finds the long-lost soldier’s remains and delivers them to the family. Wrapped respectively in an American flag, Superman leaves a note with the body, encouraging them to finally take this soldier home. Superman, a character of science fiction, gives this family peace and returns a fallen soldier. This moment is so profound and so moving that it instantly brought me to tears.
For the entire year of 2005, I was stationed at Tallil Air Base in Iraq. This was right after the initial invasion, but tensions and attacks with improvised explosive devices were starting to increase dramatically. Luckily, I did not come home with any combat trauma. But many of my fellow soldiers weren’t as lucky as I was. Many times, my battalion would gather for a funeral ceremony. We all would salute the battlefield cross, helmet, rifle, and boots forming a cross for the fallen, representing one of our fallen comrades. It’s simple, but haunting. And there is no way that you can make it through one of these ceremonies without feeling like someone had just punched you in the gut.
One of the first things you learn in the American military is “leave no man behind.” Superman #28 is an extraordinary tale that exalts that notion. One hundred and fifty-four years removed from his family and in a single moment, Superman saved that soldier and brought him home. Superman saved him. This fictional character created in 1938 reached across the divide of reality and made a symbolic gesture so great that it literally tugged on my heart. For if Superman can save any soldier, then we’re all safe. It’s the perfect combination of storytelling that is only possible with superheroes. The ideals they hold up can affect the real world.
The spirit of how America reveres its fallen heroes is masterfully told by Tomasi and Gleason in this issue. Now, this story may not be meaningful to some, but those with an understanding of America’s military history will be deeply affected. Plus, it will pull back the curtain for civilians with no military service to get an idea of what it's all about. Soldiers are ordinary citizens too, put into extraordinary situations and forced to deal with harrowing circumstances. But they are human beings too. These soldiers have families that they long to return home to even in death. Superman #28 may not be the best Superman comic ever written, but it’s an important story. One that I hope one day DC Comics decides to collect and offer to the military and military families to read.
One suspects this comic might give them hope. Much like the hope Superman still gives me to this very day. I’m never scared. Because I know Superman will save me.