Reading last month’s Action Comics #1051, I couldn’t help but think about change.
I don’t always do well with change. It’s a real problem of mine. Small changes are fine. I adjust and if the change is for the worse, I get over it. But bigger changes? Changes that impact or alter my life in profound ways? I struggle pretty badly with those.
I mention this, of course, because Action Comics #1051 brings with it a pretty big change for the iconic series. With the first issue of 2023, Action Comics has become an anthology series focusing on the Super-Family as a whole. That’s fine. I love Superman, obviously, but changing the format of one of his two big ongoing comics still fits under the “small changes” category for me. I’ll adjust, as I’d imagine you will as well. But for the book itself, it’s a big change and I have to wonder if writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson had that in mind when scripting the first part of his leading story, “Speeding Bullets.”
The story begins with an excerpt from “Winds of Change,” an editorial written by Lois Lane in which she discusses Metropolis’s two significant time periods—the era before Superman’s arrival and the era after. As she describes it, in the months before Kal-El introduced himself, Metropolis was a mess of corruption and violent crime, all of which changed nearly overnight. “Before any of us fully understood what had happened, all the rules had changed,” she writes. “Without warning, an age of miracles had begun.”
By any measure, that’s a massive change. For anyone who was living in Metropolis at that time, things would never again be the same. Now, we know in hindsight that it was a change for the better. Metropolis pre-Superman sounds a lot like…well, Gotham. And who wouldn’t prefer to live in Metropolis over Gotham?
But at the time, people probably weren’t thinking about any of that, and even if they were, they’d have no idea whether it was actually going to work out or not. Suddenly, there’s a near-invulnerable extraterrestrial hiding among us with the ability to melt steel with his eyes and a penchant for taking the law into his own hands. If Superman were just a little different, it could have been a nightmare (something we’ve seen in alt-universe tales like Injustice.) Is it any wonder people were fearful?
I can tell you that if this happened in real life, if an actual Superman revealed himself here on Earth, I would not react well. I’m not saying I’d turn into Lex Luthor or anything like that (for starters, I’d need a few billion more dollars than I currently have). I wouldn’t become a villain, but I think my mind would race through all of the worst-case scenarios and I’d probably be pretty darn fearful.
That’s not something you think about when you think of Superman—his ability to create fear. But it’s there and it must have been very apparent when he first came on the scene. As we see in “Speeding Bullets,” despite the fact that Superman has now been around for a while, it’s still a problem. There are still people who don’t want him and his fellow Kryptonians around. It’s intolerance, and like all intolerance, it’s born from fear.
That’s what makes Superman and so many of his fellow superheroes so remarkable and why many of us see them as inspirations. They realize this and it informs so much of what they do. Lois’ editorial is set against a scene of dueling protests, separated by a small line of vastly outnumbered police officers. Anger runs high on both sides, but the anti-alien protest soon turns violent. Weapons are drawn and one protester tries to barrel into a group of counter-protestors with his car. Superman and his family intervene, but it’s the way that they intervene that’s worth pointing out.
These protestors were about to use lethal force. Under our everyday standards of self-defense and defense of the innocent, killing them would have been justified. If one of the other protestors had wrestled the gun out of the soon-to-be-shooter’s hand and shot him instead, that protestor would have been called a hero. If one of the cops had managed to shoot the driver of the car before he could hit and murder countless people, that officer would have been given a medal. And in both cases, it would be deserved.
But it would still be tragic. These violent protestors are wrong and their tactics are deplorable, but they’re not evil. They’re just misinformed and afraid.
Rather than heat-visioning anyone, Superman, Supergirl, Steel and the rest of the Super-Family use their speed and flight to remove them before they can hurt anyone. Let’s not forget that these men were protesting against them. They were literally saying that they don’t belong with us. Superman and the Super-Family were probably pretty angry with them, but they didn’t let that anger drive them to using lethal force and instead saved the day without any loss of life.
That’s what superheroes do. It’s why we love them. And there’s no bigger proponent of that philosophy than Superman. Opinions may vary as to why, but personally, I’ve never believed that Superman doesn’t kill for any moral objection to it. I think he doesn’t kill because he realizes that most people who do wrong do it out of desperation and fear, and that everyone holds within them the possibility of rehabilitation. Anyone can change their ways and become a force for good. It’s that faith in humanity that guides the Man of Steel’s actions always.
If I’m right about that (and to be clear, it’s just my opinion), then that creates an interesting irony when it comes to me and the Man of Steel. The possibility of change—something that I frequently struggle to accept and often fear—is the very thing that’s behind Superman’s heroism. It’s what keeps him from becoming the nightmare which so many people in Metropolis initially feared.
I suspect that realizing this isn’t going to make embracing, or at least accepting, change any easier for me. But the next time I’m truly struggling with change, it might bring me some comfort. Maybe it’ll do the same for you.
Action Comics #1051, featuring “Speeding Bullets” by Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Rafa Sandoval and Matt Herms, is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for DC.com, writes our monthly Superman column, “Super Here For…”, and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our recurring television column. Follow him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Tim Beedle and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.