This Magazine Kills Fascists: Superman vs The Justice League of Earth
In the wake of a shocking election, much of the world is stunned that a man as hateful as Donald Trump could be elected President of the United States. In this This Magazine Kills Fascists, we’ll look at times comic books and superheroes have dealt with tyrannical, corrupt and outright fascist world leaders — not because we think we can find a solution, but because art can provide inspiration in the face of oppression.
This week we’re going to the far future to see what happens when hatred, fear and xenophobia can corrupt the ideals of a utopia in Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s “Superman and The Legion of Super-Heroes,” which ran in the pages of Action Comics #858-863. The storyline not only showed the effects of gaslighting an entire population, but just how quickly a new regime can become the new normal.
As a franchise, The Legion of Super-Heroes represents one of the few utopian futures in superhero comic books. While most futures are more “Days of Future Past” or The Dark Knight Returns, the Legion shows what happens when humanity rallies together and journeys into the stars, and as a team the Legion represents strength through unity and diversity, regardless of where you come from.
However, when Superman arrived in the 31st Century after being enlisted by Brainiac 5, he discovered Earth was being overseen by a totalitarian government preying on people’s fears of aliens in a clear immigration analogue. In a moment that might be a bit too on the nose, the story starts with desperate scientists on a doomed planet sending their child to Earth as a last hope. However, the kindly couple that finds it are law-abiding citizens, and do what any law-abiding citizens would do in this situation.
Superman discovers that in the future, his own history has been rewritten, and people have been convinced that he was a native born hero who gained his powers from the Earth. The person responsible for this great lie is now the planet’s number-one superhero, going by the imaginatively titled moniker of Earth-Man, and with fabricated evidence he has managed to turn the entire planet against aliens and against the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Earth-Man is actually Kirt Niedrigh, who once known as Absorbency Boy back when he tried out for the Legion with his superpower to absorb the energy of any superpower, but was rejected due to the power’s limited scope. Kirt’s rejection made him disaffected, so he turned that anger outwards, accusing the Legion of having a preference for alien minorities over "superior" Earth-born individuals like himself.
Earth-Man’s lies were strong, and took hold to the point that the planet became isolationist and seceded from the United Planets. Classes were taught based on his false evidence, and heroes from the 21st century such as Martian Manhunter were now seen as monsters due to their alien heritage. The Legion went on the run, with members "disappeared" by Earth-Man’s forces, and with an impending galactic war set to break out between Earth and the UP.
In order to seize control and help spread his agenda, Earth-Man surrounded himself with a basket of deplorables known as the Justice League of Earth. A loose knit faction of competing interests and ideals, his team was made up from other Legion rejects such as Radiation Roy, Spider-Girl, and Golden Boy, all of whom were denied Legion membership, often due to their sadistic personalities or selfish motivations for becoming a hero.
As Superman went around the galaxy reuniting the Legion of Super-Heroes, it’s important to note that the first people to take Earth-Man on head-to-head are none other than the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Like the Justice League of Earth, they were rejected by the Legion at one time, but instead of turning their rejection into hate and xenophobia, they worked on themselves, found allies and a community, and became heroes and champions.
Superman’s final fight with Earth-Man is essentially a fight between an America that welcomes the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, and an America that puts itself first based on an outdated idea of what an American --- or in this case an Earthling --- looks like. When a police officer is incredulous that Superman would help aliens, The Man of Tomorrow reminds him that he --- like America -- is for everyone.
While Earth-Man had all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes at his disposal, Superman had the real thing, and ultimately it’s teamwork and unity that defeats Earth-Man and his ideals. While it’s important to stand up to fascism, it’s not something you can do on your own, which is why organization and co-operation is a key factor in any form of activism.
There are a number of worthy causes already leading the charge in the fight back. If you can, please consider donating to any of the following institutions:
For more post-election resources, Holy F--- The Election is a great starting point. As you might guess, the website uses some strong language!