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Superman: The American Way

Readers' Comments
Reader comment on Canto 24:

I've read Homer and some of the other poets and a thought occured to me.  Is American Way the only "Epic Poem" written about America instead of about Greece, Rome, or some other ancient civilization?

- Sabatini, June 7, 2002

"John Brown's Body" by Stephen Vincent Benet is probably as much an epic as my work is, though, since it's about the Civil War, it is lacking in such things as say..."gods" in the classical sense; e.g., Rao, and references to the Greek pantheon in Canto 25.

Also, Kal-El himself -- while he is a hero along the lines of Paul Bunyan (the legendary, not the historical figure), about whom there is at least one long 19th century narrative poem (or maybe it's Johnny Appleseed) -- is more of an ancient Greek-type hero a-la Hercules; so, maybe the answer to your question is, "Yes."   And, thank you "Sabatini," for noticing.

- Mike Mautner, June 18, 2002



Reader comment on Canto 20:

It's great to see Kara back, I'm very curious to see how things are going to turn out. Being a Supergirl fan since the 1970s, I really hope she's going put on the cape!

And I can't wait to read the complete "House of El and it's legacy" - what a fantastic idea.

Thanks and keep up the great work,

- Robert Mitchell, May 8, 2002

 
Reader comment on Canto 17:

We're starting to see some pretty interesting things here.  Many historians and commentators have, over the years, noted the obvious Jewish Messianic elements of the Superman legend.  Kavalier and Clay  makes a pretty good argument that Superman could also be a Golem of Jewish lore, while Andrew Greely believes that Superman could be a messenger of God.

But it was 1978's Superman: The Movie  and DC Comic's "Death (and resurrection) of Superman" in 1993 that created (or emphasized, depending on your point of view) the parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ.  More recently, these parallels were taken to an almost ludicrous level with the crucifixion scene in the Smallville pilot. 

This is dangerous ground, and DC Comics has made the decision to deal with this by always avoiding any direct references to Christ or to Christianity within the pages of any Superman comic.  The effect of this policy has been to create the distinct impression that there is no Jesus Christ in the DC Universe because they have Superman instead.  I've pretty much agreed with their decision, even with the obvious (and possibly upsetting) conclusion that the story of Superman has its roots in some of the same ancient myths as the story of Jesus.  But where do you go after that?

Yet Superman: The American Way presents a completely new take on all of this.  Instead of taking the point of view that Kal-El is the Messiah, Michael Mautner is showing Superman (or at least, Clark Kent) as a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  He takes this even further and incorporates Kal's Christianity as a key element of the Superman legend.  While some might regard this as a bit risky, and possibly even out-right disagree with the entire concept, I feel that this story is too important, and too well-told, for me to withhold it.

In many ways, Superman: The American Way reminds me of the 1695 Epic Poem Prince Arthur, which presents the Adventures of King Arthur before he was a king ("when he was a boy"?).  Although written 300 years earlier, and focusing on England rather than America, the young Arthur undergoes a very similar journey - both spiritual and Christian - to the one that we now see Clark Kent just beginning to embark upon.

A more sticky point for me than the Christianity, however, is the apparent demonization of Rao.  I have always seen Rao as initially being a sun god but then evolving into the equivalent of "God," "YHWH," "Allah," "The Supreme Architect of the Universe," "The All-Seeing One," etc.  (Much like in Earth history, where people used to worship the sun as "God," until they began to see the sun as a creation of "God.")  So yes, Rao may be from a different pantheon, but he's really the same character with a different name - not a jealous adversary.  For me, Rao (along with Kal's reciprocal love for him) is one of the many elements that make Superman Superman, not one of the elements that is battling him.

- Great Rao, April 17, 2002

Glad to see the site return, and thanks for your intelligent criticism.  I'll have more to say about my working of the mytho-religious themes later, but just one thing now:  You've hit the nail on the head about how Rao was portrayed in the (pre-Crisis only?) Superman canon.  What I've done with him is similar to what the 1990s cartoon did with Brainiac -- made the other survivor "fall" from Kryptonian "grace"; i.e., the Super-Computer was not a malevolent force until torn from its natural environment.  This is similar to the way ancient pagans viewed each others' "gods" as strictly local in power and authority -- the neighboring tribe's gods were your demons, in your territory, but you had to do them obeisance as gods when you went to theirs.  This is quite distinct from the Hebrew conception of the divine and its Christian variant (or climax, depending upon one's point of view).

But much of this is premature.  Wait and see what Rao does -- what he must do -- now that Kal-El has rejected him.  Also, wait and see what becomes of the denizens of Argos, especially Kara Zor-El, and learn more about the history of Krypton's latter days as I've re-worked it here.  Then decide what influences are positive and which are malevolent.  It's not exactly a linear narrative, but neither was Kryptonian history as it unfolded in the pre-Byrne Silver Age -- which brings me to another important point: Remember, when we talk about the "pre-Crisis Superman", we're not talking about a single layer of developement.  What fans tend to mean by that phrase vis-a-vis Krypton is the Krypton created in the late 50s and early 60s, the revival period that followed the cancellation of the George Reeves series and saw the brief return of Jerry Siegel, and the arrival of former Captain Marvel writer Otto Binder, who Science-Fictionized the Superman universe as never before.  It's from that period that we get Argo City, the Bottle City of Kandor, the Phantom Zone, and so much of the details about Kryton -- so much so that the editors by the late 70s took two miniseries ("World of Krypton" and "Krypton Chronicles") to redact and retell the bulk of the material.  This was great stuff and neither I nor the Superman editors and writers who took over from John Byrne in the late 80s could ignore it.  I tried when I started to "save Krypton for later" because its true colors came later in the character's evolution and I wanted to tap into the deepest layer (the "bottom strata," if you will) of the canon: the first ten years worth of Superman stories, before he even became aware that he was an alien.  I found, though, that I simply couldn't separate them, not even in the Smallville setting.  As so many who have worked this material before have said, "these characters start writing themselves."
 [This reader comment above and the author's response generated this discussion]

Reader comment on Canto 8:

Wow, what a find, and what a concept!  I love it.  Adapting the 20th century American legend of Superman to the traditional verse form is a stroke of brilliance.  I hope that The American Way lives up to what has been hinted at in the first 7 cantos.

I'm curious as to why Mr. Mautner chose to begin his epic in the year 1917.  Was this date chosen in order for Superman's introduction to occur in 1938, or is the year historically significant?

In some ways, this reads like an Elseworlds tale (witness Eben Kent and Pete Ross' father being involved with the KKK).  I really like the way Golden Age elements of the Superman legend are combined with Silver Age elements, contemporary elements, Movie elements, and real-world historical events.  It makes it seem like Superman actually lived among us during the 20th century.

I'll certainly be checking back every week.

- Dick Blackmore, February 7, 2002

Thanks very much for writing in, and we're glad you like the story!  Here's Mr. Mautner's response to your questions:

The year 1917 was an important one in world history in a very "prologue" kind of way (in fact, there's a wonderful work of narrative history called 1919: The Year Our World Began, to which a book called 1917 could easily be a prequel).  America got into WWI, the czar fell in Russia... and an odd little event called The 'Green Corn Rebellion' actually took place in Oaklahoma, led by the radical IWW (International Worker's of the World) and other left-labor groups.  It was broken up not by the Klan, but by otherwise unknown "patriotic posses." I put Eben (that's Pa's name in the 1942 Superman novel by radio-show writer George Lowther [one of the biggest influences on this work], and I prefer it because it's a biblical echoic -- Eben & Sarah : Abram & Sarai of Genesis) and John Ross at the "rebellion" so that they could "switch sides" and escape as Klansman because many of the tendencies of the Populist movement in the midwest had, by the 1920s, worked their way into the "New" KKK that emerged in the wake of the release of "Birth of a Nation."  There's a new book out about that now too -- check out the History Book Club website.

I also wanted Clark to be a young adult.  I picked 20, even though Kirk Alyn and George Reeves both looked older in the relevant scenes.  That would make him land in, roughly, December 1918, "as Wilson preaches in Versailles' ancient halls."  That was another good year.  "Good" in the sense of "rich in detail".  The U.S. got hit with its worst flu epidemic ever that year, so few people actually thought it was very "good", including the old men I was breakfasting with by 1990, when I wrote canto 2.  There's a great movie called "1918" about the epidemic.  I think Jack Lemmon is in it.

When I began this in 1987, I was a History major at UC Berkeley, so many of these events were roiling about in my brain, plus, John Byrne had just revamped Superman in a way that I thought drained much of the literary-merit (by which I mean, the tragedy) out of the character's context.  I was moved to respond because I thought that tragic context was essential to the character's original popularity.  First I attempted a novel (I wrote only a prologue, which contains elements I changed when I went to verse), then by doing my Senior Thesis in U.S. History on the relationship I saw between the original Siegel & Shuster comics and U.S./world events going on at that time.  That same relationship -- the way the comics symbolically described the times -- has now been most brilliantly explicated by Michael Chabon in his Pullitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the core of the plot of which is, again, built around real events at the dawn of the "Golden Age."

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