When a corrupt politician buys a newspaper to control the media spin, it's up to the intrepid reporters of the Daily Planet to put an end to #fakenews, expose the corruption, and restore the reputation of the media in Metropolis.
People keep asking “when did comics get so darn political?” as we navigate the treacherous waters of the 21st century. With digital access 24/7, never-ending media cycles, and world leaders on Twitter day in and day out, it seems only natural to me that comics would be broaching political topics on a weekly basis, growing with the discourse as we do. Why? Because that’s what they’ve been doing since the dawn of comics. Looking at this short story from 1940’s Superman #5, “Campaign Against the Planet”, it is clear that the role the media plays in the political machine has been something comics have been looking hard at since day one. In this story, we see fingers pointed at an immoral politician, the oh-so-appropraitely named Alex Evell, as he takes over rival paper, the Morning Pictorial, to further his political career as well to insulate the careers of his gangster friends.
The politics here are messy to say the least and the narrative structure isn’t nearly what we’ve grown used to as comics have evolved over the decades but it is difficult to turn a blind eye to the distinct lack of a “supervillain” here. Early Superman stories were very much concerned with corruption on numerous levels, from government to capitalism. This particular instance, dealing with corruption in media, feels every bit as relevant now as it did in 1940. It’s a real “who watches the watchmen?” scenario, if you will. It’s something many of us are concerned with on a day to basis. The investigations of media bias, media control and narrative spin are a constant stuggle, and one that comics managed to highlight 80 years ago in a short story. In the end, Superman finds himself unable to get Evell to confess to his crimes. Instead, it takes the testimony of Evell’s gangster friends whom Evell was willing to burn to death in an attempt to kill Superman, to bring down the corrupt politician. There seems to be a fairly significant political lesson in that, as well.
While “Campaign Against the Planet” may not find itself in any “Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told” anthologies, it still stands as a shining example of early Superman stories. A messy plot and unsophisiticated layouts and artwork cannot stop the tale from being politically charged and morally unambiguous. We could honestly probably do with more of these sorts of stories in comics today rather than less.
Grab your coffee and journey back to a time when comics weren't political... JUST KIDDING! They were always political, as we can see with Superman #5 from all the way back in June 1940!
SUNDAY CLASSICS: Superman #5: Politics in Comics?!?
- Writing - 7/107/10
- Storyline - 7.5/107.5/10
- Art - 7/107/10
- Color - 8/108/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10