Superman is not Ubermensch

DC Comics

In All Star Superman #3, Superman answers the unanswerable question. He answers the challenge of the Ultra-Sphinx to save Lois’ life in a state of quantum uncertainty, between life and death.

All Star Superman is featured as #1 on IGN’s list of 25 Best Superman Comics and Graphic Novels. It is particularly important for one of its quotes from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche: “I give you the Superman.”

All Star Superman is notable for its representation of Superman as the Übermensch, a direct rapprochement between the American concept of the fictional comic book superhero and the German Aryan philosophical prophecy. What makes All Star Superman compelling is the portrayal of Superman as completely fantasy. Science-fiction turns into fantasy and wish fulfillment, and Superman’s adventures and exploits seem completely unreal if not surreal. Superman goes on intergalactic adventures, travels through the Chronovore, domesticates a Sun-Eater, answers the unanswerable question, travels in space near the sun’s surface and defeats Solaris the solar computer from the 853rd century.

Throughout this 12-comic book issue series, Superman is portrayed as totally alien with a tripled strength, a heightened intellect with increased curiosity, and completely perfect physically and mentally. This is the myth that Superman is the Übermensch, denying his humanity in favor of his alien heritage and his incapacity to be biologically compatible with Lois Lane, his girlfriend. All Star Superman presents a convincing representation of the myth of the Übermensch since Superman appears as alien first instead of human first. This is to contribute to the perception that Superman is actually a creator of moral values who does not live by the rules of society, but who, by his superior physical might, actually creates his own values.

In the Ultimen episode, the Justice League Unlimited is confronted with the novel threat of the Ultimen. The Ultimen figure as the true incarnations of the Übermensch. Their sole concern is for the expression of unrivaled power and the acquisition of notoriety and popularity. The Ultimen present as the true Übermensch as they are presented as rock stars and not superheroes with commercial contracts, TV appearances and a popular following. The Ultimen in Justice League Unlimited are presented as individuals that have no moral formation. In reality, they are clones that have no real personality and who display no moral education, but who are left with no guidance outside of the supervision of Maxwell Lord and Amanda Waller.

In Justice League Unlimited, Superman remains a moral figure with the moniker “The Big Blue Boy Scout” or more of a police officer. He upholds the law, though he is willing to break it in order to protect his friends and Justice League Unlimited members from imprisonment, such as The Question being imprisoned at The Cadmus Project or from cloning such as Supergirl being cloned by The Cadmus Project as Galatea. He is not without a moral ethos and is always ready to uphold the law, though he does offer his friends second chances, such as the chance at redemption offered to Shayera during the Solomon Grundy episode. Superman believes in trust and in protecting the Justice League Unlimited’s credibility from his enemies and The Cadmus Project; this contrasts with All Star Superman where trust does not seem to figure, but only science and fantasy.

Superman in the Justice League Unlimited is foremost a politician, which agrees with the classic portrayals of Superman over the ages, whereas All Star Superman is foremost a scientist. Superman is concerned with politics and the safety of the American people from alien invasions. All Star Superman does protect the world from alien invasions, but he seems more intent on doing experiments in the Fortress of Solitude to combat Kryptonite exposure with the Kryptonite gun fired at him by Lois Lane and developing for her super powers as Super-Woman for a day.

He is presented as totally alien and completely removed from the American people as most of his adventures take place in space, in other dimensions or in the Fortress of Solitude, but not in Metropolis. Not enough.

In Justice League Unlimited, Superman has adventures on Earth and particularly in Metropolis. His threats are Earth-based and only “Destroyer” figures a threat that is an all-out alien invasion by Darkseid.

The Übermensch

In Nietzsche’s philosophical theory, the Übermensch is portrayed as a creator of moral values:

“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment…

Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go.

Once the sin against God was the greatest sin; but God died, and these sinners died with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing, and to esteem the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth…

What is the greatest experience you can have? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour when your happiness, too, arouses your disgust, and even your reason and your virtue.

The hour when you say, ‘What matters my happiness? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment. But my happiness ought to justify existence itself.’

The hour when you say, ‘What matters my reason? Does it crave knowledge as the lion his food? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment.’

The hour when you say, ‘What matters my virtue? As yet it has not made me rage. How weary I am of my good and my evil! All that is poverty and filth and wretched contentment.’

“Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss…

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under…

“I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.

Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.

‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.

‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth…

One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.

No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.

‘Formerly, all the world was mad,’ say the most refined, and they blink…

One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.

‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men, and they blink.”

The philosophical assumption of the Übermensch is that the Übermensch is an evolutionary leap for mankind. It presents the Übermensch as completely other-worldly, an Overman who creates moral values and completely changes human society according to his own will. It is the eminent power of will-force over the environment, the manifestation of a will to power that seeks to dominate. Nietzsche seems to present the Übermensch as an evolutionary ineluctability, a development that marks the transition of Earth to a higher state of human evolution. He is presented as the goal for humanity. This is where Superman and the Übermensch coincide.

Superman is presented as the goal of human evolution in comic books. He is the first superhero and he is portrayed as “The Man of Tomorrow” who in his super powers portends a new age, a new time for humanity where man is master of the Earth, and develops actual super powers to dominate the Earth. The similarities end there however.

Superman is not the Übermensch. The reason being is that Superman was created in 1933 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish immigrants, a writer and artist who based their inspirations for the fictional character on America’s immigrant spirit and the welcome of the alien to a strange land, America. The inspiration of the Übermensch is primarily political, as it portrays the Übermensch as the fulfillment of the wishes of the Aryan race, whereas the inspiration of the Superman is scientific; it is based on comic book fantasy and the fulfillment of the desire to evolve the human race with scientific concepts.

In Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883), the Übermensch is presented as the goal of the Earth and a fruit of human evolution, and the motivation is primarily political to vehiculate the ideals of the Aryan race. In Action Comics #1 (1938), Superman is presented as the goal of the Earth and the fruit of an alien visitation to Earth, and the motivation is primarily scientific to promote the ideals of the American immigrant spirit through media, the press, and entertainment—the medium being the first superhero comic book published in America.

The Übermensch has played an important part in the subsequent world wars in Europe and America. It is a concept that has been used during the Second World War to promote the interests of the Aryan race in the national party of Nazism, creating the myth of a superior race of Aryans who rule the Earth with totalitarian power. This is a belief that should not be shared by anyone who believes in the principles of democracy. 

All Star Superman presents a particularly Übermensch representation of Superman by portraying Superman as an alien with no humanity who continues only on off-world adventures in other dimensions.

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