Superheroes for Saving Saddam?

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. Comic-book superheroes have gone into the liberal political indoctrination business.

The September issue of the DC Comics book "Justice League of America," or "JLA," presents Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as U.N.-promoting paper dolls for a thinly disguised propaganda play against President Bush's war on Saddam Hussein.

The story begins with a "napalmetto" attack on home soil. President Lex Luthor - how nice, a supervillain standing in for President Bush - connects the terror attack to "Qurac" and says the "Joint Chiefs are recommending military pressure." Wonder Woman protests: "International law and the U.N. Charter forbid unprovoked action against a sovereign nation." She then lectures, "We cannot simply disregard international ethics to depose him ... what message does that send to the world?"

(Ten-year-old Johnny must be on the edge of his seat reading this, don't you think?)

The scene then changes to people mobbing a supermarket for olive oil because the "Department of Defense" insists it will help in a napalmetto attack. Clark Kent tries to reason with Lois Lane that "the connection to Qurac still isn't clear," but Lois replies, "Every White House official is talking about prevention." Then, Gotham police use a false alarm to shut down the subway system and obstruct peace marchers, and a cop clubs a protester in the face as he says, "It's not safe for ya to risk gettin' badly hurt to attend a lousy cowardice rally!"

Superman then tells President Luthor that millions of people are protesting worldwide. "No one supports what you're doing," says Super Pollster.

"I hear them," says the evil president, "but I can't listen to them." When Superman says perhaps an attack could be delayed for more proof, the president retorts, "Where do you get off questioning me? ... It's unbecoming to question your president during times of international unrest." He says Batman and Wonder Woman were removed from the room because "they were confusing you with unpatriotic talk."

A subsequent picture has an enormous video image of a wide-mouthed president appearing ready to eat a shadowed Superman as he bellows, "America will bear the burden alone, if necessary."

Superman vows, "I will know the truth, and I will not feel ashamed or be called un-American for demanding it."

The storyline ends with the reader discovering it's all been a nightmare Superman's been having through a Martian therapeutic device. He recalls the dream with horror: "Luthor took the U.S. to war, despite our protests ... he killed everything we stand for." Superman laments being "paralyzed with indecision ... and the world paid the price." Superman shouldn't be so hard on himself. Being paralyzed by indecision is how the United Nations usually responds.

The Internet message boards sizzled and seethed when the JLA book hit the stores. "Maybe Clark Kent is French after all," joked one. But mostly, comic-book fans prefer traditional fantasy situations, not the action-free, didactic lectures offered by JLA writer Joe Kelly. "Someone needs to remind him that these are superheroes with outrageous powers and shouldn't be bogged down in political situations all the time," said one. In other words, can we do without Superman as Cyrus Vance and Wonder Woman as Madeleine Albright? Can they kick butt instead of lecturing on international law? Do they get to engage evil, or do they have to wait for a subpoena from The Hague?

In an interview, Kelly explained his Superman as Ted Kennedy with muscles: "I believe that he believes in an idealized America. One that operates above boards, truly does embrace diversity, and cares for its downtrodden, but not because he's naive, but because it IS possible." As for the super-villainous president, Kelly opined: "Luthor represents duplicity to Superman, so to keep it personal, it makes the most sense to use him." Why the blatant (or if the word fits, cartoonish) propaganda? Kelly acknowledged his agenda: "I think that comics are a much more powerful medium than people imagine, and in certain circumstances, it's appropriate to use them to discuss political issues."

Sadly, DC is not alone in the liberal-revisionist comic-book world. The other giant, Marvel Comics, has also transformed Captain America, the former Nazi-fighting hero, into a brooding listener to a series of post-Sept. 11 lectures against America's "empire of blood."

But in the real world, it's not all an apocalyptic vision of rogue presidents and policemen bashing peaceniks who alone hunger for the truth. It's not a grim vision of media outlets and citizens reacting like sheep to Pentagon directives, and then, illogically, at the same time, a world rising up in unanimous protest against American military action. In the real world, people want a strong defense by action heroes, not just guilt-ridden lecturers waiting for universal agreement with their pacifist dreams.