Superman on Trial

by bdhesse

I just listened to a very interesting docudrama called Superman on Trial. It is about Lex Luthor putting Superman on trial for crimes against humanity. It brings up some very interesting ideas about superheroes and crime fighting in general. 

It begins with a reporter getting pulled over by the police. The reporter is trying to get to the trial to speak on behalf of Superman. One police office says “just wait until he’s found guilty: there’ll be some respect for us cops with Superman put away in the phantom zone.” This is a very interesting sentiment. In a lot of superhero stories, the police are sidekicks at best and hindrances at worst. They show up and arrest the bad guy after the superhero has taken them down. If we lived in a world with Superheroes, would they be respected by everyday citizens? Would they be viewed any differently than they are now?

The story goes on to show Lex using kryptonite to show that Superman is not a super man but instead a “super alien.” He views this as an important fact because, as an alien, Superman “threatens the independence of humanity.” This is also an interesting concept. If we had superheroes, would we rely on them so much that we’d give up our own independence as a result? Would the existence of superheroes threaten our free will? 

At one point, Lois Lane draws attention to Superman’s weakened state. We is weak and sick to the point of being unable to talk. The judge says that he cannot make any comment on Superman’s condition. Lex claims that Superman is simply choosing not to defend himself. The trial continues with Superman in that state until Batman arrives. It is also revealed that Superman was in the custody of his prosecutors (Lex) until he was brought to the court house. It is an obvious abuse of power and mistreatment of someone. Would a real person every be treated so poorly? If so, would the prosecutors simply have to dehumanize the person, the way Superman was in the very beginning, to justify such mistreatment?

In his weakened state, Superman finds himself lost in thought as the trial brings back memories. In one memory, he wonders about Krypton. He sees his parents sending him to Earth as a baby, and he wonders what life on Krypton had been like. In another memory, he sees himself as a young boy with his human parents. He sees himself doing choirs and playing football like every other child his age. Meanwhile, the defense argues that his childhood determined who he was as much as his biology did. It was argued that, since he was raised human, he had as much right to act on Earth as anyone else. Is this an accurate statement? Does Superman deserve to be treated as a human because he was raised human? Or do his powers make him too different?

At one point it was stated that “just like the Bible, comic books convey many basic truths.” How accurate is this statement? Why?

Later on, when asked if he would say that superheroes have been an influence for good, Adam West says that “every adventure always presented a clear case of good versus evil.” Is this statement true, or are superhero stories more murky than that? Is the hero always good? Are they always doing what’s right? Or do they sometimes act immortally? How do we determine if a superhero is acting morally or immorally? One example of this is offered in the trial. Batmen is called as a witness and he discusses his first meeting with Superman. In that meeting, he told Superman, who wanted to arrest him, that he was protected by a force field. If Superman broke the force field, it would detonate a bomb that would kill an innocent person. It was later revealed that the innocent person was Batman. What are the moral implications of this action?

Superheroes offer many interesting thought experiments where morality is concerned. How moral are superheroes? How moral are Superman and Batman? Is Superman innocent or guilty?