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The American Way Wasn’t Part of Superman’s Original Pledge

People hold Superman representing the American Way close to the heart, despite it not being part of his original pledge to serve truth and justice.

DC released a new Superman mission statement on Oct. 16, 2021, officially replacing “the American Way” in the Man of Steel’s creed, and replacing it with “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.”

It comes more than a year after actor Dean Cain, star of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,  made some controversial comments about superheroes, and claimed, “I promise you, as Superman, I wouldn’t today be allowed to say ‘truth, justice, and the American way.'”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated Oct. 17, 2021, to reflect Superman’s new mission statement.

Cain’s reaction last year, and the reactions to DC’s new “Better Tomorrow” mission statement, are similar to the fervor in 2011, when Action Comics #900 (in a story by David S. Goyer, Miguel Sepulveda and Paul Mounts) depicted Superman asserting he was going to renounce his U.S. citizenship so that he could be a “citizen of the world” and not have his actions construed as being part of U.S. policy.


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It’s also evocative of when, in 2006’s Superman Returns, Perry White said, “Truth, justice and all that stuff” instead of “Truth, justice and the American way.” Those examples are contrasted with Christopher Reeve’s Superman famously saying the “American Way” phrase in the 1978 Superman film.

And the phrase has become ingrained in the world of popular culture through its use in the popular Adventures of Superman television series, which aired from 1952 to 1958:

 

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”)… Yes, it’s Superman … strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman … who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way! And now, another exciting episode, in The Adventures of Superman!

However, when the “never-ending battle for…” phrase originally appeared, it was in the popular Adventures of Superman radio series that aired from 1940-1951.

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And there, the introduction went:

Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman–defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice.

That basic opening (“a never-ending battle for truth and justice”) was later used in 1941 for the acclaimed Fleischer Studios Superman animated serials.

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It wasn’t until the mid-1942, with the United States firmly entrenched in World War II, that the phrase “the American Way” was added to the opening of the series. But later in the decade, after the war ended, it was dropped once again. In the Superman serial of 1948, which showed depicted the Man of Steel’s origin, Pa Kent tells him he must fight “in the interests of truth, tolerance and justice.”

Really, the “American Way” was primarily used during the 1950s television series (during a time when anti-Communism fervor was similar to the propaganda of World War II), but because that television series was frequently repeated in syndication, phrase became ingrained in the popular consciousness.

When the Super Friends Saturday-morning cartoon launched in the 1970s, the introduction noted the heroes fought for “truth, justice and peace for all mankind.” That was accepted by its audience without incident.

So now you know the only consistent thing about the slogan has been including “truth and justice.” Everything else has been an adjustment over the years; “the American Way” was not part of its original formulation.

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