Superman and World War II

On February 27, 1940, Look magazine featured a two page comic strip by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster titled "How Superman Would End the War." Superman simply abducts Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, then brings both leaders before the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Siegel, Jerry, writer, and Joe Shuster, artist. "How Superman Would End The War." Look, 27 February 1940, pp. 16–17.

The cartoon drew criticism from the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda. On April, 25, 1940, Das Schwarze Korps, the weekly newspaper of the Schutzstaffel (SS), reprinted the strip with an antisemitic response titled "Jerry Siegel greift ein!" The hit-piece places the Kent farm in Des Moines, Iowa. The author concluded that "Jerry Siegallack stinks," a pun on the German word for sealing wax.

On December 2, 1940, the government of Canada enacted the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA), restricting the importation of all non-essential luxury goods. Comics books from the United States were effectively banned in Canada from 1941–1946.

On May 20, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8757 Establishing the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD). Regional youth programs were created throughout the country including the Superman Junior Defense League of America, Roberts Superman Defense League, and the Superman Victory Kid Club. In the comic books, Supermen of America Club advertisements began encouraging readers to buy Savings Bonds and Defense Stamps in Action Comics #43, on sale October 14, 1941.

The United States Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on December 7, 1941. Congress declared war against Japan on December 8, followed by Germany on December 11. The Writers' War Committee, later renamed the Writers' War Board (WWB), was created on January 6, 1942. The civilian board was funded by the Office of War Information. The WWB worked to control the war narrative in all forms of American media, advising publishers on how to portray the Axis. Comic books became a powerful weapon of propaganda for civilians and soldiers.

Like Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter, Superman was an important symbol of American patriotism during the second World War. The Action Comics and Superman books were spared from government paper rationing. Although the comic book stories mostly avoided the war, Superman battled the enemy on covers, on the radio, in cartoons, and the newspapers.

Action Comics 35 (April 1941) by Joe Shuster Action Comics 40 (September 1941) by Fred Ray Action Comics 41 (December 1941) by Fred Ray

Superman was already fighting Nazis on the comic book covers. A German machine gunner is seen on Action Comics #35 (April 1941), and German troops on Action Comics #39 (August 1941). A Wehrmacht tank appears on Action Comics #40 (September 1941), and a Nazi paratrooper on Action Comics #41 (December 1941). Patriotic covers illustrated by Fred Ray began appearing with Superman #12 (September–October 1941). Supermen of America ads prepared with the Department of War showcased twelve individual "Supermen of the U.S. Army" in Action Comics #49–60.

Superman 12 (Sep-Oct 1941) by Fred Ray Superman 14 (Jan-Feb 1942) by Fred Ray Superman 17 (July-August 1942) by Fred Ray

In the newspaper storyline from February 16–19, 1942, Clark Kent attempts to enlist in the Army, but fails the eye exam with his X-ray vision. A disgusted Lois Lane remarks, "I might have known the Army would turn you down." Clark decides that the U.S. Armed Forces are capable of achieving victory without Superman. In the August 20, 1943, strip, General Douglas MacArthur informs Superman that the United Nations does not need him. As a reporter, Clark worked with the Army Air Force Technical Training Command in Superman #25 (November–December 1943), and the U.S. Navy in Superman #34 (May–June 1945).

Superman - The Failure - February 1942

Superman supported the war effort from the home front by educating soldiers and raising money for the Allies. In April 1942, the Navy Department classified comic books as essential supplies for sailors and Marines and the Superman titles were shipped to Midway Garrison. That month, a "Sooper Man" comic book appeared on the cover of Army Motors. Harry Donenfeld and Superman Inc. later produced an official comic strip for the magazine that informs soldiers about preventive equipment care. The influx of comic books and other reading materials led to increased literacy rates within the ranks.

Tim's Pie Eaters Club was originally established by Streeter Blair in January 1925. The campaign was reorganized as the Superman-Tim Club in July 1942. Monthly issues of Superman-Tim were distributed to clothing retailers nationwide. Superman and Tim encouraged children to purchase War Bonds and salvage scrap material for the defense effort. Wartime storylines featured an international Nazi spy known as Brown Scorpion, as well as Japanese saboteurs.

Sooper Man, Army Motors, vol. 3, no 1, April 1942 Superman-Tim Store, July 1943

Comic book readers were constantly reminded to purchase War Bonds and War Stamps; later marketing focused on the War Loans. World's Finest Comics #8 (Winter 1942) portrays Superman, Robin, and Batman encouraging children to "Sink the Japanazis with Bonds & Stamps." The cover of Action Comics #58 (March 1943) depicts Superman printing propaganda posters that read, "Superman says: You can slap a Jap with War Bonds and Stamps!"

World's Finest Comics 8 (Winter 1942) by Jack Burnley World's Finest Comics 9 (Spring 1943) by Jack Burnley Action Comics 58 (March 1943) by Jack Burnley

"Japanazi" was a popular slur promoted by the War Production Board and War Stamp Council. Since the late 19th century, Asian people were commonly represented as caricatures in American media. Asian villains were often depicted with buck teeth, glasses, and a Fu Manchu mustache. All three features are included in the "Jap Spy" character from the Superman animated short Japoteurs, released on September 18, 1942, by Paramount Pictures and Famous Studios. Superman thwarts a gang of Japanese saboteurs attempting to hijack a bomber plane.

The "never-ending battle for truth and justice" motto was updated to "truth, justice, and the American way" on The Adventures of Superman radio series. The variation first appeared during episodes of "The Wolfe," an 11-part Nazi storyline that aired on Mutual from September 2–16, 1942. In a letter to the Office of War Information dated April 12, 1943, show creator Robert Maxwell declared his intent to teach hatred towards the enemy. Maxwell wrote, "A German is a Nazi and a Jap is the little yellow man who 'knifed us in the back at Pearl Harbor.'" By 1944, the WWB advised media outlets to portray all German citizens as enemies rather than ordinary people.

Action Comics 63 (August 1943) by Jack Burnley Action Comics 76 (September 1944) by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye Action Comics 86 (July 1945) by Jack Burnley and Stan Kaye

From February 19, 1942, to March 20, 1946, over 125,000 people of Japanese descent were imprisoned in concentration camps throughout the United States. The majority of detainees were American citizens. In the June 28, 1943, Superman newspaper strip, Clark and Lois begin investigating a "relocation center" named Camp Carok. Lois praises the camp saying, "The Jap government should have absolutely no excuse for not showing their prisoners of war as much consideration." On June 30, the plot was retold in the Tulean Dispatch Daily, a mimeographed newspaper published by detainees of the Tule Lake concentration camp in Newell, California.

On July 9, 1943, Superman used "his amazing muscular control" to disguise himself as a Japanese prisoner named Masu Watasuki. Superman comments, "It's easy – to make myself – look like a Jap. Take a-lookie at the new Watasuki!" Superman remained disguised as Watasuki until July 17.
Superman as Masu Watasuki, July 9-14, 1943
The Camp Carok plot drew criticism from readers nationwide. After destroying a Japanese fleet on August 21, 1943, Superman delivered a backtracked response: "It should be remembered that most Japanese-Americans are loyal citizens. Many are in combat units of our armed forces, and others are working in war factories. According to government statements, not one act of sabotage was perpetrated in Hawaii or territorial U.S. by a Japanese-American."

Superman, August 21, 1943

An "Overseas Service Edition" of Superman #27 and "Overseas Edition" of Superman #28 were distributed to the Armed Forces in 1944 by the U.S. Army Special Services Division. From November 1944 to April 1945, the U.S. Navy released six "Special Edition" comics that reprint issues of Action Comics and Superman. The "Special Edition" books include educational material produced by the Bureau of Naval Personnel.

Harry Donenfeld - Special Branch Headquarters Second Service Command, c. 1943


A Boeing B-17 named Superman (41-24380) was the oldest Flying Fortress of the 97th Bombardment Group in North Africa. The nose paintings are based on a promotional image for the 1941 animated Superman series from Fleischer Studios and Paramount Pictures. Superman was assigned to the 340th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group at RAF Polebrook, England. The aircraft was photographed by Margaret Bourke-White for Life magazine in September 1942. On October 11, 1942, the bomber was assigned to Maison Blanche airfield in Algeria. Superman received over 300 holes with no fatalities while piloted by 1st Lt. John A. Gallup. Six of the crew members were awarded the Purple Heart.

Superman was later assigned to the 515th Air Service Group. On September 15, 1945, the bomber sent a distress call while enroute from Dakar, Senegal, to Natal, Brazil. Major Willard E. Karschnick ditched the aircraft in the Atlantic near the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago. All 14 crew members were promptly rescued by Brazilian destroyer Greenhalgh (M 3) about 500 miles off the northeast coast.

B-17 41-24380 Superman - Life, September 1942 B-17-41-24380 Superman, January 7, 1943

A Consolidated B-24D Liberator (41-23938) named Super Man was assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group, 98th Bombardment Squadron in the Pacific. Images of Superman holding a hammer and a bomb were painted on the nose of the plane. On April 20, 1943, Super Man was heavily damaged by anti-aircraft fire and Japanese Zero fighters over Nauru. Radio Operator/Waist Gunner Corporal Harold V. Brooks was mortally wounded. On May 5, The New York Times reported that ground crewmen counted 500 holes, later confirmed as 594. The mission is depicted in the 2014 film Unbroken, written by the Coen Brothers and directed by Angelina Jolie. The film is based on the biography of bombardier Louis Zamperini by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

After repairs, a new aircrew renamed the bomber Sexy Sue-IV, Mother of Ten and a nude woman was painted on the nose. During a bombing run from Tarawa on January 20, 1944, Sexy Sue-IV reported engine failure near Wotje Atoll, Marshall Islands. The fate of the nine crew members is unknown. Classified material from the aircraft was later captured from Japanese forces on Kwajalein Atoll.

B-24D-13-CO 41-23938 Super Man, c. 1943 Russel Allen (Phil) Philips - B-24D-13-CO 41-23938 Super Man, c. 1943


Like Clark Kent, Joe Shuster received a 4-F disqualification and was declared "unfit for military service" due to his failing eyesight. The Shuster Shop continued to produce Superman features and Joe would contribute illustrations for bond drives.

Joe Shuster Draft Registration Card, D.S.S. Form 1

Jerry Siegel was drafted in the U.S. Army and enlisted on June 28, 1943. Siegel was sworn in during an induction ceremony at the "Festival of Freedom" on July 4. Over 80,000 people attended the celebration in the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Jerry later revealed, "While I was in the Army, practically all of the Superman stories were ghosted."

In August 1943, Private Siegel reported to the 39th Special Service Company for Basic Training at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. Jerry and Joe provided a Superman strip for The Fort Meade Post on August 13, 1943. In a guest article, Jerry wrote that the "real Supermen" were the members of the Armed Services. The September 10, 1943, issue of Yank, the Army Weekly quotes Jerry on Superman: "he'll never join the army; he'll never help me."

Around this time, Jerry Siegel collaborated with artist Ben Bryan on a "Super Sam" comic strip. The original artwork depicts an unauthorized Superman appearance. It is unverified if the story was ever published.

After Basic Training, PFC Siegel was stationed in Elkins, West Virginia, as part of the Detached Enlisted Men's List (DEML). In November 1943, Jerry was assigned a 1,500-word weekly column providing updates on Special Service activities for The Inter-Mountain newspaper. Jerry spent the fall and winter living in a five-man tent in the rugged hills of the West Virginia Maneuver Area (WVMA). On January 1, 1944, Jerry asked DC Comics co-founder Jack Liebowitz to send 131 Supermen of America membership kits for the company. The soldiers wanted to wear the membership buttons as insignia.

Jerry Siegel - Honolulu Star Bulletin
, August 23, 1944

Jerry received additional training at Camp Siebert, Alabama, before reporting to Hickam Field in Honolulu, Hawaii. The front page header of Midpacifican on August 26, 1944, proclaimed "Superman's Old Man Here." Jerry is unflatteringly pictured with his gear and labeled a "Sad Sack."

The following day in Waikiki, Jerry met his childhood idol Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. Both characters were major influences on the creation of Superman. Jerry sketched a profile portrait of Superman for Burroughs, praising the author as "the daddy of today's leading heroes."

Jerry Siegel and Gerald H. Green collaborating on Super G.I. for Midpacifican. Army Life and United States Recruiting News, October 1945, p. 19

Jerry Siegel was promoted to Technician Fifth Grade (T/5), equivalent to Corporal. Siegel wrote stories for Hickam Highlights, a raunchy mimeographed base newsletter, and joined Midpacifican as a staff reporter in September 1944.

Jerry collaborated with artist Gerald H. Green on "Super GI," a weekly cartoon published in Midpacifican from December 30, 1944, to March 17, 1945. A photograph of Siegel and Green reviewing the artboards was later printed in Army Life. Super GI, also known as Joe Droop, is in love with Corporal Jane Troy. Woman's Army Corps Pvt. Faye Lewis Trowbridge from Dallas, Texas, was a model for Jane Troy.

Super GI - Midpacifican, Dec 30, 1944

On April 14, 1945, the Superman newspaper strip featured a cyclotron, or "atom smasher." At the time, the Manhattan Project was highly classified and the Trinity nuclear device had not been tested. The Office of Censorship instructed editor Jack Schiff to end the storyline. The FBI contacted Jerry for questioning, but "The Science of Superman" story was ghost written by Alvin Schwartz. Schwartz had read an article about the cyclotron in the April 1936 issue of Popular Mechanics. The Adventures of Superman radio show had previously featured "Dr. Dahlgren's Atomic Beam Machine" in February 1940, before the Manhattan Project was established.

On May 14, 1945, Midpacifican was replaced by the Middle Pacific edition of The Stars and Stripes. As a staff reporter, Jerry wrote an article titled "Melt to Music" printed on May 30. From June 5, 1945, to January 15, 1946, Jerry contributed a daily humor column called "Take a Break with T/4 Jerry Siegel." The column was renamed after his promotion to Technician Fourth Grade on July 11.

T-4 Jerry Siegel, Hickam Air Field, Hawaii, 1945

On August 11, 1945, Jerry appeared on "Breakfast at the Crossroads," a weekly radio show on KGU broadcast from the USO Rainbow Club in Honolulu. Jerry judged contest answers for the question, "What would you do if you could be Superman for five minutes?" The winning answer was, "I'd take a fast trip home." The contest was sponsored by the USO and the American Red Cross.

Superman 29 (July-August 1944) by Wayne Boring Superman 34 (May-June 1945) by Jack Burnley

The war officially ended on September 2, 1945. On January 21, 1946, Jerry was discharged from the Army and sent home to Cleveland.


Agostino, Lauren, and A. L. Newberg. Holding Kryptonite: Truth, Justice and America's First Superhero. Holmes & Watson Publishing Co., 2014.

Anderson, M. Margaret. "Racism: Cause and Cure." Pittsburgh Courier, 10 July 1943, p. 5.

"Camp News." Yank, the Army Weekly, 10 September 1943, p. 19.

"Creator of 'Superman' to Appear on Airshow." The Stars and Stripes, Middle Pacific edition, 10 August 1945.

Cummings, Roy. "Creator of Superman is on Duty in Honolulu as an Army Corporal." Honolulu Star Bulletin, 23 August 1944, pp. 1, 6.

Duke, John. "Fathers of Tarzan, Superman, Renfrew Meet." Midpacifican, vol. 3, no. 19, 2 September 1944, pp. 1, 11.

"Faster Than a Bullet." Daily Tulean Dispatch, 1 July 1943, p. 2.

Freeman, Roger, and David Osborne. The B-17 Flying Fortress Story. Arms and Armour Press, 2000.

"Here's What G-1 Supers Would Like." The Honolulu Advertiser, 12 August 1945, p. 12.

Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. New York, Random House, 2010.

"Introducing 'SUPER GI'." Midpacifican, 30 December 1944, p. 10.

"Jerry Siegel greift ein!" Das Schwarze Korps, 25 April 1940, p. 8.

Levitz, Paul. 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking. Taschen, 2010, p. 178.

McCarthy, Tom. "The Story of Sexy Sue, Mother of Ten." 11th Bombardment Group Heavy (H) "The Grey Geese", 11 February 2012.

"Miler Zamperini as Bombardier, Had 'Toughest Race' on Nauru Raid." The New York Times, 5 May 1943, p. 6.

Myer, Dillon S. "Superman May Help Evacuees." Gila News-Courier, vol. 2, no. 91, 31 July 1943, pp. 1–2.

Rankin, William H., Jr. "Value of the Handicraft Branch of the Special Services Division of the Army Service Forces forcefully demonstrated now." Army Life and United States Recruiting News. October 1945, p. 19.

Siegel, Jerry. Creation of a Superhero. Draft. 1979.

Siegel, Jerry. Letter to Jack Liebowitz. 1 January 1944.

Siegel, Jerry. "Not all Men of Tomorrow are in Comics, Siegel Says." The Fort Meade Post, 13 August 1943, p. 9.

Siegel, Jerry (w), and Shuster, Joe (i). "How Superman Would End The War." Look, 27 February 1940, pp. 16–17.

"Six-Million Volt Atom Smasher Creates New Elements." Popular Mechanics, vol. 65, no. 4, April 1936. p. 580.

"Sooper Man." Army Motors, vol. 3, no. 1, April 1942.

"Superman's Dilemma." Time, vol. 39, no. 15, 13 April 1942, p. 78.

"'Superman' Finds Action at Relocation Center." Tulean Dispatch Daily, vol. 5, no. 87, 30 June 1943, p. 2.

"Superman in Relocation Center." Gila News-Courier, vol. 2, no. 78, 1 July 1943, p. 2.

"Superman -- Nazis Say He's a Bad Influence." Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 May 1940, p. 5.

"Superman Quiz." Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 11 August 1945, p. 16.

"Um destróier brasileiro salva 14 tripulantes de uma Fortaleza Voadora sinistrada em atlo mar." Jornal do Brasil, no. 220, 19 September 1945, p. 5.

"Unfavorable Comment Voiced on Superman." Des Moines Register, 20 July 1943.

Watcher, Wally. "GI Hollywood Star Here." Midpacifican, 26 August 1944, p. 1.

Weisinger, Mort. "Here Comes Superman!" Coronet, July 1946, pp. 23–26.