Superman’s team up with Lobo revealed he has the bizarre power of comic book censorship, something which speaks to his long history.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Superman vs. Wolf #3, on sale now from DC Comics.
The Man of Steel has had many weird and interesting powers over the years, particularly in the wild days of the Silver Age, but none are perhaps quite so ridiculous as the one Lobo just discovered. The Main Man is known for his more vulgar attitude about him, something which always puts him at odds with Superman. Oddly though, it turns out the Kryptonian has a way of toning down Lobo without lifting a finger.
The Main Man hated being around the Man of Steel during this series. So much so that he went on a rant listing everything he despises about the do-gooder in Superman vs. Wolf #3 (by Tim Seeley, Sarah Beattie, Mirka Andolfo, Arif Prianto, and Fabio Amelia). Chief among them was that Superman thinks he’s better than the crass Czarian bounty hunter but the oddest reason of all revealed that the Last Son of Krypton has the strangest ability – Comic book censorship.
Apparently, any time Lobo is around Superman, he is completely unable to swear. In a fourth-wall-breaking piece of dialogue, the Main Man detailed that it comes out all “gobbledygook” in the form of the classic punctuation that comic book readers expect to see when characters attempt to swear. It’s a fun little detail but it speaks volumes about both Superman’s place of him in society and the wider issue of comic book censorship.
Superman had plenty of weird and whacky powers like this in the ’50s and ’60s, during the Silver Age. These abilities would usually only appear for one, maybe two issues and then disappear again. They only served to get the Man of Steel out of whatever precarious predicament he may have found himself in at the time. However, the inconsistent powers weren’t the biggest issue for the character during this era. The biggest issue, which this latest ability ties into, was the wider censorship of all comics at the time.
Although Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman had beaten up baddies and faced perilous situations for around a decade, when the ’50s arrived there was increasing pressure from overzealous groups to tone down the content in children’s comics, and comics in general. This soon attracted attention from the US government. The Comics Code Authority was created to avoid government regulation, however, it nevertheless prevented comics from telling the types of challenging stories they had done so before. Suddenly the Man of Steel wasn’t taking down gangsters and corrupt capitalists like Lex Luthor, he was fighting aliens and going on bizarre space odysseys instead.
Although comics have improved since then, and have become a vast, vibrant and deeply impactful medium, that doesn’t mean that censorship no longer plays a part in comics anymore. It also doesn’t mean that the censorship of the Silver Age doesn’t still play a role either. Most recently, Dark Knights of Steel #3 saw its own brutal Kryptonian, Zala Jor-El, have her very graphic kills masked by some creative comic book sound effects, like “RNNGH” and “SHNK”, keeping it in line with its 13+ age rating.
Though, of course, this censorship makes sense to keep Dark Knights of Steel‘s age rating consistent, it speaks to the range of stories available to Superman and his family. When was the last time DC produced a Superman comic that was suitable for mature audiences only? The Man of Steel has a reputation for truth and justice which lends itself to keeping the character more family-friendly. That leads to the bizarre little power seen here that doesn’t allow Lobo to swear whilst in a Superman-centric book.
Yes, it is absolutely appropriate and somewhat hilarious that Superman is so pure and good that he can stop even the most seasoned sweaters from uttering a single curse whilst he’s around. However, it’s also a sign that the issues he’s capable of confronting have to be deemed family-friendly. Racism and climate change are on the table, as Jon Kent proves but the more brutal realities of real-world violence and oppression aren’t. When used correctly, censorship can allow important stories to reach a wider audience. However, the effect it has on storytelling in general, and bigger characters like Superman, means that other important stories either reach a considerably smaller audience or don’t get made at all. The Man of Steel could deal with grittier and gorier issues, the type that are on Lobo’s level. Unfortunately, Superman’s history of him as a hero suitable for all ages makes that increasingly less likely, as his censorship powers of him prove.
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