As Zap2It reported early this morning, part of Grant Morrison's sprawling DC Comics series Multiversity will tell the story of a stranger from another planet landing in Nazi Germany rather than Smallville, Kansas:
"Imagine you're Superman and for the first 25 [years] of your life you were working for Hitler," Morrison says, "And then you realize, 'Oh my god, it's Hitler!'" Morrison further explains, "Not only is he a Nazi Superman, he's a Nazi Superman that knows his entire society, though it looks utopian, was built on the bones of the dead. Ultimately it's wrong and it must be destroyed." The issue will see the caped hero going up against enemies he knows are right, as he comes to terms with the fact that the principles he was raised with are wrong.
As it happens, Robert Sharp explored this possibility in his chapter "Could Superman Have Joined the Third Reich? The Importance and Shortcomings of Moral Upbringing" in Superman and Philosophy: What Would the Man of Steel Do?. His tale starts like so:
It’s 1926, and on a small farm with a few fields of wheat, a meteorite has just charred its way through a good bit of the crop. The farmer who owns the land is dismayed. His life has been hard since the Great War, even though prices for his food have skyrocketed, at least in terms of the actual bills carried around. In fact, one of his neighbors joked that he needed a wheelbarrow to carry around the cash to buy a loaf of bread, given how worthless the money had become. He and his wife are barely scraping by. Perhaps it is just as well that they had not been able to have children. Where would they find the money? His wife is fond of saying, “God will provide,” but sometimes he has doubts. And now a large part of his best field has been destroyed by a rock from space!
As the farmer heads toward the damaged area, he calls back to his wife to bring a shovel in case there are any scattered fires to smother. He can see the hot smoke from the house, though the meteor itself is buried. His wife is almost half way to him when he reaches the crater, his eyes widening. “Magda!” he shouts, with a mixture of awe and anxiety, “Magda, bring a blanket! There is … a child!” The words seemed distant from him, as though said by someone else. His wife, believing she has misheard, runs toward him, shovel in hand.
“Jonas? What is it? What is wrong?” she asks, her hands trembling. As she nears her husband she can see him, just emerging from some sort of space pod—a small boy! A gift from God! Her prayers are finally answered. Here in the German heartland, a miracle occurs, one that will soon have profound consequences for the world at large. The small child that had landed on Jonas and Magda Kuhn’s farm was the Übermensch himself, a “super man.” The Übermensch would vindicate Hitler’s claim that the New World Order would arise in Germany and prove that nation’s superiority.
Only three years later, young Karl Kuhn, as he was named in the adoption papers, would join the Hitler Youth. Indoctrinated into the cause, his character was formed by the Nazi Party. He never knew any other life, and when the war finally came, Hitler used his young prodigy as the ultimate super-weapon. The war was over before it had begun, as the Allies had no counter to such raw power. A farm boy from the middle of nowhere had helped the Nazis take over the world.
"...Or Not" is the title of the following section, and through the rest of the chapter Sharp explains the different ways this story could go and how moral character and develop influence it. (See also the four other chapters in the book on Superman and Nietzsche for more on the Übermensch—and why the true Übermensch may be named Lex.)
As countless others do, I look forward to seeing Grant Morrison's version of this "what if" story in Multiversity—and in the meantime, be sure to pick up Superman and Philosophy!