One of my favorite things to do at comic book shops or at conventions is to spend time going through the sales boxes. You’ve all seen them. Long boxes stuffed with issues of anything and everything marked down to irresistible prices – sometimes as low as $0.25 each! I’ll admit that I occasionally use the issues I find in the cheap seats for crafting (look, decoupaging is an addicting craft and I want to cover all the things with images from comic books). I mostly use the bargain bins as a tool to find new stories and to get to know new characters. For example, I’ve read just enough about Superman to know I want more. Cue the $1 bin.
I’ll rifle through and pick out a stack of titles from different writers and eras. It’s a nice sampling, and if I like what I read I’ll find more. Sometimes I’ll pick out comics based on the cover alone (like picking wine for the label). When I was flipping through a box and spotted a cover featuring Superman holding a cat, I was sold. I expected Superman For the Animals to be a nice, fluffy story along the lines of Superman rescuing a wayward cat from a tree.
I was so wrong, and I might be scarred for life.
Superman For the Animals is essentially a PSA about animal cruelty. It was published in 2000 and made available for free – DC Comics partnered with the Doris Day Animal Foundation for the comic written by Mark Millar and drawn by Tom Grummet and Dick Giordano (some interesting history on how it came to be here).
A young boy named Tommy is new in town and has fallen in with some troublemakers. One kid in particular – the leader Ballser – is a special brand of horrible. He takes pleasure in picking on animals. He bullies the other kids in the group into helping him with his sadistic obsession. Tommy’s torn between making friends and fitting in and doing the right thing. Ballser starts with kicking some pigeons. Then he tortures a goldfish. He takes it to another level and throws a cat over a bridge! A poor, helpless cat.
That’s where Superman swoops in. He arrives and saves the cat from doom. You see, Tommy had written to the superhero and asked for help. When Ballser sees who interfered with his twisted plan, he’s ticked. He calls Superman a “Boy Scout.” Seeing Superman intervene inspired Tommy to speak up – especially once Ballser insulted him in the same way. It made Tommy realize he could be like Superman too. He just had to stand up for what’s right.
The final straw is when Tommy makes a chilling discovery. Ballser actually has a collection of trophy collars. Tons of them. What the heck. I had to stop and get a tissue.
Tommy mans up and talks to a teacher. Ballser gets help, and Tommy and the gang move on and even volunteer at an animal rescue. Tommy realizes he too can be a superhero, and everyone feels warm and fuzzy. Which is desperately needed at that point since you’ve been reading about animal deaths.
Seeing animal cruelty is hard for me to stomach – even in a comic book – but I can’t deny Superman For the Animals sends some worthwhile messages. Superman saves a kitten and by doing so helps make sure a child gets necessary mental help, and shows Tommy how to be a hero as well as showing him how right it is to stand against evil. It illustrates that Superman can save the day in more ways than just taking down villains. There’s also an anti-bully theme that’s good for anyone to read. The story isn’t afraid to take on the hard stuff. If it made a lasting impression on me, I bet it definitely affected children. I hope it prompted some discussions with adults about animals and their feelings and value.