This post is co-authored with Michael Haberlein
I love Superman, he is my favorite superhero. I love everything about Superman: his back story, his uniform, his powers, his weaknesses, his morality, his symbolism, and his comic books/movies/TV shows. I eagerly look forward to the upcoming film, and will even defend Superman Returns to its detractors. If anything related to Superman is out there, I’m all over it…. That is until a week ago when Action Comics #900 came out. What happened in Action Comics #900, you may ask? Superman renounced his American citizenship!
Since Superman’s creation in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, he has been a symbol of hope and a personification of power for America. He was known for fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way”. He is literally a totem to our culture; a character who helped America through a time of great tension and uncertainty during World War II. And while his character has evolved over the years, one fact has remained constant: for 73 years, Superman has been an American superhero.
Kal-El is the “Last Son of Krypton”, his father, Jor-El sent his son to Earth to protect him, because Krypton was about to explode. Even though he was an alien, he was adopted and kept safe by Jonathan and Martha Kent who gave him a loving home in Smallville, Kansas. The boy, whom they named Clark, grew and started to show superpowers, which he had to learn how to control and properly use. Because of his upbringing with the Kents, Clark grew up with strong moral standards, and a respect for life.
Clark Kent moved to Metropolis and soon revealed himself as the hero he was always meant to be. He was named “Superman” by reporter Lois Lane, and became known for his red, yellow, and blue suit and cape, and his “S” Shield that is the emblem of the House of El; a symbol of his Kryptonian heritage. Clark decided to have Superman be an alter ego, so that people wouldn’t know that he was the true Man of Steel. Superman continues to do good all around the world, and battling alongside his superhero friends to keep Earth safe from forces that would seek to capture, enslave, or destroy it. And through it all, Superman became known for fighting for truth, justice, and the American way: freedom, equal opportunity, proper justice. Superman is known to be an alien, but is also an American citizen (most people don’t know that Clark Kent is Superman, and Clark is truly an American citizen in a legal sense).
Even though Superman is an American citizen, he does not simply help out America. He helps the world on more than one occasion. In fact, during the Doomsday encounter (which can be read in The Death of Superman graphic novel), Superman gave up his own life to protect the people of Earth, and by doing so, did something he never wanted to do: kill a living being. When Superman realized that he couldn’t defeat the Doomsday monster, that it would just keep coming, and destroy all life on the planet, including all of the people he knows and cares about, he starts to throw punches that he never thought he would ever use on any living being. He killed Doomsday to save the world, and by doing so, he gave up his own life. Yes, he did return to life, but he didn’t know that he would, and the world was in upheaval without Superman for the weeks that he was dead and recovering from death. Once Superman returned to full power, the world rejoiced (not counting Lex Luthor and Superman’s other enemies). Superman is the world’s hero, as well as an American hero.
At least, that’s what I have always thought. The Man of Tomorrow long mythologized as the embodiment of American strength and values, shocks readers in the comic’s 900th issue by telling a White House official he’s changing allegiance.
“Which is why I intend to speak before the UN tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my US citizenship,” he says. “Truth, justice and the American way – it’s not enough anymore.”
The super spat is sparked in the comic by Superman’s disillusionment at reactions to his support for democracy protesters in Iran. In the comic, Superman is upset by the racist reactions of many in America’s “Heartland” and America’s apparent apathy regarding the push for democracy and equal rights in traditionally fundamentalist Iran.
What’s Wrong With This?
I’m not sure if Action Comics #900 is considered “canon” or if it’s an alternate story, which there have been many of since Superman’s creation. But one way or the other, I find this offensive. Superman was created by Americans, he’s a citizen by adoption and by creed, he’s always been an American icon. I’m not saying Superman can’t be more than that, because, let’s face it, he is. He is known around the world. But now, according to Action Comics #900, he renounces his citizenship to the United Nations to take up a more global standpoint…which is absurd, because he already did this in the first place! He’s always stood for the American way, as an independent moral code based on some of the rights our nation’s founders quoted in the Constitution: equality, freedom, justice, and truth. Does this mean that anytime America as a nation does something the world doesn’t like that Superman is automatically okay with it? Not at all. It means that Superman believes in the American foundation of life, like freedom and equality.
Moreover, just because Superman resides in America (as Clark that is, the Fortress of Solitude is Superman’s personal shelter), doesn’t mean that everything he does reflects America as a nation. Superman lives in America and agrees with the American way of doing things (the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, civil rights and all that), but he doesn’t necessarily work only for the good of America. If he did, then he would never help anyone outside of the borders of the United States. The fact that he’s an alien from another world means that he can do what he thinks is right all around the world, he doesn’t officially unite with any one country.
But this brings into question where Clark Kent ends up in all of this. There is a separation: Superman and Clark Kent; one man, two people. On one hand you have the mild mannered reporter trying to make an honest living. He lives in Metropolis, works at the Daily Planet, is married to Lois Lane, and pays his taxes to the American government. Clark Kent has a life, but Clark Kent is not who he really is, Superman is. Superman is the man the Kents raised and nurtured. He is known to the world as an alien from Krypton who resides on Earth and is a hero to the people. If Superman renounces his citizenship to America, does Clark Kent? What happens to Clark if Superman no longer calls America home? How does his life change?
You may say, “Nothing changes, because no one knows that Clark is Superman. He can live an American life as a citizen with no problem.”
But that’s not true, Clark Kent is Superman! If he, being Superman’s “human” alter ego, does accept the American life and is willing to side with America, then isn’t he a hypocrite? “I will not be an American citizen so anything I do won’t be taken as an American act…but as Clark I can!” And it’s not like Clark Kent is some low profile person. He’s a journalist for the Daily Planet, one of the biggest newspapers in the world. His name is known! He is directly associated with America. So what is the deal? Is Superman a hypocrite?
Politics in a Superman Comic Book?!
What the heck is DC Comics even thinking in publishing a significant plot thread where Superman renounces that with which he is most symbolic of? This will alienate their core audience, at the least, and will potentially lose their company millions of dollars in revenue because of political backlash against such an asinine plot thread. I mean, who does DC think purchases and reads Superman comics on a regular basis? Iraqis? Europeans? Tree Hugging America apologists? Wookies? Certainly not! If you were to take a demographic look at who reads Superman and follows the mythos, it would be American males of all ages who are comfortable with masculinity and the image of America as a force for good. And most of them wouldn’t care about the Superman’s political standing in the United Nations. All they want to see is Superman saving the day, or beating up some new bad guy who decided to take over the world (Of course!).
I think this “politically correct” move on DC’s part will backfire, and perhaps already has begun to. As I write this, news has broken that Superman has reconsidered renouncing his American citizenship. In fact, if I were an editor at DC Comics, I would shape the story so that it turns out that it was actually Bizarro, or some trick of Lex Luthor’s to make it look like the Man of Steel had renounced his citizenship in an attempt to make the real Superman look bad. That, or simply write an apology issue to the American people.
This is Offensive
Why are they trying to make Superman politically correct on a global scale? Why is it offensive to have an iconic superhero be American? I find that wanting to change Superman’s allegiance to be unnatural to his character. Superman is an American superhero. And frankly, if other nations don’t like that Superman is American, too bad. Get over it!
“You can’t say that, you racist jerk! That’s intolerance!”
That is not true. All I’m saying is that I am American and proud of it! I just don’t like it when icons that are American are being changed so that they’re more accepting to people of other nations! I think that’s bull crap!
They did it with G.I. Joe. When I was a kid, G.I. Joe was a group of people from the U.S. Armed Forces untied together. The tag line for it was “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero”. But when the 2009 movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra came out, it was a group of international armed forces. When I was a kid, the “G.I.” in G.I. Joe stood for Government Issue. But in the new movie “G.I. Joe” stood for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. What’s wrong here? They took something that was American and made it global to be politically correct; so they don’t offend anyone!
I’m all for other nations, don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with other nations and cultures. However, when we, as Americans, have to changes things that are unique to our culture to make sure we don’t offend anyone else is offensive to me. I am not going to apologize for being an American, and neither should Superman.
Superman is an American icon, he always has been and always will be. We don’t need to change that to make it more PC or accessible to others. Superman is a part of American culture, and should remain that way. Superman would not renounce his American citizenship just because people in other nations use his good deeds as a way to be even more mad at the United States of America than they already are.
In closing, I shall quote Jor-El from Superman: The Movie:
“Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you…my only son.”