Superman and U.S. Citizenship
It’s been a couple weeks, now, since Action Comics #900 appeared in comics shops nationwide. If you go to those shops looking for the landmark issue of the title that created an industry, however, you’ll most likely come away empty-handed. Word is, this issue has sold out. That’s because within that ninety-six-page comic is a nine-page story, and within that nine-page story are three or four panels that have managed to upset and disturb a great many.
It’s been a long time since any Superman comic sold out. I believe the last time was when he “died” in 1992. As I recall, the uproar over the Man of Steel’s apparent demise was about as great then as it is over this latest development. I find this quite interesting because people don’t buy Superman comics anymore. Kids, who used to consume them in great numbers, have abandoned his comics for video games and other forms of electronic entertainment. If it weren’t for specialty shops that cater to overgrown adolescents (like me) and adult collectors, it seems likely that Superman comics, to say nothing of comics in general, would’ve gone the way of the pulp novel.
While I’m on the subject, who’s been buying up this issue of Action anyway? The story within it has made so much news, it makes me wonder whether Bill O’Reilly and his ilk send flunkies out to the nearest newstand to buy a copy for review. (If they did, I’ll bet they were shocked to discover most newsstands don’t carry funnybooks anymore.) At any rate, it seems that, though Superman’s comics don’t sell much these days, Superman himself remains firmly planted in the American consciousness. Indeed, there is a national consensus about his character and activity. Therefore, any major change in this icon sends shockwaves throughout the nation. It’s like when somebody writes a novel challenging the accepted cultural notions of God. People who don’t even read the Bible or go to church go nuts.
So what’s all the uproar about this time? You mean you haven’t heard? My friend, Superman renounced his U.S. citizenship! He’d gone to Iran, you see. There, he stood between protestors and the Iranian military. All he did was stand between the two groups. He preached no political doctrine; he said nothing in fact. Yet his very presence quelled a riot. Upon his return to the States, he’s scolded by a member of the President’s security staff who tells him that his actions put America at risk of war with Iran. Superman responds that he intends to announce to the United Nations that he is renouncing his U.S. citizenship. He’s tired, he says, of having his actions construed as U.S. policy.
That’s really all there is to the story. As you can see, only a few lines of dialogue caused the trouble. The response was immediate and mostly negative. Of course, it didn’t help that only days later the arch villain Usama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS. The irony of Superman seemingly renouncing “truth, justice, and the American Way” even as heroic Americans struck a long-awaited blow for justice wasn’t lost on the public. One tweeter expressed it this way: “Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Superman wonders, ‘Did I pick the wrong week to renounce my U.S. citizenship?’”
So much has been written on the subject, it seems pointless to say more. Nevertheless, I’ll rush in where those with good sense fear to tread. I’m not particularly concerned over Superman’s future as an American. For one thing, he’s an alien being. As far as I know, he never became a naturalized American citizen. For decades, most everyone has ignored this particular elephant in the living room. For another thing, in the 1960s Superman was actually granted citizenship in every country represented by the United Nations. The snobbery that suggests the Superman writers of forty years ago were a benighted lot, unable to see the global implications of the character, is ignorant at best.
Honestly, the idea that Superman got tired of being pushed around by the government is one I resonate with. It shows he’s got more brains, and character, than the government stooge Frank Miller dreamed up for his dark and dreary Dark Knight Returns. Even Captain America, as red-white-and-true blue as any patriot you’d care to see, turned his back on America–twice. The first time was in the Seventies, after the traumatic discovery that the President was the head of an evil conspiracy (not too improbable in the wake of the Nixon debacle). The second time came in the Eighties when a government committee tried to make Cap their flunkie. One of my all time favorite comics lines was uttered by Captain America to a four-star general, “I’m loyal to nothing, except the dream.” I’ve a strong feeling Superman feels the same way.
Regardless of whether he mentions citizenship again or not (at this point, I tend to think DC’s going to quietly sweep this story under the rug), as long as his origins remain the same–foster son of an American farm couple, raised with the values of our heartland, I don’t see how he can ever be less than American in his outlook or actions. He may not be loyal to his government. He will remain loyal to the dream of justice and freedom that informs the national spirit and swells the national heart.
I think editor Mort Weisinger, who guided Superman through the Silver Age, said it best. “He’s invulnerable. Not even bad stories can hurt him.” Despite the occasional stumble, the occasional loss of altitude, Superman, like America, will live to fight another day.