For years, Superman has been heralded as the champion of “truth, justice, and the American way.” But the editorial staff at DC Comics has dared to challenge this ideal by creating a controversy of global proportions. What does it mean for the U.S. if Superman is no longer American?
This week, Superman made news headlines by declaring that he intends to go before the United Nations and renounce his American citizenship. In “The Incident,” a story featured in the 900th issue of Action Comics, Superman is questioned by the U.S. national security advisor regarding the hero’s recent appearance in Iran.
What happened was this: Superman heard about protests in Tehran against Ahmadinejad’s administration. Knowing that past protests had led to violence and protest leaders being arrested, he decided to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. He landed at the protest and stood — neither moving nor speaking — for 24 hours. Then he left.
Considering the already tense state of affairs between the U.S. and Iran — not to mention the situation in countries like Egypt, Libya, and Syria — it’s no surprise that Superman’s simple appearance at a protest could spark concern from both governments. To Iran, this must have looked like America holding a nuclear bomb over their heads.
Superman realized his mistake. He wanted to help, but because the Iranian government associated him with America, he nearly caused an international incident. And so, he has made the bold decision to renounce his citizenship.
Of course, this brings up an important question: Is Superman a U.S. citizen? We know his alter-ego, Clark Kent has forged adoption papers. Clark works for The Daily Planet and likely pays taxes. But what about Superman? Where is his birth certificate? Does he pay taxes? Can he be drafted by the armed forces? Can he vote as Superman? Wouldn’t that unfairly give him two votes?
I’m joking, of course. The point is not whether Superman is American. Everyone knows he is from the planet Krypton. And though he was born somewhere else, he is an American immigrant just like so many of our ancestors who came to this country. He is American by choice, not by birth.
But now he is choosing to distance himself from his adopted homeland. If you listen to the media and political pundits (who likely don’t read comic books), they think this is an attack on the American way of life or a commentary on the administration’s foreign policy. I don’t think so.
Superman is not turning his back on America. Since the 1940s, he has been a symbol of America, and a champion of the democratic ideal. He has fought for the people, saved them, supported them, and inspired them. He doesn’t work for a corporation. And though he has met with presidents and helped nations, he does not represent any government.
He just doesn’t want anything he does to come back and bite America in the ass. He’s saying that America as a nation may not be able to do something, but we as individuals can.
Now Superman is standing alongside those who would usher in democratic reform. That doesn’t sound like someone giving up on American values. It sounds like someone who is living them.
“The Incident” was written by David S. Goyer, the brilliant scribe who has worked with Christopher Nolan on his Batman trilogy. Goyer is also penning the story for Zack Snyder’s upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel. To say that Goyer knows comic books would be an understatement. He has helped redefine The Dark Knight for this generation. Now he seems poised to bring Superman into the 21st century.