UPDATE (5/3/11): In one of the most spectacular examples of bad timing imaginable, Superman has renounced his America citizenship when the world’s attention is focused on the United States military’s success in taking out Osama bin Laden. Nobody at DC Comics can be happy about this. But in this post, done the day before Osama’s death, we questioned whether they had the tone right on their decision in the first place, even if they felt it was the inevitable evolution of their character.
Like a lot of people, I was taken by surprise hearing the news that Superman has renounced his American citizenship. Honestly, this felt more striking than even the news in the early ’90s that D.C. Comics planned to “kill” him. Of course, in the comic book universe death is not forever while this new “citizen of the world” orientation probably is.
In short: In Action Comics #900, Superman tries to intervene in Iranian protests but gets perceived as a tool of the United States. He gets peeved and announces he will go to the United Nations and renounce his citizenship. Aside from the obvious inflammatory nature of this to some people (most of whom do not read Superman anyway), I can’t get the image out of my head of Superman talking to the U.N. in that dreadful fourth installment of the Christopher Reeve film series, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
So the Internet and certain news organizations have gone wild about what’s going on with the comics. And it’s complicated by the fact that the person who wrote that renunciation into Action Comics #900 is David Goyer, who is also writing the upcoming Superman re-boot. And people are wondering if this is where the film is going, too.
I have a little story of my own to tell on this matter, about my own brush with Superman’s take on the “American Way.”
NOTE: For those who don’t remember, this all came from the first (1950s) TV series main title voice-over: “… and who, disguised as Superman, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.”
You see, back in 1993, I was the Supervising Producer of the new series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and wrote the first series episode produced (after the pilot episode), “Strange Visitor (from Another Planet).”
That episode contained the first interview Lois Lane conducts with Superman. It was intimidating to write, mostly because it had been acted so brilliantly by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in the first movie (remember the pink panties?). Our new version was also handled perfectly by Dean Cain as Superman and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane. You can download that scene by clicking here:
What’s interesting is that in my original scene that made it into the final draft, Lois says to Superman that she’s looking for a quote to appease her editor, Perry White. She says, “A quote. Like ‘I have not yet begun to fight.’ Or ‘Damn the torpedoes.’ If you said you were here to fight for truth or justice or the American way, something like that, that would be a quote.”
Superman replies, “Truth and justice sound good. You can use that.”
If you want to see just the scene itself, here it is on Youtube.
If you managed to sit through the WB commercials in the episode, you know that exchange made the final cut. The two lines that did not involve Lois asking the follow-up question, “You have something against the American way?”
“I love America,” Superman answers her. “It’s my home now. But I don’t want other people to think there’s anything wrong with their way.”
Whether it should have stayed in or been left out probably wasn’t as political as it sounds, but was more based on the fact that the final cut was long and had to be trimmed. As I compared the script to the scene myself, I realized that it was twice as many pages as it needed to be, and was probably the very earliest of drafts before it got whittled down to size for airing.
Still, the tone involved, in or out, really is quite a difference from what’s happened in the comics where, honestly, I found Superman to be a little petulant and churlish about the whole thing. “Go ahead,” I thought, “be a global citizen, but don’t make us feel about it.”
In the 1993 Lois & Clark version, because it’s a decision he’s making when he first arrives in Metropolis, he seems to be staking his claim as a resident alien in America who will always be a citizen of the world. In what’s happened over at D.C. Comics in 2011, it’s a renunciation of his past embrace of the United States. So, yes, I think that maybe I can understand some people getting their hackles up just a little bit. It sounds a little sour.
But it’s not hard to understand. Every story meeting in Hollywood these days chants the mantra: “Global, global, global.” It’s all about having product that will sell not just in the United States but also around the rest of the world. So, on that level, it’s a calculated move.
We say something else out here in Hollywood. Execution is everything. I’m not sure D.C. Comics couldn’t have coupled Superman’s decision with a little less anger and a little more angst, like the kid who left Smallville for Metropolis, he’s now leaving a bit of himself behind in Metropolis for the world stage.
I will miss the simplicity of the character from the old days. Make no mistake, though, this day was coming. Good luck out there, Superman, don’t be a stranger just because you’re from another planet…