Superman Isn't American Any More

DC Comics is publishing a big Issue 900 spectacular for Action Comics, where the adventures of Superman began in 1938.  In Issue 900, an all-star team of writers and artists will tell us how Superman came to renounce his American citizenship.

Wired magazine calls it “a sobering moment, as obvious as it is revolutionary. Superman’s conscientious creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who dreamed up Superman for Action Comics‘ 1938 debut, positioned their deathless hero as an American heartland warrior battling tyranny and evil.”  They approvingly note that “Superman has always been bigger than the United States, and not just because he was inspired — directly or indirectly is still subject to debate — by Friedrich Nietzsche’s polar-opposite Übermensch.”

The Man of Steel puts it this way: “I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy.  ‘Truth, justice, and the American way’ – it’s not enough anymore.” 

This happens after Superman joins a peaceful protest against the mullahs of Iran, who are therefore prevented from carrying out their normal reaction to peaceful protesters, which involves beating and murdering them.  The Iranians accuse Superman of acting as an agent of the American president (stop laughing) and perpetrating an act of war.

Good.  It is an act of war.  The ‘American way’ is an act of war against tyranny.  When will people finally get that through their skulls?

Do the writers of this wretched little tale not understand that the mullahs of Iran would say that about Superman’s actions anyway, even if he loudly proclaimed himself a Citizen Of The World?  No amount of global charity would ever make the primitives and tyrants of the world hesitate a micro-second before condemning a super-hero as the agent of their preferred enemies, once he chose to speak up against their evil.

The most obvious detail missing from this comic-book tale is that the Iranians wouldn’t have stopped at accusing Superman of being an agent of the White House.  His real name is “Kal-el,” after all.  “El” is commonly found at the end of angelic names in the Old Testament.  Superman’s real masters would be all too obvious to the mullahs.

This latter-day revisionist notion of Superman “transcending” the American Way to become First Citizen of the Earth is airheaded nonsense from people who don’t understand what the American Way is.  Among many other things, it is not exclusionary.  It’s not an act of national chauvinism.  Everyone is invited to embrace it.  What patriotic American doesn’t long for the day that every flag on Earth is raised in the name of the values we cherish?  We don’t ask for submission to those values.  We don’t dominate.  We elevate.

We’ve shed blood and spent vast amounts of treasure to prove this.  Ask the liberated people of the world what colors were worn by the heroes who threw down the Axis.  Ask the starving people of the world what colors were worn by the men and women who shouldered their weapons to carry food and medicine.  Ask Eastern Europeans old enough to remember a better President of the United States what colors rose defiantly above the Iron Curtain.  They’re the same colors Superman has proudly worn for the better part of a century. 

(Well, he doesn’t wear white, but he was a White Lantern for a while.  No, I don’t read comic books very often.  Why do you ask?)

You want to tell a great Superman story?  Tell the truth.  Show the massed ranks of Americans standing proudly beside the mightiest son of Krypton – and Kansas – when some gang of blood-drenched thugs accuses him of acting in the interests of the United States.  You’re damn right he does. 

Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster wouldn’t have had it any other way.  They certainly wouldn’t have written a story about the Man of Tomorrow making a futile attempt to hide from a legacy he should carry with pride, as he changes the course of history on behalf of all mankind… the same way America did, right about the time Superman became an eternal component of our popular culture.  His creators came out of the Depression on a mission to provide inspiration, not tap into a thick zeitgeist of American decline.  Putting Superman in a blue U.N. helmet is another way of saying our best days are behind us.  “The American way – it’s not enough anymore.”

The tyrants of the world would never let Superman forget he was American.  Why should we?