Saturday, April 30, 2011

Superman Wishes He Could Quit Us, Does

This comes at the end of a story where Superman shows up to show support for Iranian protesters and the government uses that to link the protesters to the United States government and political fallout ensues. Image is from an article on the subject by Comics Alliance(read the comments; they are insane!).

Why This Is Happening
I saw him kicking around this ball in mid-2002. It was issue where he had spent the entire day answering emails from around the globe. Superman has always been a man of the world, and his own Batman-like journeying around the world to find himself in his early years is one the pieces of his mythology that I have really liked.

Superman represents the best of America. In a lot of ways, America belongs to the world as much as Superman does. The difference is that The United States has to face certain political and cultural realities--even the DC Universe United States--and Superman does not. Superman represents the ideals of democracy and freedom better when he’s not being linked--however erroneously--to the US government.

But Superman cannot represent the American government. Standing for The American Way was a product of a more defensive time; it implicitly meant defending the culture of the United States from fascists and socialist dictatorships masquerading as communism. Now that both The United States and Superman are, shall we say, slightly, more proactive players on the world stage, the contrast between people’s fear of the projection of force and influence by governments and by legitimate independent agents is much sharper and more relevant.

Whenever Superman’s in space fighting Darkseid, punching Brainiac, thwarting Zod, or doing something else, it shouldn’t be because it’s in the US’s best interest. If Lex Luthor wanted to rule Russia or Iran, it’s not like Superman would just stand by and let it happen because it was happening to America’s enemies; he’d intervene because it’s the humane thing to do.

Ultimately, the world must know that Superman stands independent of US government policy and politics.

However, more importantly, Superman is a property and an icon. He’s a legally contested property, but he’s a property none the less, and a globally popular one. No, it shouldn’t matter to comics readers where Superman pays taxes(?), files his marriage certificate at(?), or fills out as his home address on his health insurance forms(?), but it does. They want Superman to be a citizen of the world, someone who ideologically transcends borders as easily as he does physically. The editors of Superman apparently suspect that the cost of alienating a few people who actually read Superman in the US will be offset by the increased readership abroad. It is, and has always been, a business. Sorry.

Why this Doesn’t Work
He’s still American and nothing has changed. Superman was raised in Kansas. He works in Metropolis. He speaks English. He works in Metropolis. His home is in Metropolis and most of the time he spends saving people is there. He is white as fuck. Until the next Crisis whenever he gets a darker, pan-cultural appearance and starts speaking a polyglot language and Metropolis is retconned into being a free city floating in The Pacific Ocean, he’s still going to be an American (no, that's not going to happen, but I'd love to read an explanation for why that would be a terrible thing).

Also, this happens on a backup story after a run on Action Comics that focuses primarily on Lex Luthor. The past two Superman stories (I’m aware of) are New Krypton (where Krypton comes back and Superman goes to live on Krypton as a regular schmo working under General Zod before Krypton is destroyed by Zod, Braniac, and Luthor) and Grounded (where Superman walks across the United States because he feels out of touch).  

None of these stories (as far as I know) touch on the conflicts caused by Superman aligning himself with America. If anything, he tries to reconnect with America right before he relinquishes his citizenship, which is either poor storytelling or a clear sign that even though Superman is no longer legally connected to the US, his connection to it remains.

My biggest gripe with this is that it comes out of nowhere and has little to no support in anything else Superman is doing. It’s treated like a non-issue (which it largely is) whenever it could have been made into an actual story about Superman and his relationship with the United States that not only could have established a better foundation for this, but could have also made it so that The United States asked Superman to relinquish his status instead of the other way around.

Why People Are Angry
Because that’s the bee in everyone’s bonnet. I mean, there’s a lot of knee-jerk “You’re raping my childhood” outrage out there, but the real issue is that no matter how justified, obvious, irrelevant, or overdue this decision is, in the eyes of some, Superman is still rejecting America. If there’s anything I’ve learned that’s brought me special feelings of shame in some of my fellow Americans, it’s their personal--and sometimes collective--ability to take any sort of rejection damned poorly.

Fuck Superman; I’m going on a rant here...tomorrow:

What does it matter if Superman calls The US his home? What if he never presented himself as an American (assuming he could pull-off a pan-cultural appearance alongside flawless linguistic skills)? What if he was from another country and was inspired by American democracy? What if he was from another culture entirely, but held the same ideals? If those ideals could not be the same if he came from another culture, what would the differences be?


skiltao said...

Okay, I watched the four Christopher Reeve Superman movies last month so I actually have an opinion now - Kel Reeves is far too smug to ever do this. Well, less an opinion than two questions:

Did Clark Kent actually renounce citizenship? And were Superman's actions abroad really seen as an arm of the USA?

Although, if Justice League Unlimited has taught me anything it's that Supes doesn't think things through, so I wouldn't be surprised to hear "no" for both.

VanVelding said...

"No" and "suddenly, yes"