So by now, unless you’re embarrassingly behind on your incredibly important pop culture news, you’ve probably already heard: Superman’s not an American anymore! Stop the presses! Call the fire department! Or – or – or something! However, the truth, as with most everything, is far murkier.
This whole ordeal arose from the nearly 100-page issue of Action Comics #900 that was released on Wednesday. Being a celebratory issue – indeed, 900 comics are a whole lot of comics – in addition to the main storyline by Paul Cornell, there are several back-up stories by various writers and even a storyboarded screenplay by Superman: The Movie director, Richard Donner.
The 9-page back-up story that set off the controversy in question, “The Incident,” was written by Man of Steel screenwriter David S. Goyer (who has also had at least some involvement with films like Nick Fury: Agent of Shield starring David Hasselhoff, Blade, Blade 2, Blade 3 (bleck), Batman Begins, Jumper, Ghost Rider, and so forth) and drawn by Miguel Sepulveda.
Here’s what you need to know about Goyer's story before you decide whether or not to be livid about it:
- Superman, not Clark Kent, stated his plans to renounce his American citizenship
- Superman, not Clark Kent, stated his plans to renounce his citizenship because he doesn’t want his world-saving/interfering ways to be used against America anymore.
- This was a back-up story written by David S. Goyer – not a typical comic book writer.
- This will probably never again be referenced, by Paul Cornell or anyone else at DC.
- This back-up story might not even be in continuity.
If DC Comics wanted to actually change Superman’s citizenship in a serious, line-wide fashion, they wouldn’t have let David Goyer write it and it wouldn’t have been nine pages in the back of a milestone issue. They would’ve had one of their go-to writers do the job – maybe Paul Cornell, maybe Geoff Johns. It would’ve been its own storyline with every single major character (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and so on) making an appearance to say something about, I don't know -- America.
Now, in my opinion, Superman is unequivocally an American icon. It doesn't make you conservative or right-wing to believe this, because I'm about as liberal as they come and I believe it. By the same token, I don't believe this was some leftwing conspiracy for Superman to reject America and all of its values; it would be hard for you to thoroughly examine the issue, the story, what was said by Superman, and come to that conclusion.
That said, the story in and of itself – “The Incident” – is pretty flawed. Controversy notwithstanding, it’s one of the more insignificant and arbitrary Superman comics I’ve read in a long while, and that’s saying something if you’ve read JMS’ short-lived Superman run from late last year about the man of tomorrow walking across America. David Goyer's story references the Iranian protests from 2009 as if they happened yesterday (implying to me that it was written by Goyer back then and has been sitting around his apartment ever since). And yes, I'm aware that there have been Iranian protests since then, as early as two weeks ago even, but this comic seems to explicitly reference the 2009 protests.
Apparently, Superman reads the news, and he can’t stand seeing the Iranian leaders treat their people so deplorably. Fair enough. So, as an act of solidarity, he flies to Tehran and stands between the soldiers and the protestors for an entire 24 hours, letting them throw whatever they want at him in the process.
Long story short, the U.S. gets a lot of crap for this move. It’s perceived as an American-sponsored act, because obviously Superman represents “Truth, justice, the American way,” and so forth. Superman tells the President’s National Security Advisor that he plans to go to the U.N. and renounce his citizenship post-haste - this, he hopes, will free him up to do whatever he feels is necessary in the future, and in the process not have his actions reflect poorly upon the good, old U.S. of A.
After reading this story, my primary thought is this: Comic books creators just need to stop shoehorning real events into their comic books in an effort to make them more “important” like the “real world.” It's rarely, if ever, done in any interesting or satisfying way and it almost always trivializes the events themselves. I’m reminded of the time Doctor Doom shed tears at Ground Zero after 9/11:
Amazing Spider-Man #36 (Doctor Doom) as drawn by John Romita Jr.
It’s a silly notion to suggest that Superman would go to Tehran and involve himself in the protests in any way whatsoever. Superman is smarter than that. Hell, he’s got an advanced Kryptonian brain – he would know better than to wade into such a delicate situation without a second thought. In the end, the Iranian government doesn’t give-in to the protestors’ demands - an ending we already knew because it happened in real life. Regardless, as Superman’s flying away from Tehran, he spots a protestor reaching out with a flower in hand toward the soldier in front of him. The soldier takes the flower (oh, symbolism!), and Superman takes credit for this small but amazing development – he even brags about it to the National Security Advisor, which is, again, something Superman would never do in a million years.
In sum, the media, the Internet, everybody everywhere, have blown this whole situation way out of proportion. This isn’t (in my humble opinion) DC’s attempt to de-Americanize Superman as a character, and there’s no evidence that this story even belongs in DCU canon. I mean, just check out the visual progression of Superman through the years as drawn by Brian Stelfreeze (below) that appeared in the very pages of Action Comics #900. The rightmost iteration of Superman (in the style of the awesome Gary Frank) is the most modern of the six, and he’s the one waving the massive American flag. If David Goyer's Superman renounced his Americanism, doesn't this counteract that?
Click to enlarge:
Instead, “The Incident” is just a terribly ham-fisted tale written by one David Goyer that fell flat on nearly every page. Frankly, we should be more concerned with the Man of Steel writer’s ability to write the character of Superman than whether or not he's currently American.
Action Comics #900 has already sold out and will likely go back to a second printing. Overall, it’s pretty good – especially Paul Cornell’s work on the issue.
Follow me on twitter @benandrewmoore.
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