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Up, Up, And Away He Goes

Well, a lot of people are talking about the latest issue of Action Comics, where Superman announces that he intends to renounce his US citizenship. And that has a lot of folks up in arms, lambasting DC Comics as a bastion of anti-American radical liberalism and furious over this.

Well, as Wizbang’s only confessed comic book geek, I felt it was my duty to actually read the issue in question and give my “professional” opinion on the whole matter. And I gotta tell you, it ain’t that bad. I’d even say it was politically decent.

First up, I need to recap a key moment in Superman's history. In 1986, DC Comics realized that Superman was running out of steam, so they turned the character over to certified genius (and certified arrogant prick) John Byrne, one of the most talented (and boy, does he know it) comic book artists (turned writer-artist) of the past few decades. Byrne "rebooted" the whole Superman franchise, starting him over literally from the very beginning -- reducing his powers from the previous god-like levels, tying him closer to humanity, and in general making him far more accessible to readers.

In the process, Byrne made two fundamental changes to Superman's history that have tremendous relevance to the current "Superman renounces his citizenship" storyline.

In the first, Kal-El did not travel from Krypton to Earth as an infant, to be found by the Kents in Kansas. Instead, Jor-El and Lara El took their fertilized embryo, placed it in a "matrix," and launched that into space from the dying planet. That "matrix" carried the embryo to Earth, nurturing and developing the fetus until arrival -- at which point it released it at the Kent's touch. The Kents then presented the newborn infant as their own biological child -- a conveniently nasty winter gave them the cover for an unannounced "pregnancy" and "home birth." (The arrival of the baby Kal-El in the movies and in "Smallville" don't apply here.)

So, stripped of all the technobabble, Kal-El was "born" in Kansas, which makes him an American citizen.

I'm not even certain Byrne knew what he was doing when he arranged for that little legal loophole to be closed, but simply thought it made a better story, but it's done, and Superman is at least as American as, say, Barack Obama.

The second change was far more fundamental,and -- in my eyes -- a huge improvement on the character. For almost 50 years, it was made abundantly clear that, psychologically speaking, "Superman" was the "real" person and "Clark Kent" was the disguise, the carefully-constructed persona. Byrne inverted that. He noted that Superman didn't emerge until his 20's (at least), so it was rather improbable that that persona would supplant the one that had existed for a couple of decades. So, now, "Clark Kent" is the "real" person, while "Superman" is the disguise, the constructed persona.

Which is even more important in this context.

In the story in question, Superman is summoned to Camp David, where he is confronted by the president's National Security Advisor. The NSA expresses the administration's extreme irritation with Superman's recent actions -- outraged at the Iranian government's violent oppression of protesters, he flew in and joined the dissidents. There, he simply stood there and allowed his presence to assert his solidarity with their cause -- and his mere presence abated the violence for the duration.

The goernment of Iran, however, was not pleased, stating that Superman -- as not only an American citizen, but as a licensed agent of the United States government (a special status some superheroes in the DC Comics universe hold) -- had committed several acts of war against Iran, and the US was not happy to have to answer for his actions. At that point, Superman realized that he had, indeed, put the US in a very awkward position, and was likely to continue to do so in the future -- so he declared that he would present himself before the United Nations and formally renounce his American citizenship.

In the context of this story, that action was anything but a liberal, anti-American gesture. Indeed, I'd argue it was a very pro-American move, and actually a rather conservative gesture.

One aspect of conservatism is individual freedom, coupled with individual responsibility. Here, Superman is taking responsibility for his actions in Iran, and choosing to give up something of tremendous value to him -- his citizenship -- to spare the US from being held accountable for hi actions. It's not an angry rejection of the US and our ideals (despite his stating "Truth, justice, and the American way -- it's not enough anymore"), but a self-sacrifice for the good of the nation.

In another aspect, the whole storyline can be considered a rejection of the Obama administration's handling of the protests in Iran. Superman didn't fly to Bialya or Qurac (two fictional Mideastern nations based loosely on Libya and Iraq  that DC uses when it needs some Mideastern bad guys or storylines), he flew to Iraq -- where he stood with the same Iranian protesters who President Obama refused to support or aid when they rose up against the Iranian tyrants. Superman did what President Obama refused to do -- and then, when confronted by the administration's representative, refused to submit himself to their judgment and instead removed himself from their authority. Well, their nominal authority -- he's Superman, remember?

There's a vague parallel here to the climax of the movie "Robocop." At the end, the head bad guy is revealed to be a top executive of OCP,the company that created Robocop -- and gave him a secret directive that prevented him from taking actions against OCP execs. He's about to get away, holding the CEO at gunpoint. At which point... nah, it's too good to describe when I can show you:





In this movie, Dick Jones' affiliation gives him immunity from Robocop. In the comic, Superman's affiliation puts the US on the hook for his action. In the movie, the firing of Dick means Robocop is free to carry out his duties. In the comic, Superman's renunciation frees him from having to worry about the US being held accountable for his actions.


But buried under the story is one very subtle fact here, one that ties back to Byrne's reboot of Superman: Superman isn't the "real" person in the comics -- Clark Kent is. Clark Kent is the "natural-born" American citizen, and Clark Kent isn't renouncing his citizenship. Superman, the fictional persona (OK, I'm getting kind of meta here, as technically it's the fictional persona of a fictional person, but I'm talking in-comic reality here), is -- and that will only affect him when he's "in action." He will still be able to take off the cape and kick back as Clark Kent, American.


But in the end, the one thing I'm taking away from this whole storyline is that Superman not only did what Barack Obama would not do -- stand with the Iranian protesters against the dictatorship -- but felt so strongly about it, he is willing to give up his American citizenship to protect the United States.


And that doesn't seem like a very "liberal" thing to do.


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Comments (24)

Thanks for posting that, Ja... (Below threshold)
Evil Otto:

Thanks for posting that, Jay. I was wondering if this was some ham-handed leftist author turning Superman into a soapbox for his personal hatreds (as happened with Captain America), but it's nothing of the sort.

Interesting. The h... (Below threshold)
fustian:

Interesting.

The headlines on this have been somewhat intended to inflame, haven't they?

Now here is someth... (Below threshold)
gnossoss papadopoulis:

Now here is something we can agree upon! I use a program called CBR [Comic Book Reader] on iPad to read the massive collection of .cbr files out there. .cbr files are esentially scanned comics with some extra cool tweaks. It's quite easy to obtain the entire Superman collection, from issue #1. As a "ham handed leftist" [wtf does that mean?] I am reading through my massive collection of Robert Crumb comics from the 60's and 70's as well as Superman from "59" to "66". There is no shame in being a comic book geek.

Thanks for this. The Pundit... (Below threshold)

Thanks for this. The Pundit Class has been out banging the pots and pans over this. As usual they just toss out the red meat and fire up the crowd. It's all about ratings.

wtf does that mean?<... (Below threshold)
Evil Otto:

wtf does that mean?

Sorry, Basil... I wrote that comment with the assumption that those reading it would understand basic English. My mistake.

Here's ham-handed:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ham-handed

Here's leftist:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/leftist

Put them together.

"Superman is at least as Am... (Below threshold)
Liz B:

"Superman is at least as American as, say, Barack Obama."

Wanted to stop reading after you put this brilliant little gem out there... You people are unbelievable. The man has already put out more documentation regarding his citizenship than any other president. Comparing him t a comic book story line that features a fetus being transplanted here from outerspace as the base level of his true citizenship... Outrageous.

That little piece of hypocrisy aside: to me, it seems like you are just trying to twist the story line to fit your agenda. Much like any other close-minded pundit out there...

To me, the gesture isn't liberal OR conservative. It's a commentary on how ineffective our government has become at standing up for the fundamental ideas of liberty... Before you get up and start bawking about how that's an Obama thing, realize this has been happening for years (decades even). No longer can our government get up and openly support liberal ideas like freedom of speech/religion or the freedom from persecution without visiting all of the messed up policy decisions that may or may not have caused it. I'm talking about our involvement with right leaning organizations in the middle east during the cold war to stop leftist revolutions... It's kind of hard to denounce a regime for human rights violations when you funded their cause in the first place... And let's not even begin to talk about the messed up charade of war in the name of corporate interests.

I think Superman is looking at the convoluted mess our government has been knitting together since the middle of the last century and basically washing his hands of it. He wants to stand for what's right, and as it happens that is clearly no longer what is best for America's politicians.

The problem is that Superma... (Below threshold)
BrokenFang:

The problem is that Superman presents himself to the UN to renounce his US citizenship, instead of presenting himself to the US Gov't to renounce it.
It's subtle, but the UN is being presented as the appropriate authority- and the higher authority here.

Thanks for the review Jay T... (Below threshold)
Just another literary critic:

Thanks for the review Jay Tea, and for reaffirming something that I tell my composition students all the time. If you tie a story to a chair and beat it with a rubber hose, it will confess to anything. Not that I particularly object to your rather novel redaction, just noting that you were able to make the story into what you wanted to be. Sort of like the continuing Saga of Obama's birth on the planet Keyndonesia.

Liz"that features ... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Liz

"that features a fetus being transplanted here from outerspace as the base level of his true citizenship.."

Umm Last time I checked when Superman was put into the spaceship he was a baby and not a fetus. I am not a superman geek so the story may have changed or been explained differently but back in the 30s did they even have the concept of artificial insemination or fetuses being able to survive outside the womb?
----------

Also if Superman were real than do you honestly think that we would have dictators, pollution, world hunger, yada yada yada. He could have fixed that stuff without the help of the US and world would be a Eutopia.

As for the whole topic. Bah. IT IS A COMMIC BOOK and not even one I read or used to read.


"No longer can our government get up and openly support liberal ideas like freedom of speech/religion or the freedom from persecution without visiting all of the messed up policy decisions that may or may not have caused it"

Noticed how you ascribed this to LIBERAL ideas. Nice little political touch there as if conservatives dont believe in Free speech or freedom from Persecution.


=-----

Jay Tea

INtersted in some Roy rogers and Trigger, Maverick and some other stuff from the 50s?


Liz"In the first, ... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Liz

"In the first, Kal-El did not travel from Krypton to Earth as an infant, to be found by the Kents in Kansas. Instead, Jor-El and Lara El took their fertilized embryo, placed it in a "matrix," and launched that into space from the dying planet."

My bad. I guess I should have read the post from Jay Tea first. As I said I am not into Superman or to be honest any comics any more. I was a SPiderman and FF4 fan growing up.

Broken, not quite: here's t... (Below threshold)

Broken, not quite: here's the exact wording:

"...which is why I intend to speak before the United Nations tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my U.S. citizenship."

"What?"

"I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. Policy."

He's announcing it to the UN, but not actually renouncing anything there. And since it's at the UN that his citizenship has been an issue, it makes sense.

Liz, don't be stupid. I've kicked the birthers around, and I'm working on one final kick. That was just a little bit of teasing, of red meat, to stir up the pot a little. I'm sometimes puckish that way.

And if the authors wanted to comment on the general ineffectiveness of government, they would have used the already-created fictional Mideastern nations I cited. Instead, they chose a nation where Obama deliberately chose to say and do nothing when they had their attempted insurrection.

J.

Liz is playing the victim J... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Liz is playing the victim JT.

I liked Superman but I was more of a Batman fan because there were no superpowers involved. Just determination and a lot of gadgets. ww

Thanks for the analysis, Ja... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

Thanks for the analysis, Jay Tea - I was thinking there'd have to be a lot more to the backstory.

Me? Haven't bought a Superman comic since about... 83-84, when they killed him off the first time. The little guy has no interest at all in comic books, and with the cost of the things, I can't say I blame him. I look at the cover prices - for the cost of two comics I can usually find a decent paperback which will take me considerably longer to read...

RM,"Umm Last time I ... (Below threshold)
ConcealedCarrie:

RM,
"Umm Last time I checked when Superman was put into the spaceship he was a baby and not a fetus. I am not a superman geek so the story may have changed or been explained differently but back in the 30s did they even have the concept of artificial insemination or fetuses being able to survive outside the womb?"

As Jay Tea explained in his post, in the re-boot a fertilized embryo (so strictly not a fetus either) is placed on the spaceship to Earth rather than a baby. Making Clark Kent a *cough* anchor baby *cough* lol.

Interestingly, Huxley's Brave New World was published in 1931, so yes, the concept of AI and test-tube babies was definitely around.

I think Superman is looking... (Below threshold)
Trump:

I think Superman is looking at the convoluted mess our government has been knitting together since the middle of the last century and basically washing his hands of it. He wants to stand for what's right, and as it happens that is clearly no longer what is best for America's politicians

>>> If he wants to "stand for what's right" then he should be taking down Iran's government instead of flying away and leaving the protestors he stood with to be slaughtered 5 minutes after he goes to fight brainiac or whoever

Not to nit-pick, but since ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Not to nit-pick, but since my Superman story came out yesterday, I guess by Jay's definition I can't be a "confessed comic book geek", so I wonder if he means I

A) am an unconfessed comic book geek
B) am a confessed hardback book geekC) really did have lunch with Superman yesterday

DJ, your article only prove... (Below threshold)

DJ, your article only proves you as an aficionado. A dabbler, at the very least.

My delving into the finer details of the character's history and psychology, complete with name-dropping galore... that screams geek.

J.

Aha. Thanks. Good thing ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Aha. Thanks. Good thing I never posted here about Roger Zelazny's 'Amber' series. I have ALL levels of geekdom where that's concerned, but even I know no one else is fascinated with the hints left about the now never-to-be-written third arc.

Superman and Lex Luthor ar... (Below threshold)
James H:

Superman and Lex Luthor are both Americans.

Discuss.

Besides, Dex-Starr is my favorite earthbound super righ now.

James H, I am feeling vercl... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

James H, I am feeling verclempt. Thanks for the laugh. ww

Its not like any of the oth... (Below threshold)
Rich:

Its not like any of the other countries would care if he renounced his citizenship. He would always be considered American and advancing American values on all other countries.
Iran is not suddenly going to drop any animosity to Superman or America because he renounces his citizenship.
Will Superman have to reveal his polar home? Or is he going to have to get a green card to live in the US? Or any other country? Who owns the ground up in the polar cap where his place is?
I just have a lot of questions about this whole thing.

Liz is right about the country being a convoluted mess since the middle of the last century. Look who was mostly in control of congress.

See what happens when they ... (Below threshold)
retired military:

See what happens when they allow undocumented aliens into the country just for the purpose of citizenship rights?

One of the 2 of SUperman's parents should have been a citizen even if he was "born". Just another damnh anchor baby.

And, the Liberals and Globa... (Below threshold)
American:

And, the Liberals and Globalist still insist that they're not anti-Americans -- what a bunch of ignorant assholes.

This trend toward *Globalism* and the Evil it perpetuates has no boundaries; the obvious goal is to wipe out anything that is the least bit associated with the United States of America.

Eventually, American kids who read this propaganda will grow up to believe that the U.N. is Superman's crystal palace. They'll be brainwashed into believing that they should want to denounce their citizenship, too.

Anyway, what's next? Are they going to remake John Wayne an apologist for all things Chinese? Perhaps, they'll release top secret information, bullshit proving John Wayne was knighted by Queen Elizabeth? Or, will they release another fake birth certificate and claim John Wayne was a Mexican?

As a comic fan and a libert... (Below threshold)
BlueNight:

As a comic fan and a libertarian Republican, I enjoyed the comic in question.

Close reading of the reboot continuity will reveal whether or not he actually stated in Lois Lane's article (where he announced his existence at the start of being Superman) that he is an American citizen.

Either way, it'll be interesting to see Lex Luthor watching the official channels of citizenship renunciation to figure out his true identity.

Meanwhile, Bruce is shaking his head and laughing at the concept and the ensuing legal difficulties.




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