Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Superman and "The Incident"

I've been asked to say a few words about "The Incident" in Action #900.

This is a subject that many are speaking on, and I'm not confident I have much unique perspective to bring to bear on it. Nevertheless....

I'm not going to weigh in at all on the legalities of citizenship, the nigh impossibility of "renouncing" it, or international law's distaste for permitting anyone to be "stateless". I could write a book about that and, at one point in my career, actually might have.

I will however make two points. The first is one I have seen elsewhere: it's nice to know that Superman still matters. After 900 issues of Action and 70 years in the media, Superman matters enough that when Superman makes some kind of political statement, the world pays attention.

Many are saying, "This is overdue, a sign of our changing times; it's about time we cast aside the antiquated, jingoistic view of Superman as a champion of 'the American Way', whatever that means!" Many others are saying, "This is inappropriate, a sign of our moral waywardness; if anything, it's time for us to reaffirm the American Way and Superman as its champion."

Which leads me to my second point.

Superman 'renouncing his citizenship' (whatever THAT is supposed to me) so he can oppose a foreign dictator is exactly the kind of kick-ass crazy crap Superman was created to do.

Have you ever actually read a Golden Age Superman story? Like the one where he violently breaks into the Governor's Mansion? Or the one where he drags a party of rich folks down into a coal mine to experience the plight of their workers? Or the one where he tells off the police commissioner for being soft on illegal gambling? Or the one where he hoists the leaders of two warring European nations onto a mountaintop, and tells them to duke it out to settle their differences, while their armies stand down?

Superman was the honey badger of the comic book kingdom. Golden Age Superman was a bad-ass, anti-authoritarian, rabble-rousing, reformist, interventionist, loose cannon. He did whatever the heck he wanted to, just to stand up for the little guy, to oppose tyranny, to right wrongs. He didn't care about violating the rights of others, or moderating his use of power.

He barged right in and made things right where they were wrong, and if you got in his way, you got your toes stepped on. Too bad for you, and your car that he just crashed into a nearby mountain.

Superman, in short, didn't stand for the American Way; he WAS the American Way. And it's nice to see that he still is.

You and I may not like it; you and I may not agree with it. But don't try to tell me it's "not what Superman is about" or that it's "out of character".


Ostrakos said...

I think the guy at the end of this clip gets it right too:


Jeff R. said...

The story "wasn't what Superman is about" specifically in that the (original, GA) Superman wouldn't even consider limiting his opposition to murderous tyrants to nonviolent resistance.

SallyP said...

Bravo! The problem seems to be that all the people shrieking about this haven't read the particular issue, and probably haven't read a Superman book in YEARS...if ever. But hey, they still "know" for sure what Superman would or would not do.

And I love your description of him as a Honey Badger. SO evocative.

r duncan said...

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
"This is my own, my native land!"
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand.

Apparently, such a man breathes, according to a certain comic book writer.

Anonymous said...

For once I can't agree, Scipio. I've been reading Superman for the last few years, and off and on for about thirty years prior to that. And I am familiar with the golden age "reformer" bully. (I do feel like he's outgrown that though.)

My problem is that Superman knuckled under. Renouncing his citizenship was running away. The Superman I know would have, ever so politely but firmly, informed the President (not his lapdog) that Superman would do just as he damn well pleased, and that if the President didn't like it he could just try to do something about it.

And then hung Osama bin Laden from the White House flagpole by his underpants.

-- Jack of Spades

Dave said...

I've been reading Superman for 52 years, so I kinda know the character and his history.

My objection to this whole stupid plotline is that the apparent motive is to free him up to take on "real-life" situations (hence the use of Iran, rather than Qurac or Bialya).

The problem with that is, of course, the same problem they faced in the 40s: Superman can't do anything in the real world. He couldn't have strung up Osama any more than he could have taken Hitler and Stalin to the League of Nations.

I'll applaud it if he's a more proactive, bad-ass. "back-to-the-basics" Superman. (I actually think this was JMS's intention, even if he's too inept a writer to have pulled it off.) If it's just an attempt to garner headlines (which it has, in spades) and become more "realistic," well, then, it's just another sales gimmick and will fade like all the other gimmicks. Even if he did, say, launch the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sun or force BP execs to clean up the Gulf, it would be meaningless, even as a story.

DC doesn't have a clue as to how to handle him.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading "Superman" comics since Man and Superman teamed up to battle the Mole People, and as I recall, "... and the American Way" was added specifically for the George Reeve TV show (it was always just "truth and justice" on the radio shows). This was an anti-commie thing, back in the days when it was important to affirm that the illegal immigrant from the stars came to the US specifically.

Superman may hang his hat in the US, but he doesn't see Americans as more valuable than anyone else. Nor is he a representative of the American government. I think Superman would say he shares kinship with all people of earth, and if anyone's gotten any other impression, it's his fault for not being clearer earlier.

- Anon #2

Anonymous said...

Excellent reminder of where Superman came from.

Thank you.

Stoop Davy Dave said...

" The problem seems to be that all the people shrieking about this haven't read the particular issue, and probably haven't read a Superman book in YEARS...if ever."

This is giving me SUCH a flashback ...
Back in the day, in the (?) mid-1990s (?), when Topps published that Lone Ranger miniseries, there was this one scene where Tonto punches out the Ranger. And OF COURSE later on they patched things up and went back to work. Anybody remember that?
Well Paul Jackass Harvey went on the air to blubber and snivel and whine about how awwwwwful it was that this should happen, and this was the end of the innocence, and so on and so forth and boo hoodely hoo! And the whole time, it was O.B.V.I.O.U.S. that he hadn't read the damn comic, or even seen the cover.
Anybody remember the villain in that comic? No spoilers here, but how could anybody believe P.J.H. could have had such a dramaqueenly meltdown over one brief intra-hero-team punch-up and NOT spent ten minutes complaining about that villain? No. No way.
So all my other bloggy homes are all crowded up with people making a huge issue of boycotting a bunchy of comics that they weren't reading anyway. Bah.

Odkin said...

So let me understand your logic. Being a strident, zealous, even violent enforcer of American interests and values is the same as renouncing your citizenship and essentially saying saying "America, eh... one country's as good as any other"

Brilliant. I love liberal cultural relativism.

J.P. said...

I agree with your post. Superman is a global protector and does what he wants (like the honey badger)! He just seemed really whiny renouncing his citizenship. I find it hard to believe he would even stand around and have the conversation. He would just swoop in, do his job, and fly away. Guess, my Superman stories would be light on dialogue!

Scipio said...

"the apparent motive is to free him up to take on "real-life" situations (hence the use of Iran, rather than Qurac or Bialya)."

Yeah, I've been thinking about that. Nice idea in principle, but in practice? Not so good. Unlike fictionations, using real countries makes for quickily dated stories. Anyone remember what the Joker's job was when he killed Jason Todd?

He was the Iranian delegate to the UN.

Scipio said...


LOL, well, no one has ever charge me with "liberal cultural relativism".

So, no, I don't think you understand my logic, which I probably just haven't been clear about.

My point is that the attitude of "I will say what I want, I don't speak for the government and the government doesn't speak for me" is a very American attitude.

Superman using his "star power" to support or effect change is different that using his superpowers to do it... but the principle is similar.

Do I think "renouncing his citizenship" (which is essentially a meaningless bit of rhetoric) made sense or was the right thing for Superman to do? That's certainly not what I'm saying.

I'm just saying, "I'm Superman and, like any American citizen would, I'll protest what I darn well please," is a breath of anti-authoritarian fresh air that helps reposition Superman somewhere between Frank Miller's goverment errand boy of the 1980s and the "King Superman Takes Over the World" kind of story.

Anonymous said...

Also, Clark Kent (famous reporter) is not giving up his American citizenship.

The whole thing is a means for _Superman_ to be more effective--not a hit against American politics.

mrjl said...

A take no crap character you describe wouldn't bother with something like renouncing his citizen ship though

Anonymous said...

I had no problem with Supes giving up his citizenship, especially while giving the very American "I'm not my government, and don't want my actions misconstrued as such" explanation. It's the rest that bothered me. "It's not enough anymore," and the serious God complex rant that followed. That was the turn off for me.

Nathan Hall said...

I'm not really sure Superman really ever was an American. Does he pay taxes? Does he get protection from the police or military? Does he vote? Does he have a driver's license? Does he maintain a residence in the USA - because I don't think the Fortress of Solitude was on this continent.

But Clark Kent is a citizen. He pays taxes on his reporter's salary, has the rights and responsibilities of any law-abiding citizen counted in the census. He also has an apartment in downtown Metropolis and a paper-trail of identification going back to Smallville.

So if these aren't two different people, why are we considering them as such now? Does this mean Batman and Bruce Wayne are legally separate, and if so would Bruce have to serve time in jail for Batman's extra-legal activities? Do all of the Flashes count as one person or two? And if Wonder Woman is from the Mediterranean, why does she pretend to be so American (especially when her Diana Prince ID is phony)?

Really, this isn't much different than if Hulk Hogan said he wasn't an American - Terry Bollea is still a citizen. Superman was never really under US jurisdiction, protection, or responsibility.

Now if Clark Kent declares his apartment an independent country and himself a sovereign ruler, that's news.

TotalToyz said...

When asked to comment on "the incident", Sarah Palin said that she could see Krypton from her house.

daveloney said...

On behalf of the Paleo-Nerd Community, I take it upon myself to take umbrage, yes great umbrage, upon these opportunistically offended Faux Nerds who have suddenly and briefly rediscovered the adventures of Superman, only to crassly politicize them for transitory rhetorical points.


What the English language needs and sadly lacks is a concise, precise term encapsulating the concept of "persons who dramatize their boycotting of products that they weren't consuming in the first place." Alas, I lack the wit to coin such a term.

Scipio said...

You mean 'ploycotters'?

Stoop Davy Dave said...


That, or "dramagogues."

Delta said...

Really enjoyed this post. Thanks for that.

safe meds said...

This is interesting seeing that part of the episode because I had never seen Superman doing something like that, but that's ok because I wanted to see Superman doing bizarre things.