Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Action Comics #900: Truth, Justice and the American Way?

I've heard a tiny bit of buzz in the mainstream media about Superman's decision in Action Comics #900 to renounce his American citizenship. (I can't help but notice that there was no discussion in the actual book as to whether or not he would be giving up Clark Kent's citizenship, which may end up being important as Clark Kent has a birth certificate, a Social Security number, holds a job, pays taxes, has a wife, can vote, serve in the military and given his relationship to Ma and Pa Kent, I can't help but feel that the modern interpretation of Superman thinks of himself first and foremost as Clark Kent.Although I must confess that lately I've seen a lot more of Superman than Clark Kent.) I did hear at least one report that suggested that a new Superman movie may be postponed by the studio to avoid controversy, although really, I haven't heard a lot of outcry.

I think it's only fair to point out that this move has really been a long time coming and has perhaps been Superman's unofficial position for quite some time. I remember an Issue of the Justice League of America Back in the 70's in which it is proclaimed that he fights for "Truth, Justice and the Terran Way." which suggests that as far back as forty years ago he was already thinking of himself as a "citizen of the world" rather than as merely a citizen of one particular country. This has been a trend at DC in particular and to an extent in comics in general for quite some time. Once upon a time the JLA quit referring to themselves as "of America" and became Justice League International, operating under the aegis of the United Nations. The Idea being that DC's superheros were more interested in protecting the entire world rather than expressing one nation's ideology. Of course eventually they became the JLA again but I don't think that this is backsliding. They have maintained a cast that includes aliens, angles and citizens of Paradise Island for quite some time.

Even Marvel got into the act for awhile with the Avengers operating with a United Nations charter after Agent Gyrich became a pain in the you know what, and for many years S.H.I.E.L.D. was identified as a UN group rather than a U.S. group. Although, since the apparently 9/11 inspired Civil War it looks as though the resources of both groups are now property of the USA.

I think much of this goes back to the Nixon Administration's Watergate scandal. I strongly remember an issue of Captain America in which, after a long story arch in which he was fighting The Secret Empire, a hidden criminal conspiracy, Cap finally confronted the mysterious leader of the cabal in, of all places, the Oval Office of the White House. We never saw this guy's face but Cap was shocked enough to suggest to us, the readers, that it was President Nixon himself, who then proceeded to blow off his own head on the White House lawn.

After a series of issues in which Steve Rogers resigned as Captain America and became "Nomad, the man without a country", he eventually returned to being Captain America (the way he will in current comics sometime before July when his movie is released I'll wager.) with the new understanding that representing American ideals is not the same thing as representing the United States government.

Given how divided the population of the United States has been about whoever happens to be running the country over the last decade and a half, I can't help but think that representing the government would only be a good thing with about half the country at any given time, but the ideals of the founding father's and founding documents of the U.S. still seems to fill we Americans with awe and devotion.

Superman's decision and the trend of the JLA goes a step further than this. It eliminates nationalism from the ideal of heroism. In many ways it reflects the ideals of Christianity and Buddhism. Do good and show compassion to others, whether or not they are of your family, creed, nation, tribe or what have you. I think in a world where history has show that nations and whole civilizations are mortal, it is a good thing if the ideal of heroism embraces the whole human race. Though, I think that ideal must also embrace much of the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

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