Monday, May 02, 2011

Citizen "S"

I picked up Action Comics#900 this past week, and one aspect of the book really offended me. It represented everything wrong with modern day Big Two superhero comics and almost ruined the entire comic for me.

I'm talking about the "Reign of Doomsday" storyline that was shoehorned into the final chapter of the Lex Luthor "Black Ring" story arc. Paul Cornell wrote the quintessential Superman/Luthor story for the new decade and one of the most insightful explorations of Lex's nature ever done, and he was forced to wreck the flow of his own story arc by forcing in an obviously editorially-mandated Doomsday crossover "event". This was a terrible disservice both to Cornell and to exiting artist Pete Woods, who closed out his last issue in grand style. Although Jesus Merino is a fine artist, the constant shifting between his style and Woods' was often jarring and disruptive.

Worse, all this was in service to yet another trip by DC to the Doomsday well. I picked up the original "Death of Superman" arc back in the 90's, as well as Dan Jurgens' "Hunter/Prey" and "Doomsday Wars" sequels, both of which were well-executed continuations of Doomsday's story. Jurgens took Doomsday as far as he could go. Every Doomsday story after Jurgens has just left me cold. The well has long run dry, but DC just keeps running back. It's getting on my last nerve. DC Editorial needs to let the writers tell good stories and keep their greedy little event-driven, micromanaging hands OFF!

End of rant.

What? Did you actually think I meant this?

Above is a scene from David S. Goyer's short story "The Incident", featured in the same issue. Synopsis: Superman arrives at an Tehranian protest to demonstrate his support for the protesters. He takes no direct action, but merely stands still in a show of nonviolent resistance for 24 hours. No violence breaks out, save for some minor molotov cocktails thrown Supes' way. The demonstration goes without incident. However, Supes' involvement creates an international incident with the Iranian government accusing him of acting on America's behalf and calling his actions an act of war. Supes meets with the U.S. National Security Advisor in the aftermath and tells him that he's decided to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

I'll admit I've got some reservations about this, particularly in its execution.

David S. Goyer is a wonderful writer who is responsible for some of my all-time favorite movies ("Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight", and the cult classic "Dark City"), but what he did here has more than a whiff of superdickery

How would you feel if you invited your rarely-seen identical twin to stay with you for a few days, and your twin proceeded to pose as you, make a profound change to your life (quitting your job, getting you promoted or fired, proposing to or dumping your significant other, etc), and then depart, leaving you to deal with the aftermath?

That's essentially what Goyer, a guest writer on a one-shot 9-pager, did here. Cornell is continuing as ACTION's scribe, and I presume Chris Roberson will continue on SUPERMAN, and I've seen no signs of a third Superman book by Goyer coming out. If Cornell or Roberson had introduced this decision, I would have been more comfortable, because it would indicate a game plan for dealing with this. As it is, it has a hit-and-run feel. We don't know if this topic will ever be discussed again. Also, this shock-value move serves to further steal the thunder from Cornell's Superman/Luthor epic.

It's also unclear exactly what the ramifications of Supes' decision are. I 'm assuming that Goyer is only talking about renouncing Superman's U.S. citizenship, i.e. whatever special citizen status was conferred upon Superman specifically at the start of his career, while his alter ego Clark Kent's American citizenship will remain intact. But what are the consequences of this? How does it affect the way the Man of Steel is viewed by the general public, or by the world's governments, both American and non-American? Will it actually be a help or hindrance in carrying out his super-duties? What actually changes? That's why I would have preferred Cornell introducing this.

Still, despite any reservations I have, I'm not particularly offended as an American or as a comic reader by this story.

The right wing, on the other hand, is throwing a series of conniption fits.

In "Superman No More?" in the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last states:

"And in the end, the only truly interesting aspect of Superman’s character is his complete devotion to America. Because it’s this devotion—of which his citizenship is the anchor—that establishes all of his moral limits. Why does this demi-god not rule the earth according to his own will? The only satisfying answer is that he declines to do so because he believes in America and has chosen to be an American citizen first and a super man second.....Once he’s a “citizen of the universe” what, exactly, will he believe in? Heck, what does “citizen of the Universe” even mean? Will Superman now adhere to the Tamaran code of honor? Will he follow the Atlantean system of monarchy? Does he believe in liberté, égalité, fraternité, or sharia? Does he believe in British interventionism or Swiss neutrality? You see where I’m going with this: If Superman doesn’t believe in America, then he doesn’t believe in anything.......And if an invulnerable demigod doesn’t believe in anything, then what he really believes in is himself—his own judgments, foibles, preferences, and partialities. At which point he is drained of every last bit of dramatic interest. He’s Doctor Manhattan and all he can do is exile himself to the moon and let the little people carry on with the hurly-burly of earth."

From James Hudnall:

"Superman was raised in the heartland of America. His values were informed, not only by his parents, but by the nation he grew up in. Superman, the selfless hero, was a reflection of this great land, which has shed blood and treasure in the defense of others. America has liberated millions of people, poured untold billions into rebuilding nations torn apart by wars. We’ve propped up economies and currencies. We’ve protected others from encroaching totalitarian communism and terrorists. Those are things to admire, but to the many people who went to colleges infected by leftist professors, they’ve been taught that America is a curse on the world, instead of what it really is. There is a sad attempt to distance our heroes from our nation. Captain America was also created in the same spirit as Superman by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. All of these creators would be rolling in their graves if they knew what the publishers of their characters are doing with them now."

Hollywood publicist and GOP activist Angie Meyer gave us this gem:

"Besides being riddled with a blatant lack of patriotism, and respect for our country, Superman's current creators are belittling the United States as a whole. By denouncing his citizenship, Superman becomes an eerie metaphor for the current economic and power status the country holds worldwide."

Avi Green goes as far as theorizing:

"I wonder if this is Time Warner's revenge upon the Siegel & Shuster estates for filing suit against them? They're not helping any by taking out their anger on what they've still got left and potentially giving anyone who supports the heirs' position another reason to view loss of copyright as justified. This is just downright embarrassing."

One article on Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood site is even titled "Left’s Crusade to Destroy Our Heroes Marches On: Superman Renounces God, American Citizenship" for heaven's sake! What?? There is no mention of God anywhere, let alone Superman renouncing Him or any other deity, in this story! (By the way, does anyone else see the irony of this comic being covered on Breitbart's site, seeing as how both Breitbart and Clark Kent are pretend journalists?)

These conservative accusations are both ridiculous and extremely ethnocentric. As Clark he was raised as an American by the Kents, and those values of both America in general and the Kents in particular continue to shape who he is. His "judgements, foibles preferences, and partialities" not going to be erased by this change of unofficial citizenship; it's still inside him, and even played a role in driving him to this decision. Even though he doesn't work for the government, he still believes in ideals like truth, justice, and freedom.

Also, while America is an undeniable bastion for those virtues, those virtues don't necessarily begin and end with America. And even America is far from perfect when it comes to living up to those ideals. 

I remember hearing a quote by Al Franken which he stated that he believes liberals tend to view America the way an adult offspring views his or her parents, loving and even admiring them but still recognizing their flaws, whereas conservatives view America as a child offspring views his/her parents, refusing to see them as anything less than perfect.

Franken's analysis seems to bear out in the criticisms above, particularly when the bloggers fall back on the tiresome meme about how liberals in general, and liberal comic creators in particular, hate or are out of touch with the real America. Many of them compare this story with Captain America's 70's Nomad storyline, where Steve Rogers gave up his Cap identity out of shame for the corruption in the U.S. government.

But all these conservative critics completely miss the point.

Hudnall, for example, states that "the excuse given in Action Comics 900 is Superman doesn’t want to be accused of being part of American government policy", when, in fact, the truth is the exact opposite: Superman doesn't want America to be accused of complicity in his actions, not vice versa.

Superman didn't decide to renounce his citizenship here to disassociate himself from the U.S. government's actions, but rather to dissacociate the U.S. government from his. He didn't take this action to express shame for America; he took this action to PROTECT IT. If that's not love of America, I don't know what is. He's always loved America and its citizens and continues to do so. It's just that he loves the rest of the world and their citizens too, and is seeking the best way to serve them all. He believes that this renunciation decision will allow him to do that, and whether he's correct remains to be seen.

John Byrne put it best back in 1986's MAN OF STEEL#6:

"Superman belongs to the world."


At 3:27 PM , Blogger SallyP said...

Just once I'd like the critics to actually READ the books that they are busy bloviating about.

At 8:35 PM , Blogger snell said...

For what it's worth, Goyer is scripting the forthcoming Superman film, and I've read speculation that this story is just laying groundwork for the one of the plots of the movie. It's still a hit-and-run, though...

At 9:37 PM , Blogger BDS said...

Breitbart is a pretend journalist.

Clark Kent is a fictional character that is a real journalist.

One is a real person and fake professional. The other is a fake person and real professional.

Just saying.....

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