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Has Superman lost his American Way?

Wow. Every once and a while something happens in comics that the big news (non-comic-related news) world picks up on. Superman probably holds the record for these small sensations with his wedding, his death, and his blue elctro-costume being just a few examples. But he's done it again! On Wednesday Action Comics #900 came out and it featured a 9-page story by David S Goyer. It has Superman stand in solidarity with Iranian protestors and in the end HE DECIDES TO RENOUNCE HIS U.S. CITIZENSHIP. The Man of Steel plans on appearing before the UN and telling them that he is a citizen of the world and that his actions are not the workings of US foreign policy.

"It's not enough anymore" ?!?!
This has caused a ton of conservative commentators to negatively liken both Superman and his writers to Barack Obama (He's their favorite anti-patriotic whipping boy, after all) and ask ad nauseum "What happened to the American Way?!"
Well, let's get a few things straight first of all.
The American Way wasn't originally part of the catch-phrase. The original Superman introduction was a lot more socialist/progressive-sounding. If I may:
Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman–defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice.
That's the original from the 1940 Superman radio show introduction. See? No "American Way". Then of course there are the Fleischer cartoons. I cannot overstate how perfect and awesome these Superman cartoons are. (The intro starts at 0:56) Again, Superman fights for "Truth and Justice" with no mention of it being in an American way or an international way or a Kryptonian way. Whatever way he was doing it, he was doing it for truth and justice.

In the height of World War II Superman took a step towards patriotism (and who doesn't during wartime?) and "the American Way" was added. He also fought Nazis and Japanese a lot more in those issues. But after the war the "American Way" in his tagline went along with the Nazi spies and bucktoothed Japanese caricatures. It wasn't until the mid-fifties (with the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Red Scare in its zenith) that the catchphrase came back with the George Reeves Superman TV Series. It's stuck ever since.
So, as far as the essential nature of the line, I think it could be argued either way. I think that it's a good addition but not a necessary one. Superman, after all, fights to save the whole world. His powers aren't limited to helping Americans and certainly his view-point has always been one of helping all of humanity. However, the history of that particular line aside, Superman's story is undeniably American.

He's more American than Captain America
Superman is the quintessential American in my mind. He immigrated here at a young age. His parents sacrificed everything they had and braved the worst atrocity to make sure he got here safely. They knew that this was a land where he'd be safe and cared for. They knew that here he could achieve his potential in ways he never could in the land of his birth. His journey was perilous and his arrival chaotic but he endured it. He was taken in at once and raised in America's heartland. He worked hard, studied, and became an active member of his community. Like many undocumented immigrants he had people who believed in him forge papers and kept him safe from detection. Eventually he moved from the rural setting to the might and grandeur of the city. His style of dress was outlandish and foreign at first but people soon became accustomed to it. Like many Americans of note he decided to do right by his adopted home and he stood up for what he believed in. He was selfless and put others needs above his own. He helps when people need help and he will not stand for crime or dishonesty. Even when not within the strict rule of the law he follows his own moral compass and has faith in his actions because of his personal sense of right and wrong. He is at times contradictory but always self-assured. Sometimes his actions can be seen as reckless or heavy-handed but they always come from a motivation to do good. He embodies the immigrant. He embodies the city-dweller and the country-dweller. He embodies the cowboy. He embodies the boy scout. He is the voice of the people through journalism. He is the protector. He is the comforter. He is the rock in the storm. When all else fails, Superman does not. He is big enough and strong enough and brave enough to encompass all that we as Americans aspire to be.

... Except Alaska and Hawaii
And there's the rub. These are trying times in which we live. I cannot think of one person who hasn't been at least a little bit torn over what we're watching overseas in North Africa and the Middle East. "Do we support our ally Mubarak or do we support the people and their outcry for democracy?" "Do we intervene in Libya or stand by and watch?" "What is the best way to deal with the newly minted democracies going forward?" These are questions on the minds of many Americans and most of us have no real say in the matter and can do almost nothing to effect the situation. Superman is asking himself these same questions knowing in his heart that he could fly over there in the blink of an eye, disarm every Libyan soldier and drag Qaddafi out of his spiderhole kicking and screaming for all the world to see. I don't like seeing Superman in doubt. I like the idea that Superman knows right from wrong but I get that in our "increasingly gray-shaded world" there are truly difficult questions. The answers to these questions are sometimes all wrong or none are 100% right. How does a Superman, a man who is a symbol of Truth and Justice (and the American Way), deal with these questions? In the opinion of David Goyer, he decides to renounce his citizenship for the sake of the United States.
Do I think that is something Superman should do? No.
Do I think that is something Superman would do? No.
Do I hate it and think it is ANTI-American... No.
I think that Superman's actions in Action Comics #900 are understandable. It's a very human reaction. But it's not super. Superman at his core is super. If you're strong, Superman will be stronger. If you're smart, Superman will be smarter. He is invincible because if he was truly defeated then he just wouldn't be Superman. Losing isn't a part of his story. If you beat him, even if you kill him he will come back victorious. Superman can win against anything: Even moral conundrums.

"Winning! Duh!"
Because he's super at everything. He is not only super-strong and super-fast and super-tough; He is also super-compassionate. He is super-brave. He is super-moral. This comes from his Kryptonian abilities in part, of course. But it also comes from being raised on a farm and learning how things grow and how to nurture them. It comes from living in a rural Kansas town where he learned how to be part of a community, how to be neighborly and a good citizen. It came from his good, honest, hard-working parents who always showed him the importance of respecting and believing in yourself as well as others. That's a part of Superman and whether you want to call it the "American Way" or not it's not something you can't separate from Superman.
In my opinion Action #900 had an interesting story but Mr. Goyer fails to be as super in his thinking about the world today as Superman is. The Superman I know would have thought of a better way than just quitting America. Superman would be proactive. He'd be inspirational. He'd do something more creative and more super than I can imagine. He wouldn't quit. He'd SHOW the world in an act of heroism that he is bigger than boundaries and lines on the map. Goyer did a nice job of telling a little human interest story with the protesters but utterly missed the point of the Superman story. And I think a story about Superman deciding to renounce his American citizenship deserves more than a nine-page story...
When I first sat down to write this I thought I would support Superman's decision. I also don't have a lot of faith in the current US Foreign policy and I wish we weren't so mired in Geo-Politics that we could stand up for what we believe in. I empathize with Superman (and David Goyer's) dilemma. But in writing this I realized that if Superman is no wiser or more confident or morally stronger than I am, then why am I reading about him? What's more, what does that say about our nation right now? At the end of the day, though Superman's actions may be good for the America of the fictional DC Universe are they good for the real America? If Superman doesn't have faith in us, then who will? I can only hope that, like he has countless times in the past, Superman will overcome this adversity before he is defeated by it and that he will save us all. To paraphrase the brilliant Grant Morrison, I hope that this is all "just Lex Luthor's Doubt-o ray and that next issue Superman will bust in on him and punch it and it explodes" and then Superman gets his faith back. I for one take comfort knowing that at least Superman is still standing for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

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