Truth, justice, and, uh, something else. That’s apparently what Superman stands for these days. No, you read that correctly. In Action Comics #900, Superman plans to go before the UN and renounce his American citizenship because in the current storyline, he went to Tehran to stand in solidarity with anti-Ahmadinejad protestors. This led Ahmadinejad to believe that the United States was declaring war on Iran.
Ignoring the rather obvious plot hole that only Congress has the power to declare war and that Superman is basing his actions on the what of a Middle Eastern dictator, he’s tired of his actions being construed as U.S. policy. Seriously.
Let that one stew for a moment. “’Truth justice, and the American way”—it’s not enough anymore.” The world, according to Supes, it too connected.
Now, while I’m not exactly a comic book nerd (practically everything I know of Iron Man, for example, has come from the two movies) and don’t know much about how geopolitics plays out in the DC comics universe, it’s a bit irking to see a classic American icon go out and make a blatant statement like this. It’s far more explicit than the lackluster film Superman Returns, in which the phrase is changed to “truth, justice, all that good stuff.” There it was a purposeful omission, but not a harsh, direct rebuke. One of the co-screenwriters, Dan Harris, stated “He’s an international superhero.”
Well, no, he’s an American superhero recognized internationally. There’s a large difference between the two.
This sort of move isn’t unprecedented in the world of comic books. Captain America has long had themes about loyalty to one’s country vs. loyalty to one’s government. The difference is that there, it’s used for character development and exploring the issue while still maintaining the basics of the hero’s premise. Superman renouncing his American citizenship—and notice that this doesn’t include Clark Kent renouncing it—is a bit like when Cap tried giving up the shield and, well…
Some news outlets, such as The Hollywood Reporter, have defended the move, arguing that it’s a smart business strategy in what is, too be fair, a small, connected world. I don’t quite buy it. It may have some positive effect in foreign markets, but I’m skeptical it’ll change much for the better stateside. G.I. Joe, another famously American entertainment franchise dropped its national flavor for the movie: rather than being the codename for a highly trained American force, the title became an acronym for Globally Integrated Joint Operating Entity. Predictably, it failed to catch on with what would seem to be its primary audience: comic book fans. Time will tell how this character derailment plays out. My guess is that it may end up something along the lines of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Sterling C. Beard writes for the Dartmouth Review.