It was reported this week that Superman--Kal-El, the Man of Steel, the Last Son of Krypton--renounces his American citizenship in the latest issue of Action Comics. (Spoiler alert, by the way!) The issue, #900 in the series, features stories by a welter of genre heavy-hitters, including onetime Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof and Richard Donner who directed Christopher Reeve in the 1978 film version of Superman.
The moment everyone's talking about comes in a story called "The Incident," written by David Goyer (a writer on The Dark Knight Returns) with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In this story, Superman wants to fly to Tehran and offer moral support to Iranians protesting an oppressive regime (which may sound familiar), but he's told that Iran will take it as an act of war. So Superman decides to get out in front of the problem. "I intend to speak before the United Nations tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my U.S. citizenship," he tells the president's national security adviser. "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy. 'Truth, justice, and the American way'--it's not enough anymore." It's not clear whether this will carry over into the greater Superman continuity, or if it's just a one-off. But that hasn't stopped onlookers from speculating about the true meaning of Superman's de-Americanization. Below, a smattering of interpretations:
David Harsanyi at The Blaze suggests Supes really just wants to get out of paying criminally high taxes to a certain merciless Democratic president. "Perhaps Superman is one of those fat cat trust fund babies — his father was a Kryptonian scientist, after all — his real kryptonite the confiscatory taxation policy supported by the Obama Administration?"
Don Surber at the Charleston Daily Mail shakes his head at what he sees as naked opportunism: "The heirs of the Superman franchise hope to peddle more of their ware by adopting anti-Americanism." Surber adds that "the eternal adolescents who draw and write these things take way too serious a cartoon of a man who can somehow fly through the air and withstand atomic bombs," and shows how seriously he's not taking it by fuming, "Truth, justice and the American way are complicated? Only to small minds."
Jonathan Last at The Weekly Standard has no problem taking it seriously—he sees Superman's latest move as nothing less than a plunge into nihilism. Last writes, "the only truly interesting aspect of Superman’s character is his complete devotion to America" because it "establishes all of his moral limits." As a man without a country, "what, exactly, will he believe in?" (Last also writes that Superman renounces his citizenship because he "becomes disgusted with the U.S. government," which, as far as we can tell, isn't what's happening here.)
As several writers point out, Superman—the character and the property—already has, at best, a complicated relationship with America. "Joe Shuster, the man who first drew Superman, was Canadian," writes Aaron Goldtsein at The American Spectator. "David Goyer, who wrote the story, is also the screenwriter of the upcoming Superman movie directed by Zach Snyder and starring a British person as Superman," notes Paul Constant at The Stranger. And oh, yeah: Superman was always "very literally... an alien immigrant," as Laura Hudson points out at Comics Alliance.
Besides, as Steven Taylor observes at Outside the Beltway, "these things (like the death of Captain America) have a way of being impermanent." And also: "these things (like the death of Captain America) are done to generate PR and sell comics. Mission accomplished."
So maybe it's not worth worrying about. Indeed, Scott Thill at Wired offers a blessedly non-hysterical reading:
In an age rife with immigration paranoia, it's refreshing to see an alien refugee tell the United States that it's as important to him as any other country on Earth -- which in turn is as important to Superman as any other planet in the multiverse.
The genius of Superman is that he belongs to everyone, for the dual purposes of peace and protection. He's above ephemeral geopolitics and nationalist concerns, a universal agent unlike any other found in pop culture.