Roger’s Comic Ramblings: Truth, Justice & the American Way

by Roger Ash

This column is going to look at a story in DC’s Action Comics #900 and the brouhaha it spawned last week. If you haven’t read the issue or heard of the controversy surrounding it, consider this a SPOILER WARNING!

Action Comics #900

Action Comics #900

In a short story in Action Comics #900 by writer David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda, Superman meets with the President’s National Security Adviser to explain why he took part in a protest in Iran. Superman explains that he was exercising his right to take part in a peaceful demonstration. The Adviser says that people believe he was there on the President’s behalf and has caused no end of problems. Superman agrees and says that’s why he’s going to renounce his US Citizenship. That way his actions can be attributed only to him and make him more global.

Fox News, and other news outlets, got a hold of the story and ran with it. While I am not a fan of Fox News, in this case I can understand where the outrage is coming from because this does not seem like something Superman would do. As such, it smacks of a gimmick.

It seems like one of the main ways DC and Marvel have been drawing readers in recently have been gimmick stories; Superman decides to walk across the country, Daredevil decides to become the leader of the Hand, weekly comics, and never-ending events. The list goes on and on. The reason I consider these gimmicks is because they’re built around an occurrence rather than the characters themselves. That’s not to say that every gimmick story is bad. They’re not. An example from recent history that was done well was the Death of Captain America. There was the gimmick of Steve Rogers being shot which created a spike in sales as readers wanted to find out for themselves what was going on. And a number of those readers stuck around because what followed were strong, character-driven stories.

But these days, gimmicks seem to lead simply to more gimmicks; House of M to Siege to Dark Reign; Superman spends a year on New Krypton, walks across the country, and renounces his citizenship (which seems to undo the purpose of the previous story). I’m sure you can think of others. My issue with this is when the stories become gimmick-driven, the characters often become shallow and behave in ways counter to how they have acted for years (even decades) because they have to act that way for the story to work. My belief is that character should drive the story, not the other way around.

Wonder Woman by George Perez

Wonder Woman by George Perez

Let me give you an example or two of character-driven stories that have had a big impact. My favorite run on Wonder Woman was done by George Perez. What he did was take a part of who she was and amplify it. She had always been tied to Greek Mythology. Why not ramp that connection up and see where it leads? It led to an exciting series that got people talking and reading and remained true to who Wonder Woman was.

Walter Simonson tied Thor in more closely with his mythological roots and also asked the question, “What if someone else is worthy of the power of Thor?” From that premise came Beta Ray Bill and one of the most fondly remembered runs of Thor ever. These examples show how you can create excitement around a character while remaining true to their roots.

In my recent interview with Mark Waid about Daredevil #1, he presented this intriguing hint at what was to come in the book. “A focus on how in our screen-focused 21st century, how Matt’s powers are actually maybe NOT as useful as they were 15 years ago or so–not in an era where almost everyone communicates via smartphone.” What I like about this idea is it’s a natural question to ask given the character and his powers. I’m curious to see where he goes with this.

So why do I feel this Superman story is more of a gimmick and less a character-driven story? Superman has, for me, always presented the ideal of what America should be. He uses his powers to help those in need, to stand with the weak against the strong, and fight oppression where he may find it.  I think his participation in the protest made sense given his beliefs. He may be from an alien world, but he was raised from childhood by Jonathan and Martha Kent with a strong moral upbringing, and let’s face it, an outlook on life that is firmly rural American. His experiences in Metropolis certainly came from a different side of America, but was firmly American as well. That is the core of who he is – he views life as an American, not an alien. Renouncing his citizenship isn’t going to change how he views the world.

He says that renouncing his citizenship will no longer link his actions to the US. He’s smart enough to know that isn’t true. There are still people who believe President Obama wasn’t born in the US in spite of the long form of his birth certificate being released. If Superman thinks just saying he’s not a US citizen will convince a dictator that he has no ties to the US, he’s got another think coming.

He also says that he’s a citizen of the world, as if it’s impossible to be a citizen of both the US and the world. That’s ridiculous. Of course it’s possible to be both and to think otherwise is narrow-minded. Citizens of every nation also have to be citizens of the world. And everyone needs a place to call home and hang their hat. For Superman, the logical place to do that is in the US.

And when he has the choice to stand up for what he believes and what he thinks America should stand for, he takes the easy way out and says he’s not a US citizen anymore. He runs from the problem. That’s not heroic and that’s not Superman.

At least that’s my opinion. What do you think?


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