Sunday, April 27, 2014

Citizen Kent

It was three years ago this very week in  a soon to be controversial short story appearing within the pages of the milestone 900th issues of Action Comics, that Superman announced his intention to formally renounce his United States citizenship.  Why, you may be asking yourself, am I only just writing about this instead of venting my spleen on the subject back when people actually cared?  Simply put, the truth is that I had not read the story in question and I really didn't give half a crap about the latest manufactured controversy that was getting the panties of all the Fox News commentators and others of their ilk in such a twist.  The even more shocking truth, though I feel that I must reveal it in the interests of full disclosure and integrity and other such quaintly last century concepts, is that I still haven't read the story and, quite frankly, I still don't care about the whole controversy that much.  I have, however, recently been reading some of the reactions and  commentaries, including those emanating from Fox News, that popped up on-line at the time. 
Everything that I read brought one question to the forefront of what's left of my mind these days.  What does it mean?  What, to be perhaps redundantly specific, does it really mean for Superman to give up his citizenship?
Upon thinking about it further, this invariably led to other questions.  Is Superman really an American citizen at all? Is Superman even real?
Now before you accuse me of being delusional and unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy, let me assure that I am not about to tie a beach towel around my neck and leap off the roof of my apartment building shouting "Up, up and away!"  For one thing, I have neither a beach towel nor access to the roof.  More to the point, I am fully aware that Superman is a fictional character created by a couple of teenagers from Cleveland back in the 1930s and not in any sense "real" in our world.  When I ask if Superman is "real" I am speaking solely within the context of the fictional reality in which his never ending story is set.
When you get right down to it, Superman is, as John Byrne took great pains to emphasize when he revamped the character back in 1986, merely a leotard, a pair of boots, a cape and a spit curl.  He is a disguise, an assumed identity that allows Clark Kent to carry out his morally dubious, extra-legal super-powered vigilantism under a cloak of anonymity. 
It is Clark Kent who is the U.S. citizen, and presumably remained so even after having his public hissy fit in front of the entire world as Superman.  Hiding within the persona of Superman allowed Kent to be able to stand up in front of the cameras and tell America what it could go do with itself while escaping the consequences.   I assume that there would be some consequences in our reality if a high profile celebrity without a secret identity that he could retreat into publicly renounced his status as a U.S. citizen.  At the very least, I suppose that the now former citizen would be asked to exit himself from our shores immediately.  Kent, on the other hand, can slap on a pair of hipster glasses and a blue suit and go back to apartment at 344 Clinton Street in Metropolis and his job as a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper as if nothing ever happened.
That lack of repercussions makes Superman renouncing his non-existent American citizenship a meaningless, empty gesture.  Therefore, the entire story itself, no matter how well written or beautifully drawn it may have been (and the pages I've seen on-line have been quite lovely, as a matter of fact), is totally pointless and a waste of paper.   Thus, pointless, as well, is all the right wing bluster that accompanied the story's publication.  But then, right wing bluster is usually pointless, no matter what the blowhards are blustering about, isn't it?


  1. Hey Ray, just so we're clear I agree that the modern news cycle is filled with sensationalist, unresearched, often unnecessary stories and that's certainly a reason to be dissatisfied. That being said, you're no better than they are if you choose to publish articles about stories you haven't read. I understand that you feel you don't need to in this situation, but it is never a good idea to open with "I simply had not read the story in question..". Perhaps you're correct in your thoughts on the book, but you're admission of a lack of a research undermines your credibility, and tells that reader that you don't even know how you feel about the story just how you "think" you feel, and that doesn't make for terribly good writing.

  2. You know, I might just have to rethink my policy of allowing anonymous comments on this blog. I do in order to allow the greatest possible number of people to be able to comment without having to sign up for a site they may not already be a member. Yet, if you're going to call me a hypocrite then I would appreciate it if you had the courage to stand behind your statement by attaching your name to it. Here you are, addressing me by name as if we're pals or something, while I have no clue who I'm addressing this reply to right now.
    Now that that's off my chest, let's get to your point, and you do have one. However, my post really isn't about "The Incident." I think I made it pretty clear that I was reacting not to the story itself but to the reaction that greeted it on-line, which I did read quite a bit of. This raised questions in my mind about not just the idea behind this particular story, but the very nature of the character of Superman himself. I was really addressing the decades old question of which is the real identity: Clark Kent or Superman? I came down on the side of Clark Kent. Therefore it seems to me that the very premise of Superman renouncing his citizenship is flawed. It was that premise, and not the content of the story, that sparked the controversy to which I was responding.
    I admit that I probably went a bit too far when I called the story "pointless and a waste of paper". That was, in fact, an uninformed judgment on something I hadn't read, just as you say. Everything up to that point, however, I stand by.

  3. Jonathon RiddleMay 8, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    I can only hope the story in Action 900 was titled: "The Super-Man Without a Country!" -- That's how they would have done it when Mort Weisinger was around!

    But seriously, you do bring up a good point. This does seem like an editorial move to drum up readership by hyping an ultimately pointless controversy. Still, I believe that a talented writer (I too have not read Action 900, so I don't know who wrote it or how well it was done) could possibly spin off this idea into intriguing stories for our beloved Man of Steel. There are possibilities: What does citizenship mean to Superman? Does he see himself more as the savior of the universe or a Kansas farm boy? These stories could make the reader question the values of "truth, justice, and the American way". What does that mean, exactly? Why ascribe to that? Superman could question his place in the world, and come through it more resolute in his purpose. The character could grow from such an experience. After all, what good are values if they are never brought into question?

  4. Jonathon RiddleMay 8, 2014 at 7:54 PM

    As to whether or not the chief identity of the character is Superman, Kal-El, or Clark Kent, I think depends on the who is writing the stories -- which actually means it's up to editor-in-chief at DC -- which ACTUALLY means it's up to the desk jockeys at Time Warner Communications.

    John Byrne, as you say, focused on Clark Kent. Byrne's The Man of Steel mini-series was all about Superman shedding his alien roots to become a child of earth. When he meets Lois Lane, he wants to win her affection as Clark Kent. When a holographic image of Jor-El appears on the Kent farm, Superman and Pa Kent destroy it together.

    Clark was also the overriding persona of Superman: The Animated Series. In one episode, Clark gets close to uncovering corruption within the Metropolis Police and is taken out with a car bomb. Being invulnerable, the bomb doesn't harm him, however, it puts him in a strange predicament, as witnesses to the explosion believe Clark to be dead. Clark flies back to the Kent farm and asks his parents for help in sorting the mess out. When Pa Kent suggests giving up the Clark Kent identity, Superman retorts "But I am Clark. I need to be Clark. I'd go crazy if I had to be Superman all the time!" Superman finds a way out of this fix eventually while still finishing his expose on police corruption, but my point has been made.

    On the Superman radio show, however, Clark Kent meant a lot less. There, Clark Kent was an arbitrarily picked name (suggested by the first people he saved as Superman) and was used only as a means of keeping abreast of disasters that Superman could prevent and dastardly criminals that Superman could apprehend. Often when Clark as alone or thinking to himself, Bud Collier would affect the booming "Superman" voice, instead of the higher-pitched Clark Kent voice. The Superman movies also tend to downplay the importance of Clark Kent. Christopher Reeve famously portrayed Clark Kent as a mask that Superman wore to blend in with people. As silly as the Superman costume may look onscreen, Reeve managed to make it work because he always looked more comfortable as Superman than as Clark. There's also the famous speech the late David Carradine gives at the end of Kill Bill that assesses the Superman/Clark Kent dichotomy according to writer/director Quentin Tarrantino.

    Is he Clark? Is he Superman? Is he Kal-El? Answering that question and debating the possible answers is part of what makes Superman such a fun and memorable character.

    To the Superman of the radio show, however, Clark Kent was an arbitrarily picked name used only as a way to keep abreast of any disasters Superman could prevent.

  5. Connor KirkendallMay 15, 2014 at 7:02 PM

    Seems like a ploy to get people to buy the issue, but at the same time Superman shouldn't be bound or feel attached to any one country. He should be a citizen of Earth first and foremost.