Superman: Symbol of Hope Overshadowed by Nationality Identification

In 1933 history was made when American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian artist Joe Shuster worked together to create a character who would not only be admired by children, but also be the leading inspiration of many super heroes to come, Superman. First appearing in Action Comics #1 in June 1938, Superman’s popularity eventually led to other appearances in media such as radio serials, television shows and movies, and would serve as the symbol of hope in the entirety of the DC Universe. Not for what Superman is capable of in terms of strength and power, but for his compassion and strive to do good and help those in need. For over 75 years, Superman continues fighting for truth and justice, which then became truth, justice and the American way during World War II. A slogan that became famous during that time, but then became a topic of great debate as the years went on. Many Americans who are familiar with Superman but don’t read the comics take great strive to remind everyone that Superman is an American icon. Despite Superman’s portrayal as an alien immigrant, his creative inspirations, intentions, and overall strive to appeal to everyone and not just Americans alone. Which is why for this topic the subject for deconstruction is not on Superman’s character, but the conception that many have for Superman being solely American than a hero for all humanity.

The show that convinced America that Superman fought for "The American Way".
The show that convinced America that Superman fought for “The American Way”.

As stated earlier, before World War II Superman originally fought for truth and justice, but when the war happened, the radio serial added the slogan “The American Way” into the famous line around 1942. Keep that in mind, it wasn’t the comics that made people believe Superman was American; it was the radio show that created the patriotic imagery of Superman outside the comics’ continuity. But the usage of the line became infamous as Americans went back and forth through the decades arguing its relevance. Some time after the war in 1944, the creators felt it was pointless to keep the last line in so Superman instead fought for tolerance to shorten the slogan. Unfortunately during the cold war when patriotism and paranoia was on the rise, many Americans were outraged to learn that the American Way segment was removed. So during the run of The Adventures of Superman (1952-1958), the line returned and remained with the character since. In time though, Americans again were growing more cynical with the line they demanded to stay that describes Superman. It wasn’t till the 1960’s with the cartoon series The New Adventures of Superman (1966-1970) that they tried a new slogan, where Superman fought for truth, justice, and freedom. This line has remained with the title character since then as many fans felt it was right for the hero that cares for all humanity…but then flash-forward to 2011, and history repeats itself.

The bold move that caused an uproar in the United States.
The bold move that caused an uproar in the United States.

In 2011, an event happened in Action Comics #900 where in a single story Superman renounced his American citizenship. In the short story entitled The Incident (2011), Superman non-violently defended a large group of peaceful protesters in Tehran from the Iranian army who were prepared to shoot and kill. When the hero saw how the common people were willing to risk their lives to let their voices be heard against the oppressive regime, he protected them without using any violence. His appearance gave the people confidence to stand and rise up against the regime as he stood by them for the day until everyone dispersed. His actions however angered both the Iranian and the American governments, considering they both see him as “American Property”, his presence alone could’ve been considered an act of war, something Superman himself was trying to prevent. To the point that even the American government considered the Man of Steel a traitor and was ready to kill him with snipers armed with kryptonite bullets. Unfazed, Superman declared that he was tired of being an instrument of American policy, that he is a citizen, not a possession.

The day after at the incident, he renounced his American citizenship and stated that he would continue his work as a hero from a global perspective and not a national one. Afterwards, it was revealed that Superman’s inspiration for the incident actually came from Tehran when a protester gave a rose to one of the soldiers as a symbol of peace. That act of unexpected courage gave Superman motivation to stand up for himself against the government and the public mentality that he only answers for America. Despite showing the strength of Superman’s character and how he doesn’t let himself be held down by one nation, just the very idea that Superman was no longer American had nearly everyone in the country FURIOUS.

This nationwide outburst of Superman’s nationality became much more than how Siegel and Shuster originally conceived him. Once an immigrant in a literal alien world who wanted to use his abilities for good based off the morality and life lessons from his loving adoptive family, eventually became a subject used for national topics as many political figures use Superman as a symbol for the red, white and blue, even though Superman is meant for everyone. During the time of the controversy, Republican activists such as Angie Meyer said, “Besides being riddled with a blatant lack of patriotism, and respect for our country, Superman’s current creators are belittling the United States as a whole. By denouncing his citizenship, Superman becomes an eerie metaphor for the current economic and power status the country holds worldwide.”

Whereas others such as Scott Thill of the Wired Blogger stated, “Superman has always been bigger than the United States. 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.” However, because of the outrageous backlash, DC comics labeled that event as a “what if” story and reaffirmed the public that Superman is American as apple pie, which is also ironic as apple pie was actually invented in England, not the United States. This example here presents how many care more about Superman as an American than as a worldwide hero. With the controversy the comic created, most of the fans’ reactions were actually neutral. They didn’t care that Superman was American or not since Superman actually has global citizenship in the comics, so it can be said that the short story was pointless. Though this was not the first time the Man of Steel went through a radical difference in other worlds.

In Soviet Russia, Superman reads you!
In Soviet Russia, Superman reads you!

The different perspectives of Superman’s heroism and American iconography was put into play with two “what if” stories. Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son (2003) and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986). In Superman: Red Son, the concept is basically Superman being raised in the Soviet Union rather than Kansas. Superman still saves people’s lives but instead fights for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw pact. With Superman still having his well-meaning intentions to not intervene with international affairs, but has a strong communist influence from his upbringing that slowly takes over the hero as time moves on. Resulting in him unknowingly breaking that promise due to outside forces.

What does American politics have to do with Superman?
What does American politics have to do with Superman?

While in The Dark Knight Returns, the story has Superman as much more than an American hero, he is also a literal tool of the U.S. government. Superman reveals that he hated becoming their guard dog, but believes that it is the only way he can save the world with the changing times. Set during the cold war, when the Regan Administration couldn’t stop the crime wave in Gotham whereas Batman made the city the safest in the country. The humiliated Ronald Regan orders Superman to apprehend the vigilante, an act that Superman does not want to do since he and Batman are friends, but since the American government controls the most powerful hero on the planet, he has no choice. A fitting metaphor for during that time period as Americans were outraged that Superman didn’t fight for the American way anymore despite protecting the whole world.

This mentality that some people have believing Superman belongs only to America proves frustrating to those who like the character outside of the country. It is like instead of writing a comic book, the creators were toy makers and they make a one of a kind Superman toy in America to share with children all over the world. As children get to play with their imaginations for what the hero can do, bringing smiles to everyone all over the world as they share the wonderful toy. But then a greedy kid wearing stars and stripes comes around and claims the toy as his own. As the children fight over the toy, the American kid claims that since Superman was made in America, no one else can play with it but him. That belief is as ludicrous as claiming the moon belongs to America just because NASA landed there first in the late 1960’s despite the moon revolves around the entire planet. This is how many comic readers feel when America behaves selfishly in claiming Superman is an American icon when he was made to represent all humanity. However, other American fans today are pointing out the glaring problems in those claims by pointing out Superman’s history of development.

Originally conceived by Superman's designer Joel Shuster.
Originally conceived by Superman’s designer Joel Shuster.

Many fans of Superman know the man of steel isn’t truly made by Americans alone, as Superman’s designer Joel Shuster is from Canada. What is fascinating is that a lot of Superman’s iconic elements were inspired from his home city. Such as Metropolis being based off of Toronto, not New York. As Joel himself said, “Cleveland was not nearly as metropolitan as Toronto was, and it was not as big or as beautiful. Whatever buildings I saw in Toronto remained in my mind and came out in the form of Metropolis… As I realized later on, Toronto is a much more beautiful city than Cleveland ever was… I guess I don’t have to worry about saying that now.” Ironic as some consider Superman American just because his home city of Metropolis is based in America. Other noticeable Canadian traits in Superman’s mythos are as such: The Daily Planet was inspired by the Toronto Star, and Superman’s actual home, The Fortress of Solitude, housed underground in the North Pole is part of the dominion of Canada. Meaning that Superman technically has two homes based off of his creators’ home countries, showing the unification of different cultures adding on to Superman’s character in time. Even with that however, many also cry out that Superman is American because of being raised in Kansas as his civilian persona, Clark Kent. In retrospect, the Canadian inspirations listed here doesn’t automatically make Superman solely Canadian either. So the arguments about which nation Superman belongs to just because of those few notions doesn’t hold up. So why do people care so passionately about which country Superman belongs to? Because they want their country to be connected to the iconic hero, feeling proud when knowing that such a strong, compassionate hero came from their own home.

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison

Superman still fights the never-ending battle for truth, justice, and freedom like he always has. What has changed is how people see him and his connection to earth along with his stories. Many Americans who grew up with Superman fighting for the American way feels a connection to him on not just a patriotic level, but a nostalgic one too. Which proved problematic since the slogan was made as propaganda during the wars. Whereas many people who grew up with Superman outside America feel connected to the hero since like many, he is new to the world and only wants to do good. But feel alienated when Americans keep spouting that Superman is American. From the viewpoint of the American citizens, this is not really an issue since they strongly believe the hero embraces their values. While other countries such as Canada grow tired of hearing how some Americans keep trying to assimilate Superman as a red-blooded American patriot, even when nearly every Superman fan in the world know that he is bigger than America. And yet despite the information they offer otherwise, many people still care about his nationality and not his compassion for all life. Will people stop using Superman as a political figure for their own patriotism? Probably not given how people can let their patriotism cloud their judgment. In the end, maybe all people really need is to be enlightened and accept the different viewpoints of others to grow as a civilization. Much like how Superman continues to do in his never-ending adventures for years to come.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Was he ever a citizen?

    Doesn’t matter if you cross the Mexican desert with the coyotes or the vast gulfs of space in a rocket ship: an illegal alien is an illegal alien.

    • Ryan Walsh

      Not sure if he really was when he started, but for all that he has done, it was said that in the comics that he has global citizenship because of his heroism.

  2. Wan Norwood

    The thing about Superman is that he has always stood as a reflection fo what we as a species, not as any sort of political or social state, can aspire to.

    Sure, he comes across as a bit hokey and cliched at times, but there’s such a purity of spirit to the character that he comes across as something we should embrace.

    If conservative Americans react with disgust to this they are missing the point… the writers and creators of Superman, the people not just who give him a voice but who HE speaks through (bit of a stretch there, but go with it I implore you) are clearly worried about the condition and direction the US is heading in, and want to re-establish the fact that Superman is for ALL humanity, not just the American members.

    As a species we can after all achieve so much.

    Comparisons can be drawn with Captain America – a man who is, all in all, about what America SHOULD be. Not what it necessarily is. He’s a symbol of hope, that things can, and will, get better. Very post-war, but still relevant in today’s divided society where placing blame seems more important than addressing the problems in an effective and dispassionate manner.

    In Cap’s case it’s simply sad that a fictional character can more strongly represent the true potential of America, both as a country and as a people, than many of the real-life representatives.

  3. He is a Canadian.

    He may have been born on Krypton but was invented in Toronto.

    We all know that Canadians are citizens of the world.

    • Ryan Walsh

      Technically he was created in chicago or cleveland when Shuster was working alongside Siegel. The usage of Toronto came as an inspiration. Showing home grown cultural influence during the creation.

    • That is 150% untrue. Shuster spent way way more of his life in American than he did in Canada.Shuster was a Canadian-American. He grew up in America aswell as Canada.Shuster moved to the states with his family when he was 10 years old in the 1920s. He went to Glenville High School in Cleveland Ohio where he met Siegel. Shuster wasn’t actually the one of the duo that proposed to invent superman. That was Siegel. Shuster and Siegel became best of
      friends when they were in high school. They were also like neighbours and lived on the same street. One day, Jerry Siegel ran to Shuster’s house down the road and came up with the idea of superman. Jerry imagined a man flying in the sky from his bedroom. The pair at the age of 18/19 submitted their work to every syndicate in the United States but every single last one of them except for DC Comics rejected it.

  4. Braswell

    It can be the power of those darned superheroic comics that eat up every other genre available in the medium — superheroes provide such rich territory for symbolism and ideology and married to the nature of abstraction they gain a visual impact that is as pro-vactive as it spectacular.

    The (apparently) liberal mindset in American comics these days may be down to the industrial model and its production process, with so little between the writer and the reader, rather than the political mindset of the industry itself. Lot of money gone into that recently. Nonetheless, Superman and Captain America, as obvious examples, provide a rather fascinating barometer to the mood of the ideology or nation they represent.

    This is a good thing.

  5. Superman’s kind of like a man child isn’t he. He’s not really dark like Batman is, he comes to earth as a child, and doesn’t really grow up, i think that’s what i liked about the first Christopher Reeve films, that he was so innocent and unprepared for an adult relationship with Lois Lane.

    • Ryan Walsh

      It all depends on the writer, even Batman suffered the same problem if not as much as Superman. Best example is the abysmal All-Star Batman and Robin, where Batman LOVES killing criminals, kidnaps children, and loves to go on and on and on about how much he’s so much better than Superman because he doesn’t have any powers like Superman and thinks strategically…despite that superman himself is just as brilliant as batman and even more so on a scientific level. And just because Superman isn’t as dark as Batman, doesn’t make him less of a hero. Not to mention I honestly don’t get your say on Superman being a manchild, to which again, All-Star Batman is a psychopathic man child.

  6. Rutledge

    The main problem I have with Superman is the costume actually, you can chuck all the grit and realism at him you like but at the end of the day if he is still wearing that lycra body suit with his pants on the outside I just can’t take him seriously.

    • Ryan Walsh

      And yet what about the New 52 and Man of Steel look?

    • Harmony

      That’s your mistake – Superman isn’t MEANT to be taken seriously.

      He is fun & entertainment. He isn’t meant to be a barometer of today’s society.

      He’s strong, he can fly and has x-ray vision.

    • I have to disagree with you Harmony.

  7. I would like to see Superman in a moral dilemma – he can only save one bus from falling off a cliff…..Does he choose the one that has the Beckhams, Kardashians, Royal Family, the Bush’s, England footballers, David Cameron and other heads of state on it….or does he save the one with Tibetan monks, nurses, charity workers and just normal members of the public on it. He can only save one….and he can’t cheat by spinning round the earth afterwards to reverse time. Off course he does the right thing and saves bus number 2….but then gets evicted from the Earth for being a foreigner and because he has destroyed the TV schedules. That would be cool!

  8. What the hell has happened to kids comics? Childhood should be a precious time, full of fun and innocence. I really serious worry about what all this emphasis on sex and politics is doing to our children’s minds. I know that i couldn’t give a shit about any of it until my teens – and that’s the way it should be.

    • Comic Books are just for kids anymore, where have you been for the last 3 decades?

  9. KoreyColes

    I’ve always thought he was really half-Irish.

    He can emigrate to Dublin and find a reasonably priced house now that the economy is in the toilet. For work, he could be a bouncer at one of the cities more dodgy nightclubs. Sorted!

  10. He has always sided with the big statism and crony capitalism. Even as Clark Kent he was nothing but a shill for the MSM. Superman is nothing more than a symbol of the Federal government. Always portrayed as saving the public. As if the public couldn’t do anything without big bad Superman watching over them.

    Give me V any day.

  11. My hero!

  12. Let’s not forget that Superman NEVER stood for “The American Way.” Superman ALWAYS stood for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” and thats a vital distinction here. With the current US administration involved in numerous wars, overt and covert, detaining innocent people without charges, allowing torture and spying to go unpunished, one wonders if it simply became a choice for Superman, between “Truth and Justice” on the one hand, and the “American Way” on the other hand. Truth and Justice were always the first two prongs of his worldview … if the American Way is no longer compatible with that, it seems clear to me what he’s going to jettison.

  13. What has become of us when Superman rejects Americanism? Small, seemingly insignificant sign – but very telling of the future of our once great country and people.

  14. The only time I liked Superman had to be the Animated Series done about 10-15 years ago, mostly because it had enough good villains for him (they brought in Darkseid/the New Gods for him to war with, took him to outer space a substantial amount of times, and had Clancy Brown pretty much own the Lex Luthor role as an evil man who sometimes manages to be good in spite of himself), but also because it had him doing good as Clark Kent and exploring what exactly that meant to him.

    Plus, it had the excellent “World’s Finest” arc (look it up), which placed the Big Blue Boy Scout and all his foibles up against a certain piece of Gotham trash that a certain Daily Planet reporter fell very hard for.

    • Hithere Donthitme

      Prepare to feel old: it came out in 96 and ran 3 seasons

  15. DClarke

    Good stuff. It really brings up questions of citizenship and what makes a hero a hero. I think that Superman is one of the best symbols for these questions because he has such a diverse background in the comics as well as in real life.

    • Ryan Walsh

      I’m glad you think so, but honestly with the way I’ve been seeing most comments here, I’m not even sure if what I said even got through at all…

      • I’m sure it did but that doesn’t me that everyone will agree.

  16. Justin Wahl

    Superman still remains for me the best comic superhero because is his story and powers demand a great scale of epic spectacle and excitement.

    He is also a pro-active superhero, many of us would do all different things with his abilities but he chooses to save the world. Both Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker needed tragic events in their lives before they see what’s wrong in the world. Only then did they become Batman and Spiderman. Superman purposefully chooses to be a superhero to save the world and that’s the ultimate difference.

    The main problem with many directors and screen writers is that they’re too scared to show a truly powerful Superman on screen. They feel the need to make him vulnerable, conflicted, fractured in order to generate more dramatic tension. Whilst this approach may work for Batman, the outside viewer can’t understand a Superman with the powers he possess, to be full of self doubt or introspection.

    Look at the success that Marvel had with Thor, by showing his full range of his powers and having him face off against enemies just as strong as he was.

    The solution is simple. To make Superman exciting is not to de-power him, but to provide him with adversaries even more powerful than himself. Have it so that Superman is pushed to his absolute limits in order to defeat his enemies. That’s what audiences want to see. This is why Superman II was so thrilling, because he had to face three opponents that were just as strong as he was.

    There is a full compliment of powerful enemies that can be used from Braniac, Metallo, Bizarro, Darkseid and Doomsday. All of whom have great backstories and would look awesome, especially in today’s era of special effects and CGI. Yet producers and writers continually go back to using Lex Luthor because he is human and think audiences will relate more closely to him. But Luthor is an enemy Superman could defeat in two seconds if necessary, and the only way for Lex to compete is via the use of Kryptonite , a plot device that has been overused far too long.

    • Not to harp but that sort of Superman you wanted was already created a decade ago, in the animated series Bruce Timm and Paul Dini did for US kids’ TV. Although they didn’t exactly make Bizarro a big enemy (they chose to portray him as a tragic figure, easily manipulated by everyone from Luthor to Brainiac to Mr. Mxyxptlk of all people), they hit all the right notes, plus added comedy, a kickass Lois voiced by Dana Delany, and links to their previous Batman series.

      Seriously, check it out if you haven’t already. You’ll like it.

  17. Dean Orozco

    I’ve never liked Superman. He’s too powerful to make for a good story. At least Batman has to use guile and subtlety. Superman just bashes up the baddies. (Even when he’s facing “cosmic entities” in the comics, his tactics are hardly different.)

  18. The only super power I enjoy as much as Superman is James Bond.

  19. Florenz

    Superman is the internet atheist version of God ie he should be constantly zooming in to prevent natural disaster and human evil/exercise of freewilll. If God were such a simplistic notion he would of course be hounded to death by simpletons – why didn’t you prevent this disaster/save my spouse, children etc.

  20. Wonder Woman

    Superman is indestructible and it makes it hard to actually conjure any sympathy for him or really care about his ‘feelings.’ The thing about Superman is that I watch the movies and read comics to see how he resolves issues when villains are trying to kill him.

    • Says the person with a the user name of the Female Superman, honestly you aren’t supposed to force feelings they way you describe you just well feel them, Superman’s story is the story of someone who just wants to fit in and anyone can relate to that.

  21. Crenshaw

    He’s a notoriously perfect character who writers have always had trouble writing for hence the spin-offs, Superboy, Supergirl, Superdog. Superman III and IV are as hated as Returns and for the last 20 years the comics charts have been dominated by X-Men and their single character issues.

  22. Lorenzo Lamas

    Batman has the cooler villains, better movies, and sweeter car. And he’s a karate fighting criminologist, inventor, and a ruthless capitalist with a lust for vigilante justice. Superman is a dork; good riddance.

  23. Vinnie B.

    Heroes Without Borders: I love it!

  24. Superman might not be real, but his message is real, and menacing.

  25. Superman wants the freedom and flexibility to fight for Truth, Justice and all of that without flack being heaped on the US.

  26. Coppola

    I have never found Superman interesting in the slightest, due to his black and white world. What’s the appeal of fiction about people who have got their (Kryptonian) shit together?

    Give me Daredevil any day.

  27. While he was the first “Superhero” , as someone who grew up an loved the 60s/70s Marvel comics, Superman was always a bit of a joke. The name, the cape, the absurd self referential S on his chest. Yes. all superheroes are absurd to some degree, but he was perhaps more than most. The superman costume had it’s origins in the look of early 20th century strongmen and acrobats.
    Of course originally Superman only had super powers under our “yellow” sun, unlike his home planet.

  28. The people at DC are getting too damn edgy.

  29. Crystal Crow

    Several problems with Superman as a character:

    1. Superman is too powerful. The fellow can fly faster than the speed of light in some iterations and can push planets out of their orbits. This drains any conflict in which Superman is involved of all drama.

    2. Superman cannot answer why he permits some things to happen and not others. This is a problem flowing directly from (1) above, the fact that he is too powerful. Superman should, by virtue of his great speed and strength, be able to fly around the world, stopping at least 10 million bad things a day (even he has his limits, I suppose). Yet he seems to mostly hang about Metropolis and struggles with Lex Luthor and so forth. Superman doesn’t stop wars, for example, even though he could. Well, wars are a choice that humanity makes–but so is crime. Why does Superman stop muggers and bank robbers but not wars that cause far more harm?

    Here’s a good example of why Superman doesn’t make sense, even by the logic of the world in which he supposedly exists: in the original Superman film by Richard Donner, Superman has to struggle to catch two rockets sent in opposite directions by his arch-enemy, Lex Luthor. Yet within minutes Superman, having failed to catch one rocket in time to prevent a massive earthquake in California, alters history by reversing the rotation of the Earth. One minute Superman isn’t fast enough to catch two crummy rockets and the next minute he’s a god who can turn back time? Huh?

    This is why I have always preferred Batman and other “superheroes” who are life-sized. Batman, a mere mortal, can’t be everywhere at once. Batman can be hurt or even killed just as easily as you or I.

    I would prefer to see a Superman as originally envisioned by his creators, a creature of superhuman abilities but with definite limitations. The original Superman couldn’t even fly, but merely made prodigious leaps! Dwarfing Superman’s powers would make him more vulnerable and force him to make choices.

    • Ryan Walsh

      1.Depending on which Superman you’re referring to, that’s more of Silver Age Superman, and that has been retconned since Crisis on Infinite Earths.

      2.The core conflict of his character is how much SHOULD he help, without coming off too much like a God. If he helps too much, people would rely on him too much for their everyday problems. If he barely helps, people would lose hope and faith in him.

      3.Back to the whole retcon aspect, it was ever since Crisis that they made sure that Superman didn’t come off as too overpowered even though he is still quite powerful in his own way. Your reference of the Richard Donner Superman film came from the 1970’s. Meaning that movie was making reference to the Silver Age Superman, making up powers as he goes, and turning back time is not the strangest thing. Apparently back then he could destroy an entire solar system by sneezing, and shoot rainbow beams from his finger tips to make duplicates of himself. And there’s many more that he could do back then but has not been gone since the 80’s, INCLUDING spinning the earth backwards to reverse time.

      It all comes down to different writers, some make him more human, others prefer the powers over character. And despite all that, I’m a bigger Batman fan than Superman myself, but after learning about the differences in writing, it made me more curious as to why Superman has gone through different tellings that affected his character.

  30. I have not read a Superman comic for about three decades … but have for a while been wondering where he changes (in other words, switches his underpants from inside to outside) nowadays … he used to use telephone booths, but there are not that many of those around anymore …

    • Ryan Walsh

      My guess is more so the changing times and because of the influence of the movies. His suit these days appears more like an armour instead of tights, despite that he has REALLY tough skin. Its weird, but that’s films for ya.

  31. It’s worth mentioning that Superman has been through some periods of real unpopularity and severe scrutiny, particularly in recent years where his obvious links to both religion, ‘national pride’ and, on a number occasions, simply bad writing..

    Supermans popularity is primarily based on his longevity, most ‘fans’ don’t actually read the comics and so are ignorant to the majority of changes. That’s why there is the confliction with his public status, because as a comic book character there have been continual changes but as a pop culture icon we have been simply adapting the same stories once every ten or twenty years.

  32. Joie Hostetler

    Superman is and always has been, an illegal alien.

  33. Superman’s integrity is beyond reproach. Conservative or liberal or whatever you have to respect his decision.

  34. Hayward

    Ever since I was a kid, it was “truth, justice and the American way.”

  35. This is a good article, but I noticed the author incorrectly names Joe Shuster as “Joel Shuster” in the tenth paragraph.

  36. Fantastic article!
    I see why they changed the slogan to have the inclusion of “The American Way” during World War II, but I now feel that years later (even after Superman renounced his citizenship), Superman’s connection to the Red, White and Blue is just being replayed over and over again as a political point in comics and film.
    Take the recent trailer for Batman v Superman; for each section in which we see Batman, we are shown some exciting back-story information or some dark consequence of how he deals with villains. Then we go to the cuts of Superman, and it’s shots of people with “ILLEGAL ALIEN!” and “GO HOME” banners, only then to show Superman bowing before a leader in the form of Lex Luthor.
    Superman is so much more than just “is he truly American or not?” and I can’t wait until the new writers begin to remember that.

  37. You did such a wonderful job with this. I never really considered the nationality of Superman before which seems odd because of the old catchphrase, “the American way.” Thank you for this article!

  38. Francesca Turauskis

    Does Clarke Kent has a birth certificate? Or a passport? (although, would he need one, he can jsut fly everywhere!) Is it explained in the comics ever?

  39. Great, thought-provoking article. Superman is a great example of how something so intrinsically human and hopeful can be taken and spoiled with patriotism. Patriotism is fine and well when it’s simply a love of where you come from and live. But when it’s taken to its extremes and used to hate and start wars? That’s where characters like Superman and publishers like DC have to draw a line. Superman stands for so much more than America, he stands for the world as you so eloquently stated. Trying to tie down what he represents to one geographic location? That’s just selfish. That’s Captain America. And that’s why Superman works so much better than Cap. It’s the same morals but they ring truer with the Man of Steel because it doesn’t have the addendum “as long as it’s America” after it. Heroism isn’t exclusively American, and DC, along with the rest of the nation, would do well to remember that.

  40. The issue of Superman’s citizenship is an interesting one. I always like that he is in a way the ultimate immigrant. I can flip-flop between whether I think having him focus on American issues or global issues better shows this immigrant nature of his character, but I currently think having a national citizenship is most effective.

  41. I love the underlying themes present in so many comics. I am slowly being exposed to the world of comics. Recently one of my students submitted a wonderfully put together proposal suggesting we watch the Avengers in Social Studies class because it tied so closely to the themes present in Grade 11 Social (Nationalism, ultranationalism, genocide, etc.) I wonder if there are ways we can use these comics are learning tools for the topics so many have touched on about War, Americanisms, and nationalism…

  42. I think your looking to much into this people were just annoyed that a patriotic icon was taken from them and comics fans were mad because the character was changed and honestly most people couldn’t care less about politics but when you have a character saying that he will no longer be a part of the country he was raised (created?) and lives in its a slap in the face its like saying ok lets make Captain Britain French.

    Yeah its true Superman is the whole worlds hero I don’t think anyone would dispute that its when people dispute him being American that problems arrive because Superman is about as American as it gets its like stripping Captain America of his citizenship it simply isn’t right and as the people of metropolis said in the comics he may be the worlds hero but “he was our hero first” and i think that should be respected but this is just one mans opinion.

  43. Adnan Bey

    I was first exposed to Superman’s national identity when I watched a movie version of The Dark Knight Returns. I felt irritated that Superman was just a lackey of the US government. He didn’t have his own morals in that movie, no opinion, he was a soldier. A mindless soldier. That’s sort of why I always preferred Batman. He does what has to be done cause to him, the law simply doesn’t work.

  44. People can try and bend themselves into whatever mental pretzel they can envision to make their argument work, but this is really quite simple. Most deep questions in life are quite simple.

    Superman is an American creation, by an American writer, of an alien from another planet who landed in America and was raised by American parents. He grew up believing in American ideals and later in life he used those ideals to guide him in his fight against the evils of this world.

    What were those ideals? They were Law and Order, namely the Justice system. The Judaeo-Christian set of moral absolutes which has always been a bedrock cultural aspect of American life, or even to say Western life: he doesn’t believe in lying, cheating, stealing, or murder. And a uniquely (at the time) American fighting spirit. Way back then, Americans knew they led good and decent lives, they knew their country was a good and decent place, and they weren’t ashamed to admit it. They also had less trouble pointing out tyrants and evils even if they weren’t eager to jump into wars at the first chance.

    And let me ask a very simple question: If superman is NOT American and does NOT believe in American ideals, then where do his values stem from exactly? What drives him to the high-minded goals that he has? From what does he base his ethics? Just like our justice system is made as fair as possible by being based on American ideals, such as innocence until proven guilty; so too is Superman’s ethical basis.

    So Superman was very much, and very obviously, a creation of an American mind and portrayed an American way of life. Whether he said the words “Hi, I am Superman and I am clearly defined by my American believes as an American citizen” is as silly as asking if the Lone Ranger ever stated bluntly if he was American and believed in American ideals. It’s just a given for anyone who knows what common sense means.

    Sadly, many people are taught how to confuse and obscure common sense instead of how to recognize it. These are the type of people who can take any simple reality and make it into something else through enough self-delusion, like your average Looner-Landing-was-a-fake or 9-11 Truther who believes in conspiracies instead of reality.

    So what changed? Basically comic book creators changed over the decades. You might as well ask what has changed on any college campus today where America is an ugly word. They voted to ban the American flag from a public place in one college recently.

    It wasn’t Superman that really changed, it was his authors. His authors became more anti-american and sought new ways to write into his story that he was a global creation. If they could get away with it they would love to re-write his obviously white race and make him some kind of multicultural symbol.

    The evidence is easily seen for anyone with the true courage to look. Just take a look at the G.I. Joe movie if you still can’t face the truth. G.I. Joe comes from an actual historical military term for American military personnel. G.I. Joe means U.S. Armed Forces. Yet in the recent movies what did they make it stand for? Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. A military soldier fighting his country, namely America, is bad. It’s icky. It’s atrocious. But a military soldier fighting for some vague United Nations style global organization that has no real definition, goals, or citizens, now that is okay.

    Just swallow the red pill and face reality. This argument is really about who hates America and American values and it always will be. It really has nothing to do with what Superman is about.

  45. Funny how I never thought Superman was”American” but on the other hand, I took it for granted that Superman was “American.” Why? I saw him on American TV, I heard him on American radio, I read him in American comic books – hence – he must be American. Very cool article that makes me wonder why I never considered Superman as a Global entity. His philosophy and his values are global – all nations strive to do and to be what Superman stands for whether it be the governing body or the repressed population of an abusive government. All want to better their conditions. I’m glad you brought out the tug-of-war poor Superman has endured. He just wants to do good and help – yet as you point out, his actions are politicized. Very enlightening point of view Ryan. I appreciated your analogies too – sharing the “toy” with the red, white and blue striped kid as well as the moon belonging to who exactly? FIrst come, first served – or we’re all in this together. Food for thought. Keep ’em comin’. I enjoy reading you.

  46. This was a really interesting article. Superman is one of my favorite superheros precisely because of his compassionate nature. Nevertheless, always hearing how he is American or belongs to the USA puts a dent is his universal appeal. To learn that his origins weren’t so indebted to the nation he was raised in is both refreshing and makes perfect sense. Also, as a Canadian, it was really cool to learn how Toronto was the inspiration for Metropolis!

  47. I agree. I like the character Steve Rodgers but I can’t bring myself to love him because he is constantly draped in the American flag, I like Superman but I can’t bring myself to love him because just when I think I can America and their obnoxious patriotism has to remind everyone that he fights for “the American way!” Urgh *rolls eyes*
    Superman should be and can be a character for all nations but as long as the Yanks have their grubby hands on the character he will always bleed red white and blue and the American way will always be the best way despite it not being.

    • That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. The yanks created him and his creators who were also Americans intended him to be a character that stood up for America. He’s their national icon and one of there oldest heroes. Though, ironically dc comics have been making superman more of a global hero by removing “the American way” and putting in “ better tomorrow”. But they themselves aren’t even doing that for the right reasons. They’re doing it because of America’s stained reputation and to pander to foreign markets so that they can make more money.

      Superman and Captain America are very similar because they are national icons to the US and always have been. They were both built and created by their creators to embody the American dream.

  48. Elpis1988

    This is a really informative piece. We all know that Superman is originally from a place where they disregarded scientists and went about destroying their planet. No not Krypton, I am talking about the United States.

  49. As someone who has a passionate love for comics and it’s history. I’m disappointed because This article was clearly written by someone who has no idea as to what he’s talking about.
    first off, though superman is undeniably a global superhero as well as an American one. It is undeniable that he was originally built to stand up for America. And you’ve missed out the fact that Shuster also had American citizenship and was thus an American as well as a Canadian. Shuster and his family moved to America when he was 9 years old. And Shuster spent much of his life in the US.
    Second off, Superman is pretty much like a superpowered version of Uncle Sam. He’s a national icon more or less to America. This character was built to embody American values even way before the whole “American way” line was introduced during world war 2. Superman always embodied the American dream. That anyone can be an American and that anyone can succeed in America regardless as to whether or not they are in immigrant. Superman is built on American values such as freedom and justice and whatnot.he’s probably the most iconic of American piece of intellectual property there is.His creation story was actually very political. This is a character who originally was rocketed to earth as an infant landed in the heartland of America (Kansas) and was brought up by two American farmers. The guy even wears freaking red,white and blue for goodness sake. He’s about as American as it gets. Siegel and Shuster were Jews whose parents were Eastern Europeans that migrated to North America to escape antisemitism hence why superman has a bit of Jewishness in himself such as being called “Kal El” and from “Krypton”. Siegel and Shuster primarily wanted superman to bring hope to the American people and to bring hope to the rest of the world. And they succeeded, superman brought happiness children all around America.
    Fourth off, it was the American audience that built him as in when superman first debuted though he was popular internationally most of his popularity came from America in his early existence. It took a hell of a long time for superman to become the global phenomenon he is today.
    Fifth off, “ But feel alienated when Americans keep spouting that Superman is American. From the viewpoint of the American citizens, this is not really an issue since they strongly believe the hero embraces their values. While other countries such as Canada grow tired of hearing how some Americans keep trying to assimilate Superman as a red-blooded American patriot, even when nearly every Superman fan in the world know that he is bigger than America.”
    This is the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard. Why just why would people abroad see superman as being something that’s not American? In fact why would people see anything that’s related to superheroes being American? Superheroes are very very Americanised thanks to marvel and DC. They basically originate from that country. The average person abroad would not associate superman or any superhero with any other country but America.
    Canadians don’t grow tired of it either. They know full
    Damn well that superman like other superheroes are Americans.

  50. D.C. Comics are also funnily enough recently been removing the Americanness in superman which is both good and bad. It’s good because it makes superman appear to be more of a global superhero thus extending into foreign markets thus giving dc more profit. It’s bad because it’s kinda screwing over the American audience that built him

  51. Petar

    To be honest, it always bothered me a little when Superman was explicitly stated to be a symbol of American values, but it’s probably better that way when that is what the writers are trying to communicate. ‘Globalizing’ Superman might be worse, since it’s less obvious what he specifically represents, and could come off as treating the entire planet as just being America.

    Either way, I have feeling this debate will be ongoing for awhile, and I look forward to the ideas that may come out of it.

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