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Monday, May 16, 2011 

Nashua Telegraph goes overboard apologizing for poor Action Comics story

A much later article on the controversy of Superman giving up citizenship in Action Comics 900 has been published in the Nashua Telegraph. I thought I'd seen it all, but this one is really disgusting, as the writer really goes beyond the pale into a politicized bias:
It seems impossible to avoid the “Superman renounces citizenship” controversy, so let’s tackle it head on.

For those just coming in, the debate is born of an exchange in “Action Comics” No. 900 in a short story where Superman stands in Tehran for 24 hours (but otherwise takes no action) to show solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators.
As I said before, that's just the problem: he takes NO action. He doesn't disarm the dictatorship's police, who would be very likely to fire upon the demonstrators after he was out of range when leaving the scene, and there's little to no chance they would actually accept that rose one protestor handed out, nor does he seek and destroy Iran's nuclear arsenal or other weapons. Nor in fact does he even free the political prisoners who've been victims of torture and rape in Iran's savage prison systems. And on top of all that, the story does not work well with reality, making it a classic case of poor timing.
When the Iranian government calls this an act of war by the United States, Superman tells a worried U.S. national security adviser that he’ll renounce his citizenship because he’s “tired of my actions being construed as instruments of U.S. policy.”

Aaaand cue the faux outrage, especially on the right of American politics.

I don’t mean to pick on Fox News, but they were braying the loudest. The story, titled “The Incident,” was condemned on “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Fox & Friends” and “Fox Nation,” where potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called it “disturbing.”
Umm, haven't you heard? Huckabee isn't running in the coming election. That aside, why are we supposed to care what a totalitarian regime's dictators think of the USA? Such nerve calling our anguish faux.
GOP activist Angie Meyer ranted on Fox that it showed “a blatant lack of patriotism,” that it “belittled” the United States and that it was an “eerie metaphor” for America’s apparently low (in her view) standing in the world.
Well I'm afraid that regardless of whether Superman is a US citizen, it's insulting that he should be giving up any status he's got, because the story structure makes it sound as though being an American is only an embarrassment. And by acting ashamed of being American, that only encourages the kind of negative sentiment any foreign foes of the US may harbor. The newspaper writer's attack on the right is also insulting.
While I’m glad the Man of Steel is still important enough to get that kind of coverage, I’m deflated that this non-story is the reason.

First, let’s put it in context. Superman’s remarks ran in a measly nine-page backup story in a 96-page issue. (By contrast, the lead story was 52 pages.) Plus, he only told us what he was going to do, not that he’d actually done it.

This is a minor story by any measure, and is likely nothing more than a setup.
Well it would have been a setup, had their not been as big a reaction as there was these past few weeks. But the backlash appears to have brought the company to decide to drop the story as is. Well, we certainly hope.

And the talk of a "non-story" is only dismissing the anger as trivial and saying the right is just full of it and making a fuss over nothing. All they're doing is claiming that stories insulting to being American are peanuts and nothing to be concerned about. But as the reaction shows, not so, and the public who feel disgusted have every right to be.

And that flaccid defense that Superman was merely telling what he intended to do? Well gee whiz, that's just the problem! If he gives his intentions, it's tantamount to actually carrying it out, and at the worst place possible! If it hadn't been for the backlash, chances are it would've happened.

In fact, the whole line sounds familiar, like a copy of this Reuters apologia:
In the comic, Superman never actually renounces his citizenship, he only talks about his plans to do that.
Seems like the Nashua Telegraph's writer was so bankrupted of his own apologia, he desperately ripped off another's. What a crock. He goes on to argue:
Second: history. Superman was deputized by every United Nations member back in the 1960s, and although the franchise has been rebooted once or twice since then, he has been regarded as more or less a citizen of the world for decades. [...] Besides, Clark Kent is still a U.S. citizen, and that’s who the Man of Steel really is; the guy in the circus suit is the disguise.
But as I'd said before, that only confirms just how silly and moot any issues concerning citizenship were to begin with! And at the same time, it risks making Clark Kent look hypocritical, as though the guy who's one and the same as Superman is disillusioned to the point where he'd theoretically forfeit his citizenship, yet keeps it nevertheless, not unlike a Chomskyite who hangs onto his citizenship even as he degrades the very country that gives him the right to criticize it.

And if Ahmedinejad didn't like Superman entering Iran before, there's no chance he will even after the Man of Steel gives up his unofficial citizenship. So which UN member, if any, won't be deputizing Supes any time soon?
Third: Trademarked characters rarely ever change. You can’t fundamentally alter a character such as Superman, or he’ll lose whatever made him popular in the first place. DC Comics even admits that.

“Superman … has long embraced American values,” co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee told The New York Post. “As a character and an icon, he embodies the best of the American way.”

In other words: Nothing will change.
Oh? They sure seem hell-bent on pushing through the dark-tinged visions they've been blatantly forcing upon the DCU even before Identity Crisis. For now, it can be said that, if it hadn't been for the backlash, it might very well have changed, and not for the better at all.

And even if he doesn't change, that's still no excuse for a writer and/or an editorial board forcing their political views onto a classic character that take all the flavor away.
Fourth: Money. Or, to put it another way, “Geez, it’s not like they killed him or anything.” Because, duh, they did! And the 1992 “Death of Superman” sold enough comics to fill up the Fortress of Solitude.
And just how does that make what they're doing any more appealing - or profitable - in the long-term? How is it even justified? How is it even an excuse for genuine character drama? What makes it better than a story where say, Supes tries to help drug addicts get back on their feet, or save an alien colony that's being menaced by an armada of space warmongers? If this were Clark and Lois' marriage we were talking about on the other hand, that's something worthy of writing for moneymaking. Killing for profit, however, most certainly isn't, definitely not when it becomes the nigh-norm.
Further, where was all this outrage when Captain America quit being Captain America? Because that has happened, too – twice.
As a matter of fact, there's plenty of people today who could argue that the Nomad story and even the one where Steve Rogers was briefly replaced with the guy who'd become USAgent were lousy ideas, but back when they were done, it's not like there was internet, nor did the press take the comics subject seriously enough to cover these things. And if they did, they'd likely favor it, if we know where they stand on the political field.
Here’s the lesson: Comics survive by telling new stories, not the same one over and over. Creators like to shake things up, even if it’s only temporary, even if it’s only the illusion of change.
Oh do tell us about it. If they really wanted to tell new stories, they'd bring up the history of WW1 and the Turkish slaughter of Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman empire. Or, they'd write a metaphor for cases of slave trade in Africa, and how some superheroes try to help save the infidels being oppressed in the Islamic world. Or, they'd write about the problems with left-wing hatred against conservatives. Or, they'd write about how today's worker unions are corrupt. Or, they'd write a story alluding to the UN's Oil-for-Food scandal. Where are stories like those? Without that kind of a balance, how are they supposed to survive? Again, what a crock. And he doesn't make things better when he says:
This is a story meant to sell comic books, not a denunciation of patriotism or whatever other kooky idea you hear from politicians and media talking heads – who, it must be noted, are also trying to sell you something.
Falling back on that classic argument that it's "just stories". Hardy-har-har. And all from yet another person who's trying to sell something as old as a rusty Edsel.
Finally, I have to say my favorite response to the furor is what some anonymous wag said on the Internet: “Oh, no! People who have never read Superman comics are threatening to never read Superman comics!”

Spot on. Not only is this just a story, it’s a story aimed at comic-book readers. Who, obviously, are a lot savvier about comic books than Mike Huckabee.
But that's actually clarifying the problem we face today: the companies aren't seeking new readers, nor are they trying to make their comics more welcoming to newbies, nor are they trying to make them tasteful. I guess he doesn't want nobody new to come aboard the DC/Marvel express and enjoy their classic superheroes and their supporting casts. That's why the threat of not reading their products is actually bad news in long-term, because it scuttles all chances of finding new people to try out their stuff and make money. Thus, the writer contradicts himself. Not to mention that it's just not so that every comics reader knows more than the average politician does from a political perspective. Let's also consider how small today's audience has become, and how many of them stopped reading comics because of foolhardy tactics like these.

And on top of all that, the newspaper writer has the sheer blatant nerve to deride the right for taking offense at a cynical, irresponsible story, no matter how short, that belittles the meaning of being American for the sake of political correctness.

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Great post. Kudos.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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