Jeffrey Taylor is a staff writer/moderator at The Superman Homepage, cohost of From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast available at the Superman Homepage, iTunes and The Superman Podcast Network. You can find his new Man of Steel Countdown column here at Movies.com every other Tuesday.
Normally for a second installment (here's the first) of a column about a movie, I would “wade into the pool slowly” by telling more information about the people behind this movie and what other rumors are circulating around the internet. But last month, the most controversial Superman story to hit the comics (since his death in 1992) was printed in the anniversary issue of Action Comics #900. And it was written by David Goyer, the same writer penning the screenplay for The Man of Steel.
In the nine page back-up story, titled “The Incident,” Superman stated that he intended to officially renounce his United States citizenship. It was a shocking revelation to many, hardcore and passing fans alike. What had happened to this character who once stood for “Truth, Justice and The American Way?” And what will it mean for the future of the character in all forms from the comics, to TV to movies?
On a similar note, there was some fan backlash to the casting of Henry Cavill as Superman for the Man of Steel film. He will be the first Superman who was born outside of the United States. Again, fans wondered why such a traditionally American character would be played by an actor from the United Kingdom.*
*Technically Michael Daingerfield voiced Superman for a few lines in the children’s cartoon Krypto (2005) for the first episode, and he was born in Canada. I would hardly count that though.
And the English Way?
As a moderator on the #1 Superman fansite in the world, I can assure you that many American and Non-American fans were vocal about their distaste for Cavill the moment they saw he was not from the US. Some even went on to claim they would never see this Superman movie because casting a non-American went against the idea of Truth, Justice and the American Way.
There were a number of reasons fans stated for disliking Henry Cavill’s casting. Some said he was too short, even though he’s 6’1”. Some said he would never be able to handle the American accent, and still others said he did not look right for the part.
Arguments in FAVOR
What a live action Superman needs is to look the part, be muscular, and he must be an excellent actor. The flawlessness of the character needs to be played by someone who can handle his subtle complexities. Plus he needs to be a good Clark Kent. More than half of the Superman fans I’ve encountered have told me that Christopher Reeve was their favorite Superman. That’s because he had all those qualities. He was a Juilliard trained actor who took the character seriously.
Henry Cavill has those qualities, or at least he will. He looks the part and is currently going through a strenuous daily workout to bulk up for the camera. From seeing his other work, especially Showtime’s The Tudors, Cavill has a range of believability and that certain likeability and charisma that Superman needs to carry.
Only one question remains. Can he handle an American accent? And that’s something I leave up to the individual. Watch this clip from Hellraiser: Hellworld and judge for yourself.
Truth, Justice … and all that stuff
In the nine page story “The Incident” from Action Comics #900 (In stores April 27, 2011) Superman flew to Tehran where 120,000 Iranian’s were demonstrating against Ahmadinejad’s regime. The military had been threatening to stop the protestors with deadly force, so Superman landed in the middle of the line just as soldiers had prepared to fire their weapons and just stood there facing off against the army for 24 hours. It was an act of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance. Because with Superman there, no one would be hurt. During that 24 hour period, the number of protesting civilians grew to over 1 million citizens.
After the 24 hours, Superman took off and flew away, signaling to everyone that it was time to peacefully go home. The message had been sent.
Later, Superman was summoned to meet with Gabriel Wright, the President’s National Security Advisor who yelled at Superman for creating an international incident. Iran understood Superman to be a United States Citizen and therefore what he did in Tehran was an act of war on behalf of his country.
When Wright demanded that Superman never get involved in a situation like that again, and even threatened him with a sniper with Kryptonite bullets, Superman turned and said, “It was foolish of me, which is why I intend to speak to the United Nations tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my U.S. Citizenship. 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.”
I have a specific judgment on this topic, but I tried to see this from both points of view:
There are two big arguments why this story was a bad idea
1-Superman is an American Hero.
Superman is synonymous with the tagline “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” which Goyer even specifically referenced in the story. Taking away the “American” part takes something vital from the character. Superman’s popularity during the 1940’s and 50’s is unparalleled and he fought for the American values of the time. In fact, comic books were the #1 reading material for GI’s overseas during World War II and Superman was the most popular character.
My friend Scott Gardner is the co-host of the Two True Freaks family of podcasts. He had this to say on the subject:
“Superman is a quintessential piece of Americana and as such DC Comics has an obligation to the character and his many fans to handle the Man of Steel in a manner that is both respectful and true to who he is as a person, a hero, and an icon. Having Superman even consider renouncing his American citizenship simply because the writer has a political axe to grind does the character an extreme disservice and DC Comics should be ashamed of themselves for ever approving, let alone printing, such a horrible misuse of the tireless champion of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”
2-Realism rarely applies to superhero comics.
If there were a real Superman here in the real world who was a public figure who flew all over the world saving the lives of innocent people from natural disasters and “bad guys,” he would have to do exactly what Superman did in this story. He would have to officially be a citizen of the world for his presence to be allowed within certain borders without being construed as an act of war. But obviously there is no Superman in real life.
But that kind of realism is unnecessary in comics. What if back in the comics during World War II, Superman flew into Germany to arrest Hitler, then stopped off in Japan to pick up Hirohito, ending their atrocities and the war itself. It sounds great, but once the reader put the book down, the threat would still be there. This is the same reason there will never be a story where Superman stopped the 9/11 terrorists, which he certainly has the power to do in comics, because that’s not how it actually happened.
If there are still any doubts, I point to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace from 1987 where Christopher Reeve’s Superman took all the nuclear missiles from Earth and threw them into The Sun. Again, the threat of nuclear war still existed when the film was over.
Arguments In FAVOR
“Champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way” was not always Superman’s tagline. It was first introduced in the George Reeves Adventures of Superman TV series in 1951, thirteen years after the character’s creation. Originally, he was dubbed, “Champion of the weak and oppressed,” which is certainly a good way to describe the oppressed citizens of Iran.
Superman saves lots of people: individuals like Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen, strangers, sometimes the whole city of Metropolis, or the world, or the galaxy, or even all existence in the entire multiverse. Simply because he tends to save people in Metropolis, he belongs to Earth and protects the planet. If people are in danger in another country, he will not stop at a border if he can save lives.
My friend Jon M. Wilson from the podcast “Amazing Spider-Man Classics” had this to say on the subject:
“Being a citizen of the world, Superman shouldn't feel bound to any government, even if he has emotional ties to the country or city where he has spent most of his life. There are atrocities in this world that he can help to set right, and the victims of those atrocities are no less deserving of his help just because they live outside our national boundaries.”
Does it actually matter?
Maybe and no.
“The Incident” was written by David Goyer, the same man writing the screenplay for The Man of Steel. It will be interesting to see if the political statement he made with this story will carry over to the film. One thing I don’t expect to hear in the movie is the term “American Way.”
In the context of the character in the ongoing comic books, this was a nine-page back up story that may never be referenced again, especially now that the entire DC Comic Book Universe is being restarted in September.
So what do you think? Should Henry Cavill be Superman? How do you feel about Superman renouncing his citizenship?
Next time in Man of Steel Countdown: What has been confirmed about the plot and what are the most convincing rumors?
Until next time, keep looking up in the sky.