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The real reason Superman is renouncing his US citizenship – copyright law

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In the most recent issue of Action Comics, the fictional superhero character Superman, who flies around in a blue leotard with red underwear on the outside and a big red cape, renounces his US citizenship.

The key scene takes place in “The Incident,” a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President’s national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.

Superman is going to finally take a real stand. At the UN.

Superman made his first appearance in the first issue of Action Comics in 1938. Since that time, the United States government has rounded up and jailed people because of their Japanese heritage, dropped atomic bombs on Japan, knowingly infected Guatemalans with STDs to study their effects, fought against the civil rights of its own black citizens, entered the Vietnam war based on the “Gulf of Tonkin” lie, used chemical warfare against the Vietnamese, provided millions of dollars to Middle Eastern dictators in the name of “stability,” and fought a “war on drugs” that allows government agents to break into peoples’ homes and is directly causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people all over the world every year. Our current president has engaged the United States in yet another war in the Middle East, and claims to have the power to kill US citizens without a trial. And that’s just off the top of my head.

But now… now Superman has had enough. Now Superman wants to renounce his citizenship.

First of all, big deal. Is “Superman” even a US citizen? Does he have some citizenship papers that say “Superman is a United States citizen”? When he travels, does he have to show a passport and go through airport security checkpoints? Is his alter ego, Clark Kent, going to renounce his citizenship?

Second, he’s giving his big important citizenship renunciation statement to the United Nations? This is the organization that had Libya on its Human Rights Council. This is the organization whose “peacekeepers” have raped women and children. Again, this is only off the top of my head — you can probably come up with more if you look (I’m too depressed right now).

Superman could look. He’s Superman. But what’s he done about that? Nothing.

The timing seems suspicious. At a website called The Daily Caller, someone called Jim Treacher has a pretty funny take on it:

It’d be one thing if Superman renounced his U.S. citizenship under The Evil George Bush. But we put a black man in charge, and all of a sudden the Man of Steel heads for the exits? Nice try, Kracker-El.

It’s interesting to see the reactions of conservative commenters. As was the case when it was announced that the new Captain America film would change its title in three overseas territories to remove the word “America,” they claim that Superman is being victimized by liberal political correctness, in which a beloved character’s “essential Americanness” is being eliminated.

However, these criticisms miss the point. Like Captain America, and in fact like most of the superhero characters who emerged in the late 30s and early 40s, Superman was a hard core New Deal FDR Democrat. These same conservatives who today decry what they see as a cheapening of a beloved character who represents traditional American values (“Truth, justice, and the American way,” as the Superman radio program put it) would have complained loudly at the ridiculous pro-New Deal propaganda that the characters represented at their genesis. Examples of this abound, but my favorite is a story from Action Comics number 8, in which Superman decides to fight poverty by destroying the tenements in which lower-income people live.


Superman, destroying slums in an effort to save the poor, tests the "broken window fallacy."

Superman seems to think that if he destroys tenements, the government will come in and build newer, better buildings in which poor people can live. Because we all know how wonderful government housing is. And thus will solve the problem of poverty. In other words, Superman was a big government bully with no impulse control who used his power to enforce his own idea of “fairness.”

Remember, conservatives — this is the humanoid alien creature who is “renouncing” his citizenship.

Anyway, as I said, the timing of Superman’s citizenship renunciation seems awfully suspicious, and I think it has less to do with the race of the current US president than with a copyfight lawsuit that Superman’s corporate overlord, Time Warner, is involved in.

“To put this in further perspective, the entire accounting action pales in comparison to the fact that in 2013, the Siegels [heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel], along with the estate of Joe Shuster, will own the entire original copyright to Superman, and neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros. will be able to exploit any new Superman works without a license from the Siegels and Shusters.”

Time Warner is about to lose the copyright to the character of Superman. They have not been happy about this. And when they lose their copyfight cases? Well, they behave petulantly. One example:

When Time Warner loses the copyright on a character, this is what they do to him.

That grinning, insane little cretin with the “crazy spittle” dripping from his lower lip is — wait for it… Superboy! At the end of the reprehensible mini series “Infinite Crisis.” This was supposedly a sequel to “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” but was in fact nothing more than an “eff you” to the heirs of Jerry Siegel, who at the time of its creation were engaged in a copyright lawsuit against Time Warner. And while the series was being published, those heirs won the court case giving them back the copyright to the character.

Back in March, Deadline posted a letter to the head of Time Warner from Joanne Siegel, the widow of Jerry Siegel, Superman’s co-creator. It’s a devastating read, in which she details some of what she’s had to go through during the copyfight over the Superman character.

My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Shuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act. Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights.

On December 1st I turned 93. I am old enough to be your mother. I have grown grandchildren. Unfortunately I am not in the best of health. My cardiologist provided a letter to your attorneys informing them that I suffer from a serious heart condition and that forcing me to go through yet another stressful deposition could put me in danger of a heart attack or stroke. I am also on medications that have side effects which force me to stay close to home and restrooms. Nonetheless your attorneys are forcing me to endure a second deposition even though I have already undergone a deposition for a full day in this matter. As clearly they would be covering the same ground, their intention is to harass me.

My dear daughter Laura too has painful medical conditions including multiple sclerosis, arthritis, glaucoma, spine disorders, and fibromyalgia. She has already had her deposition taken twice by your attorneys while in pain. Her doctors have given written statements saying she should not be subjected to a third deposition, yet your attorneys are insisting on re-taking her deposition in an effort to harass her as well.

So I ask you to please consider – do these mean spirited tactics meet with your approval? Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?

As the corporation that owns him is about to lose its copyright protection, Superman no longer wishes to be subject to US law. That’s the real reason Superman is renouncing his US citizenship.

Ricky Sprague occasionally writes and/or draws things. He sometimes animates things. He has a Twitter account and he has a blog. He scripted this graphic novel about Kolchak The Night Stalker. He is really, really good at putting links in bios.
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8 Responses to “The real reason Superman is renouncing his US citizenship – copyright law”

  1. What a pack of shits. Plus, Superman has always been really boring. Even the much vaunted Alan Moore yarns are kind of tedious.

  2. You… might actually be insane…

  3. By which I mean that it might be time to take a step back and get some perspective for the sake of your peace of mind. The world’s a tad crazy right now, and speaking as someone who just followed a Twitter link here… you may have been immersed in this stuff a liiiiiitle too long. Deep breaths. Don’t let the scary stuff blind you to the totally innocuous stuff. Some things really are harmless!

  4. @Daniel K: I mostly agree with you — the character himself is kind of a zero. But I think that the stories from about the first two years or so have a lot of demented charm. I also kind of like some of Otto Binder’s stuff from the 1950s, although the way that National Publications procured Mr. Binder’s services (by suing Captain Marvel out of existence) is pretty distasteful.

    @..: I don’t understand your comment, but that’s probably on account of my immersion in the scary stuff, which has caused blindness to the innocuous stuff. But I do appreciate your concern over my peace of mind.

  5. I do not follow Superman or his whereabouts, but it would be sad to lose him as a countrymate. Where would he go? Canada?

    I don’t even like comics but read this entire article straight through. Very well-written and well-researched. Kudos!

  6. I haven’t read those early Superman stories… I read some of John Byrne’s reboot in the 80s and they were ass, while Jerry Ordway’s stories at the same time were so forgettable I have literally forgotten them.

    Meanwhile it’s interesting that it is Obama’s naive & irrational “soft on enemies/hard on friends” foreign policy that caused Superman to renounce his citizenship, and not Bush’s wars. Is Superman a closet neocon?

  7. Jackie: I admire you for not liking comics. They will only break your heart. Thanks for the kind words.

    Daniel K: Byrne’s and Ordway’s stuff was crushingly disappointing.

    The only “recent” Superman story I’ve read that sticks out in my mind as actually being good is Steve Gerber’s and Gene Colan’s 4 issue “Phantom Zone” miniseries from 1982 — and Superman isn’t really a major character in that until the 3rd issue. I don’t think it’s been collected.

    If you ever find yourself in a library with about ten minutes to kill, you might pick up a book called “A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics” and read the Otto Binder’s story “Captain Marvel Battles the Plot Against the Universe,” which was originally published in 1949. The pre-lawsuit Captain Marvel stories put Superman’s to shame (Captain Marvel outsold Superman for awhile, which was one reason why National Publications/DC went after him), and “Plot Against the Universe” is one of the most hilariously baroque pieces of surrealism ever to appear in comics form, hitting on religion, time-travel, talking animals, mad science, cloning, and itching powder. Unlike almost every Superman story ever published, it is actually memorable.

  8. I like this move. Superheroes shouldn’t limit their inspiration to American citizens. As the art form becomes increasingly universal, so should its focus.

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