A new pro-im­mi­grant su­per­man is­sue is par­tic­u­larly timely

Weekly Trust - - Weekend Magazine - THR.com

Su­per­man stand­ing up for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants? We should ex­pect no less. It shouldn’t come as any sur­prise that Su­per­man pro­tects an un­doc­u­mented worker in this week’s is­sue of DC’s Ac­tion Comics. Beyond the fact that he is the long-stand­ing de­fender of truth, jus­tice and the Amer­i­can way, he also took a stand against racial in­tol­er­ance in a re­cent DC pro­mo­tion that re­stored an anti-big­otry im­age from the 1940s. “THAT KIND OF TALK IS UN-AMER­I­CAN,” the 1949 im­age, orig­i­nally cre­ated for an off­shoot of the Anti-Defama­tion League - help­fully ex­plains with ap­pro­pri­ate em­pha­sis.

Su­per­man has, of course, lit­er­ally made a ca­reer out of stand­ing up for the lit­tle guy - as re­cently as 2015, the char­ac­ter made head­lines for stand­ing with cit­i­zens of Me­trop­o­lis against po­lice bru­tal­ity. But when it comes to the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion and racial in­tol­er­ance, the su­per­hero is al­most uniquely placed to of­fer metaphor­i­cal com­men­tary on the sub­ject.

Su­per­man, as en­vi­sioned by his cre­ators Joe Shus­ter and Jerry Siegel back in 1938, is not only the lit­eral em­bod­i­ment of the im­mi­grant dream, he’s the per­fect ex­am­ple of those cur­rently at the cen­ter of the de­ci­sion to re­scind the DACA pro­gram: some­one who ar­rived in the United States as a child as the re­sult of his par­ents’ ac­tions, with­out pa­per­work or go­ing through the right chan­nels, who had ded­i­cated his life to not only fit­ting into U.S. so­ci­ety, but mak­ing U.S. so­ci­ety a bet­ter place.

The im­mi­grant part of Su­per­man’s ori­gin is of­ten glossed over, or out­right ig­nored, by those who see the hero as be­ing “all-Amer­i­can” in ev­ery way - in 1986, his ori­gin was even rewrit­ten, tem­po­rar­ily, so that he was ac­tu­ally “born” in the U.S. with his space­ship be­ing re­clas­si­fied as a “birthing ma­trix” be­cause Kryp­to­ni­ans weren’t brought to term bi­o­log­i­cally - but it’s an im­por­tant piece not only of his his­tory, but of the vi­sion of the United States that Su­per­man rep­re­sents.

In some ways, Su­per­man is, at heart, an op­ti­mistic story about the United States it­self. The fact that the char­ac­ter comes from “out there” (Me­taphor­i­cally, another coun­try, as rep­re­sented by another planet be­cause, well, comics) can not only come to be ac­cepted by Amer­ica, but be seen as rep­re­sent­ing the best of Amer­ica, an in­spi­ra­tional fig­ure that every­one looks up to - that’s the Amer­i­can dream in ac­tion, isn’t it? (In Ac­tion Comics, at least, if you’ll ex­cuse the pun.) That’s the way things are sup­posed to work, ac­cord­ing to the United States ad­ver­tised on the Statue of Lib­erty’s “New Colos­sus” plaque and the one that lives in its cit­i­zens’ hearts.

Or per­haps merely some cit­i­zens’ hearts, at least these days. Af­ter all, cer­tain mem­bers of the cur­rent pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion seem dis­in­ter­ested in the “The New Colos­sus,” and the idea of let­ting im­mi­grants who ar­rived il­le­gally as chil­dren stay seems to be frowned upon in gen­eral.

In this cur­rent cli­mate, it’s not just note­wor­thy that Su­per­man stands up to some­one an­gry at im­mi­grants, but that Su­per­man re­mains seen as an in­spi­ra­tional and pa­tri­otic fig­ure at all, stand­ing as he does for con­cepts and ac­cep­tance that all too many would dis­agree with.

For years, Su­per­man was of­ten con­sid­ered a dull fig­ure, a square rep­re­sent­ing the es­tab­lish­ment who paled in com­par­i­son to other su­per­heroes who could stand more eas­ily for coun­ter­cul­ture nar­ra­tives: Bat­man, with his out­sider melan­choly, or Green Lan­tern as he trav­eled Amer­ica to find the “real” coun­try in the 1960s.

To­day, be­cause of the changes in pop­u­lar cul­ture in gen­eral and po­lit­i­cal cul­ture in par­tic­u­lar, Su­per­man feels more at odds with the main­stream than he has in decades. And, be­cause he has never stopped stand­ing up for tol­er­ance, ac­cep­tance and the be­lief that any­one can suc­ceed no mat­ter where they came from if given the chance, he might be more nec­es­sary than at any time since his cre­ation.

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