Its never really been clear to me why comic book storylines have such an ability to rile up political factions, but after the bizarre row over the French Muslim ally of Batman it should have come as no surprise when Action Comics #900 included a story about Superman, of all people, renouncing his American citizenship, that a huge furor erupted. Incredibly, Superman’s American citizenship survived Lex Luthor’s term as President, but not the Arab Spring.
The story is a short one, and just one of several in the issue. The (fictional) US National Security Adviser dresses down Superman for his attendance at a major public protest in Tehran, complaining that since Superman is a US citizen it was causing a diplomatic incident. Superman tells the story of what happened at the protest – 1,000,000 attendees at Azadi Square and no shots fired.
Superman then makes his announcement, declaring “I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy. Truth, Justice and the American Way — It’s not enough anymore.”
Of course within the context of the DC Universe, Superman often WAS being used as an instrument of US policy. He’s worked for the US State Department regularly in the modern era, and that’s not counting his military role in WW2.
It seems odd that the administration would care if Superman attended a protest in Iran, of all places, but the National Security Advisor is clearly angry, and even makes a show of having snipers prepared to assassinate him with Kryptonite bullets during the meeting if things go poorly. Because apparently the administration didn’t realize that Superman is notoriously difficult to kill.
In his comments, however, Superman makes reference to “civil disobedience” and “nonviolent resistance,” which shows a level of nuance that the usually jingoistic Man of Steel has seldom exhibited. This story is far afield from the Superman who, following a terrorist attack on Metropolis, single-handedly invaded the fictional nation of Qurac and destroyed virtually their entire military.
Which brings up what seems the most awkward aspect of the story to me: the use of Iran as the site of the protests when the nation isn’t having major protests at the moment. Printed comics have some lead time, surely, but the message would’ve made a lot more sense if Superman was in Yemen or Bahrain. The identical story could have been told with a conceivable reason for the administration being so mad at Superman’s interference (which was more attendance than interference).
DC Comics has tended to use real locations sparingly when overseas since the Cold War, and fictional nation-states like Qurac (which played the role of surrogate Iraq in the early 1990s) and Modora have usually been used instead of real “enemy” nations.
Interestingly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is mentioned by name by Superman, who refers to the government as “Ahmadinejad’s regime” (suggesting Clark Kent is no more aware of internal Iranian politics than most reporters). Nothing really happens at the protest however, and it ends on a hopeful note, with a protester handing a single rose to a Revolutionary Guard soldier.
Which is in stark contrast to the last time Iran came up in the DC Universe. In that case (December 1988), Ayatollah Khomeini makes a brief (and odd) appearance, appointing the Joker as the Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations as a reward for the Joker’s help in arming an unnamed Arab militant faction in Lebanon (presumably Hezbollah) to attack Israel. The move granted the Joker diplomatic immunity (which he needed because he’d just beaten Robin to death with a crowbar), but was short-lived because he attempted to kill the entire UN General Assembly during his first speech with Joker toxin. After being foiled the Joker went underground (and presumably gave up the position, which was never mentioned again).