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Superman was America’s first successful comic book superhero. He debuted in Action Comics No. 1 in June 1938 and still is a pervasive force in American popular culture. An iconic American force, the alien from Krypton identifies as Clark Kent during business hours working as an investigative journalist at the Daily Planet uncovering corruption with his damsel often-in-distress, Lois Lane.
As the profession of journalism has shifted from independent and fearless truth warriors to overstretched writers vying for survival clicks in a liberal media scape, so has Superman’s job description.
In Action Comics No. 900 in April 2011, Superman identified himself as a global citizen instead of as an American. He cut the “American” line from his motto of “Defender of truth justice and the American way.” Now, Superman isn’t America’s hero but the world's.
At the time, many expressed anger over this nationality change, citing it as evidence that American pride and culture was under attack from globalist influence, not dissimilar from the messaging of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Taking another step further away from Superman’s assumed socially traditional values, a few weeks ago DC announced Superman’s son would engage in a same-sex relationship in the series "Superman: Son of Kal-El." The media reaction was quite mixed.
Writers from NPR and The Guardian cited this as a big step for the characters' canon and a positive representative for the LGBTQ+ community while writers at The Daily Signal and The Daily Wire expressed exasperation at the performative celebration of this storyline.
Ironically, sexual assault, abuse, drug use and a variety of other awful and racy behavior has persistently been depicted in comic books, generally, and the DC universe is no exception.
If people are outraged at someone being gay because they perceive that to be “bad” behavior, why weren't they upset sooner by actual, objectively bad behavior that's been mainstream for years? Why the outrage and celebration at this comparatively innocuous same-sex relationship? Especially when there have been gay characters prominently featured in DC Comics since 1988. What makes the sexual identity of this superhero so notable?
Superman is a representative of America. As a former farm boy, he represents the ideal form of a fit, moral, humble man in one of the most iconic American careers, an investigative journalist. Even as a newly “global citizen,” Superman still hangs his cape up in Metropolis, USA.
Sales of "Superman: Son of Kal-el" were slightly higher than normal, but still barely reaching sales comparable to the population of Des Moines. The Gazette print and online circulation almost certainly has a greater direct impact on readers than the comic book had.
As an actual, full-time Justice League and DC Comics fan it’s hilarious to see hundreds of tweets, articles and interviews about a topic that no one will be genuinely invested in once the public interest passes.
Batman is consistently emotionally abusive and manipulative to the women he’s involved with. Why aren’t we demanding his storyline leads him to therapy? Shows like Young Justice and Titans have been writing gay and nonbinary characters for multiple seasons, and their comic book source material has existed for decades. Why weren’t these stories news?
The short answer is: Comic books have a small audience and media personalities only care when it serves their agenda. The Washington Post doesn’t care about Superman’s thoughtful character development in the new season of Young Justice on HBO. People will care about someone who is iconically American exhibiting a behavior they want evangelized and quickly abandon the topic when it’s no longer attention grabbing.
Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org