The latest issue of the “Superman” comic has outraged some, and inspired others.
In Action Comics #987, the iconic character steps up to defend immigrants from an armed white American who is angry over the loss of his factory job.
— Kal-El (Sheraz) (@SherazFarooqi6) September 13, 2017
Though he’s been viewed as an American hero, Superman may actually have more in common with the people he’s trying to save.
“Superman is himself an immigrant,” says Dan Jurgens, the writer behind Action Comics #987. “In some ways he is the ultimate immigrant. It’s not that he’s from another country, he’s from a whole other world.”
Superman, a native of the fictional planet of “Krypton,” landed on Earth as an infant and some suggest that he would therefore be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, DACA. President Donald Trump recently announced that he would end the program, though he called on Congress to provide a new path for DACA holders.
While this issue has highlighted the immigration debate, Jurgens says the Superman comic is really about “the human condition” — current political tensions included.
“We have a lot of different scenes in the book, and these are things we all see outside our window on what sometimes feels like a daily basis,” he says. “[There are] many examples of how man is so cruel to one another, to his neighbor, or the animals that populate the planet, or the planet itself. It’s all these things that we seem to find ourselves sometimes mired in.”
This issue tackles xenophobia, immigration, racism, workplace violence, and global poverty, among other things, because a character in the story — Jor-El, who is Superman’s biological father from Krypton — is trying to show his son that the human race does not deserve him.
“[Jor-El is] opening his eyes to man’s cruelty and inhumanity to one another,” Jurgens says. “Part of what we’re dealing with here is [the question of], ‘At what point does it become hopeless for Superman?’”
“If Superman starts to feel that our situation here is hopeless, what does that say about us?”
Though the comic is dropping on the heels of the violent white supremacist rally that took place last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jurgens says the comic was actually written in May. And, he adds, the violent American in the comic is not necessarily meant to be a white supremacist.
“We don’t call him, nor did we ever refer to him as a white supremacist or a Nazi or anything like that,” he says. “It has more to deal with, I think, that angry sort of spirit that is out there among certain segments of society, where they feel like they’ve been cheated out of something that they may not be cheated out of, and that’s how we wanted to approach that scene.”
Breitbart and an opinion piece in Fox News have both railed against the new issue, with the former saying the character of Superman is a “leftist” who no longer represents “truth, justice and the American way.” When contacted by PRI, DC Comics, which publishes the Superman comic, declined to comment.
Fans seem split on Action Comics #987. In PRI’s Global Nation Exchange group on Facebook, some commenters said they were “fascinated” by the political points raised. Others like Hector Gonzalez Rodriguez III, the author of the El Peso Hero comic, said it felt like a “half-hearted attempt for headlines from DC Comics.”
“It feels late and contrived. There are major issues of diversity [and] representation of professionals within the major comic book publishers,” he says. “I do feel conflicted on the issue. In essence, it is part of what makes Superman a great character — he is the outsider looking in. As a Chicano comic book fan and creator, I am wary of the cultural appropriation of our struggles.”
Though some are critical of the new issue, Superman has always defended vulnerable communities and he’s always been political, says Joseph Darowski, a professor at Brigham Young University. Darowski is also a comic historian and the editor of “The Ages of Superman: Essays on the Man of Steel in Changing Times.”
“It’s an inevitable part of the comic book industry that politics is going to seep in,” Darowski says. “There’s always some reflection of what’s going on on the world stage.”
In the 1940s, Superman tried to stop World War II. He’s taken on corrupt politicians and got political during the Cold War, too.
“As America gets engaged in the space race, suddenly Superman’s enemies are coming from the stars more frequently,” Darowski says. “Kryptonite and other forms of radiation creeps into the stories after the dropping of the atomic bomb. During the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, Kryptonite becomes much more commonly used in Superman stories, and villains who get their power through radiation also become much more common. These geopolitical events end up being adapted in fantastic ways into the Superman comics.”