Superman and Lois Lane pack up Superboy and take an rv across the United States for some exploring into the history of their country. Or, more accurately, into the mythologized, romanticized and highly biased version of American history that so pervades the consciousness of its citizens that they are all but oblivious to what they are really promoting.
This issue appalled me. In it, I saw in microcosm the greatest problems of the United States, the blindness that has lead them down the path to where they are now.
The notion of travelling around to explore their country is a long running trope in American fiction, and a solid concept. It allows for an exploration of various locations, the people there, the history, and what it all represents. There are many places, and many peoples, who could be chosen to be included in such a journey. What is left out is just as significant as what makes the cut.
I certainly hope I was not the only person to notice that there is not a single character with a speaking role in this issue who is not white. Not one. Sure, there are some vaguely non-white people in the background. Are they black? Latino? Indigenous? People with spray tans? Who knows? It’s not as if their points of view are worth expressing or considering in this book.
There is a discussion about historic monuments, and the importance of respecting them. Off the top of my head, the only news I can think of in the past year that has to do with contention over respecting historic monuments in the US deals with statues to the Confederacy in the south. Now it is true that this does not appear to be the kind of statue that Superman and Jonathan Kent are looking at, but there is no caveat given about how some historic statues should be admired, and some are shameful reminders of exploitation and oppression. ALL historic monuments, according to this story, are deserving of respect. Those who are protesting against statues of slavers and murderers are essentially lumped in with vandals and graffiti artists.
This whiff of white supremacy continues with a discussion of Thomas Jefferson, a man who not only owned but even raped his slaves, he is presented as a beacon of honour by Superman. And once again, there is no mention of the dark side of the man’s history. He has been whitewashed into glorious Americana.
A passage dealing with the “coexist” sticker seems fine, until the suspect use of the phrase “religious freedom.” As with the monuments scene, can one think of an instance of the use of the phrase “religious freedom” in the US in the past couple of years that was not connected to denying the rights and safety of gays? “Religious freedom laws” are laws specifically designed to encourage abuse and violence against one targeted group. Is there any mention of this, or the dangers of promoting religious bigotry? No, all religious freedom is a wonderful thing. So by all means pass laws against gays, subject gay kids to beating and humiliation. So says Superman, it seems.
Then we get a scene with Superman and a veteran of the Iraq War. A war based on lies, in which US forces slaughtered uncounted thousands of civilians. Literally. They stopped counting when the numbers got higher than they wanted to admit. A war in which the US ran concentration camps, imprisoning and torturing children. Are those the kind of people that should be held up as heroes?
Now, I have long been an admirer of Peter Tomasi’s writing. I am not as familiar with Patrick Gleason, but not for one second do I think that they are racist, homophobic, torture-loving madmen. I would expect that this review will come as a slap in the face for a story in which they clearly tried to express the love they have for their country, and the respect they hold for it.
But that is where the problem lies. The bigger problem, that goes far beyond this issue.
The weird way American deify their nation and its leaders, and refuse to consider the reality behind their mythologized history, and the blood soaked, exploitative past that their nation truly has, leads them down the road to a terrifying and dangerous form of patriotism. When lies are the basis for one’s reality, truth becomes a threat to everything one holds dear.
Superman does not stand for these things. He should not. He must not. I expect better of him. And of those who chronicle his adventures.