New Superman Comics Highlight His Immigrant Experience26 Jun 2019
The story of Superman is well known. Launched to earth from his dying home planet of Krypton, Superman gains magnificent powers that he uses to fight for “truth, justice, and the American way!” And, what is more American than being an immigrant like Superman, who struggles and thrives in the land of the free?
Superman-as-immigrant is one of the themes comic book legend Frank Miller explores in the latest retelling and reinvention of Superman’s early years, Superman: Year One. As Miller recently explained to The Washington Post, “I want to portray Superman as the ultimate immigrant. That’s part of why he’s so much part of the American dream. He travels like Moses from outer space, and he goes up and down and falls in love with the right things about America, because they are new to him. And he’s a representation of that.” [See In ‘Superman: Year One,’ Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. Reimagine the Hero as a Navy SEAL and the ‘Ultimate Immigrant,’ by David Betancourt, The Washington Post, 19.Jun.2019.]
Miller is clearly cognizant of how Superman’s story resonates among many immigrants. When speaking at a comic book convention, a fan was spotted wearing a shirt that read “Superman is an immigrant.” Miller clarified that the Man of Steel is actually “undocumented.” This turned the conversation to a brief, lighthearted discussion of building a hypothetical wall between the U.S. and Krypton. Half-jokingly, Miller responded, “Don’t give Trump any more ideas.” [One Day, Frank Miller and the Return of the Dark Knight, YouTube, 27.Apr.2017.]
This is hardly the first time Superman has been viewed as an allegory for the immigrant experience. Countless works have been published examining how Superman’s story is a repudiation of xenophobia, and how it uses fictional accounts to parallel the real-world benefits of allowing “aliens” into the country. In recent years, writers have highlighted how Superman’s origin mirrors that of many unaccompanied minors fleeing their own hellscapes, seeking shelter in the United States.
To that point, Miller is not the only one providing a fresh take on Superman. Last year, celebrated comic book writer and artist Brian Michael Bendis took over writing duties on two comic book series that feature the Man of Steel. In the books, Bendis provides a new origin story in which, rather than Krypton being destroyed in a natural disaster, Superman is instead the lone survivor of a mass genocide on Krypton. “The world now sees him as a refugee and an immigrant and not just as a survivor,” explained Bendis.
Bendis generally has not been overtly political in his work. But, as he explained, “I’m writing Superman in a world where for the first time the ideas of truth, justice and the American way are not being taken for granted. Truth is something that people are arguing about, justice is not for everybody, we have all now seen, and the American way, the idea that anybody can come here for freedom, is under siege.” [See Frank Miller’s Take on Superman is All About Truth and Justice, Not so Much the ‘American Way,’ by Sarah Whitten, CNBC.com, 14.Oct.2018.]
Comic books are obviously not a medium that appeals to all audiences. But they do tend to reach certain demographics that more traditional media may not readily reach. Sharing these stories that recognize the good of immigrants in a fictional setting may help readers recognize the same goodness that exists in the immigrants who are their neighbors, co-workers, and classmates.
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