Texas governor Rick Perry has claimed that Superman is his favorite superhero. Echoing Jose Antonio Vargas’ argument, Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine responds:
My favorite bit:
Superman came to the United States — as an undocumented immigrant. He risked his life sneaking over the border in an asteroid spaceship thing, and he loved America so much that he was willing to take on a secret identity, live a double life, and step up to do all the hardest, most backbreaking work that no one else was willing to do, so that he could be a part of America.
To be fair to Perry (though I shudder to make such an admission), he did sign a Texas version of the DREAM Act and has said he wants undocumented immigrants to become “contributing members of our society.” But his record on immigration issues is nevertheless mixed, and Smooth’s argument is still an excellent swipe at the attitude of the Republican Party as a whole.
More thoughts on being American here. And more thoughts on Superman (and superheroes) here.
(via The Duck of Minerva)
I’ve just finished Supergods, Grant Morrison’s meditation on the history and meaning of comic book superheroes (and his own not-insignificant role in shaping it), and it’s quite a read: at times off-puttingly self-regarding, occasionally full of shit, but very often truly provocative and revelatory. His final chapter, invoking no less than Pico della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man,” is a clarion call to humanism and a spirited argument that superheroes — despite the “dark sides” that have recently been written into their characters, in the name of gritty “realism” — are, at their core, our ceaseless attempts to imagine our better selves. Continue reading
Via Unreasonable Faith, here is the impressively comprehensive Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters. Someone’s been doing their homework.
Despite wild speculation that Superman is a humanist, he is apparently Methodist (or Raoist, if he’s feeling particularly Kryptonian). Batman’s upbringing was either Catholic or Episcopalian; in either case, he’s definitely lapsed, and “there is universal agreement that the character is not an active churchgoer in any faith.”
Who are the atheists? Apparently: Mr. Terrific, the Savage Dragon, Booster Gold, Quasar, Dreadstar, Vivisector, Supershock, and others. Not exactly household names. Although it’s interesting to see Wolverine described as “sometimes atheist” and Iron Man as “futurist; technologist; mostly secular.”
And it turns out there actually is a comic book hero called The Atheist, although it seems to have been something of a missed opportunity: according to Jeff Swenson over at American Humanist, the creator Phil Hester “squandered a perfectly good idea — the idea of a genius black atheist who encounters cults and battles pseudoscience — and turns it into a dead-take-possession-of-the-living rehash of countless horror movies.” A shame. It would have been nice to see a fresh take on the debunker-as-hero, picking up where Sherlock Holmes and Scooby Doo left off.
Perhaps someone should take this idea and run with it:
Adding: For a thorough and fascinating exploration of superheroes and the human psyche, see the post “Everything is Full of Gods” over at The Politics of Well-Being.
(Images h/t Politics of Well-Being and xkcd.com)
The question of whether a humanist philosophy is compatible with a world in which superheroes exist might be a fun one to explore. Can people save themselves, or do they need superheroes/authorities/gods to save them? This seems to be a theme that bubbles up every so often (and gets answered in different ways) in the comics and movies.
I found it interesting, for instance, to see The Dark Knight play with the idea that Batman may not need to micromanage justice from “on high”: at one point Harvey Dent and Gotham law enforcement manage to arrest and convict the majority of the Mob; the people on board the civilian and prisoner ferries decide not to blow each other up, and require no rescuing.
The Superman movies seem to send mixed messages. Jor-El’s recorded message to his son has strong humanist strains: he says of humans, “They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be,” and extols “their capacity for good.” But he, and the movies, also see a deficiency: “They only lack the light to show the way,” and therefore need a savior: “my only son.” It was interesting to see Superman Returns turn this around, and show Superman himself being saved by mere mortals from drowning (with, I believe, the humanist part of Jor-El’s speech playing as a voice-over?), before the movie reverts to form — naturally — with Supes recovering and saving the world from Luthor’s Kryptonite-laden real estate.
I don’t follow the Wonder Woman comics faithfully, but in the few recent issues I’ve browsed in the library she seems to be her island nation’s ambassador to the United Nations, trying to fulfill her ideals of justice and harmony by working through the legal and diplomatic mechanisms of the human world (with the occasional ass-kicking, of course). And I’m sure much more can be said about the relationship between humans and superheroes — between human and superhuman justice — in such works as The Dark Knight Returns, X-Men, The Watchmen…
(h/t The Mississippifarian, via Pharyngula)