In the wake of September 11, 2001, many questions were raised about the allegiance of immigrants to the United States. Jarrett Lovell in his essay, “Step Aside Superman, This is a job for . . . Captain America!” highlighted the super-patriotism after 9/11. Lovell commented that Captain America, not Superman, should come to the aid of the United States because Captain America was a “native-born” super soldier, but who exactly was Superman? Who is this Superman? Who is this outsider? Who is this man living among us in disguise? Who is this man who conceals his true identity? Does he have an ulterior motive?
The same questions being asked of immigrants, post 9/11, could also have been asked of Superman.
Simon Baz, in Green Lantern #0, Irresitible, has been introduced by DC Comics as the first Arab-American Green Lantern. Simon Baz, is an Arab man living in the United States, who as a child watched the World Trade Center towers fall on September 11, 2001 and has since endured being in an Arab American in the United States.
As a child, he helped wipe graffiti off mosque walls following 9/11 and he and his sister were harassed to, from and in school. Now, 11 years later, the laid off autoworker has taken to stealing cars to make ends meet. Unfortunately, he steals a van with a bomb in it and is arrested and interrogated by the police.
While the reviews are mixed about the storyline, there is no disagreement about Baz One reviewer stated “he’s no boy scout, but his heart is in the right place” while another says that Simon Baz “stands up for what he thinks is right regardless of the cost to himself.” Both comments show why he gets the Green Lantern ring.
Regardless, is DC Comics taking advantage of September 11 to sell comic books? Probably.
But, DC Comics does raise the question: What’s it like to be an immigrant or a person living in the United States, post 9-11, particularly one of Arab descent or one with brown skin?
Newsarama’s Interview with Doug Mahnke about Green Lantern #0 http://www.newsarama.com/comics/doug-mahnke-arab-american-green-lantern.html
Inside Pulse’s Review of Green Lantern #0 http://insidepulse.com/2012/09/05/review-green-lantern-0-by-geoff-johns-and-doug-mahnke/
Primary Ignitions’ Review of Green Lantern #0 http://www.primaryignition.com/2012/09/07/first-impressions-green-lantern-0-irresistible/
Did you know Wonder Woman worked at Taco Whiz? Well, not actually Wonder Woman, but her Americanized self, Diana Prince. In 1993, William Messner-Loebs created a storyline to assimilate Wonder Woman into American culture. Matt Smith, in his essay “The Tyranny of the Melting Pot Metaphor: Wonder Woman as the Americanized Immigrant,” writes that Princess Diana/Wonder Woman “like other immigrants [is] cut off from [her] homeland [and] is forced to adapt to the society around her.”
Princess Diana/Wonder Woman adapts by getting a job at Taco Whiz and begins to work her way up in American society. In doing so, argues Smith, Diana is “moved from accommodation to assimilation [and] respect is associated with accommodation, and humility with assimilation.” To assimilate, to be one of the group [the United States], “she must humbly deny her past” and “undergo an American quest for identity and prove that she has the Protestant work ethic.”
Her storyline echoes that of Amir’s father, Baba, in The Kite Runner, in which Baba, who lived a life of luxury in Afghanistan, now works at a gas station in the United States. And, Baba and Princess Diana/Wonder Woman are not alone, check out this infographic on how immigrants to the United States take jobs below their education credentials: http://www.good.is/post/infographic-wasted-talent/
So, does assimilation equal humility?
The answer is yes, according to artist Neil Rivas.
“If the US Government considers people illegal, then I think that policy must also be applied to superheroes,” Rivas said. “For instance, Superman is illegal. He’s from Krypton.”
Rivas, a first-generation Salvadorian-American, recently had an art exhibit entitled “Illegal Superheroes,” which portrayed superheroes as illegal immigrants.
“I grew up with these comic books and superheroes and it was never an issue where they came from or how often they would cross borders,” says Rivas. “My hope was that because superheroes are an approachable subject, people would naturally be attracted to the project visually and that it would awaken nostalgia.”
So, are superheroes illegal immigrants? Read more about the art exhibit: http://nbclatino.com/2012/08/22/artist-portrays-superheroes-as-illegal-immigrants-in-exhibit/#s:rsz_aquaman
Unlike Superman who came to the United States as a baby, Wonder Woman came to the United States as an adult. In his essay, “The Tyranny of the Melting Pot Metaphor: Wonder Woman as the Americanized Immigrant,” Matt Smith notes that Diana, princess of the Amazons, left her home (Paradise Island) and came to the United States, where she quickly assimilated into American society, including learning English. As Diana Prince (her Americanized name), she first began working as a nurse and then as a U.S. Army general’s secretary, which epitomized her trustworthiness and loyalty to the United States. Further, as Wonder Woman, she wore a red, white and blue outfit—white stars on her blue skirt and a golden eagle across her red top. Is there an immigrant any more Americanized than Wonder Woman?
In response, Smith answers, “Unlike home-grown patriots, she [Wonder Woman] represents the variety of ready-made patriots that America has come to expect from immigrants.” Is this, ready-made patriots, what we expect out of immigrants to this country?
“Is there such a thing as Jewish Fiction? asked Moment (May-June 2012) of several Jewish writers. Walter Mosley stated that in the works of Philip Roth, “you can see the draw of the Other in transient Jewish life. Assimilation is almost like becoming the Other. And then it isn’t. For one reason, the Other culture is never completely accepting” (49). Nathan Englander echoed this theme of the Other, by stating that Jewish fiction deals with “Otherness and what it means to be an American” (53).
Given these responses, is Superman a work of Jewish fiction? That Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were Jews has been well documented. Superman is a work of fiction, albeit science fiction, but fiction nonetheless. Superman is trying to assimilate into American culture. Superman is dealing with the Otherness of American society. Superman is trying to find out what it means to be American. Yet, as Mosley states, American culture never fully accepts the other of Superman. He is worshipped. He is idolized, but America does not fully accept him into its culture. If it did, why does he need the assimilated persona of Clark Kent? Why can’t he be Superman living day to day?
The answer, according to Gary Engle in his essay, “What Makes Superman So Darned American?”, is that Superman is an immigrant. The United States, says Engle, “has . . . deeply embedded in its social consciousness the imagery of passage from one social identity to another.” Superman embodies that passage.
Superman has, like many immigrants, a visible difference from the norm—he wears a colorful costume of primary colors, in the form of tights and a cape. He also has “ethnic characteristics” that make him stand-out from the norm—superhuman strength, the ability to fly, and x-ray vision.
To “fit in,” Superman must assimilate his ethnic culture and characteristics into American society. To do so, Superman becomes Clark Kent. Yet, Superman’s presence (his actions and behaviors), much like other immigrant’s presence, works to foster and sustain American society. After all, doesn’t Superman stand for truth, justice, and the American way?
In doing so, Engle concludes, Superman shows the value of the immigrant in American culture.
Superman and Wonder Woman as Immigrants: A Conversation will be held at Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio) on Monday, October 22, 2012 in 156 Student Union, 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Directions to Wright State can be found here: www.wright.edu/undergraduate-admissions/visit/directions-to-wright-state.