28 Apr Breaking News: Superman to Renounce U.S. Citizenship
I’ve been on a self-imposed blogging hiatus of late due to the dual demands of serving as Temple’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and editing the forthcoming book, The Oxford Guide to Treaties (on which I’ll blog more later). But, I had to pass along the following significant and important development — Superman is renouncing his U.S. citizenship. Here’s the scoop from Comics Alliance:
Despite very literally being an alien immigrant, Superman has long been seen as a patriotic symbol of “truth, justice, and the American way,” from his embrace of traditional American ideals to the iconic red and blue of his costume. What it means to stand for the “American way” is an increasingly complicated thing, however, both in the real world and in superhero comics, whose storylines have increasingly seemed to mirror current events and deal with moral and political complexities rather than simple black and white morality.
The key scene takes place in “The Incident,” a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President’s national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.
Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day — and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective. From a “realistic” standpoint it makes sense; it would indeed be impossible for a nigh-omnipotent being ideologically aligned with America to intercede against injustice beyond American borders without creating enormous political fallout for the U.S. government.
It’s too bad we don’t have anyone here at Opinio Juris with views on future trends in citizenship, global identity and the like to comment on this story. Oh, wait . . . we do. In any case, it’s clear that someone needs to advise DC Comics on the national and international laws in play here. For starters, renouncing citizenship at the UN doesn’t seem to cut it under U.S. law. 8 U.S.C. 1481 lists the acts by which Superman could renounce his U.S. citizenship and they involve things like becoming a citizen of another state, declaring allegiance to another state, or formally renouncing his citizenship outside the United States before a U.S. diplomatic or consular office? There’s nothing in there about becoming a global citizen or aligning with an international organization. Indeed, can Superman even renounce citizenship while remaining in U.S. territory (and, yes, I consider the UN Headquarters to be in U.S. territory notwithstanding its privileges and immunities under the Headquarters Agreement)? U.S. law limits renunciation within the United States to “whenever the United States shall be in a state of war” — which I suppose begs another whole set of questions concerning Afghanistan or even Libya. Also, what happens if Superman has ulterior motives here? Given his wealth, isn’t the IRS likely to investigate the possibility that this is simply an effort at tax evasion. And that’s not even getting into the questions of statelessness or international law involved. Clearly, this is an issue that needs attention from Opinio Juris to make sure D.C. Comics gets this right. So, commentators, have at it.