The latest issue of Action Comics No. 987 contains a scalding scene: A white supremacist, fed up with a company that just laid him off, decides to load up his machine gun and kill the undocumented workers he believes took his job. Luckily, in the nick of time, Superman arrives to shield the would-be victims from a storm of bullets:
Superman then subdues the shooter, telling him that he needs to take more personal responsibility and to rethink his homicidal tendencies. He also tells the police officers who respond to the incident to see to it that the shooter’s intended victims are safe:
Given the violent events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, including a domestic terror attack that killed Heather Heyer, as well as the recent national conversation over the Trump administration’s stance on DACA, it’s easy to see how the plot of Action Comics No. 987 could feel like a knee-jerk reaction and parallel to reality. But in reality, comic book issues and arcs — including this one, which was written by Dan Jurgens and illustrated by artists Viktor Bogdanovic, inkers Jonathan Glapion and Jay Leisten, and colorist Mike Spicer — are planned well in advance.
Still, the action of preventing a mass murder, which seems in line with Superman’s moral compass, hasn’t come without controversy. Fox News has a column calling the Man of Steel a “propaganda tool for the defenders of illegal aliens,” and the right-wing website Breitbart derided him as “Social Justice Supes.”
Their argument is that comic book writers and artists have inserted a pro–illegal immigrant agenda into their comics, and that it’s part of a larger trend of politicizing comic books.
But there are a couple of things to note about the issue.
The first is that the “undocumented workers” designation in Action Comics No. 987 comes from the homicidal white supremacist — an unreliable narrator. It could be interpreted that he’s shooting at the workers at his company who aren’t white because he’s stereotyping and projecting his bigotry onto them.
Another facet of this issue is that in the universe of the comic, similar violent outbursts and anger are happening worldwide. Vaccines are being stolen, animals are being poached, workplaces are being shot up, prison riots are taking place — and Superman is struggling to figure out why it’s all erupting at once. The thwarted workplace shooting is part of a bigger arc that involves the idea that the “common good” has been dissolved, and there’s a villain responsible for it (the issue has a giant reveal at the end).
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of any conversation bemoaning Superman’s lifesaving actions is the failure to realize that Superman himself is a literal alien immigrant who grew up in America. Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, are the children of Jewish immigrants.
And Superman has always stood up for the justice of all Americans, as he did in this 1950s poster:
“If you hear anybody talk against a schoolmate or anyone else because of his religion, race or national origin — don’t wait: tell him that kind of talk is un-American,” Superman says in the scene on the poster.
This week’s issue of Action Comics, despite the outcry against it, seems to be following that credo.