Updated on February 26, 2023
Action Comics #9
Written by: Grant Morrison (main story); Sholly Fisch (backup story)
Art by: Gene Ha (main story); Cully Hamner (backup story)
This month’s issue is a single-issue story about the Superman of Earth-23 (or “Earth 23” with no hyphen, going by DC’s current odd decision to not use such in their parallel Earth-spelling anymore per “Earth 2”). Unlike “our” Superman, this world’s Man of Steel is A) Black (but still from Krypton) and B) is President of the United States. The main story sees him face off against his world’s Luthor while dealing with an odd threat from a parallel Earth (one where Superman’s just a fictional character turned reality/a threat via technology), while the backup story focuses on President “Calvin Ellis” dealing with his day job as commander-in-chief.
The main story is, well, typical Morrison—lots of interesting but confusing elements. The backup story, however, has Wonder Woman (here, also Black) criticize Supes’ role as president for being dishonest (since he’s not a “natural-born citizen” per the US Constitution), plus his use of his superpowers in destroying an Iraq-like country’s nuclear weapons materials. In comics, superheroes as presidents aren’t seen as much for various reasons—too hard to maintain a secret identity/function as a superhero in the most high-profile office in the world, though Calvin makes use of Calvin Ellis robots.
There’s also that comics usually prefer using either the current real-world president (though Calvin’s probably an analog of Barack Obama) or some genericized president for timeline reasons. A short-lived 60s cartoon, “Super President,” also featured a superhero-as-president. Superheroes do appear more often with lesser or non-American political roles, however—Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon was a US Senator during the 70s, while Aquaman and Wonder Woman are royalty (the king of Atlantis and princess of Paradise Island respectively).
Still, for Superman himself, stories usually cite his being born on Krypton as why he can’t be president. (It was also one of my favorite “corrections” given during an NPR “story correction” segment…). An early 90s storyline showed an alternate future where he was elected President, but that was following the then-current Byrne reboot retcon that had him “born” on Earth when his “birthing matrix” landed (only being conceived on Krypton and sent to Earth as a fetus… yeah, I know…). Of course, Clark Kent (far as anyone knows) is an American citizen, but it’s assumed Supes still wouldn’t run under his alter-ego. In Earth-23’s case, Calvin apparently decided to run for office (and won) anyway.
While I can see Wonder Woman’s point, it’s also dishonest to have a secret identity in the first place (which gets brushed aside as “the cost of doing business as a superhero”). Plus, Superman’s
technically an undocumented immigrant (edit: or not!); if we’re adhering to the letter of the law, Supes should be deported for, uh, the kryptonite remains of Krypton, I suppose. On top of all that, since the versions here seem based on their Earth-1 counterparts (Supes utters “Rao” like Earth-1’s Superman did), Wonder Woman herself might likely also working for the US government; in older comics, she had the secret identity of “Diana Prince,” a military lieutenant. Still, Diana’s criticisms of the “use superpowers for political purposes” angle might still stand (though I wonder how she’d have handled the weapons situation…).
All of the above said, I think our “natural-born citizen” law is as outdated as the electoral college. Other countries don’t require one to be born there to be leaders, yet Canada, the United Kingdom, etc. aren’t particularly worried about someone becoming prime minister selling them out to another country…
Along with the story’s Earth-1 elements (Luthor’s similar to his 70s version), most of the JLA here are Black. The membership seen here consists of: Batman (the one Caucasian member of the group), Wonder Woman (resembling Nubia, Wonder Woman’s Black “sister” in the 70s and 80s stories—long story/future “minorities in comics” post), Green Lantern (no indication if he’s a version of John Stewart), Vixen, Cyborg, Steel, and possibly one I can’t identify (behind Cyborg and Supes in one scene, unless it’s some background material/a weapon of Vic’s). Atlantis is mentioned in the backup story, so presumably Aquaman also exists here, though no indication if the Sea King here is also Black (possibly resembling an adult version of the modern Aqualad?).
The issue was enjoyable, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Earth-23’s Superman (and Wonder Woman). Yes, I’m sure Fox News will have a field day with this if and when they hear about this story with “Super Obama,” likely while also showing they A) miss the point of the plot and B) haven’t read a single comic book in their lives. Though given DC’s cynical and excessive grimness nowadays, I fear a future story (least in the hands of a writer other than Fisch) would be something negative—Calvin getting impeached and sent to some super-prison somewhere? Deported back to Krypton? Or just gruesomely killed outright? Given DC’s “New 52” so far, I wouldn’t put any of those (particularly the last one) past them…