It’s an American! It’s an Alien! It’s the Enigma of Superman

Tracing Superman’s Nationality Crisis to Twentieth Century Anti-Immigration Cartoons and Comic Strips

  • Hope Scheff University of Florida
Keywords: Superman, Action Comics, American nationality, Nationality crisis

Abstract

This essay explores American conceptions of otherness and national identity via comparative case studies of Superman in Action Comics #1 (1938, June 1) and twentieth century cartoons and comic strips that featured immigrant characters. While it is generally acknowledged amongst Superman scholars that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, were avid comic strip fans, formal parallels between Superman and his cartoon precedents have escaped study. Recognizing Siegel’s and Shuster’s childhood love of immigrant comics strips enables scholars to see the connection between Superman and this earlier tradition of immigrant cartoons and comic strips. Such comparisons highlight the nationalistic struggles that occupied American politics and society during the early twentieth century and impacted the creations of Superman in 1933 (apocryphal) and 1938 (canonical). Interwar Superman (1933 and 1938-40) paradoxically presented himself as a paragon of Americana and as a foreign immigrant. Superman’s simultaneous embodiment of two nationalistic extremes—the Rooseveltian mind and immigrant body—imbued him and his allegory with a nationality crisis.

Published
2020-11-04