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Up, Up, and Away !

This is no secret to friends or family. For me, there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, only pleasures you revel in, unabashed and unashamed. That I read comic books, watch daikaiju films, stay up all night to catch the revived Elvira, and play D&D are not things that are hidden away. I prefer to think myself as Geek-Chic, the guy who is cool in his geekiness, socially-well-adjusted not despite of, but because of. Except when it comes to Superman.

I LOVE Superman.

That pathetic four-letter word is inadequate to describe how I feel about the Last Son of Krypton. My son is named, in part, after Lex Luthor, and any hypothetical future daughter will be named after Lois Lane (this is a make-or-break deal with potential mates). A catch forms in my throat when talking about Superman's death at the hands of Doomsday. Contrary to what the rest of the world feels (they are wrong, by the way), I think Superman Returns is an excellent film. The day my grandmother passed, I went home and watched Returns three times in a row. And of course, I love Smallville, otherwise known as the Greatest-TV-Show in history.

Despite being in our thirties or quickly heading there, we love a show that is aimed at the teenage demographic. And somehow, miracles and deals with unclean spirits being the most likely explanations, we've each managed to score girlfriends who are easy on the eyes. I once told a girlfriend, giving me grief about Superman, "I've loved Superman a lot longer than I have loved you." You may be getting the impression that I have a problem; you may be right.

What does this have to do with skepticism? My reaction to a recent event in the world of comics illustrates an important tenant in skepticism and critical thinking: always check the original source.

In short-story in Action Comics #900, Superman announced plans to renounce his US citizenship. The story made national headlines. Though I had bought the comic that same morning, I had not yet read it when the news broke. According to some reports, it was because Superman had become disgusted or upset with the US government or America as a whole. Reports focused on two lines, "I am tired of my actions being construed as instruments of U.S. policy" and "The world is too small, too connected."

The conservative internet reacted with shock and outrage. Accusations were made that Superman was reflecting the communist/socialist views of DC Comics parent-company, Time Warner; that Superman is an illegal alien and should go home (he's not, see the Immigration and Control Act of 1986); or that anti-American forces in the White House and United Nations had subverted America's Greatest Hero. Demonstrating how little he understands the character, a writer at The Weekly Standard said if Superman doesn't stand for America, he doesn't stand for anything.

I'm ashamed to say I let myself get suckered into outrage. The rest of my week was ruined. I declared I would never buy another Superman comic or watch Smallville ever again. Yet, I had still not read the comic. I could not watch my hero renounce and denounce the country I love, especially at a time where America desperately needs heroes. In fact, it was two weeks before I could muster up the courage to read it. That is, I checked the original source.

As it turned out, what was reported in the media, along with the conservative reaction, was not an accurate portrayal of the events in the comic. The quotes that gained so much attention were accurate but wildly out of context. The story is framed around Superman meeting with the POTUS' National Security Advisor, who is angry with Superman over his actions in Iran. During anti-government protests, Superman lands in Tehran between the army and protestors, standing in the same spot, unmoving and unspeaking for twenty-four hours, letting the government know he will not tolerate violence against peaceful civilians.

In other words, he's doing what Superman should do. However, this creates an international incident. The Iranian Prime Minister accuses Superman of working for the US government, saying it is an act of war. The National Security Advisor is justifiable upset. This is when Superman announces his intention to abandon his US citizenship. He does it not out of anger or spite but love for his adopted country. He cannot act as he needs to act if those actions, even peaceful ones, endanger his adopted home. To be Superman, to be the hero the world needs him to be, he cannot allow the enemies of humanity, be they mad scientists, alien invaders, or the mundane but very real oppressive governments, to use his citizenship against him or his homeland.

Checking the original source, I found the facts were much different than they had been portrayed. In fact, "The Incident" is now one of my favorite Superman stories of the past few years.

Why was I so ready to believe the spin rather than examine the facts? While my critical thinking and skepticism should have told me otherwise, I am only human. We humans have a tendency not to believe what we want to believe but what makes sense. If we are told something that "makes sense", we will accept it without otherwise checking the facts. It "made sense" to me that some touchy-feely progressive writer would make Superman renounce his citizenship for any sort of touchy-feely progressive reasons, especially in light of J. Michael Straczynski's horrible "Grounded" storyline.

How often do we come across this same phenomenon in the world of esoterica? A quote or a "fact" is attributed to a source but grossly out of context, yet we accept it either because it confirms our beliefs or "makes sense". For example, we see this in claims that astronauts reported UFO sightings but once we check the facts, we find this is isn't quite the case, sadly. Often are Edgar Mitchell or Budd Hopkins cited as evidence that astronauts know more than they are telling. We later find their words were taken out of context (Mitchell, at best is a believer, not a witness). Often is Reagan's "alien threat" speech cited as the President giving us a clue that aliens are indeed here, when in truth his speech was about the threat of world nuclear war, "alien" being used as an allegory.

Reagan is credited as saying "trust but verify." However you feel about the former President, those are words to live by. Not just in the world of comic-books or esoterica but everyday life. Always check the original source.

By the way, I heard a rumor Superman will be shacking up with Wonder Woman, Lois Lane tossed aside in DC's line re-launch. I swear I will never buy another Superman comic again!

Wait a minute...

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