Why this Superman-loving congressman-elect is swearing into office holding a $5m comic book

When he swears into office to represent California’s 42nd congressional district, congressman-elect Robert Garcia will raise his right hand, place his left on the US Constitution, and, beneath it, hold a photograph of his parents, his citizenship certificate – and a copy of Superman No 1.

The appearance of the comic book raised eyebrows after it was captured among several other historical documents and religious texts this week as incoming members of Congress prepared to take their oaths of office to formally begin their terms.

The Library of Congress has provided lawmakers with other rare items for their ceremonies, including Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s Bible and Thomas Jefferson’s Quran. Mr Garcia’s request of the rare Superman comic is a curious but powerful addition that reflects his long relationship to the superhero and the medium.

Mr Garcia immigrated to the US with his family from Lima, Peru, when he was 5 years old. The 45-year-old incoming lawmaker has called his US citizenship his “proudest moment” that fuelled his interest in public service. He served as the mayor of Long Beach, California from 2014 to 2022.

He has credited Superman – whose signature block letter titles are referenced across Mr Garcia’s campaign posters and materials – and other American comic books with helping him learn to read and write English. Comic books have had an “immense impact … on reading and learning – especially for immigrant communities,” he said.

The rare comic book, first published in 1939 and featuring the first appearance of the titular DC Comics superhero, is on loan from the Library of Congress. A copy of the issue recently sold at auction for a record-breaking $5.3m.

The Democratic congressman- elect is the first openly gay immigrant elected to Congress, defeating Republican John Briscoe in November’s midterm elections.

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Mr Garcia continues to draw inspiration from the superhero story, including in 2021, when DC Comics announced that a new Superman was bisexual.

“I became a Superman fan as a kid because I related to him. An immigrant, a sense of justice, and a secret identity,” Mr Garcia said at the time.

He added that he was proud of the publisher and comic author “for giving young LGBTQ+ people a hero of their own.”

A first edition Superman comic from 1939 is placed with copies of the Constitution and a variety of other texts to be used in congressional swearing-in ceremonies. (AP)
A first edition Superman comic from 1939 is placed with copies of the Constitution and a variety of other texts to be used in congressional swearing-in ceremonies. (AP)

The self-described comic book nerd has called comic books an “essential part of American fiction” and “serious s***.”

“Anyone who understands comics knows that comics are an essential part of American fiction,” he wrote on Twitter in November. “And the lessons learned are invaluable. It’s serious s***.”

Following his election in November, Mr Garcia posted a photo of a reading room at the Library of Congress along with a photo of Superman No 1 comic alongside Amazing Fantasy No 15, which includes the first appearance of Spider-Man.

“I’m going to have a hard time deciding which one to check out first,” he said.

 (Robert Garcia/Twitter)
(Robert Garcia/Twitter)

He also jokingly said he would start a “comics caucus” with other “comic book nerds” in the House of Representatives.

“One thing is clear,” he said, “when you walk into my new congressional office in Washington DC, there will be comics artwork on the walls.”

When he is sworn into office, Mr Garcia also will hold his citizenship certificate, as well as a photo of his parents whom he lost to Covid-19, his communications director Sara Guerrero told The Independent.

Their deaths in 2020 compelled his mayoral administration to expand testing and vaccination efforts in Long Beach, according to his campaign website.