In Defense of Clark Kent

Superman and his alter-ego are something I’ve spent way too much of my life thinking about. If you’re thinking, “WITH EVERYTHING HAPPENING, HOW CAN YOU WASTE YOUR TIME–gasp–sorry, I didn’t mean to yell–pontificating on Superman?” I get it, I’m filled with rage about the sociopathic game of checkers being played with human lives, but in the interest of self-care,  and also, damn, I need to meditate on something light and fun.

There’s a familiar refrain when talking about Superman, a trite, hackneyed perspective that boils down to, “How can anyone not realize Clark Kent is Superman!?!”

Notice the change in gait, hair style, hair part, and sense of confidence. Subtleties add up.

This scrutiny is especially malicious when it comes to the reporters who work with Mr. Kent.

Let’s start with society as a whole. Do you know what a single reporter looks like? If you met Woodward or Bernstein, arguably the most famous reporters ever, people who have had movies made about them, in person, would you know what they look like? In particular, this is a universe where the populace is confused about whether a flying object is either a bird, a plane or a flying super-human. The citizens of Metropolis are as myopic as the name of their city.

Now think of this posture and add a different hair part. I wouldn’t recognize my own mother. Drawn by Frank Quietly.

Regarding his colleagues, why would they even question Mr. Kent? Honestly, there’s a god, flying around the city who can shoot laser beams out of his eyes, freeze things with his breath and throw entire islands into space, but we expect the average person to be ever-vigilant for god to have an alter-ego walking amongst us?

I wouldn’t be reading about Jesus, dancing on water, multiplying loaves, busting up money-lenders, then come into work, start making coffee, then look at Mike Mint in Accounting and think, “wait a minute…” Context and expectations matter. No one would or should expect that the Man of Steel would have this strange fetish for being a normie. That’s unreasonable.

Besides, in the well-written versions, Supes tries to make himself more schlubby, unassuming. It’s not just the glasses. He parts his hair differently, wears ill-fitting clothes, adjusts his posture, walks like a klutz. It’s not that bad of a transformation, unless it’s handled by a Zack Snyder type.

Best comparison I’ve seen. Source

Superman is an all-powerful being who desperately wants to be accepted by his adopted home. His weakness is wanting to be accepted, to fit in, to be loved while also accepting he can’t save everyone. Every time he tries to be Clark Kent, he knows he’s condemning hundreds of people to death. But he needs, NEEDS to feel like he’s part of humanity, not just floating above, judging.

That’s why he constructed the Clark character. If you say his high school and college classmates should be able to recognize that something is off, and connect those dots after Superman emerged, I’ll agree. But adults who haven’t spent any time with this fully-formed flying, probably sonic-boom farting, boot-enthusiast, shouldn’t have any need or impetus to suspect that Superman is anything more than Superman. Especially if Superman is written/acted/drawn/characterized properly.

Same goes for Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, Comet the Superhorse, Streaky the Supercat, or Bepo the Supermonkey (No I didn’t make up any of those. If I did make one up, it would have been Chompy the Superdingo, or High the Supersloth.).

Go easy on Lois Lane. It’s hard to see something when you’re not looking for it.


Add yours →

  1. So while most of us dream of being Clark Kents with some sort of secret identity beyond our everyday selves, Superman is just the opposite: Superman IS his real self, and Clark Kent his dirty little secret.

    And since he has super powers, his ability to hide among us should be super as well, which means even if I don’t believe it’s a good secret identity, by definition, it must be, because Superman created it.

    But you’re right in your thesis: I couldn’t tell you the first thing about most of my co-workers. If they wear glasses, makeup, earrings, etc. I just don’t look very closely.


  2. Debra She Who Seeks January 22, 2018 — 9:16 am

    Sonic-boom farts. That’s what caught MY attention in this whole op-ed piece of yours, Pickleope. So sue me, I’m not an intellectual.


  3. I agree with Debra. I was caught up in the sonic-boom-farts scenario. Just what if he had let one go in New York City. The possibilities are endless.


  4. Good points. And I’d rather be with Clark Kent than Superman. It would just be too intimidating to attempt to please him in the air and stuff.


  5. I always thought how could people not realise that Clark Kent was Superman but reading this made me see things differently and how it isn’t so black and white


  6. *shrug* all white dudes look alike to me.


  7. Clark Kent is Superman?!? I always thought there was something familiar about him. Thanks for bursting my bubble. In reality I am more of a Walter Mitty type. I am a total putz while my alter ego strives for adequacy. Oh, to be nearly normal!


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