Friday, March 12, 2010

Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter

I don't want to get into a whole "thing" here, but let me just address the chicken-and-egg question people like to ask when it comes to Clark Kent and Superman; Clark was first.

You're own opinion might vary, of course, and that's fine. As long as you don't mind being wrong, wrong, wrong. Look, I know there are some who point out (factually, as much as you can be where a fictional character with a malleable origin is concerned) that Clark was originally Kal-El, last son of Krypton and a nigh-indestructible alien since he crash-landed on Earth as a baby. I agree.

But! This isn't information little Kal grew up with. As far as he was concerned he was Clark, a kid growing up in Kansas with Ma and Pa Kent and a growing number of freaky powers that went way beyond puberty. For as long as he could remember, he was Clark. A boy, then a man, with powers far beyond those of mortal men, sure — but still Clark.

Sure, Clark hams it up with the meek milquetoast act. He's got to if he wants to deflect any suspicion he's Superman. And c'mon, with all those "coincidences" he needs all the cover he can take. But the point is, it is an act. Not the identity of "Clark;" again, that's who he is. The bumbling, the absent-mindedness, the queasy stomach ... that's the act.

Something to remember is that Clark might come across as a marshmallow (especially depending on whoever the writer might be), but he's a highly competent S.O.B. He's a respected novelist, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and the only real competition Lois Lane has in the newsroom. And he's done all that as himself. As Clark.

His role and his responsibilities as Superman are essentially two things — his duty, and his job. It's his job in the same way a person might be a firefighter or a cop, people who put their lives on the line in the name of the greater good, simply because it's the right thing to do. Being Superman just happens to be a job he can do, and do better than anyone else. The fact that he wants to do it comes from his sense of duty ... and that's from being a farmboy who was raised with solid values, a sense of right and wrong, and an unerring dedication to truth and fairness and the idea that there is always hope. These oh-so-human values — not the flying or the heat-vision or sheer planet-moving power — these are what make Superman a hero.

And that is all Clark.

As you might have guessed, this is the first entry in what will be a regular-but-unscheduled series of scenes featuring Superman's alter-ego, Clark Kent. I hope you enjoy it!


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but you're wrong.

Clark was the disguise and Superman was the "true identity". The radio show made it clear that Superman was pretending to be Clark and that Superman was his personality and his identity.

The whole bit about Clark being a bumbling hypochondriac so he could maintain distance from his Superman persona indicated that he was acting when he was Clark. Clark was just a character he created so that he could be around normal people and so that the underworld would not be able to attack the people he cared about.

Even the Smallville series goes in this direction, with Clark having to be secretive to hide "who he really is", even before he became Superman.

Nice try.

Sea-of-Green said...

Hate to say it, but I've also, always thought what "Anonymous" previously posted, that Clark Kent is the disguise. Bruce Wayne and "Diana Prince" are also disguises -- the heroes are who they truly are.

Not so with the Flashes, the Green Lanterns, or even with Green Arrow. In those cases, it's the super-heroes who are the disguises.

Maxo said...

Well, at least you're not as snarky as our anonymous friend here! (Dang it, you caught me, Anonymous! "Nice try," indeed!) But you both make good points. As I hinted at, opinions vary and I think a lot of people probably feel the same way you do.

A lot of the confusion probably comes from the fact that almost everyone who has ever gotten their hands on the character have put their own spin on him. I tend to be a traditionalist and go with the baby-raised-as-Clark version (not to mention some versions, like "Smallville" as Anonymous mentioned, are so far from what most people would consider canon that it might as well be an Elseworlds story).

I kind of look at it the same way I would look at any adopted child. If a kid is raised by adoptive parents and called Joe for most of his young life, and then finds out about his real parents who called him Stanley when he was born, I don't think he's going to suddenly stop thinking of himself as the person called Joe. He might start thinking of himself as being MORE than the Joe he was before, but still Joe.

Wow, that was tortured.

Anyway, I don't think of Clark as disguising his "true identity" of Superman; I think he disguises the POWERS that make him Superman. And again, I'd argue that his values as Clark influence the way he uses his abilities as Superman, not the other way around.

Again, this is probably a difference of perspective. A lot of my image of Clark/Superman comes from the Silver and Bronze Age comics, in which Clark was not quite as goofy or wimpy as other formats — particularly the movies — made him out to be.

Think about this, too: If Kal-El wasn't given super powers by the yellow sun, would he still have ended up being "Superman?" Or just some guy named Clark?

Thanks for commenting, guys — I enjoy hearing your perspectives!

Scott said...

I agree far, far more with Maxo on this one. Every version of the character that's made sense had Superman as the mask that Clark wears, not vice versa.

Eyz said...

Really nice little introspective on the whole Clark Kent/Superman personas.

And pretty well narrowed down.

As for me, like you, I've always seen Clark as his true identity. Superman is sort of like the idea the young Clark growing super-powers came up with, what a superhero would be like for him.

Maxo said...

Thanks for commenting, Eyz! I hope you'll follow along at the newer Great Caesar's Post site!