SuperFact No. 3: Clark’s Actually a Great Cover

Posted: May 3, 2011 in Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been on a bit of a Superman walkabout. Mostly, I’ve been trying to find the essential components – precisely what makes a Superman story feel “right.”

Here’s the best part of the Man of Steel-to-Birthright Clark Kent – he doesn’t have to try so hard. In fact, the Chris Reeves bumbling-dork Clark would probably be more conspicuous than the Clark that has been embraced as a part of the Daily Planet family: the nice Midwestern guy in a big city newsroom.

In other words, he’s “mild-mannered” – but that doesn’t have to mean the same thing as “meek.” 

Even with the glasses and stooped posture, Metropolis-Clark is still kind, stands up for the little guy (usually Jimmy Olson) and is vocal about the essential goodness of people. But because people naturally assume he’s Not Superman, this attitude is viewed by his co-workers as the sweetly naïve attitude a Kansas farmboy might try to bring to the big city.

Really: Imagine meeting a big guy from Kansas who worked on a farm and wears thick glasses, and lucked into a job in a city newsroom. No matter how NICE he was, you wouldn’t assume he was Superman just because of the height. (And in Lois’s case, the fact that he snaked a story from underneath you would indicate he has some less savory characteristics hidden underneath the farmboy exterior – further distancing him from Superman no matter what kindness he offered afterward.)

It’s not the glasses that keep people from realizing Clark’s Superman – it’s the urban cynicism that refuses to believe that a Superman-attitude could really exist in a guy who isn’t bulletproof and flying.

Which is why when Lois eventually falls in love with Clark Kent, rather than Superman, nobody would ever question it. Sure, he’s not Superman – but he’s the next best, real-world equivalent.

That Clark Kent gets ranked second-best to Superman is no insult. But it still counts as a decent cover.

  1. Erin says:

    In a genre which has men in tights shooting lasers out of their eyes at magic imps, I’d say that the Kent identity is still among the largest leaps of faith asked of readers. I mean, let’s say that George Clooney put on glasses changed his hair, and started working at your office under the name, “Bob.” Wouldn’t people be coming up to him constantly to tell him he looks exactly like George Clooney? Sure, they’d believe he wasn’t, but it would always be on their minds. And, if Clooney stopped by one day and Bob wasn’t there….

  2. Moff says:

    @Erin: Yeah, but it’s so elegantly simple, and harks back nicely to the nerd/jock divide that persisted for so long (and, I suppose, probably still persists). As a real-life method of hiding your identity, it would be silly; but as a storytelling device, it’s kinda perfect.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    I think it was Mark Waid who said “Your ability to read superhero comics is mostly predicated on your ability to suspend disbelief at the idea that glasses can conceal someone’s identity.”

    I also like to think that back in the thirties, there was a much larger population of blocky-shaped men in suits, so Clark Kent actually blended in more back then.

  4. Erin says:

    Don’t get me wrong: I love that the Clark Kent identity exists. Taking the absurd serious is a big part of what I love about comics.

  5. Lolly says:

    @Erin: Actually, the Clooney scenario is a good example of why Clark Kent’s “disguise” WOULD work. Do you remember that old story of Renee Zellweger working in an office in England to make sure she got the accent correctly? And a couple of people did mention that she looked like that American actress, but mostly no one really noticed her. Her version of wearing glasses was a slight weight gain, but she is a pretty distinctive looking woman. I think the reason it worked is that we wouldn’t expect the cute, but slightly mousy girl in data processing to be a glam American movie star. And we wouldn’t expect the nice, but slightly dorky guy in the next cubicle to be Superman. Or George Clooney.

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    Right, that’s a big part of it, I think. If, say, a new intern came in and said to the others, “Hey, that big guy with the glasses – doesn’t he look a LOT like Superman?” The response would probably be, “Why would Superman be sitting in a cubicle wearing thick glasses and mumbling? Don’t be stupid. Go get me my damn coffee.”

    The point of Clark is that he has a personality that flies under the radar – he makes it very easy for people to not notice him.

    If he were as bumbling and stuttery as the Reeve Clark, on the other hand, people MIGHT take notice of him, defeating the purpose of a SECRET identity. And that’s why the movies’ portrayal never quite worked for me (outside of the comic relief factor, which is just fine).

  7. braak says:

    I think two things! One is that one of the things that Superman Returns did that was, if not right, at least interesting was that Lois Lane doesn’t look at Clark Kent practically ever. She talks to him, but never actually looks at him.

    Two is that, also I imagine that most people in Superman’s world don’t typically get a very good look at him. You see a lot of close-ups of George Clooney’s face, and posters of him with his picture on them all around, but probably you wouldn’t see that much of Superman.

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    Yes, and there was an absolutely adorable moment where Clark weakly waves at Lois (to little effect) from opposite ends of a crowded elevator that I just loved.

    I vaguely recall Byrne suggesting that Superman vibrates slightly when around cameras, so there’s never an in-focus picture of his face. Which would be kind of a pain in the ass, but is kind of clever. Don’t know if this ever came up again, though.

  9. braak says:

    I like the part where Cyclops was talking to her and saying, “Hey, isn’t Clark 6′ 2″ and about 200 lbs?” And they both look over at him, and he’s got his mouth stuffed with a taco and is like, “Mmf? !!!” and kind of waves at them, and then Lois and Cyclops are all, “Hahah, yeah, sure, right.”

  10. I wish I could just put on a pair of glasses and turn into a completely different guy that nobody recognizes and blends in. In only a perfect world! lol

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