erik lundegaard

SLIDESHOW Essay: An Open Letter to Clark Kent

  • "Is Clark Kent Superman? By Lois Lane" Screenshot from "Atom Man vs. Superman," 1950
    SLIDESHOW: Dear Clark. Let’s start with a simple question: What do you call yourself when no one’s around? Kal? Clark? Superman? I can’t imagine you’d call yourself “Superman,” as in, “C’mon, Superman, get your head out of your ass.” You might have given yourself that immodest name in the beginning, back in June 1938 when you could only leap 1/8 of a mile, but you’re no longer that person. You’ve been corporatized and retconned and rebooted dozens of times since. Now others give you that name. The shield on your chest is Kryptonian—the family crest or the word “hope”—but it looks like our “S,” so they extrapolate and come up “Superman.” It might be a nickname you don’t even like—like Stinky. It might even embarrass you. So … who are you? Clark? Superman? Kal? Stinky? (Screenshot from “Atom Man vs. Superman,” 1950)
  • Clark Kent by Max Fleischer
    This wasn’t much of a question in your early years. We knew who you were because it was announced before every episode of the radio and TV series: “Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!” Get that? Disguised as Clark Kent. Who’s weak and cowardly and wears glasses. But all of that is part of the disguise. Because it’s not who you are. (Clark Kent in the opening of the Fleischer Studios “Superman” cartoons.)
  • Clark Kent (Jeffrey Silver) having a heart-to-heart with his mother (Frances Morris) in the first episode of the "Adventures of Superman" TV series, 1952
    Yet you started out as Clark. We all know what. That was John Byrne’s argument back in 1986 when he decided that, no, Clark was the real person and Superman the disguise. Just as Bruce Wayne was the real person and Batman the disguise. Except … Well, in many ways, Bruce, the frivolous playboy, isn’t who he is at all. That life has been given over to revenge, and the representation of that revenge wears a cape and a cowl. He’s been more Batman than Bruce since that night in the alley. (Clark (Jeffrey Silver) having a heart-to-heart with his mother (Frances Morris) in the first episode of the “Adventures of Superman” TV series, 1952)
  • Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent in "Superman III," 1983
    Blame Don Diego de la Vega for the dilemma. No, further back. Blame Sir Percy Blakeney. Both Diego and Percy were new kids in town, NKOB, and so could alter their personalities to deflect attention away from their attempt to secure justice as, respectively, Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel. They could show up, pretend to be foppish and not at all courageous, and no one was there to say, “Dude, why are you suddenly acting so foppish? That’s not you.” (Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent in “Superman III,” 1983)
  • (Clark stumbles on the pier in the Ruby-Spears "Superman" cartoon, 1988)
    Is that how it happened with you? You grew up in Smallville, Kansas, the adopted son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, or Eben and Sarah Kent, and you just acted the way you acted. (Which was how exactly?) Then you went to Metropolis, where you could be whoever you wanted to be. Most of us use this opportunity to put on a better face but you did the opposite. You put on glasses, you acted the coward, you stumbled and bumbled. Me? Superman? Why, I can barely walk down the street. It was a conscious decision. (Clark stumbles on the pier in the Ruby-Spears “Superman” cartoon, 1988)
  • "You haven't been... ?" Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Clark and Lois in "Superman: The Movie," 1978
    That’s what Christopher Reeve suggested. In 1978, in the hubub before “Superman: The Movie” was released, he told The New York Times, “I see Clark as a deliberate put-on by Superman. Clark’s a tongue-in-cheek impression of who we are. There’s some of him in all of us. I have a great deal of affection for him—it’s not just that he can’t get the girl, he can’t get the taxi.” (Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Clark and Lois in “Superman: The Movie,” 1978)
  • George Reeves' Clark Kent losing his temper in "Superman and the Mole Men," 1951
    Or did it come about organically? Maybe you started acting mild-mannered way back in Smallville because you knew what would happen if didn't; if you blew your top. What disasters you would cause. Maybe you nearly caused such a disaster. Maybe you did cause one. I mean, who wouldn’t be mild-mannered if they could destroy the planet when they lost their temper? (George Reeves' Clark losing his temper in “Superman and the Mole Men,” 1951)
  • Clark Kent, sick, in the 1966 cartoon "The New Adventures of Superman"
    Maybe, too, in Metropolis, when you began to duck out to become Superman, others noticed and came to the wrong conclusion. As soon as trouble brewed, Clark retreated. What a coward! Reputations are established early and hard to shake, and maybe you decided you didn’t want to shake this one because it was ultimately beneficial. It made excuses for your absence so you wouldn’t have to. (Perry, Lois and Clark in “The New Adventures of Superman,” 1966)
  • Tom Welling as Clark in the premiere episode of "Smallville," 2001
    Or does it go deeper? Maybe you began to realize that the cowardly persona was a great way to attract the bullies of the world. “The thing you fear the most will meet you halfway,” Victoria Williams once sang, and maybe you realized the truth of this, and feigned fear to attract the world’s predators. They smelled fear, licked their lips, and came out of the shadows to get you. And that’s when you got them. (Tom Welling as Clark in the premiere episode of “Smallville,” 2001)
  • Clark turns into Superman in "Last Son of Krypton," 1996
    That’s an explanation anyway. But the real explanation is much simpler and sadder. We need you to be mild mannered. We need you to be a coward. We need you to be like us so that when you turn into him, we can be thrilled. John Byrne got this wrong. So did George Reeves, who played you like Superman in a suit and fedora. The joy you give is in the idea that underneath the weak man, the plain man, is the super man. It allows every weak and plain man, which is most of us, to think, “Maybe ... Maybe ...” You are our ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy. (Clark turns into Superman in “Last Son of Krypton,” 1996)
  • Henry Cavill as Clark Kent, bearded, in "Man of Steel" (2013)
    We still get a thrill out of it. In the new movie, when the dude in the bar starts messing with you, even though you’re bearded and butch and don’t exactly look like a pushover, it’s thrilling to watch. Unlike when someone messes with us, we get to think, as we sit there in the dark with our tub of popcorn, “You’re messing with the wrong motherfucker, motherfucker!” We get to pretend the opposite of what you pretend. We pretend we’re brave. (Henry Cavill as itinerant Clark in “Man of Steel,” 2013)
  • Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent in "Superman," the serial, 1948
    But … a reporter? For The Daily Planet? In this day and age? The rationale for the gig was always so you could be close to the news; so you could hear about fires breaking out and crimes being committed and rush to stop them. You use that excuse again in the new movie. But, dude, it’s 2013. You don’t need The Daily Planet, all you need is wi-fi. All you need is a smartphone. All you need is you. (Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent in “Superman,” the serial, 1948)
  • Brandon Routh as Clark in "Superman Returns," 2006
    I keep going back to that scene in “Superman Returns” when you're floating over Metropolis with Lois and you ask her what she hears. She says “Nothing” and you say, “I hear everything.” Wow. Everything. Good line. It lets us know the burden of being you. But the follow-up is problematic. “So wait… if you hear everything … why ever be Clark Kent? Why wait for the story to break? Why not save the person crying for help right now? Why not save the people crying for help right now?” (Brandon Routh as Clark in “Superman Returns,” 2006)
  • A panel from Action Comics No. 1, June 1938
    In your very first stories, Jerry Siegel had you join the San Monte army to teach a war profiteer a lesson. You became a miner to teach a mine operator a lesson. You joined the circus to save the circus. You became a super-fugitive from a chain gang. You became part of the oppressed to champion them. So why not do this again? (A panel from Action Comics No. 1, June 1938)
  • Clark Kent after being beaten up in a diner in "Superman II," 1981
    Don't be Clark Kent, reporter. Disguise yourself as a member of an oppressed group, then emerge at an opportune moment as Superman. Word would spread: Don’t attack these guys because one of them is really Superman. Then you could move on to the next group. It would be like the scene in “Spartacus,” where, one by one, men stand and say: “I am Spartacus.” Except instead of the many pretending to be the one (to protect the one), you would be the one pretending to be the many (to protect the many). “I am Superman,“ you could say to the tyrants of the world. ”And I can do anything.” (Clark Kent after being beaten up in a diner in “Superman II,” 1981)
  • Clark Kent, winking at the camera, in "The New Adventures of Superman," 1966
    It's a thought anyway. It might not even be a good thought. To be honest, Clark, I wouldn’t want to lose you. In the end, you’re still the reason for the thrill. Superman would be a rather dull boy without you. (“The New Adventures of Superman,” 1966)

Posted at 07:01 AM on Sun. Jun 23, 2013 in category Superman  
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