I listened to an interview with Elliot S! Maggin recently. I think it was done quite a few years ago. He discussed how Superman thought it was important for Clark Kent to have a life. Which he has. Pre or Post-Crisis he does spend time with friends, spends time with his neighbors and of course eventually marries Lois. But what Maggin was trying to say is, yes, Clark should have a life but in the end he’s just “a work of art”. Superman is the real identity and Clark the disguise. Superman could be a genuine hero, even a regular guy. But Clark is the secret identity and Superman is the real deal.
I feel the Bronze Age was when Clark became more relevant than at any other time. He seemed more down to earth and relatable. But when he does his shirt rip and took off to save the day that’s who he was. The hero. The man who was put on Earth to be the best he can be, the one to save the world. Being a reporter and friend, even a boy friend, may have kept him closer to the people he spent time with, but Clark was truly just a cover. Superman (Kal-El) the last son of Krypton is his true identity.
Why is it so important for Superman to be the prevalent identity? Day after day no matter what the situation, stopping bank robbers, foiling Luthor’s latest scheme, even helping defend other planets, he is always needed. Superman can give up being Clark and concentrate only on heroics. While his friends may miss seeing him everyday and the Daily Planet would be without one of its best reporters, he’s still Superman. Nothing changes in that regard. He can still be friends, even spend some time with Lois, Jimmy and Perry but he needs to be ready to go into action at a moment’s notice and be the greatest superhero.
This doesn’t mean he can’t have a disguise if he wishes. Actually, I think it’s important to have one. Superman can sit in his Fortress of Solitude when things are calm and look at the statues of his parents and count how many types of Kryptonite he has on display, but that wouldn’t give him the opportunity to mingle with us Earthlings. Get to know us better. And just give some downtime when it’s needed. He was raised as one of us after all. But that doesn’t mean that’s who he is.
Imagine having the power of a god and sitting in front of a typewriter all day. I know I’d get antsy. When he’s Superman he’s not Clark Kent he’s not even Kal-El. He’s being the hero he’s supposed to be. That’s why Superman is the real deal. He can basically be himself. Using his powers and helping those that need it. He doesn’t have to hide or even at times lie to those around him. He can smile, give advice, and even be a friend. But in the end he has the freedom to fly. To make things right. And as Superman he can always tell the truth. At least to a certain extent anyway.
So many of us hide who we truly are. Not wanting to express how we feel or stand up and let our voice be heard. Some of us are demure and just existing, not showing our true potential. That’s sad. Superman shows us how we must stand up for ourselves. Not be afraid to open up and be heard. Superman is the prime example of freedom and honesty. It’s fine to hide behind an identity and have quiet time, but in the end we must be ourselves. And that’s why Superman is the real identity.
Over the years, Superman has been at the heart of many philosophical debates. The most prominent relates to Superman and his true identity. Is Clark Kent the real guy, or is Superman? It is such a popular discussion that it was even featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. II. In the film, it is asserted that Clark is how Superman sees humanity – weak and cowardly. Of course, this is all spoken by the villain of the film, so his understanding of Superman is going to be massively skewed. It wouldn’t surprise me if some people feel into this line of thinking, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. In addition to being a cynical take on Superman, it is also wrong. Clark Kent is not Superman’s disguise. Clark Kent is Superman’s true identity.
It seems silly to say that Clark is Superman’s true identity. Of course it is! He takes off the glasses, makes a quick costume change and he’s Superman! While this is something we all know, it’s also the truth on a philosophical level. Clark Kent is more than just who The Man of Steel is, it’s who he identifies as.
On a technical level, there are four separate identities our hero could identify as. First, there’s Kal-El, the last son of the planet Krypton. While Clark is Kal-El, he knows that isn’t his true self. He can speak Kryptonian and is aware of his cultural heritage, but he cannot claim that as his true identity because he is not in constant connection with it.
The second identity is Superman. This is certainly an extension of his true identity, but it isn’t his true self. Superman is what he does, not who he is. His primary objective as an individual is to use his abilities to help others, but the Superman persona has an element of fabrication to it. While Superman is certainly an extension of Clark, he is limited by his status as a public figure.
Then there’s Clark Kent, the disguise. This is the version that the public sees. He’s the bumbling, well-meaning, mild-mannered reporter for The Daily Planet. In no capacity is this his true identity. Rather, it serves to keep suspicion off of him. Well, prior to Bendis taking that away, that is.
Finally, there is Clark Kent, the man. This is his true identity. Superman is a guy raised on a farm in Kansas, adopted and raised by a kindly couple, and instilled with traditional values and a strong sense of morality. Everything he does as Clark and as Superman is rooted in his upbringing. The entire reason Superman exists is because Pa Kent raised Clark to believe that if you have the power to help others, it is your moral responsibility to do so. It’s Clark’s adherence to his upbringing that makes the Clark persona his true identity.
The Superman identity is directly impacted by the existence of Clark the man. Superman wouldn’t be who he is if he weren’t Clark Kent first. It is for this reason that Clark Kent should never be considered just the disguise.