May 19, 2016: The Fate of Clark Kent – Comic Books v Movies

Clark v Clark: How The Movies and The Comics Dealt With Doomsday and the Mild Mannered Reporter

By Michael Bailey

Before We Begin

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE has been out for nearly two months now and I am working under the assumption that everyone that wanted to see the film in the theaters has already done so barring life events and acts of God. In case you are one of those that haven’t seen the film but wanted to or are waiting for the home video release then consider this your spoiler warning. I am going to be discussing certain events from BATMAN V SUPERMAN in detail and will give away something very important from the end of that film. Bookmark this article to read later if you don’t want to be spoiled.

Still with us?

Good…then let’s get started.

ClarkKentDeath-ComicTwo People Died That Day

At the end of BATMAN V SUPERMAN the Man of Steel selflessly gave his life to save the world from the monster known as Doomsday. This was a gutsy move on the part of the filmmakers and while the pros and cons of doing this in the second movie of this new franchise can and have been endlessly debated what can’t be argued is that two people were buried at the end of the film; Superman and Clark Kent. This brings up a number of questions and we’ll get to those in a minute. For now I thought it might be worth a lark to explore how the movie people handled Clark Kent after the death of Superman and how the comic book people dealt with the conundrum back in 1993.

Before I go any further I want to make it absolutely clear that the comparison can’t fully be made until we see how Superman’s resurrection will be handled in the films. I can make some educated guesses but we really don’t know. One thing is pretty clear at the end of BATMAN V SUPERMAN; Clark Kent is dead. There was an obituary. There was a funeral in Smallville. Mourners filled the Kent household. The casket was put into the ground. Simultaneously (at least as far as the audience is concerned) a black casket with a silver S is being laid to rest and mourners are leaving offerings at the Superman statue in Metropolis.

ClarkKentDeath-MovieIt’s the obituary and funeral for Clark Kent that is the most significant for me. That’s pretty final. It’s a little sad too because while we have gotten to know Clark Kent the person over the course of MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN the reporter side to him had just begun. You could argue that eighteen months to two years have gone by in the movie world but we didn’t get to see those events on the screen. We saw Clark and Lois living together. We saw Clark chasing the Batman story. We saw Clark square off with Bruce Wayne at that party. We saw Clark bickering with Perry White but that’s pretty much it so in many ways it can be argued that the death of the bespectacled Clark isn’t as big a tragedy as it was in the comics.

It’s quantity I’m talking about here. Not quality.

Missing In Action

In 1992 DC Comics released SUPERMAN #75. In that issue Superman died defending Metropolis from Doomsday. You may have heard. It was in the papers.

No, really. It was in the newspapers. There was international coverage of Superman’s death and it was a media storm that has been repeated but never topped with the subsequent death of other characters.

As far as I know there was no sketch on Saturday Night Live when Captain America died.

The week after SUPERMAN #75 came out the creators of the Superman books began the FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND story. The storyline stretched over the main Superman titles (there were four at the time) and even into JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA. While the Man of Steel’s funeral was one of the bigger parts of that story the heart and soul of it was how the world reacted to Superman’s death. It was an emotional tale that cuts into the accusations that Superman’s death was just a mindless slugfest. To be fair the fight was action packed and lasted several issues but the story of his death began immediately after the battle was over.

coffin-comics

Before that fateful battle Clark Kent was a very active part of the Superman books. He was a veteran reporter and columnist for the Daily Planet and even a novelist. One of the many changes that John Byrne brought to Superman when he revamped the character in 1986 was to make Clark Kent the main guy and Superman the fancy pair of long johns so the Clark side of Superman’s life was given as much importance as his super powered side. Clark was engaged to Lois Lane at the time of the battle with Doomsday and she was aware of Clark’s dual identity. This added an additional emotional gut punch to the story because Lois could not properly mourn Superman’s death. The world didn’t know that they were engaged. It was another element that elevated The Death and Return of Superman from big event to heartfelt story.

With Clark being such a vital part of the books the obvious question becomes how do you deal with the fact that with Superman dead Clark can’t come to work the next day?

The creators didn’t actually spend a whole lot of time dealing with this but they did devise a solution. The battle with Doomsday caused a great deal of damage to Metropolis and Clark Kent was one of the many citizens that were missing in action after the monster’s rampage. There was a notice about this in the NEWSTIME magazine special that DC published shortly after the death. It was eventually established that most of the people that knew Clark but didn’t know he was Superman assumed that their friend and colleague had died and that his body hadn’t been discovered yet. Lois, Lana Lang and Jonathan and Martha Kent decided that the best thing they could do was not reveal that Clark was really Superman and they eventually helped pack up his apartment along with his colleagues at the Daily Planet.

After Superman returned from the dead and defeated the evil Cyborg that tried to ruin his name and turn Earth into the new Warworld the Clark Kent conundrum had to be dealt with. Inspiration came in the form of a comment Jimmy Olsen made after Superman saved a family that were trapped in a demolished building. With the help of the shape shifting Supergirl (long story) Clark Kent was miraculously “found” by Superman in the remains of a demolished building that sat on a civil defense shelter. Apparently Clark had survived all of those weeks (or months, it’s fuzzy) in relative comfort thanks to the water and food available to him. This allowed Clark to pretty much step back into his life and get back into the swing of things albeit with longer hair.

Was it a simplistic way around a complicated problem? Yes, but by that point readers (myself included) were ready for things to turn back to normal.

Which brings up the question; what are they going to do with the films?

coffin-movie

Speculationville… Population: Me

To me there are two likely scenarios when it comes to bringing Clark Kent back.

Scenario #1: They Find A Way To Bring Him Back

Seems pretty simple, right? This is fiction. Get a couple of writers in a room and hammer out the details. Find a way to get Clark back in his glasses and at the Daily Planet pronto.

There’s just one problem with that.

They put him into the ground.

And it looked like a lot of Smallville was there to witness this.

This makes a resurrection very problematic. In the comics there was speculation about Clark Kent’s fate but nothing concrete. At the end of BATMAN V SUPERMAN we see Perry White reading Clark’s obituary. This makes the likelihood of a bespectacled Clark showing up for work a few days after Superman returns pretty remote. At least in the films.

So they can certainly come up with a way to bring him back but the whole funeral thing complicates matters.

Scenario #2: They Don’t Bring Him Back At All

MAN OF STEEL did a pretty good job of telling a Superman story without having the glasses show up until the very last scene. I’m not saying it’s my ideal. In fact it’s pretty far from my ideal. I am a fan of the secret identity angle. The reporter version of Clark Kent serves a very important purpose. In the Golden, Silver, Bronze, Copper and more modern age Clark was Superman’s anchor to humanity. While more contemporary writers have gotten a lot of traction out of the whole “stranger in a strange land” approach to Superman it can’t be forgotten or overlooked that Clark was raised by two ordinary humans. His day to day existence for the first eighteen years of his life (at the minimum) was steeped in living as a kid on the farm. When he left Smallville to make his way in the world he chose to work as a reporter ostensibly to be there to react to trouble but when you really break it down Clark Kent has the potential to do as much good as Superman from behind the keyboard.

This is why the GROUNDED story drove me crazy. Superman has to walk the United States because he has lost his connection to humanity forgetting about the fact that he lives and works among them every day. Clark IS Superman’s connection to the people of Earth. It’s Clark that grabs a coffee at the local deli on the way to work. It’s Clark that talks to the people that just survived a natural disaster after Superman saved them. It’s Clark that has co-workers that, if it’s done right, are his friends as well as his colleagues.

Clark can’t be Superman twenty-four/seven. He can’t always be “on”. He needs a place to go that isn’t a fortress tucked away in the ice. Superman needs Clark so he can take a break and maybe hit a problem from a different perspective. He needs Clark to remind him that while there is a large chunk of humanity that is petty and selfish there is also the guy that he buys a pretzel from that’s trying to put a kid through college so he’ll have a better life than his father.

I just don’t think the current people in charge of the film version of the character have any interest in that. They came close. I loved seeing Clark using the power of the press to expose the civil liberties that Batman violates through his war on crime. There just wasn’t enough of that in the movie and that leads me to believe that while they have done some work exploring Clark’s motivations they are more interested in him being in the costume than exploring what his secret identity means to him which is unfortunate because it limits what a follow up, straight ahead Superman film can do. Maybe they don’t think there’s enough time to explore it.

Not that the comic book creators or any better. A few months back they wrapped up the story where Superman’s identity was outed to the world for one of the most rock stupid reasons ever.

So if the movie people aren’t interested in that aspect of Clark Kent and if the comic book people aren’t down with a secret identity where does that leave Superman in terms of a dual identity?

It’s a bit depressing actually.

No matter what they decide I am hoping that at some point, either in the comics or in the movies but hopefully both, the more traditional take on Clark Kent comes back. That part of the character has so much to offer on a dramatic level and he’s just important to Superman in general. Only time will tell if the people responsible for the cinematic version of Superman do anything to resolve the Clark Kent is Dead dilemma. Maybe he won’t be a part of the DC Cinematic Universe. Or maybe they’ll surprise me and find a really clever way to bring him back.

I hope that I am pleasantly surprised.

Michael Bailey

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