Thursday, March 12, 2009

COMICS (and MOVIES): Blasphemy: Clark Kent Is Not A Costume

As you know, I’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating.

Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique.

Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone.

Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S” - that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us.

Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak… He’s unsure of himself… He’s a coward.

Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.
– Bill’s Superman speech from Kill Bill
paraphrasing The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer (thanks Timeshredder!)

Now let me start off by saying I love the Kill Bill movies, both Volume 1 and 2. And I love Bill's speech about Superman. It really works for the film, and helps explain some things going on in the film.

But I also have a problem with the speech. Since this speech is in such an iconic film, people take it as the be-all and end-all on Superman and Clark Kent.

Which is unfortunate, because the speech is complete and utter poppycock. - OlderMusicGeek

Local Blogger Writes The World: Blasphemy: Clark Kent is not a Costume

“Clark Kent is a persona Superman puts on to hide his real identity”

I’ve seen this in various forms over the years, mostly from “Comic Fans” that is to say skinny legged hipsters and dudes with soul-patches with no double-chin to hide. It’s the dissembling of Supermand versus Batman that places them as opposite ends of the Heroic Spectrum; where Superman is the Natural State of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne is the natural State of Batman.

This is so far from correct that it would take a series of GPS Units to Lead you back to almost correct.

While Superman may be naturally super-powered and simply taking advantage of his extraterrestrial birth; he isn’t “Superman” because of his powers. Superman is Superman because he was Clark Kent first. That’s why Clark Kent is so convincing to the people around him; that is the natual state of Superman. He may be the premier superhuman of the DC universe, but Superman relaxes by doing crosswords with Lois Lane in bed, not tossing Meteors at passing Comets (just in case).

Batman, or “The Batman” relaxes by pulling on his cowl and beating up muggers. An Ideal night for Bruce Wayne, going 12 hours without being called Bruce or Master Wayne once. Batman is the Natural State of Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne is a costume “The Batman” wears when he wants to get things done. He also moves around disguised as criminals.

Writers come and go for these two Characters; but the fundamentals have been fairly solid since the mid-eighties. Superman is a powerful homebody named Clark Kent who loves his mommy and goes home to his wife at every opportunity. Bruce Wayne is the farcical personality that the Batman has adopted to allow his activities to be funded and provide the means for his crusade to continue; The Batman barely tolerates Bruce Wayne and would NEVER go home if he could hack it.

I should keep comics on hand for these rants. Oh Well.

Casting Call 1.16.08: Bill's Superman Speech from 411mania
by Justin Chamberlain

Sometimes you're watching a movie and a character says something that just really makes you think. This is one of those quotes.

"Superman stands alone. Superman did not become Superman, Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he IS Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red S is the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears, the glasses, the business suit, that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us."

Hard to argue here. As we know, Superman is born Kal El of Krypton. Truthfully, amongst his people he isn't that super at all. If he had stayed on Krypton he would have just been another dude. But by coming to our galaxy and mingling with us limited humans, he clearly sets himself apart. Way apart. Just by being who he is, on our planet, he truly is a Super Man. And as Bill points out, when he decides to take on a ‘secret identity', it's as Clark Kent.

"Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak, unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."

It's true that Superman, who could probably get away with ‘being' anyone he wanted to be, made an interesting choice when he landed on the ‘weak and unsure' Clark Kent. I mean, why not pose as a ladies man? Or amass some riches for himself?

It goes back to the whole ‘hero' thing. Do you use your powers for good or bad? If Superman ever decided to take over the world, who would be able to stop him? But thankfully he has that wholesome Kent upbringing and a strong moral centre to keep him on the right path. Instead of using his powers for personal gain, he uses them for good. And when he has to ‘decide' who to be as a human being (and really, living as one of us when he doesn't have to is pretty noble) he chooses to take on a role that is somewhat subservient, if anything. Remarkable!

I'm not sure I agree with Bill when he says that Clark is Superman's ‘take' (and a negative one) on us humans. To me, his choice to take on a ‘lesser role' in human society speaks more to his nobility. Why does Superman even need a secret identity? If he just lived on Earth as he was.... he'd be the ultimate celebrity! He could have everything. Perhaps he doesn't want to distract from his mission? Taking on the role of Clark, deflecting the glory that Superman earns (not enjoying the perks, as it were) could be seen as his choice to live a ‘responsible' lifestyle.

I could analyze Bill's quote a lot more... but when I read it, the basic thought (or point) that jumps into my head is simply this; you are who you are. In the case of superheroes that can become a little murkier with the whole secret identity issue. But as I stated before, to me, a hero is a hero. You don't need a costume to be one; you don't need a power (though it certainly helps).

Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, Kal El/Clark Kent/Superman/whatever you want to call him, they're heroes.

And it's a good thing too. If they ever decided to be villains, we'd all be in deep shit!

Everything2: Superman Is Really Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne Is Really Batman

The obvious difference in their civilian identities isn't even the important part. Sure Clark Kent is a small-town country boy, raised on a farm by All-American, salt-of-the-Earth country folks who instilled a strong sense of moral values and responsibility he carries through his entire life. And Bruce Wayne got his start as a rich kid, whose privileged life took a tragic turn at far too young an age when he saw his parents gunned down in the street, right in front of him, by a petty criminal.

But the biggest difference, at least in their modern incarnations, is that Superman is really Clark Kent, and Bruce Wayne is really Batman.

Read that sentence carefully. For Clark Kent, Superman is the mask. Superman is the costume he puts on when he has to go out and save the world. The default identity, when his mighty array of powers isn't needed, is newspaper journalist Clark Kent. Even in costume, when he relaxes his Clark Kent personality comes out. You wouldn't think this is likely, since he is after all a superpowered alien from another planet, trying hard to pretend he's human, constantly on guard against accidentally misusing his power. But he was raised that way, and likes being human. He's used to it.

For Batman, on the other hand, Bruce Wayne is the mask. His default state is Batman, prowling the streets of Gotham City by night on a never-ending mission to avenge the death of his parents and keep the streets safe for ordinary, law-abiding citizens. Bruce Wayne is the face he puts on during those unpleasant occasions when he has to interact with the mundane world, play-acting as a wealthy socialite, millionaire playboy, and business tycoon. But that's not him; he's a lonely, brooding, unhappy man still mourning the deaths of his parents, beating up super-criminals as a kind of self-punishment and therapy.

Clark Kent is Superman when the worlds needs him to be Superman. His parents raised him to be Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne is Batman because that's what his childhood made him, and Bruce Wayne is just what the world expects him to be during the day.


Bill (David Carradine) delivers his now-famous speech to The Bride (Uma Thurman) to try to make her see herself for what she is, she's special, she's dangerous, she's not the normal family woman she was trying to become. She doesn't have to pick up her sword to be that, like the Green Lantern's ring or Iron Man's armor, she is powerful with or without it. While dramatically appropriate to the scene, it's a relic of an obsolete interpretation of the character.

While this was certainly true, if somewhat exaggerated, of the Silver Age Superman, and his portrayal in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, we have to remember that Bill is an older dude and probably hasn't picked up a comic book since the early 80s (Bill, if you're reading this, man, I envy you for missing the X-TREME anti-hero 90s).

The modern version of Superman is not this. Like an immigrant who came to the US as a baby and was raised in the white suburbs rather than an ethnic ghetto, he has no personal recollections of the world he came from, and although he feels a connection on some level to his cultural roots, he has never experienced them first-hand. Clark Kent's homeworld is Earth, because that's where he was raised. It's the only world he can call home. And being raised among humans means he identifies as a human being, if a special, privileged one (and even this is subject to confusion depending on whether or not, and in what way, a particular incarnation of the character adventured as Superboy in his youth or was even capable of doing so, which is wildly inconsistent).

If Superman wasn't Clark Kent, then why is he Clark Kent? The Clark persona doesn't really need to exist if it wasn't the true identity. Clark doesn't exist because Superman needs to disguise himself — he doesn't — he exists because Superman wants to have a normal life in between adventures. And because he was raised by humans, with human values, that's what he believes is a normal life. The real man wears a suit and wing-tips, not a cape and boots.

The key issue pushing the speech is that unlike other Golden Age heroes, Superman doesn't need accessories to be Superman, his powers are part of who he is. But this argument is fundamentally flawed: powers do not make one Superman, just superhuman. Bruce Wayne is clearly the more invented of the two mundane identities. Imagine what would happen to each hero if there were no more crime to fight, and no natural disasters to repair. Clark Kent would likely hang up the costume, marry Lois Lane, and never use his powers again. Bruce Wayne's life would simply lose all meaning.

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This is a fairly good sampling of some of the music I listen to. It's missing a few genres I like - such as cajun. I'll work on that later. But it does contain most of my favorite artists. I tried to steer away from the better known songs to give you a better idea of what kind of music the artists play, but I was limited by the songs the website - Project Playlist - had available. But if you want to get an idea of what I listen to, just hit the play or arrow button. - OlderMusicGeek

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This website, OlderMusicGeek Radio on Pandora.com, does a fairly decent job of playing what I like, although they do occasionally play stuff I don't care for, but overall they're pretty good.