Sunday, August 22, 2010

Superman Week Part 4: On the Golden Age

In my lifetime (and yours too) just about EVERY single new writer on Superman will sooner or later lament that "in his first appearances" he was a social agitator who stood up for the little guy instead of being for the status quo.

Now, there are two problems with this:

1) It's kind of hard to be a social activist/agitator when you are a billion-dollar corporate icon.
2) The Golden Age Superman is kind of a dick who doesn't accomplish much.

I'm not going to spend much time on the first point because it's been covered better elsewhere. But let's look at that second point.

OK, so yes, in the Golden Age, Superman exposed crooked businessmen with corrupt practices and beat the crap out of them. That's great, and it's a nice cathartic moment for these guys to be on the receiving end of their own bad dealings, but aside from the pulp thrill, it really doesn't help the people who are suffering because of the problem in the first place. I'd be all up on a story where Superman dunks the BP CEO into a plume of oil from the Gulf Spill, but it doesn't help as much as trying to actually help fix the practices that lead to the spill or helping the victims. In fact, it tends to look a lot like super-powered bullying - yes, the guys responsible for the mess are bad and deserved to be punished, but humiliation rarely leads to redemption or turning over a new leaf.

And that's what Clark Kent is for. Clark Kent, the reporter who does draw attention to these problems. Clark Kent who does get the truth out and fights to make sure that justice is done.

So maybe, instead of focusing on making Superman, there needs to be a little more focus on Clark Kent.

Just a thought


Anonymous said...

That's what Clark Kent is for...

Yes, and that would be the one thing that could have made JMS's "Walk Across America" work. If not Superman were making the walk, but Clark Kent. Walking across America for a year, and writing about it for the Daily Planet.

That would also fix the other problem that DC is ignoring: after Clark Kent has been gone for two years, the year Superman spent on New Krypton, and one year Superman walks across America, does Clark Kent even exist anymore? If the owner of the Daily Planet is anything close to real life, Clark definitely won't have a job anymore after a 2-year absence. (Which would open interesting story possibilities, but DC definitely won't explore those.) Essentially, Clark Kent is dead and gone.

Tom said...

Excellent points, Jen. Clark seems to have become an inconvenience, and that is sad because I think he is a key component of the Superman character. It would have been nice to see Kent doing a series of editorials across America. His activities as Superman could be done behind the scenes along the way.