Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Superman 2000 Pitch: Clark Kent

I've been commenting on excerpts from the Morrison/Waid/Millar/Peyer Superman 2000 proposal for weeks, and so has Chad Nevett. Here's another small except of the rejected proposal, from the section labeled "Clark Kent," with some commentary by me (just to clarify, the block quotes come from the pitch, and the other stuff between the block quotes are my comments):

Priority One is to make Clark Kent different from Superman. For too long, they’ve been exactly the same guy with zero contrast between them. Clark doesn’t have to be an overblown drama-queen wimp, but neither can he be so super-successful he has the world in his pocket. We must not forget why he was created in the first place--to be a touchstone. To be the half of Superman which readers can actually relate to because we all (Jesus, especially comics readers) want to believe that even though we may be put upon and bullied by the world from time to time, we know what those who pick on us or look down at us don’t--that if they could see behind our glasses, they’d see a Superman. In short, we’d like to use Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent as a base, but lend him enough dignity so that he’s not the total Reeve cartoon.
In the most recent issue of Action Comics, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank return Clark Kent to an almost exact duplicate of the Christopher Reeve version. In All-Star Superman, Morrison and Quitely differentiate between Clark and Superman, but the ridiculously massive muscles of Superman are barely contained by Clark's suits. It's a comical image -- almost the equivalent of Wally Wood's "Superduperman," but it works to show the awkwardness of the Clark character. In John Byrne's depiction, Clark was a well-adjusted regular guy, and so was Superman. This bit of the pitch, like most of the other excerpts, is largely based on jettisoning Byrne's vanilla-ification of the character.
Clark is the creation of Superman's memory and imagination. His eyes can see through skin and stone and light years; only memory tells him what it was like to simply see and he can only imagine what it would be like to need glasses. Still, Clark is his cherished link back to his human upbringing and the ethical structures forged in the Midwestern dream of Smallville. Without Clark, Superman knows, he might have been inclined towards detachment, aloofness, alienness. As Clark, he can walk among people, meek, quiet, unnoticed, learning all the time. From this perspective, the secret identity becomes something more like the human disguises gods would don or the rags kings would wear when they wanted to walk among the ordinary and the merely human. Without even a hint of condescension, Clark is eternally delighted by humanity. A man whose perceptions so routinely unlock mysteries and secrets genuinely loves to be confronted by the only thing in the universe which can actually surprise him.
Unlike Tarantino's commentary on the Clark/Superman duality in Kill Bill, the Morrison/Waid/et al pitch sees Clark as "delighted by humanity." His human disguise is not a mockery of homo sapiens, but a way to infilitrate and appreciate from within. Superman isn't literally able to see (such as we understand the concept) human behavior, but by being with humans, and perhaps by being a bit strange and watching their reactions, he can feel what it's like to be human, and that's what keeps him grounded.
And so, Clark is where he goes to sit on seats and drink coffee and watch TV. Sometimes, Clark sits in his apartment listening to alien music and watching sunspot activity with his telescopic vision. Other times, he relaxes simply by observing with reverence the actions of ordinary humans in extraordinary situations. Whatever, he's always busy. Even when he's just sitting still. And Clark allows Superman to do stupid little stuff with his powers, like getting back at Steve Lombard or whatever.
Speaking of Steve Lombard, he's back in the newest issue of Johns's Action Comics as well. Do you think Johns is cherry-picking from his buddies' old Superman pitch? It certainly wouldn't be a bad idea, would it?
Clark’s also the sob sister of the Daily Planet, if not of all Metropolis. Despite his attempts to keep a low profile, compassion radiates from him, and people pick up on that almost unconsciously. Friends and total strangers alike constantly confess their plights and problems to poor Clark. They don’t want advice. They just want someone to listen, and no one listens better than him. This aspect of his character naturally opens up the occasional avenue to the smaller human-interest story which can be investigated by Clark the reporter and by us the writers.
Super-empathy? Someone so attuned to every wavelength of energy would surely have great empathy, and with his super-patience, he would be the perfect "sob sister." Who uses that term, though? That's pretty sexist, isn't it? I can't remember ever hearing it in real life. It sounds like something out of a Cary Grant movie.
One final little note, which has nothing to do with the fact that Grant wrote "Animal Man" and Millar’s a veggie, but is a matter for pure logic. Clark eats bouef bourginon? The man with a code against killing eats murdered animals? Regardless of his farm upbringing, can we justify a Superman this aware and attuned to life in all its forms being a carnivore? Though there’s no need to make a direct, on-stage issue of it, file this thought away; his diet would be beans, pulses and windfall, if anything, and his body would be capable of extracting maximum energy from these simple foods if not solely from the sun’s rays.
Chad Nevett commented upon this bit over at his blog already, but I thought it worth excerpting as the conclusion of the "Clark Kent" section. It is strange to think that Superman would need to eat like normal humans, but I'm not convinced about the vegetarian aspect. If he grew up on a farm in the midwest, would he really be averse to eating meat? I don't see how a code against killing has any relation to vegetarianism, do you? I don't kill people, don't want to ever kill people, and don't even want to kill animals. But if the meat is already prepared, I will eat it without a second thought. I think most people are like this, no?


Anonymous said...

I'm a vegetarian, but I agree that Clark needn't be one. He can see the deaths of thousands of bacteria with every step of every human's foot, but he's not going around trying to save paramecia. Especially with his farm background, Clark would appreciate that omnivorism is a fact of nature. I cam see Superman caring about animal cruelty, but I don't think he'd make a distinction between eating some lifeforms and not others. If he started drawing those lines, you have to think it'd be impossible for him to act at all.

Adam said...

"I don't think he'd make a distinction between eating some lifeforms and not others."

I think the important line here is whether he gains pleasure from the death of another creature. Being a vegetarian, at least for me, isn't about whether I'm killing something or not, because i know the animal is already dead. Rather, that I'm morally uncomfortable with feeling like like i'm directly benefiting from another being's death, especially when other, realistic options are available to me.

James said...

"I think most people are like this, no?"

Yes, but wasn't the whole point of this pitch that Superman is not like most people?

Timothy Callahan said...

Good point.

Anonymous said...

I guess I've never really understood the logic behind vegetarianism anyway, so I can see how Superman becoming one would just add needless controversy to the comic books.

After all, plants are just as much alive as any other organism on the planet. Is it so much more moral to slice apart, dehydrate, or freeze a radish than to do so to a rabbit? In fact, since most plants convert our carbon dioxide waste, which we and some of our machines expel, into oxygen, which we need to breathe, wouldn't becoming carnivores make more since if, as it seems in my experience, the reason to become vegetarian in the first place is due to some concern about the environment? Plants are the ultimate pacifists and they do almost nothing to use except aggravate some people's allergies. Whereas some animals put out more atmosphere-harming gasses than some cars, plants help us survive, so I don't understand why it's somehow more moral to kill something that can't even try to fight back. Just because you can't hear your carrot scream when you bite into it doesn't mean it doesn't and just because they have no eyes doesn't mean fruit juice isn't the sweet tears of the innocent that run down your cheek.:}

I'll admit that went to a little weird place, but I think I made my point. Back to the topic.

Especially in this fictional world wouldn't it be kind of hypocritical for someone like Superman to become a vegetarian when he knows that there are a variety of intelligent plant-based organisms in the universe. Not even taking into consideration the possibility of intelligent-plant life on other planets there are people like Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing on Earth.

It also just doesn't make since for Superman to think that eating only plants is more moral, because his own physiology is more plant-like than most aliens he knows. He uses solar energy to power his powers, much like how plants use photosynthesis to maintain their metabolism. When he eats either plants or animals, you could make a case for quasi-cannibalism, so I don't think making people think too much about his food choices too much.

Not that I wouldn't mind seeing a story exploring Kryptonian evolutionary similarity to plants or Superman not needing to eat so much because of his photosynthesis-like energy collection. I think if done right a story like that could be interesting.

I've been keeping up with your and Mr. Nevett's exploration of the Superman 2000 pitch and I have to say that this is the only part that I really disagree with. Everything else sounds excellent, but this has been a real sticking point for the whole project.

Anyway, sorry for the long post, I just thought I should explain my thoughts as fully as possible. Thanks for sharing this "what if" with us!

andy khouri said...

Regardless of what sense it may or may not make in terms of Superman's character, this dietary issue is in my view little more than posturing on the part of the Superman writers. How many scenes can you recall in which the non-animal-based superhero is having lunch?

The only one I can remember is in Waid's "Birthright!"

Chad Nevett said...

I can see the logic behind this idea, but I'm not sure I agree either. The logic is, of course, extending Superman's respect for life beyond its usual limitations--something Casey did during his run by making Superman a pacifist. It's an interesting idea and one worth exploring if only to see if it goes too far or doesn't actually make sense. On the surface, it does: Superman is against killing and would therefore try not to kill anything. The current character already has a hierarchy of life since he won't kill humanoids or "intelligent" life, but everything "below" is fair game. Extending that to animals or even bacteria is a dangerous move, because, as stated, plants are alive as well, so why would we eat them? Where does Superman's sanctity of life begin and end?

Superman as a vegetarian makes sense in many ways, but does open the door to some strange consequences. It also may cross that line between "inspiration" and "didacticism," which is pretty thin as it is.