Superman Through the Ages! Forum

Superman Comic Books! => Superman! => Topic started by: India Ink on November 03, 2011, 02:42:03 PM

Title: Maggin speaks
Post by: India Ink on November 03, 2011, 02:42:03 PM
Elliot S! Maggin speaks about Superman and Clark and Lexcorp in answer to a question from Quora on this Forbes page (

I more or less agree with Maggin, but his answer is a bit too simplistic--a necessity of these kinds of sites, where one can't really talk at length about what makes a character. NOT as simplistic as those that try to reduce Superman to an epigram--Superman is the mask/Clark Kent is the man OR Superman is the reality/Clark Kent is the illusion. These sayings sound good, but brilliant people have spent over seventy years and millions of pages writing about the character--do we really need to reduce such a complex construct to a nine word statement?

One of the stories that made me really think about Clark Kent was that Maggin Private Life of Clark Kent story, where Elliot quotes Kurt Vonnegut (from Mother NIght, I believe) to say something like we must be careful about the masks we choose to wear, because one day we may find that's who we are. I'm too lazy to look up the exact quote, although it's easy to find. I'm sure I got it wrong.

In that Clark Kent story, I felt that Elliot was saying Superman had gone about creating the character of Clark Kent, thinking that it would be just a mask, but ultimately this mask became his real identity.

In one of the novels, Maggin suggests that Clark Kent is like some perverse hobby of the Man of Steel. That Superman devotes a lot of energy to create this character that is just an illusion. This didn't sit right with me, because it made less of Clark.

The basic schism between Superman fans arises because Byrne erases a lot of the back story that had accumulated over nearly 50 years of Superman stories. At one time, Superman remembered his childhood on Krypton. That was his primary ego. His experiences as Clark Kent were written on top of his experiences as Kal-El. Once Byrne took Krypton out of the equation--because Kal-El was only a fetus on Krypton--it seemed like the formative years of Clark Kent were Superman's primary identity.

This is splitting hairs. I wouldn't say that Kal-El/Superman/Clark Kent has a multiple personality. To say that is to interpret the character as suffering from a mental illness. Superman has different personae, but he's a fully integrated person (albeit a fictional one). Like all of us, Superman slides between different roles in his daily life. We don't ask ourselves--not most of us and not most of the time--Who is the real person? when we slip from one context into another, where we express different sides of ourselves.

Frankly the question shouldn't even be asked. What are people after when they ask this kind of question about Superman? Why do they need to pin it down?

If you read the early Superman stories by Jerry Siegel there isn't a clear division of personality traits. At least when I read those stories I don't see that. Rather it's this kind of existential idea of personality. Superman (or whatever you care to name this guy) is the person that he is at the time that he is doing something. So sometimes he is a nerdy or cowardly Clark Kent, sometimes he's a heroic Clark Kent, sometimes he's a heroic Superman, and sometimes he's none of those because he's some stranger in civvies who has jumped into action. He's really this protean type of character that Siegel wrote--one that took on whatever traits were needed for any given story. But this existentialist definition of character may be more real than later attempts to drive a wedge between Clark and Superman. We like to pretend we have a consistent character and others will try to put that on us. But really, we're all just winging it. And we have no idea how we will act in a new circumstance. Which is why people so often surprise us when they seemingly act out of character--either by saving people from a fiery plane crash or participating in a destructive riot.

But the main point that Maggin is making is an important one. The comic is called Superman. This is the larger than life character that we signed on for. Clark is an interesting aspect of that, but the heroics, the powers, the red briefs and capes--that's the true character. It's because he is so noble and so inspiring that we read about him. It's also interesting that in some Christly way he humbles himself through the personality of Clark Kent. There's no need to question that. It all works.

Title: Re: Maggin speaks
Post by: India Ink on November 05, 2011, 01:11:54 PM
There were at least two stories I remember--one from the Golden Age and one from the Silver Age--where people thought Clark had died and Superman was forced to exist without his other identity. In both cases, Superman soon realized that he needed Clark and he had to somehow bring Clark back to life.

Those stories and others seemed to suggest that Superman didn't fully appreciate Clark until circumstances proved to him the value of his other identity.

Likewise, in the four part "Who Took the Super out of Superman" story by Maggin and Bates, Superman is put into a situation where he has to choose between Clark and Superman. And again he realizes the value of Clark in his life.

These kind of stories probably led Maggin to his perspective on Superman.

Just when this split started to happen is a question. In stories of Superbaby there really is no difference. Clark is Superbaby and Superbaby is Clark and there's no attempt by Clark or the Kents to change his personality. I would imagine that when Clark went to school, he had to make this split in his personality.

I think that's true whether young Clark is a lot Super (as with the Silver Age version) or a little Super (as with the Golden Age and Byrne versions), because Clark is still an odd duck. He might not know where he came from, but he knows he's different.

But, as with so much of Superman's mythology, this is a wonderful metaphor for all of us. I'm sure I'm not alone in this feeling, that when I was plunged into the school environment I had to create a new personality to cope with this new circumstance. I couldn't be the same person that I was at home with my family.

Maybe for younger generations this isn't so, since they can be plunged into daycare in their infancy, so they're always going from one environment to another. That would be a good psychological study. Maybe the fact that little kids are put into so many environments (play groups, daycare, the grandparents, dance classes, babysitters, plus their parents) forces them to create even more personalities earlier in life.

As for Superman/Clark, like most of us--I'd say--once he went to school he was creating different identities, depending on his situation. It's not that he was Superboy creating a Clark identity, or Clark creating a Superboy identity. They were just branches of himself from a single tree.

Some people argue that since Clark was first, Clark is the primary identity. But I wonder if they realize what they mean. The Clark that was first (ignoring the baby Kal-El) was just a little boy. That little boy developed into both the older Clark Kent and Superman.

Imagine someone who is a doctor now and imagine his childhood self. Now imagine that both could exist simultaneously at the same time. If there's an emergency, is the child self able to give assistance? Of course not. It's the doctor self, with years of education and practice, who goes into action. Which self is more real? Sure the doctor was a child at one time--and that's still a part of his whole personality--but it's only part and not the most important part when the doctor is doing his job.

Title: Re: Maggin speaks
Post by: BBally81 on November 05, 2011, 03:49:28 PM
In the 2011 edition of Justice League of America 80-Page Giant, each JLA member was being put through a emotional task by the villain of the story that comes from their personal lives, in Superman's case it was the whole Superman vs Clark Kent vs Kal El issue, he encounters giant images of Jor-El, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor. Jor-El asserts that his son is not truly Kryptonian. Although born there, Kal-El was not raised by his birth family on Krypton among his people. Lois asserts that Clark is a clumsy disguise, not a true human. Luthor insists that Superman is a "filthy alien", not a man at all. Superman listens to a chorus from the three of them claiming he is not Kal-El, not Clark Kent, and not Superman. But Superman asserts he is all of them at once. He believes in each of these personas, and does not consider any of them false.

Personally, that's how I prefer this issue to be resolved, each of the three represents parts of his personalities, he's Superman the world's greatest hero, Clark Kent, a "farm boy" raised in Smallville and a successful reporter and Kal El, who came to Earth as infant from a dying world who learned about his heritage when he grew old enough, accepted it while still seeing himself as a citizen of Earth, which leads to him being more of universal hero.

In the end, he is all three.

Title: Re: Maggin speaks
Post by: India Ink on November 06, 2011, 01:20:21 AM
I never read this story. It sounds like these were wildly unreal portraits of Jor-El, Lois, and Lex. Why would the Man of Steel take that kind of guff?

I think the whole question is impertinent. And if I were Superman, I wouldn't take it from anyone.

Title: Re: Maggin speaks
Post by: BBally81 on November 06, 2011, 05:47:31 AM
It sounds like these were wildly unreal portraits of Jor-El, Lois, and Lex.

That was the point, these were images created by a villain trying to mess with Superman's head, which Superman resisted.

Title: Re: Maggin speaks
Post by: carmine on November 06, 2011, 01:01:19 PM
Clark is how Superman deals with emotions a "superman" can't have.

So Clark can be a wallflower or scared or in love with lois.

In stories where clark and superman get separated it generally shows Superman being more alien...but I figure without clark Supes would be more human!! He could be scared and allow himself time for a real social life.

But thats just in my head so it doesn't count.

the whole superman/clark thing shouldn't be investigated too deeply as its totally bonkers and one of the reasons i like the character

Title: Re: Maggin speaks
Post by: Adekis on November 10, 2011, 10:33:31 PM
I've flip-flopped on this, but my current view on the subject is that Clark is Superman in his everyday life. He does things like you or I do things. Things like asking that girl out, or trying to get a raise from your boss. Clark is heroic, but he's the everyday sort of heroic a reporter can be, and it's really heroic in the same way a lawyer like Atticus Finch or a cop like Jim Gordon can be heroic. Clark would be a hero even without Superman.

When our hero puts on that cape and that action-suit though, watch out! He's still the same guy, but most of his inhibitions have gone out the window! He has amazing powers, and nobody knows who he is! Because of that, Superman does things in the name of helping the helpless that Clark cannot do, that Clark would never be able to do. Things that nobody but Superman would ever be able to do!

However, because Superman is such a Man of Action, I think there are some negative effects. First of all, he sometimes commits acts of vigilantism. Almost all heroes do this. To be a hero is to risk becoming a villain. Superman, like any modern hero, has to be careful that he fights those who are truly corrupt, and not just misunderstood. Sometimes Superman acts rashly. When you can do almost anything, when there's so little holding you back, you break the rules. I don't know how much Superman thinks about this sort of thing, but at least he never kills, so he knows there's a risk.

Superman's not entirely uninhibited though. The inhibitions Superman does have are the ability to do things like mope, or cry, or ask Lois out. It's not so much that Superman's a facade as that he's so busy helping people with his powers that Clark catches most of his human stress. Because Superman is so powerful compared to Clark, I think our hero sometimes forgets that Clark can do good as well. In the Golden Age, you'd see a lot of Clark raising awareness of poverty, or crime, and doing otherwise heroic things. But what happens when the Silver Age rolls around? Clark just kinda sits there as a conduit for the vulnerability Superman won't let himself have. That's no bad thing. Recently Superman has been doing more and more sitting around and whining, like the entirety of Grounded. That's what Clark is for. BUT-!

This does not mean that Clark cannot still be the heroic reporter. In the Bronze Age stories "Who Took the Super out of Superman?" and "Superman Takes a Wife!", Clark benefits from Superman's disappearance, taking on more heroic qualities and becoming more attractive to Lois. While those stories are flawed in their treatment of the subject, the point stands that when Clark utilizes Superman-like qualities it makes him more effective not just romantically, but also as a reporter and a champion of the oppressed.

It always disgusted me that at the end of "Who Took the Super..." Clark returned to his old ways of being a wet sponge while Superman reabsorbed the heroic qualities, as though our hero had only enough awesome for one identity. I suppose Maggin and Bates had to return things to the status quo, but that bothers the heck out of me when I read it. There never seemed to be a reason why Clark can't be both reasonably heroic and relatable both. Byrne did tried it and had a decent Clark, his problem was that his Superman was flat and dull in comparison, a costly mistake in a comic called "Superman". I feel as though Morrison's done a better job with that thus far on Action, allowing Clark to be both heroic and more relatable than in years*, but never quite as active or powerful a force as the mysterious Superman who keeps cops and crooks alike guessing.

So basically I'm saying that Superman isn't really Clark Kent, and Clark Kent isn't really Superman. They are, as Shuster wrote on his doodle over seventy years ago, One and the Same. (Not that it's even that simple, I just don't think it's too complex to say "They're the same guy, they just act different.")

*To be fair, the reason why Clark was boring for most of the 2000s is because he was barely present, writers seeming to be under the impression that making Superman more emotional about boring things is interesting. I can handle a bit of Clark's drama, but Superman's at his best punching robot bank robbers and helping the oppressed, not worrying about his place in the world.

Title: Re: Maggin speaks
Post by: superboy on November 11, 2011, 01:57:31 PM
We all have different identities in our life. All of us have a work identity, when we go to work, we're still the same person. We may act differently or do different things but we are still ourselves. When we go home, we may act differently, yet still us. Superman has a claqrk kent identity because he was raised as clark kent and it keeps him in touch with humanity. Superman is free of human limitations and can use his powers all he wants and can act himself. Kal el, really is a bit over exagerared, I think kal El is superman, just a different name,. To be honest superman is a legend and al in all, it doesn't matter.

Title: Re: Maggin speaks
Post by: India Ink on November 11, 2011, 08:16:07 PM
Back in the Silver Age, Superman was a real celebrity. Everybody on Earth knew who he was. Everybody in the universe knew who he was. He could travel into the far future and everybody knew about him.

I imagine it's like being Paul McCartney. Really Paul McCartney when he's with his family, he's Paul McCartney. But when he's out in public, he's Paul McCartney!!! It's not that he's really a different person, but the way people see him is different.

I would say that Superman doesn't really have to work at creating Superman as a mask, but people just look at him and go nuts. It's Superman!!! But when they look at him as Clark Kent they don't go completely nuts. He's is an accomplished reporter and that's pretty impressive, but his celebrity isn't so overwhelming, so people can see more of the real person.