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Things you get wrong about Clark Kent

Clark Kent is an average guy. Of course, he also happens to be Superman, who is very much the opposite of average. But Clark Kent's just a dude with a wife, a kid, and a job, who grew up on a farm in Kansas. Even in Zack Snyder's Justice League, a film that doesn't exactly strain itself trying to make DC heroes relatable, Batman cites Superman as the crew's closest thing to an everyday person. That might sound pretty wild, considering Superman can literally fly up to space and punch the moon any time he feels like it. But it is, indeed, the case. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire. Diana Prince is heir to the throne of a secret nation of immortal warriors. Clark Kent works at a newspaper. He's the most normal by a mile. 

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman, generally considered the first superhero, as well as his alter ego, Clark Kent. He made his debut in 1938's Action Comics #1. Siegel wrote him as an injustice-hating humanoid alien with extraordinary powers, who uses his media savvy to keep himself out of the public eye. But many other notions about who Clark Kent is have developed over the years, sometimes independently of official contributions to the Superman canon. We're here to debunk some of the biggest misconceptions about the man behind the big red S.

He's actually an award-winning reporter

We tend to associate brute strength with limited smarts. Some even go so far as to actively reject reason and logic, in order to create a "tough guy" persona. Clark Kent's a tough guy to be sure — one of the toughest guys in the whole universe, in fact. But he's not a "tough guy" in a performative, anti-intellectual sense. Kent's incognito daring-do tends to overshadow his journalistic accomplishments, but they are multitudinous and impressive. His byline frequently appears on the front page of The Daily Planet, arguably the most widely-read newspaper in the DC universe's version of the United States. While it's difficult to find comics about Kent conducting lengthy interviews and spending hours typing at his computer, direct evidence of his award-winning track record appears in the legendary Mark Waid and Alex Ross comic, Kingdom Come

The scene starts with Kent — who's going by his Kryptonian birthname, Kal-El, and referring to Clark Kent in the third person at this point — chatting with Wonder Woman outside the Watchtower. Kal-El's midway through recalling what might've been his final encounter with Brainiac: "Buried some of his circuitry on Saturn ... some on Argo ... and the rest inside a Pulitzer in Clark's apartment." You'll note he says "a" Pulitzer, not "the" Pulitzer, which indicates he's got more than one.

He's not an old-fashioned stick in the mud

Throughout Superman's 80-plus years of history, the tension between his small town upbringing and his adult life in the fast-paced metropolis of, um, Metropolis, stands as one of the character's constants. On the routine occasion that someone accuses Superman of being old-fashioned, that someone is generally talking about Clark Kent's midwestern identity and not anything specific to Superman. Indeed, the wholesome, Norman Rockwell-esque image of the American bread basket that underlies portrayals of Smallville does scan as a little dated.

But another one of Superman's constants — well, almost constant — is the romance between him and Lois Lane. If Kent's really such a slack-jawed hayseed, then how could a sophisticated, cynical journalist like Lois be in love with him? Furthermore, traveling to unfamiliar countries tends to broaden a person's horizons and leave them with an open-minded attitude about new cultures and ideas. Kent's been to a whole bunch of different planets, which means his horizons are way broader than anybody whose journeys are limited to plain ol' Earth. 

It's fair to call Clark Kent square in the ironically-cool Huey Lewis sense of the word, but he's nowhere near old-fashioned.  

Kill Bill gets Superman totally wrong

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films rank among their era's most memorable action movies. In the nefarious titular role of Bill, David Carradine found relevance with a generation born way too late to remember him from the1970s show Kung-Fu. But while Bill might be the head honcho of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, he doesn't know jack about comics.

"There is the superhero, and there is the alter ego," Bill mansplains to the enigmatic protagonist in Kill Bill 2. "[Peter Parker] has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. But 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 ... 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."

Wait a second. If Kal-El really thought so little of humanity, then why would he bother trying to fit in with us at all, much less become a superhero sworn to protect us? His foundational childhood experiences were devoutly human, defined by the vulnerable, unspectacular, insecure, and empathetic people of Smallville. When Clark Kent wakes up in the morning, he's Clark Kent, a big-hearted boy from Kansas — Superman is the tool he uses to express his heroism. Bill's point about Superman might be nonsense, but hey, at least it makes a cool-sounding monologue.

He's not always Superman's secret identity

2020 sent DC Comics on an especially bizarre trip around the sun. The COVID-19 pandemic put the entire comics industry on pause for months. The company switched from Diamond Comics Distributors — which had overseen shipping for both DC and Marvel Comics since 1996 — over to UCS Distributors and Lunar Distribution. Sadly, DC's corporate overlords at Warner Bros. laid off much  of their staff in August. Amidst all that upheaval, it was pretty easy to miss a major status-quo shift — but boy, is it major. In Superman #18, Superman gets burnt out on keeping secrets, and finally lets the world know that he's been Daily Planet reporter and Smallville native Clark Kent this whole friggin' time.

Considering DC Comics' ever-shifting editorial plans, which include Clark Kent leaving Earth, Jonathan Kent becoming the official Superman, and Metropolis becoming a bottle city à la Kandor, it's impossible to know how long Superman's identity will remain public knowledge. But until the next continuity reset or gargantuan retcon, it is widely understood that Kent has interviewed himself in dozens, maybe even hundreds of Superman articles. Boy, are those some seriously questionable journalistic ethics.

He doesn't hate Bruce Wayne

Plenty of people assume Batman and Superman are natural adversaries, and the blame for this misconception doesn't all fall on Zack Snyder's shoulders. While more people saw Ben Affleck's Batman ask Henry Cavill's Superman if he bleeds In the trailer for Batman v Superman than ever read any Chuck Klosterman essay, the pop culture commentator describes their relationship as that of arch-enemies in a 2007 piece, just shy of a decade before the release of Snyder's film. Comics themselves have occasionally pit the two against each other as well, in a variety of contexts.

Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne have a complicated relationship. But we only need to cursorily glance at current Superman-related media to know that the two heroes' friendship plays a crucial role in the DC universe. A recent run of Batman even commemorated their bond with a two-part arc, in which the pair separately agonize over the way each views the other as being far more noble, brave, and kind-hearted than themselves. Then they get over it, go on a double date with Lois and Selina to a county fair, and visit a batting cage, where they compete like little boys over whether or not Bruce can hit Clark's Kryptonian fastball. You don't do stuff like that with your enemy. You do stuff like that with you best bro. 

The glasses don't fool everyone

Ask most people what the most important difference between Clark Kent and Superman is, and they'll tell you it's that Clark Kent wears glasses. Apparently, that's enough to prevent the majority of Metropolis' citizens from recognizing that the Daily Planet's stalwart newshound and the Man of Steel are the same guy. However, it's not enough to fool at least one Gotham resident that we know of.

During Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle's recent engagement, as documented in writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann's run on Batman, Kent expresses some reservations about meeting his buddy's new fiancé. At this point, revealing his secret identity to a former super-criminal seems risky. But before the two couples embark upon a double date, Lois Lane lets her husband in on something. "I looked into her," Lane tells her husband on their way to their car in the Daily Planet parking lot. "She's very good at finding what people try to hide ... Considering how you choose to hide your secret, I think she might already know."

The next page cuts to the Gotham City skyline, where Batman and Catwoman are conversing. The feline fatale quickly confirms Lane's suspicions: "Guy who always writes about Superman who looks just like Superman," Kyle wryly observes. "But with glasses. And slicked back hair."

Okay, sometimes the glasses do fool everyone

Though Catwoman is too observant to fall for Clark Kent's silly glasses routine, characters in other stories are a completely different, um, story. In Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's All-Star Superman, for example, those nearest and dearest to Kent can't seem to put two and two together. Lex Luthor, allegedly the smartest man in the world, looks a glasses-less Kent right in the face and makes no connection whatsoever. 

In another scene, the staff of the Daily Planet watches Kent stare down a powered-up Luthor. When it becomes obvious that it is, in fact, Superman confronting the big bad bald man, Jimmy Olsen observes, "Nice disguise, Superman. I guess you've been keeping the real Clark in your fortress all this time, right?"

It's plausible that it's simply hard to recognize a god-like presence when he appears in the form of a guy you bump into at the water cooler. There are also pretty solid science-based explanations for why we might not recognize a glasses-wearing public figure without their eyewear. But still — you'd think some of the world's greatest reporters might cotton on at some point.

He's been Batman before

How close are Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne? They're such monster pals that they've traded outfits on a handful of occasions. That's right: Clark Kent is ... Batman! Well, sometimes. In Tom King and Clay Mann's run on Batman, Bruce Wayne dresses up as Superman and Clark Kent dons the cape and cowl. This is pretty much their only option in the moment, as they're trying to meet the costume criteria for superhero night at the Gotham County Fair without revealing their secret identities. A glasses-wearing Kent-Batman is exactly as funny as it sounds, especially when Lois Lane has to talk him out of using his super-strength to win her a carnival prize.

In another instance (and in a whole different medium), mind-controlling nanites take Bruce Wayne out of action in a 1998 episode of Superman: The Animated Series. Consequently, Clark Kent temporarily takes up the mantle of the Batman. Kent and Tim Drake eventually rescue their brooding colleague, and in the process, prove something we've long suspected about Superman: With the possible exception of the Joker, he can brush aside the bulk of Batman's rogues gallery without much of an effort. Meanwhile, we can find little-to-no evidence of Batman easily dispatching Doomsday or Mongul. Time to up the ante, Bruce.

He actually has pretty cool taste in music

We don't know about you, but when we see a straight-laced, suit-and-tie kind of dude on the street, we don't assume he's got unpredictable taste in music. Moreover, it's usually a little impractical for superheroes to express a particular fondness for contemporary popular culture. Superheroes don't age at the same rate as real world people, after all, and pop culture ages at lightspeed. Creators generally make the prudent choice to avoid importing anything that might be embarrassing in a couple years into the superheroic canon.

When it came time for Superman to pick a favorite song, as he does in Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis's Man of Steel #1 from 2018, the track needed to have already stood the test of time. Hence, the honor of Superman's favorite song goes to "The Passenger," as performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Music historians consider the British goth outfit essential to 1980s post-punk, and "The Passenger" remains one of their most widely-recognized efforts. It appears an ageless pop culture icon can identify with a song of similar endurance.

He doesn't blindly obey authority

Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is the worst thing to ever happen to Clark Kent's reputation. It's a great comic! But it's pretty hard on our big blue boy. This comic sees a United States president (drawn to resemble Ronald Reagan) order Superman to bring in Batman, whose tactics do not fall in step with the government's new anti-vigilante regulations. Batman accurately accuses his Justice League co-founder of spinelessness in the face of anyone with a badge or a flag.  Thus, one of the most famous superhero stories of all time makes the very first superhero look like a complete chump.

DKR set a lot of precedents, but it did not, in fact, establish Clark Kent as a guy who always does what authority figures tell him. In fact, he's brought down President Lex Luthor on a few different occasions. In one instance, he even goes full Man of Steel and fries Luthor's democratically-elected brains. Consider also Justice League Unlimited: The macro-plot of this 2004 animated series revolves around Superman refusing to play ball with high-ranking government employee Amanda Waller.

Still, we have to hand it to mid-1980s Frank Miller: Only he can convince us Superman would attack Batman because the president thought Batman was fighting crime too hard.

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