Comics Creators

Interesting stuff about Superman's true identity by Elliot Maggin


This piece is already a month old, but nevertheless I feel it’s too good and interesting for it not to be shared.

This is also spot on with what Mark always says. What do you think about it?[poll type=multiple min=1 max=3]

  • Clark is the real person
  • Superman is the real person
  • They’re both constructs


The answer to that question usually comes down to whether you’ve primarily experienced Superman Pre or Post-Crisis.

I enjoy Maggin’s writing but don’t agree with him at all. It makes Clark some creepy half person. All of his examples later in the piece would work better if Superman was something Clark put on to serve the world around him.


Pretty much this for me as well.

Honestly though I grew up mainly with Post-Crisis Superman I enjoy both approaches as long as they’re written in an interesting way. Max Landis made the “Clark is the real person” approach work like wonders in American Alien.


I enjoy both. My preference is that Clark and Superman are both real and the same person just code switching for the task at hand.


Yeah, it also depends on the type of story that is being related and how much perspective we get.


Clearly Man of Steel and Batman v Superman in part made a lot of people unhappy because they sought to humanize Superman in ways that hadn’t really been done before. Christopher Reeve’s Superman certainly existed in the Maggin sense, and that’s been something very hard to shake, even if two out of his four movies are loathed. I know there are purists who (more than) quibble about Superman killing Zod (but let’s be serious, that’s what happened at the end of Superman II, too, folks), but the general thrust comes from the likes of Maggin, and Mark Millar, who want Superman to exist on a mythic level. The Kents need to have died early, because they’re all but superfluous in this version of the character, not just for the fact of something like Lois & Clark otherwise featuring seemingly daily phone calls (in its first two seasons, this was a wildly popular show, proving that a human Superman can work with audiences), but that you don’t even have to go as far as Grant Morrison to establish that the powers do make the man.

It may be a Marvel mindset versus a DC mindset. I know Marvel fans like to think of their superheroes as the most human characters in comics, but they’re all defined by their awful powers and subsequent responsibilities they bring. DC’s superheroes are human first. That’s why it’s much more common for civilian love interests. Marvel’s always intermarry between superheroes. But, Clark Kent married Lois Lane. Barry Allen married Iris West (uh, spoiler alert, TV fans!). If you make Superman only about his powers, you get the Wonder Woman romance, which was fine, and probably needed to be seriously explored at least once, but it could never be the defining relationship of his life. Because Superman considers himself to be Clark Kent, and as such the love of his life is a human, too.


This is probably better as a poll, but to me Superman is the construct. Ignoring the pre/post crisis stuff and looking at the character’s life in general it’s a nature/nurture question and I would side with nurture.

Although I suppose the interesting thing about Superman is that they’re both constructs.


So do you go with the Clark on the farm is the really one?



I think Clark on the farm is the real person. Maybe if his ship crashed on Earth when he was 12 I’d think differently, but a baby—he’s Clark.


That’s the direction I lean. I think it’s a bit like most people. You have the person you are at work, the person you are in public and the person you are at home. None of them are lies or constructs. There are just places where you feel less guarded.

I also think one of the things that makes Superman do what he does is because of the decency, honesty and genuine love for people that Jonathan and Martha instilled in him that he in turn made his own. To change that and make those values come from parents and a culture he never interacted with or something that sprung up in him because he put on a cape seems a bit off to me.


I kind of think they’re both constructs.

Clark Kent is a construct because it’s who Superman sees as an essential Human, in order to fit in.

Superman is a construct because it’s who he sees as an essential Hero needed to elevate ideals.

Both are constructs made from observing human society.

I’d say that Smallville Clark is who he really is, but that’s an adolescent kid and the character has matured.

So, I think that “real” Superman is who he is when he’s in the fortress of Solitude - and has no one to be but himself.


I also though of it in that way. The fact that everything that makes Superman special comes from humanity is even more inspiring :slight_smile:




Funnily enough Zack Snyder also sees Superman existing on a mythic level. He talks an awful lot about how these characters exist in a mythological level.

In fact, if you look up his interviews, you’ll find his most frequently used word is “mythological” :smile:


Clark in All Star Superman was an interesting portrayal of the character. The thing that isn’t really explored that much is that Clark still has Superman powers even when he’s not in costume. So, instead of using those powers rarely, he’d really be using them all the time. He’s still super and being super as Clark but he’s just hiding it when he does it. So Clark is acting all the time, pretending he can’t hear conversations his friends are having about him on another floor of the building, or when he uses superpowers to prevent an accident, he has to act like he doesn’t have anything to do with it or that he’s in danger too.

He’s not a normal person so acting like one is an act. It’s not the same when he’s in costume because he’s not pretending that he’s not a normal guy from Kansas. He was never normal even when he was in Kansas.

However, that doesn’t mean that he’s not Clark. In fact, for most of his life he has been this guy pretending that he doesn’t have superpowers even though he uses them all the time. Even though most of his personality is an act, that is who he really is more than Superman. Superman is when he pretends that he’s not a superhuman who has spent most of his time pretending to be normal.


They are both whatever the writer wants them to be at the time.


Are they in this case, though? With historic characters who’ve had many people writing their stories, the writers have serious limitations on what they can do. Same for television series and movie sequels. Writers are hired to write these specific characters. Same with the “Should Batman kill?” question. That probably is not going to be left up to the writer to decide. Just like the artists do not decide how to draw the S on Superman’s chest and the colorist doesn’t decide if his cape is red.

The reader’s expectations for the character matter more in these cases than whatever the writer thinks. There is a character already existing external to the writers and they cannot step outside those expectations.


Superman and Clark Kent are always Kal-El. Like a method actor let off the leash, Clark Kent has no powers, is clumsy, is awkward - but just enough that he still functions as a reporter. After a lifetime of duality beginning as a baby using some powers (flight, strength) would be suppressed all the time, Optic and hearing would function as do our own unconscious “filters”.

Batman can be an actor. Superman is definitely a method actor.


However, Clark always has his powers. There has never been a story where he’s not secretly using them except in the cases where his powers have been taken away. He’s always listening to things he shouldn’t be able to hear. He doesn’t hesitate to use super-breath or X-ray vision to accomplish some amazing, but completely secret, rescue, when he can’t change into costume. That’s the point. Clark never suppresses his powers or thinks that he only has them when he’s in costume. He’s constantly using them - he has no choice - but has learned to hide it when he does.

That’s what Morrison really managed to capture in his Clark portions of All Star Superman. That actually used to be a big part of the character, that he was always being “super” except when he’s in civilian clothes, he hides it.

That ends up being who he “really” is - a guy who’s super all the time, but actually hides it most of the time. And when he’s Superman, he’s pretending that he doesn’t hide it most of the time. It’s important, too. Because the reason no one thinks Clark is Superman is because no one would think the guy who wears that costume and has those powers would ever pretend to be some normal schmoe. Obviously, he must be Superman all the time.

He’s always hiding something, though.