Superman has a day job and a bogus byline to boot. In his current iteration, he’s a stringer for the Daily Planet and thus a shoe-in to be the patron saint of journalists. Well, perhaps not all journalists – maybe just the ones in comics and those, like me, whose columns are quarantined to the funny pages to sidestep libel suits. This is fine with me, given my “truth vs. fact” credo, which has long leaned me in the direction of being a writer rather than a journalist despite the fact that most of my professional paychecks have come from newspapers. When my yen to be pseudo-scholarly is at full rev, one might even say I’m into “fiction vs. fictionalism,” that latter of which, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy will have you know, is “the view that claims made within that discourse are not best seen as aiming at literal truth but are better regarded as a sort of ‘fiction.’” These are conversational conveniences, cultural assumptions like the fact we all know a pair of eyeglasses is sufficient to disguise one's identity as a superhero.
It stands for reason then that my reporter-hero would not be a Woodward or Bernstein, say, but a 75-year-old figment of fiction. Sure, Watergate was a great story but the saga of a space alien with a Christ-complex and red underwear invented by a couple of outsider Jewish kids in Cleveland? You had me at Christ-complex.
I suppose I could go halfway between reality and fiction and choose as a role model someone like Hunter S. Thompson. But as my tolerance for hangovers has waned in inverse proportion to my affinity for blazers, so I’m inclined to align myself with the Tom Wolfe and George Plimpton camp. And by camp, I mean sleeping in my wrinkle-resistant coat, curled up in my Mini Cooper at a Walmart parking lot while they're bunking at the Waldorf-Astoria. This is why my newsroom nickname should've been "Permanent Press” instead of "Deadline-less."
In the essay “The Struggle Within: Superman’s Difficult Transition into the Age of Relevance,” (collected in The Ages of Superman: Essays on the Man of Steel in Changing Times edited by Joseph J. Darowski), author Paul R. Kohl observes that “writer Denny O’Neil introduced the comic book world to the idea of ‘relevance.’” At the time, O’Neil was penning stories for the combo title Green Lantern/Green Arrow circa 1970.
“It was an attempt O’Neil said, to combine his journalism background with his fiction writing by drawing on the work of ‘the new journalists,’ writers like Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, who wrote about current issues with a combination of journalistic truthfullness and fictional artistry.”
What gets me is that Kohl left George Plimpton out of the mix and consequently missed the odd factoid that a gent named “George Plympton” is a credited writer on the first screen adaptation of Superman into a serial (note the suspicious “Y”). This is what happens when one stays up too late, juxtaposing search terms like “George Plimpton + Superman” just to see what might happen. What should have happened was a comic spread in the Paris Review that featured Plimpton taking on Clark Kent’s double duties as a newshawk and superhero a la his turn playing for the Detroit Lions. The results would’ve been hilarious, not least of which because, like the adaptation of Plimpton’s book Paper Lion, the obligatory motion picture would star Alan Alda, who would look even more more ridiculous than Plimpton in Superman drag.
Henry Cavill, our current Man of Steel (and the first Englishman to play the role – which is sort of like having a Yank play James Bond, just say’n) delivers amiably as both Supe and Kent. In fact, his first bow as Kal-El is as much an origin story of Clark Kent as it is of Superman. In my opinion, the most dramatic physical transformation doesn’t occur when he first dawns the cape and boots but (spoiler alert) during a montage of close-ups in an elevator that depicts pair of eyeglasses being plucked from a coat pocket while en route to the Daily Planet’s newsroom.
Just enough visual info is telegraphed to know that the Clark Kent we know and love has arrived. And, of course, it helped sell the moment that the RealD 3-D glasses supplied by my local multiplex were a facsimile of the classic Clark Kent frames (except for their super blue hue and Superman insignia). The glasses were a masterstroke of form and function, aspiration and accessory.
In that moment, everyone in the audience was a “Clark Kent,” an identification confirmed by the spontaneous applause. And I prefer the truth of that moment over any fact to the contrary.
The infographic below comes courtesy of Eddie Duncan, who’s canny enough to put “Huge Fan of Your Work” in he’s emails to hacks like me. Thanks, Eddie – for the interesting infographic and the ass-kissing. You’ve found my personal Kryptonite...