Saturday, 21 August 2010

Superman's Secret Identity: In Defense of Those Glasses!

Superman #330 art by Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte

Fellow blogger and internet chum X-Man75 has written a great post on his blog discussing which cities of the DC and Marvel Universe contain the dumbest residents.  He argues that the residents of Metropolis must be among the dumbest, particularly the journalists of the Daily Planet and Lex Luthor, because of their failure to recognise Superman and Clark Kent as one and the same.  After all, how can a pair of glasses make you look like a different person?  This is one of the main observations that most people have made regarding Superman over the years, it is however one I would dispute.  In fact I would go as far as to say that pulling off such a disguise successfully would be perfectly possible in real life.

DC Comics have attempted to explain away the apparent flimsiness of Superman's disguise on a number of occasions.  Lois Lane's attempts to confirm her suspicions regarding Clark's secret were a staple of Superman's Silver Age adventures.  Perhaps this was the writer's way of saying "Look, she at least suspects, she's not a complete idiot!"  By the end of each story however Superman had put Lois' suspicions to rest (at least for another month) usually through the aid of a Superman robot.  Sometimes Batman put her off the scent by wearing a rubber Superman mask, which he of course wore over his own bat-eared mask.  In Action Comics #597 (1988) Ma and Pa Kent confronted Lois' suspicions by telling her that they raised both Clark and Superman at the same time.  Frankly I find it easier to believe that Lois would be fooled by Batman's magic chin putty than by the Kents' unlikely tale.

Action Comics #650 art by Curt Swan

What about Lex Luthor?  Why would the cleverest man on the planet be taken in by a pair of glasses.  John Byrne gave us the definitive answer to this in 1987 in Superman #2.  Lex built a super computer and hired a team of scientists to work out the secrets of the Man of Steel.  The computer's conclusion was one simple sentence.  Clark Kent is Superman.  Lex refused to believe it.  Apparently Lex is such an arrogant bastard that he refuses to believe that a man with such power would want to pose as as a mere mortal. Grant Morrison took this one step further in All Star Superman.  During this series Clark actually takes his glasses off and shouts in Lex's face.  Lex is so blinded by arrogance that he literally can't see what's right in front of him.  Amusingly this series also contains a scene in which Clark reveals his secret identity to Lois and she also refuses to believe that meek, clumsy Clark could be the super-man of her dreams.

All Star Superman #5 art by Frank Quietly

Possibly the least satisfying explanation for the success of Clark's disguise came in 1978, in Superman #330.  In this issue it's revealed that Clark is unwittingly hypnotising everyone he meets to see him as a skinny wimp whenever he wears his glasses.  This effect also works on photographs of Clark and assumably on Batman's latex rubber Clark Kent masks.  The hypnotic effect lingers for awhile, even when Superman loses his powers.  I find the notion that someone as powerful as Superman is wandering around messing with everyone's perception of reality without even realising he's doing it quite disturbing.  Even in that really dodgy bit in Superman II when Superman hypnotises Lois into forgetting they'd had sex, Superman is at least in control and responsible for his actions.  But in the comics Superman could accidentally lobotimise you just by putting his glasses on!  Unsurprisingly this aspect of the Superman myth has been completely ignored over the years. 

Superman #330 art by Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte

In my opinion all this apologising DC Comics have done over the years for the glasses disguise is completely uneccessary.  I have no problem accepting that a man could disguise himself from even those closest to him simply by wearing his hair different, changing his posture, body language and voice and putting on a pair of glasses.

Let's put it this way.  Imagine you worked with me in a London office.  Imagine I looked exactly like Prince William except I had a beard.  You may have noticed these similarities when observing pictures of him in the press.  You may have met William on several occasions and noticed these similarities up close and in person.  You may even have noticed that I've never been around during all the royal visits the young Prince has made to our hypothetical office.  But would you really seriously consider it likely that the heir to the British throne puts on a fake beard and comes into work every day and inputs data into spreadsheets and drinks his coffee white with no sugars and has a crush on the office temp and discusses last night's episode of Doctor Who with you over his lunch of marmite sandwiches and so on and so on.  Of course you wouldn't!  Why would Prince William do that?! Why would anyone?!  Now take this hypothetical scenario and replace me with Clark Kent and Prince William with Superman.  See what I'm getting at?

Just for the record, I don't look like Prince William and I don't work in an office.

This post is ultimately unneccessary however.  The most compelling defense of Superman's secret identity has already been argued successfully by one man.  Christopher Reeve, with his brilliant performance as Clark Kent/Superman in the Superman movies.  Take for example the scene in the first movie where Clark almost reveals his secret to Lois, or the scene in Superman II where Clark actually does reveal his secret to her.  Reeve doesn't just take his glasses off (Dean Cain please take note).  He takes off the glasses, broadens his shoulders, deepens his voice and seems to grow a foot in height!  If I was working alongside Reeve's Clark I'm confident that I'd be living in complete ignorance of his double life.

Christopher Reeve- Better than Dean Cain

So what do you think?  Never mind 'You will believe a man can fly'.  Have I convinced you that a man can fool the world with a pair of glasses?  Or am I letting my love of the character blind me to the bleedin' obvious, much like Lex Luthor's hatred and arrogance blinds him?  Leave a comment and let me know your opinion.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The New Forgotten Heroes

Fellow blogger and internet chum Jason Todd has a fun, regular feature on his blog that involves asking his followers to submit their Top Five lists in a comics related category of his choosing. Categories have included Top 5 writers, Top 5 villians and even Top 5 bromances. But it was one of his recent categories, Top 5 characters with untapped potential, that got me thinking about the Forgotten Heroes.

Forgotten Heroes by Paris Cullins and Gary Martin

The Forgotten Heroes were a DC Comics super-team formed in 1983 that consisted of seldom used heroes from DC's huge stable of characters. In their original incarnation the team members were Immortal Man, Animal Man, Dolphin, Congorilla, Cave Carson, Dane Dorrance, Rip Hunter and Rick Flag Jr. Since the '80s many of these characters have found themselves not quite as forgotten as they once were. For example, Animal Man was successfully revamped by Grant Morrison in the late '80s, Rip Hunter is a regular supporting character in Booster Gold, Congorilla is a member of the Justice League and Dolphin was a prominent member of Aquaman's supporting cast who most recently appeared in zombie form in the DC mega-crossover Blackest Night.

Jason Todd's untapped potential lists inspired me to consider which DC characters I would choose to put in a modern incarnation of the Forgotten Heroes. This proved tougher than I initially imagined it would be. After all, titles such as Shadowpact, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters and Justice Society of America regularly feature such obscure delights as Detective Chimp, Mr America and Doll Man, and in this age of the internet is there truly such a thing as a Forgotten Hero? I decided that in picking my team I would set a few goals for myself. I would pick at least five characters that would be obscure enough to justify the title 'Forgotten Hero' and yet alive in current DC continuity, at least to the best of my knowledge. After much head scratching I finally settled on a team. I present to you now, the NEW FORGOTTEN HEROES....

Brother Power, The Geek

Brother Power by Keith Giffen and Malcolm Jones

Brother Power is a wonderful character that was created by comics legend Joe Simon in 1968 in a perhaps misguided attempt to get 'down with the kids'. He's a tailor's dummy that was clad in hippy clothing and brought to life by a lightning bolt. Brother Power's title only ran for two issues before it was cancelled but during those issues the character got into plenty of groovy shenanigans involving hippy protestors, biker gangs, circus freaks and space rockets. He was brought back briefly in the '90s by Neil Gaiman in a Swamp Thing Annual and then featured in his own Vertigo published Special. He turned up last year in a fantastic J. Michael Straczynski penned issue of Brave and the Bold. Despite having shown up quite recently I feel he deserves a spot on the team as his appearances have been few and far between. As for his merits as a character, he's a super strong, living mannequin who talks like a stereotypical 1960s hippy beatnik, if that's not comics gold then I'm a lip flappin' cube, daddy-o!

Captain Strong

Cap'n Strong by Marshall Rogers and Jerry Ordway

In 1973, five years before Superman's famous fight with Muhammad Ali, the Man of Steel battled another legendary pugilist, Popeye the Sailor Man! Sort of. Captain Horatio Strong was created by Cary Bates and seems to have been conceived in an attempt to get as close to Popeye as possible without getting sued. Instead of spinach Strong's strength was derived from consuming an alien seaweed called sauncha. There was however an interesting twist. Sauncha was extremely addictive, it drove Strong insane and caused him to suffer from severe withdrawal pains. Don't panic though, Superman helped him to kick the vile weed! The idea of Popeye as a drug addict fascinates me though and I'd love to see a modern version of the character. Legally speaking though it's probably in DC Comics' best interests to leave Captain Strong to sail the high seas of obscurity.


Chunk by Greg LaRoque and Jose Marzan

Chester P. Runk was a podgy scientist who invented a matter transmitting machine that accidentally got absorbed into his body. While Chester was given super strength and the ability to teleport he was forced to constantly consume dense material or risk collapsing in on himself into another dimension. After a brief spell as a villain Chunk was befriended by Wally West, The Flash, and became Wally's best friend for a short period during the late '80s/early '90s. The way this naive, humble, easily manipulated nice guy, was contrasted with the self absorbed ego-maniac version of The Flash that existed at the time made Chunk a very likable, endearing character. Sadly, aside from a brief appearance in Flash in 2001, Chunk hasn't been seen in a comic since 1992. It's not all bad though, Chunk is engaged to Wally's super-model ex-girlfriend, Connie. In your face West!

Joe Potato

Joe Potato by Norm Breyfogle

During Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's legendary run on Detective Comics and Batman in the late '80s/early '90s they created many memorable characters. Anarky, Cornelius Stirk, Kadaver, The Corrosive Man, The Ventriloquist and Scarface all came from their brilliant brains. One of my favourite products of their legendary collaboration however is the seldom used Gotham City private eye, Joe Potato. Joe was a gruff, hard-boiled but loveable detective that would use a rubber potato peeler to bluff confessions out of terrified crooks. His face was scarred and pock-marked and he was carrying a bit of extra weight. Basically, he looked like a potato. But this didn't stop him being a great supporting character in the handful of Batman stories he appeared in. The main reason I love this character is that he's an excellent example of Scottish writer Alan Grant showing his 2000AD roots. The name Joe Potato is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to appear in a Judge Dredd strip. Despite the fact that Joe's an American, the way the name and concept straddles the line between cool and ridiculous is very British. That is why he should return!


Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story!

The final character on my list is the ultimate forgotten hero. In 1967 writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino revealed that the lightning bolt that endowed Barry Allen with the super-speed of The Flash was sent by Mopee, a magical imp from Heaven who looked a bit like Woody Allen! And some fans think the Speed Force is a dumb idea! Mopee's been briefly mentioned in a dismissive fashion in a Flash fact file during the '80s and a few jokey references have been made here and there, but Mopee's pretty much been totally ignored since his first appearance. It's pretty much a case of no writer wanting to touch that mess with a ten foot pole. Mopee has been swept under the rug of DC history. If anyone deserves the title of Forgotten Hero, it's him. One interesting aspect of Mopee's story in Flash #167 is that Barry Allen observes that while Mopee's magic is responsible for his powers, Wally West's speed was derived from a genuine, naturally occuring lightning bolt. So there you go Wally fans/Barry haters! Next time someone's bigging up Barry on a message board at Wally's expense you can tell 'em, Barry's powers were the result of a ginger imp's mad whims but Wally is the real deal!

So there we have it! Brother Power, Captain Strong, Chunk, Joe Potato and Mopee! I don't know about you but I'd buy it. What about you? If you had to pick five obscure but "alive" characters from DC Comics history to star in a new series of The Forgotten Heroes who would you pick? Leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Amalgam Age of Comics

I've had so much fun creating my fake, Photoshopped Amalgam images that I've decided to create a seperate blog to showcase them.  Never fear though, I'll still be updating this blog on a fairly regular basis with my inane drivel on the wonderful subject of superhero comics.

So if you follow this blog or if you think that Photoshopped images of crazy DC/Marvel mash-ups might be your cup of tea, why not follow The Amalgam Age of Comics