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.