As must be evident to all those who have followed my writings on the matter, my favorite aspect of the Superman mythos is the Christological motifs surrounding the character. Surely a result of my seminary training is a tendency to read all works of popular culture as theological treaties; with Superman, at least, the comparisons are clear and deliberate. Moreover, despite a greater familiarity with the Church Fathers and Reformers than most, the Christians who had most influenced my faith were Tolkien and Lewis, the former of whom converted the latter through the argument that mythology resonates with the soul so strongly specifically because it is an ectype of Truth; that Superman was not a parody of Jesus but rather an icon through which to see Christ more clearly. As Clark was to Superman, so Superman was himself (along with Aslan, Neo, Anakin, and many others) a secret identity of Jesus. In fact, I had argued that it was precisely the dual identity which made Superman the superlative example of the Messianic Archetype, for the Clark/Superman dynamic uniquely paralleled the Christian doctrine of Christ’s two natures, fully human and fully divine; on the Christian view, Jesus is God with His split-curl slicked back and black-rimmed glasses obscuring His face.
Action Comics #964 (DC Comics)
Though I’ve not been particularly public about such previously, for a little over a year now I’ve identified as a Deist. Yet I still continue to interact with devout, theologically minded Christians on a regular basis. I’m a leading member of two heavily Christian philosophical societies, and later next month I’m attending a conference in Chicago on the proper hermeneutical approach to the Biblical texts. As such, I still often have occasion to consider the historical person of Jesus. Yet when I do now, it’s no longer with the assumption that the mild-mannered carpenter is anything more than such. That is to say, until a few months ago, Jesus was the secret identity of God in my mind, and now I can’t help but see them as two separate individuals. Moreover, it’s now a strange sensation to constantly converse with Christians who still do regard them as one and the same.
Action Comics these last few months has perfectly paralleled my own particular pilgrimage. There’s the same strangeness in seeing Clark Kent and Superman – whom I’ve known for all my life as dual identities of a single individual – standing next to one another, their faces indistinguishable, yet knowing them now to truly be two different people. Just as my view on view on God has not much changed, Superman himself has stay the same. Yet seeing Clark as a fully flesh-and-blood human from Earth is as radical as regarding Jesus of Nazareth as the non-adopted son of Joseph.
As odd as this seems to the reader from an out-of-universe perspective, the characters themselves are all the more incredulous regarding the recent developments. Clark Kent really remembers being the farmboy from Smallville turned ace reporter and friend to Superman that the world always saw him as. As such, it naturally never crosses his mind that Superman suspects Clark of being the New 52 Superman specifically because the Post-Crisis Superman is secretly a Clark as well. This Clark simply assumes that Superman would be the one person most privy to the “fact” that Clark Kent and any Superman were never the same individual; rather, he surmises that Superman suspects him of being the New 52 Superman resurrected, who, having come back from death, is pretending to be Clark Kent, even though he secretly isn’t.
Meanwhile, the ordinary denizens of Metropolis met Clark’s claims that he had never been Superman with similar disbelief last issue, as rightly they should after the revelations of the Truth storyline. They’d be more hopelessly naïve than Silver Age Lois Lane had they bought Clark’s explanation that Superman had been posing as him for protection. Even a cast and polygraph test would prove unpersuasive. This issue does a better job than last at providing such citizens more compelling evidence that Clark is not Superman. Seeing the latter save the former certainly convinced some. Others must have given credence to the possibility that such was staged, with the “Clark” whom Superman saved being J’onn J’onzz or some other shape-shifter. The medical report confirming Clark’s fractured forearm and high blood pressure probably persuaded others of his humanity.
Still, it’s hard to un-see the fact that Clark and Superman are perfectly identical. We ourselves live in a world in which conspiracy theorists postulate Katy Perry to be JonBenét Ramsey all grown up; how much more so would rumors persist that Superman is secretly Clark Kent? If this is nothing more than DC’s One More Day – an overly convoluted means of taking back the revelation of a hero’s dual identity – than surely such is even less plausibly effective than a deal with the devil. If reneging on Truth is the only point of Action Comics of late, DC would have been better off attributing a retcon to the actions of Wally West or Dr. Manhattan in Rebirth.
Even the Post-Crisis Superman himself is perplexed by this mystery, though his solution of the “Globe of Revelation” seems to offer few concrete answers. More so than mapping his memories, Superman reading Clark’s DNA and seeing it to be human instead of Kryptonian definitively disproved the hypothesis that Clark was the New 52 Superman raised again. Moreover, despite claiming that the Globe only reveals true memories, Superman never clarifies what that means. Such could mean, as per Diana’s Lasso of Truth, that the individual being interrogated truly believes what he’s saying, not that such conforms to reality. Thus the two possibilities discussed in the review for the previous issue – that Clark Kent is from another Earth in the Multiverse or that Clark Kent was synthetically created by Geneticron – both still remain live possibilities. The latter all the more so, in fact, given how the biotech corporation’s importance was further solidified in this issue through the disappearance of its headquarters (presumably a machination of the mysterious Mr. Oz).
Speaking of Superman’s suspicions that his New 52 counterpart might have raised back to life, simply because Clark Kent’s provenience proved otherwise does not preclude the possibility altogether. Perhaps the man in the red ball cap is none other than the New 52 Superman, resuscitated by Darkseid, just as the God of Evil had done with the Superman of Earth-2. That Superman’s continued presence in the storyline would give occasion for DC to conclusively address the mystery as to why every individual remained their same selves from before the Flashpoint to after it, save for Superman and Lois Lane.
It’s certainly my hope that one day soon DC will return to the classic dynamic that made Superman so successful a character in the first place: with Superman caught in a love triangle with Lois Lane and his own alter ego of Clark Kent, Lois scheming to make herself Mrs. Superman while hardly batting an eye at the milquetoast reporter, other than when vainly trying to prove he and Superman are one and the same. Such spoke volumes to his humanity – Kryptonian heritage notwithstanding – that just as so many boys wrap a towel around their necks and pretend to be a superhero, Superman wrapped a tie around his neck and pretended to be a mortal; not merely as an exercise in humility, though there’s that too, but for the simple joy of pretending to be something one finds admirable. Seen in this way, his jests at Lois’ expense were a natural extension of his love for humanity.
DC is currently fetishizing the early ‘90s, the very era in which Superman spilled his secret to Lois, but an essential component of the Superman mythos has arguably been missing since precisely that moment. As much as I’m enjoying Jurgens playing with the mythology in a truly novel manner by having Clark and Superman actually be the distinct individuals for a while, I can’t help but long for a return to form. After all, another of Superman’s dual identities seem to me to have been split recently as well; but to that status quo there’s even less hope of return.