Who does Superman think he is? Clark Kent?

May 22, 2004|By Robert K. Elder | Robert K. Elder,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Near the end of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Vol. 2, Bill (David Carradine) compares the double life of his former girlfriend/assassin (Uma Thurman) with that of Superman.

Superman's mythology, Bill contends, is different from other superheroes because unlike, say, Peter Parker, who fights crime as Spider-Man to protect his everyday life, Superman was born on another planet and uses his human identity to blend in, to hide from humanity. The bespectacled Clark Kent is Superman's critique of the human race as weak and cowardly, Bill says.

But that doesn't sound like the Superman we know from recent comics and TV's Smallville. What gives?

It seems Tarantino's take on Superman is influenced, like everything else in the director's oeuvre, on sensibilities of the 1970s. Most modern writers portray Clark Kent as the core character and Superman as his costumed alter ego - the reverse of Tarantino's interpretation. In the decade of disco and Bruce Lee, Superman titles competed with science fiction, so writers amplified Superman's alien roots.

"He was very much, in the '70s, played as the stranger in a strange land, which really didn't make any sense because he was raised on Earth," says writer/artist John Byrne, who helped reinvent Superman in the mid-1980s. "That's the key point, he was raised as a human. All his values and understanding of the world, he got from us - from Ma and Pa Kent, that Midwestern, Bible Belt upbringing."

Before 1986, the only purpose Clark had was to give Superman a day off, says Jeph Loeb, Smallville supervising producer and writer of the Superman/Batman monthly comic.

"Clark Kent is the man. He changes clothes and becomes Superman. It's a fundamental difference on how you approach the character," Loeb says. "He is a Kansas farm boy who loves his parents. His identity to Krypton, if anything, is minimal."

But each writer in the character's 66-year history has his own spin on Superman, says DC editor Paul Levitz. "They approach it from their own analysis of the mythology, from their own point of view," he says. "It's gotten more and more into pop psychology over the years."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.