The Mysteries of Superman

Just about everyone is familiar with Superman, especially the reporters here at The Daley Planet. Since his debut in Action Comics in 1938, Superman has appeared in every form of popular entertainment, including radio, movie serials, feature length films and television productions.  My own interest in Superman started with the comic book and the 1950’s TV series starring George Reeves .    I started reading the Superman comics, even before I actually could read and   “The Adventures of Superman” had already been on the air for a few years when I first started watching TV.   My most vivid memory of the program was watching the show with my dad, who would pretend to not catch on that Superman and Clark Kent were one and the same…in fact, according to my father (a sports journalist), Clark Kent was a disgrace to the newspaper business, especially when he would run into the nearest alley whenever trouble, and a potential story, was unfolding.  Although I was a big fan of both the TV show and the comic book, several elements of each  provoked a lot of bewilderment on my part as I tried to make sense of the Superman saga.  Yes, I’m aware that Superman is science fiction, and should not be expected to conform to any sense of reality, but my concerns have more to do with just plain common sense.  I like to call these concerns the  “The Mysteries of Superman.”

Mystery #1: Clark Kent- How good a disguise?

One of the most familiar elements of the Superman phenomenon is his secret identity.    Action heroes having secret identities is, of course, commonplace, with the Zorro/Don Diego connection as well as Batman/Bruce Wayne being well known examples.  The major difference is while others are putting on costumes to create an alter ego, Superman, indeed, really is Superman, while Clark Kent is a fake. What
does Superman do to protect his secret? Well, not much.   Superman  dons a pair of glasses, puts on a suit, acts a bit meek, and totally gets away with it.  It’s almost as if like he wants to be found out.   As Clark Kent, he hangs around with the same people as Superman does, is never seen in Superman’s presence, is the same size as Superman, and yet, no one makes the connection…and these are reporters!  In the case of the television show, it is probably just as well that Perry White, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen never guessed the truth, for that would mean their number of friends would be reduced by 25%, since two of the four was
the same guy.  In the comic book, Superman was drawn to appear more muscular than Hulk Hogan.  Didn’t anyone notice how buffed Clark Kent was?  I never heard anyone remark, “wow, that Kent may be a wimp, but he must work out nine hours a day.”

Mystery #2: Smallville and Metropolis- crime capitals?

The initial popularity of Superman led to the creation of the popular spin-off, Superboy, which involved stories about Superman when he was a teenager, which brings to mind another puzzle.  Given that Superboy spent his boyhood in the tiny town of Smallville, wouldn’t you expect the crime rate in such a place to be microscopic?  But during the entire run of the Superboy publication, Smallville was constantly besieged by bank robbers, kidnappers, jewel thieves and hijackers, all of whom were quickly captured by the capable Boy of Steel.  My question was this:  Why would any criminal choose Superboy’s hometown as their place of business? Did they have a death wish?  Did they want to get caught? Or was the challenge of pulling off a successful crime in Smallville to great to resist.  Maybe it was a guy thing.

Mystery #3: The Daily Planet- behind the headlines

In both the comic and the old TV show, Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were the principle reporters working under editor, Perry White.  On the television program, no other employees were seen. How many great metropolitan newspapers are staffed by four people?  Naturally, it helped that one of the reporters was secretly Superman, but how effective could such a small staff be, especially when Perry White would assign everyone to the same story?  One thing my dad and I agreed on…The Daily Planet’s sports section must have sucked.

Mystery #4: Get Me Lex Luthor’s Attorney!

Every crime fighter must have an arch-enemy, and Superman had one of the best in Lex Luthor, a criminal mastermind who engaged in countless battles with the Man of Steel. The Luthor character never appeared on the 1950’s television show, but was a mainstay in the comic book, and the feature length films.  As you may recall, Lex Luthor was an evil genius who would use his vast knowledge of science to attempt world domination, as well as a means to destroy Superman. Back in his comic book heyday, Luthor was considered a madman.  Today, he’d be Bill Gates.  Naturally, a man like Luthor must be stopped, and Superman, time and time again, would thwart the bald villain. This leads to another mystery…why was Luthor given so many chances?  Almost immediately after bringing the Earth to the brink of annihilation, only to be defeated and captured by Superman, Luthor, often by the next issue, would be out of jail ready to commit more mayhem.  Why wasn’t he in prison?  Oh sure, sometimes the storyline would suggest that Lex had escaped, but more often than not, Luthor was portrayed as being free as a bird, even as his criminal past was known to virtually
everyone.  What kept this man from ever doing any noteworthy amount of hard time?

My thinking is that Luthor had an attorney who was as brilliant in criminal defense as Luthor was in developing civilization threatening scientific devices.  Although we saw Superman constantly beating Luthor and delivering him to jail, we have to assume there would have been a trial, as even Lex Luthor is entitled to due process.  At these trials, which the comic book never bothered to cover, Luthor’s lawyer must have mince meat out of Metropolis’s District Attorney.  First of all, Luthor’s schemes probably didn’t seem possible to a jury, and a good lawyer could have taken advantage of this.  “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury…the state suggests that my client, Lex Luthor tried to shrink the entire city of Metropolis to the size of a breadbox in order to blackmail the rest of the world into submitting to his will…yet, I’ve brought in several scientists who have testified that this is not possible.  How can you take the word of the state against these expert witnesses?”  Even Superman may have been made to look foolish under clever questioning…”Well Mr. Superman, you sit here and claim that my client tried to kill you, yet everyone knows you are invulnerable.  Don’t you think this trial is a complete waste of the court’s time?”

Mystery #5: Catching the Bad Guys

Finally, we have one last small mystery.  On the old TV show, the climax would have Superman breaking into the crook’s hideout, rescuing Lois and Jimmy, foiling whatever crime that bad guys were planning.
But instead of just giving up, these dumb criminals would still try to fight it out with Superman, firing bullet after bullet, while Superman, hands on hips, would appear almost bored while waiting for these dolts to run out of ammunition.  Once the crooks would run out of bullets, they would usually, in total frustration, throw their empty revolvers at Superman.  And what would Superman do, after standing still, and allowing countless bullets to bounce off his chest?  He’d duck!  It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.