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Superman (vol. 1) #296 (February 1976).
Art by Curt Swan.
|First appearance||Action Comics #1
|Created by||Jerry Siegel
|Full name||Clark Kent
(birth name: Kal-El)
|Place of origin||Krypton|
|Notable aliases||Superman, Superboy, Smallville|
Clark Kent is an American fictional character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Appearing regularly in stories published by DC Comics, he debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) and serves as the civilian and secret identity of the superhero Superman.
Over the decades there has been considerable debate as to which personality the character identifies with most. From his first introduction in 1938 to the mid-1980s, "Clark Kent" was seen mostly as a disguise for Superman, enabling him to mix with ordinary people. This was the view in most comics and other media such as TV (e.g., in Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves) and radio. In 1986, during John Byrne's revamping of the character, the emphasis was on Superman being the manufactured persona of Clark Kent, the side of the character he most identifies with. Different takes persist in the present.
Through the popularity of his Superman alter ego, the personality, concept, and name of Clark Kent have become ingrained in popular culture as well, becoming synonymous with secret identities and innocuous fronts for ulterior motives and activities. In 1992, Superman co-creator Joe Shuster told the Toronto Star that the name derived from 1930's cinematic leading men Clark Gable and Kent Taylor, but the persona from bespectacled silent film comic Harold Lloyd and himself. Another, perhaps more likely possibility, is that Jerry Seigel pulled from his own love of pulp heroes Doc Clark Savage and The Shadow alias Kent Allard. This idea was notably stated in the book "Mon of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Rise of the American Comic Book."
Clark's middle name is given variously as either Joseph or Jerome, the latter being an allusion to creator Jerry Siegel.
In the earliest Superman comics, Clark Kent's primary purpose was to fulfill the perceived dramatic requirement that a costumed superhero cannot remain on full duty all the time. Clark thus acted as little more than a front for Superman's activities. Although his name and history were taken from his early life with his adoptive Earth parents, everything about Clark was staged for the benefit of his alternate identity: as a reporter for the Daily Planet, he receives late-breaking news before the general public, has a plausible reason to be present at crime scenes, and need not strictly account for his whereabouts as long as he makes his story deadlines. He sees his job as a journalist as an extension of his Superman responsibilities—bringing truth to the forefront and fighting for the little guy. He believes that everybody has the right to know what is going on in the world, regardless of who is involved.
To deflect suspicion that he is Superman, Clark Kent adopted a largely passive and introverted personality with conservative mannerisms, a higher-pitched voice, and a slight slouch. This personality is typically described as "mild-mannered," perhaps most famously by the opening narration of Max Fleischer's Superman animated theatrical shorts. These traits extended into Clark's wardrobe, which typically consists of a bland-colored business suit, a red necktie, black-rimmed glasses (which in Pre-Crisis stories had lenses of Kryptonian material that would not be damaged when he fired his heat vision through them), combed-back hair, and occasionally a fedora.
Fellow reporter Lois Lane became the object of Clark's/Superman's romantic affection. Lois's affection for Superman and her rejection of Clark's clumsy advances have been a recurring theme in Superman comics and movies and on television.
Clark wears his Superman costume underneath his street clothes, allowing easy changes between the two personae and the dramatic gesture of ripping open his shirt to reveal the familiar "S" emblem when called into action. Superman usually stores his Clark Kent clothing compressed in a secret pouch within his cape, though some stories have shown him leaving his clothes in some covert location (such as the Daily Planet storeroom) for later retrieval.
Adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent from the Kansas town of Smallville, Clark (and thus Superman) was raised with the values of a typical rural American town, including attending the local Methodist Church (though it is debated by comic fans if Superman is a Methodist).
Most continuities state that the Kents had been unable to have biological children. In the traditional versions of his origin, after the Kents retrieved Clark from his rocket, they brought him to the Smallville orphanage and returned a few days later to formally adopt the orphan, giving him as a first name Martha's maiden name, "Clark." In John Byrne's 1986 origin version The Man of Steel, instead of adopting him through an orphanage, the Kents passed Clark off as their own child after their farm was isolated for months by a series of snowstorms that took place shortly after they found his rocket, using their past medical history of various miscarriages to account for their reasons for keeping Martha's pregnancy secret.
In the Silver Age comics continuity, Clark gained superpowers upon landing on Earth and gradually learned to master them, adopting the superhero identity of Superboy at the age of eight. He subsequently developed Clark's timid demeanor as a means of ensuring that no one would suspect any connection between the two alter-egos.
In the wake of John Byrne's reboot of Superman continuity in The Man of Steel, many traditional aspects of Clark Kent were dropped in favor of giving him a more aggressive and extroverted personality (although not as strong as Lois's), including such aspects as making Clark a top football player in high school along with being a successful author and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Furthermore, Clark's motivations for his professional writing were deepened as both a love for the art that "contributes at least as much social good as his Superman activities" and as a matter of personal fulfillment in an intellectual field in which his abilities give no unfair competition to his colleagues beyond typing extraordinarily fast. Following One Year Later, Clark adopts some tricks to account for his absences, such as feigning illness or offering to call the police. These, as well as his slouching posture, are references to his earlier mild-mannered Pre-Crisis versions, but he still maintains a sense of authority and his assertive self. Feeling that Clark is the real person and that Clark is not afraid to be himself in his civilian identity, John Byrne has stated in interviews that he took inspiration for this portrayal from the George Reeves version of Superman.
Clark's favorite movie is To Kill a Mockingbird (in which Gregory Peck wears glasses not unlike Kent's). According to the DC Comics Official Guide to Superman, Clark enjoys peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, football games, and the smell of Kansas in the springtime. His favorite baseball team is the Metropolis Monarchs and his favorite football team is the Metropolis Sharks. As of One Year Later, Clark is in his mid thirties, stands at 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m), and weighs about 225 pounds (102 kg). Unlike in the Silver Age, his powers developed over several years, only coming to their peak when he was an adult.
Superman's secret identity as Clark Kent is one of the DC Universe's greatest secrets. Only a few trusted people are aware of it, such as Batman and other members of the Justice League, Superman's cousin Supergirl, and Clark's childhood friend Lana Lang (In pre-Crisis stories, Lana did not know, but their friend Pete Ross did, unbeknownst to anyone, including Clark). Lex Luthor, other supervillains, and various civilians have learned the secret identity several times, though their knowledge is usually removed through various means (the boxer Muhammad Ali is one of the very few to deduce the identity and retain the knowledge).
Traditionally, Lois Lane (and sometimes others) would often suspect Superman of truly being Clark Kent; this was particularly prominent in Silver Age stories, including those in the series Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane. More recent stories (post-Crisis) often feature the general public assuming that Superman has no secret identity owing to the fact that he, unlike most heroes, doesn't wear a mask. In "The Secret Revealed," a supercomputer constructed by Lex Luthor calculated Superman's true identity from information that had been assembled by his staff, but Lex dismissed the idea because he could not believe that someone so powerful would want another, weaker identity. In post-Crisis continuity, Lois Lane, feeling that someone like Clark could not be Superman, never suspected the dual identity beyond one isolated incident before Clark finally revealed it to her. In "Visitor," Lois finds Superman at the Kent farm with Lana Lang and asks him point-blank if he is Clark Kent. Before he can answer, the Kents tell her that they raised Superman alongside Clark like a brother. In the 2009 retcon of the mythos, Lois Lane is fully aware from the beginning, along with Perry White, that the meek, pudgy, and bumbling Clark Kent deliberately holds himself back: however, still far from associating him with Superman, they simply believe he's hiding his qualities as a good reporter. In the current continuity established by DC's "New 52" relaunch in 2011, Lois Lane remains unaware that Clark is Superman.
In the future of the Legion of Super-Heroes, his secret identity is historical fact, with exhibits at a Superman Museum depicting the hero and his friends' and family's adventures.
Various explanations over the decades have been offered for why people have never suspected Superman and Clark Kent of being one and the same:
When crises arise, Clark quickly changes into Superman. Originally during his appearances in Action Comics and later in his own magazine, the Man of Steel would strip to his costume and stand revealed as Superman, often with the transformation having already been completed. But within a short time, Joe Shuster and his ghost artists began depicting Clark Kent ripping open his shirt to reveal the "S" insignia on his chest—an image that became so iconic that other superheroes, during the Golden Age and later periods, would copy the same type of change during transformations.
In the Fleischer theatrical cartoons released by Paramount, the mild-mannered reporter often ducked into a telephone booth or stockroom to make the transformation. Since the shorts were produced during the rise of film noir in cinema, the change was usually represented as a stylized sequence: Clark Kent's silhouette is clearly seen behind a closed door's pebble glass window (or a shadow thrown across a wall) as he strips to his Superman costume. Then, the superhero emerges having transformed from his meek disguise to his true self. In the comic books and in the George Reeves television series, he favors the Daily Planet's storeroom for his changes of identities (the heroic change between identities within the storeroom is almost always seen in the comics, but never viewed in the Reeves series).
The CBS Saturday morning series The New Adventures of Superman produced by Filmation Studios—as well as The Adventures of Superboy from the same animation house—featured the iconic "shirt rip" to reveal the "S" or Clark Kent removing his unbuttoned white dress shirt in a secluded spot, usually thanks to stock animation which was reused over dozens of episodes, to reveal his costume underneath while uttering his famed line "This is a job for Superman!"
As a dramatic plot device, Clark often has to quickly improvise in order to find a way to change unnoticed. For example, in Superman (1978), Clark, unable to use a newer, open-kiosk pay phone (and getting a nice laugh from the theater audience), runs down the street and rips open his shirt to reveal his costume underneath. He quickly enters a revolving door, spinning through it at incredible speed while changing clothes. Thus made invisible, he appears to have entered the building as Clark Kent and exited seconds later as Superman. Later in the film, when the need to change is more urgent (as he believes the city is about to be poisoned by Lex Luthor), he simply jumps out a window of the Daily Planet offices, changing at super-speed as he falls (the film merely shows the falling Kent blurring into a falling Superman) and flies off. Further films in the series continued this tradition, with Clark blurring into Superman, changing at super-speed while he runs.
In Lois & Clark, Clark's usual method of changing was to either "suddenly" remember something urgent that required his immediate attention or leave the room/area under the pretense of contacting a source, summoning the police, heading to a breaking story's location, etc. The change would then frequently occur off-screen, although the shirt-rip reveal was a prominently used move well-associated with the show. Clark also developed a method of rapidly spinning into his costume at super speed which became a trademark change, especially during the third and fourth seasons of the series, and extremely popular with the show's fans.
In one scene of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Clark becomes aware of an emergency while talking with Bruce Wayne and, in the next panel, he has flown out of his Kent clothing and glasses so quickly that they have had no time to fall.
In Season 8 of Smallville, Clark begins to show a bit more of his double identity. He starts slowing down his superspeed enough for surveillance cameras to see his iconic red and blue streak. This reveals to the citizens of Metropolis that a superhero is among them and the name "The Red-Blue Blur" is coined. When Jimmy Olsen becomes suspicious, Clark decides to reserve his usual red-and-blue for saving people. He carries a backpack with him to work every day, containing his change of clothes. He begins to practice his speed change at home and at the Daily Planet. He changes in a superspeed spin in the Daily Planet's phone booth and once even in his office chair. The last minute of the last episode of Smallville had Clark responding to an emergency, rushing to the top of the Daily Planet, and then using the familiar shirt-rip while the camera zoomed in on the familiar S-logo to the original John Williams fanfare.
A relatively recent debate is which of the two identities (Superman or Clark Kent) is the real person and which is the façade. Fans and Superman scholars follow one of three interpretations:
Clark Kent has also been depicted without the Superman alter ego. In the Elseworlds stories starting with Superman: Last Son of Earth, he is the son of Jonathan Kent, who saves his son from the destruction of the Earth. Clark ends up on Krypton, where he is adopted by Jor-El and becomes the planet's Green Lantern.
In the early Adventures of Superman radio episodes, Kal-El landed on Earth as an adult. He saved a man and his son and they gave him the idea of living as a normal person. They gave him the name of Clark Kent, and he later got a job as a newspaper reporter under that name. In that role he adopted a higher voice and a more introverted personality – clearly establishing that Kent is the secret identity and Superman is the true person.
Later episodes shifted to the usual origin story, in which Kal-El landed on Earth as a baby and was raised by the Kent family.
In the film serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), Kirk Alyn portrays Clark as a mild-mannered reporter who comes to Metropolis and secures a job at the Daily Planet, following the death of his foster parents. While he quickly gains the respect of Planet editor Perry White, he is forced to contend with rival reporter Lois Lane, who often uses trickery to prevent Clark from pursuing a lead (giving her the chance to scoop him). Nevertheless, his journalistic skills are useful as he pursues stories on the crime boss known as the Spider Lady, and the criminal scientist Luthor (who had yet to receive his first name, Lex).
In the 1950s George Reeves series, Clark Kent is portrayed as a cerebral character who is the crime reporter for the Daily Planet and who as Kent uses his intelligence and powers of deduction to solve crimes (often before Inspector Henderson does) before catching the villain as Superman. Examples include the episodes Mystery of the Broken Statues, A Ghost for Scotland Yard, The Man in the Lead Mask, and The Golden Vulture. George Reeves' Kent/Superman is also established as a champion of justice for the oppressed in episodes like The Unknown People and The Birthday Letter. Although Kent is described in the show introduction as "mild-mannered", he can be very assertive, often giving orders to people and taking authoritative command of situations, though, as in the Pre-Crisis Superman stories at that time, Clark is still considered the secret identity. He gets people to trust his judgment very easily and has a good, often wisecracking, sense of humor. Reeves, who first appeared as the character in the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men, was older than subsequent Superman actors.
In 1978, the first of four Superman films was made in which Clark Kent and Superman were portrayed by Christopher Reeve (with teenage Kent played by Jeff East in the first film). This was followed nearly two decades later by a fifth film called Superman Returns with Brandon Routh giving a performance very similar to Reeve's. In contrast to George Reeves' intellectual Clark Kent, Reeve's version is much more of an awkward fumbler and bungler, although Reeve is also an especially athletic, dashing and debonair Superman. Clark Kent's hair is always absolutely flat, while Superman's hair has a slight wave and is parted on the opposite side as Kent's. These films leave the impression that Clark Kent is really a secret identity that is used to enable Superman to serve humanity better, rather than just a role to help him assimilate into the human community.
A great deal of emphasis is placed on his origins on the planet Krypton with exotic crystalline sets designed by John Barry, effectively giving Superman a third persona as Kal-El. The first film is in three sections: Kal-El's infancy on Krypton (shot in London on the 007 stage), Clark Kent's teen years in Smallville, and Kent/Superman's adult life in Metropolis (shot in New York City). In earlier sections of the film, Reeve's Kent interacts with both his earthly parents and the spirit of his Kryptonian father through a special crystal, in a way George Reeves never did. The film has a fair amount of quasi-Biblical imagery suggestive of Superman as a sort of Christ-figure sent by Jor-El "to show humans the way." (See also Superman (film)#Themes). In Superman II Reeve's Superman has to sacrifice his powers (effectively becoming just Clark Kent) in order to have a love relationship with Lois Lane, a choice he eventually abrogates to protect the world.
The relationship between Superman and Kent came to actual physical blows in Superman III. Superman is given a piece of manufactured Kryptonite, but instead of weakening or killing him it drives him crazy, depressed, angry, and casually destructive, committing crimes which range from petty acts of vandalism to environmental disasters, like causing an oil spillage in order to bed a lusty woman by the name of Loreli in league with the villains. Driven alcoholic, Superman, his outfit dirty and neglected, eventually goes to a car wrecking yard where Kent, in a proper business suit and glasses, suddenly emerges from within him. A fight ensues in which the "evil" Superman tries to dispose of the "good" Kent, but the latter fights back, "kills" the evil side to his nature and, reclaiming the Superman mantle, sets off to repair the damage and capture the villains. Les Daniels comments in his book, DC Comics: A Celebration of the World's Favourite Comic Book Heroes, "The 'good' Superman, ultimately triumphant, (is) dressed as Clark, thus implying that he is the more valid personality (as well as the one Lana loves)" and expresses annoyance that "Something could have been made of this, but sadly nothing was".
The indirect "Christianization" of Superman in the Reeve films (admitted by film producer Pierre Spengler on the DVD commentaries) has provoked comment on the Jewish origins of Superman. Rabbi Simcha Weinstein's book Up, Up and Oy Vey: How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero says that Superman is both a pillar of society and one whose cape conceals a "nebbish," saying, "He's a bumbling, nebbish Jewish stereotype. He's Woody Allen."  Ironically, it is also in the Reeve films that Clark Kent's persona has the greatest resemblance to Woody Allen, though his conscious model was Cary Grant's character in Bringing up Baby. This same theme is pursued about '40s superheroes generally in Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth.
Clark Kent's character is given one of its heaviest emphases in the 1990s series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. It is made very clear during the series, even discussed directly by the characters, that Clark Kent is who he really is, rather than his superheroic alter-ego.
In Lois and Clark, Kent (Dean Cain) is a stereotypical wide-eyed farm kid from Kansas with the charm, grace and humor of George Reeves, but without the awkward geekiness of Christopher Reeve. Emphasis is laid on the comic elements of his dual relationship with Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher). The ban on Christopher Reeve's Superman having a relationship with a human while retaining his superpowers is entirely absent in the world of Lois and Clark. In the final season, Clark Kent marries Lois Lane (a few years after her almost-marriage to his arch-enemy Lex Luthor, whom she refused at the altar), finding love, happiness, and completeness in this relationship which does not jeopardize his Superman persona.
Smallville was adapted to television in 2001, by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. Clark Kent is played by Tom Welling, with others portraying Clark as an infant. Throughout the series, Clark never officially adopted a costume until around the eighth season, but prior to this was seen wearing Superman's traditional colors of red and blue, more often as the series progresses (more commonly a blue shirt underneath a red jacket, reflecting Superman's uniform and cape colors). He is going through a process of character formation, making many mistakes in his youth, over time forming better and better judgment, while always self-consciously aware of his status as an alien from another planet who is different from other people. In season eight, he begins a fight against evil, hoping to be a source of inspiration and hope to others. A modest amount of religious imagery is seen occasionally in the series, but to a lesser degree than in the Christopher Reeve series.
Smallville's Kent is particularly inwardly conflicted as he attempts to live the life of a normal human being, while keeping the secret of his alien heritage from his friends. Throughout the first seven seasons of the series he has a complicated relationship with Lana Lang, as well as his self-perceived guilt over the fact that the meteor shower that killed Lana's parents and created most of the superhumans he fought in the show's first few years was caused by his rocket coming to Earth and dragging pieces of Krypton with it. Clark's powers appear over time. He is not aware of all of his powers at the start of the show; for instance, his heat vision and super breath do not develop until seasons two and six, respectively, and his power of flight did not emerge until the series finale, up until that point the power appeared only in a few rare cases, such as when he was temporarily 're-programmed' to assume a Kryptonian persona or when he was trapped in a virtual reality.
Clark Kent starts out best friends with Lex Luthor, whom he meets after saving the latter's life. (Boyhood friendship with Lex Luthor had been the basis of a Superboy adventure published in 1960).
Clark and Lex remain entangled for most of the series. Lex Luthor's father, Lionel Luthor, is an unscrupulous industrialist with whom Lex has a troubled relationship. Lex would like to transcend his family background and be a better person than his father, but after multiple setbacks he slowly slips into evil, becoming convinced that only he can 'protect' the world from the perceived alien threats by taking control of it, regardless of the cost to others. In turn, Clark Kent has a slightly dark side with which he comes to grips over time, made even worse by his experiences with Red Kryptonite, which causes him to lose his morals and act solely on impulse while under its influence. In different ways to Luthor, Clark also does not have fully ideal relationship either with his adoptive father, Jonathan, nor with an A.I. based on Jor-El that was sent by the original to guide him, Jonathan occasionally having trouble relating to Clark while Jor-El's lack of his template's emotions causes him to treat Clark too harshly at times. The younger Luthor slightly envies Clark's 'clean-cut' and wholesome parents (who disapprove of Clark's friendship with Luthor), while Clark is impressed with Luthor's wealth while failing to understand some of the manipulations he carries out in his interactions with others. Even in his better days, Luthor is highly ambitious for power and wealth, at one time noting that he shares his name with Alexander the Great. Clark Kent, on the other hand, has no idea what he is going to do with his life while bewildered by his powers, and his uncertainty as to why he was sent to Earth.
In season eight of Smallville, Clark Kent begins to work as a reporter at the Daily Planet. Shortly after he begins to save lives as an anonymous superhero crimefighter, which becomes known as the "Red-Blue Blur" after a photograph is taken of one of his rescues.
In season nine, Clark unintentionally begins to formalize his dual identity to protect his secret and also privately introduces the well-known glasses to Lois Lane. Additionally, during the opening scene of the season nine finale, Clark finds a gift from his mother containing his Superman suit (Although the suit is subsequently taken by Jor-El until Clark is ready for it).
In season ten, for the first time in public Clark begins to formulate a bumbling/stuttering Kent with glasses akin to the Christoper Reeve/Brandon Routh portrayal of the character. In the season ten finale of the series he fully adopts the Superman identity, when he takes action to save Earth from Darkseid, who was drawn to Earth by Clark's actions and sought to take the hero as a host.
Smallville's Kent has also appeared in various literature (including comics and over a dozen young adult novels) based on the television series.
In the 1940s Superman shorts, Clark is shown to have a wisecracking sense of humor and he and Lois are good friends. At the near end of each short, Clark gives out a smile and a wink to the audience (that was carried over the 1966 Superman animated series).
In the Superman: The Animated Series of the late 1990s, Kent is based on John Byrne's version of him, becoming more assertive and intelligent. He is also considered to be the real person, with Superman the "alter ego", though Kent often appears less in most episodes.
In the upcoming Superman reboot film Man of Steel, Clark Kent will be portrayed by Henry Cavill, with Dylan Sprayberry and Cooper Timberline portraying younger versions of the character. In this film, through trailers and interviews with the cast and crew, it is shown that this version of Kent is a conflicted and broken character trying to find his place and purpose in the world, much like Smallville's version.
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