Who is the real person: Superman, or Clark Kent? At last, a murderer’s row of Superman writers weigh in on the decades-long philosophical debate.
On Tuesday, DC and Google released the full hour-long Google Talks roundtable, “DC Comics: 80 Years of Superman” on YouTube. Held during WonderCon this year, the talk included some of the biggest names in comics who have written Superman: Dan Jurgens, Marv Wolfman, Paul Dini, and ex-Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, who will serve as lead writer on Action Comics following its historic 1000th issue this week.
Early in the talk, the writers were asked: Is Superman the real person, or is Clark Kent? Here’s what each Superman writer had to say about the decades-old philosophical question, spurred on by David Carradine’s memorable monologue from the end of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 2.
“I think they’re the same,” answered Marv Wolfman, who relaunched Adventures of Superman for DC in 1986. “Superman, or rather Kal-El, came to Earth as an infant. All of his morality, all of his viewpoint, come from the Kents. Therefore he’s the right person, he’s the real person. Superman doesn’t talk about it, but he goes out and implements what the Kents taught him, to be right, to be good, to try your best. I don’t see much of a difference. Clark is just the character who isn’t flashy, but they’re both always trying to do their best.”
Bendis, who is newer to the DC Universe than the other guests, says he disagrees with Tarantino’s take. “I think about that Kill Bill bit often. It gets brought up to us quite a lot,” Bendis said. “My feelings about it are so different, even using the word ‘disguise,’ I wouldn’t.” He added that he’s “a little obsessed” with his own ideas of Superman, saying:
“[The concept of] Superman was kind of thrust on him. His father said, ‘You are going to do this and we are going to send you to do this.’ The choice Clark made in his life was to be a reporter. Everything else was kind of thrust upon him, or he was sent to a place, but he chose to be a reporter. He said, ‘There’s truth out there and there’s justice to be had that Superman can’t get to just punching it … and being a writer to reveal that truth is something I’m going to do.’ He chooses to spend his time doing that, and I find that enormously admirable and it makes me love him more.”
Wolfman chimed in to Bendis’s take: “It’s something all of his powers cannot alter in any way. He’s a writer, he loves being a writer, he loves telling the story he’s going to tell, and all of his powers mean nothing to him. It’s all about getting those words down, those thoughts down. And that’s pure Clark.”
Jurgens, who agrees with Wolfman, also said that Superman’s lack of a physical mask is what differentiates Superman from other comic book heroes. “I think there’s a difference to be drawn between a character that puts on a mask and does what he does or she does, because they’re making a conscious decision at that point to have this other identity,” he said.
“With Superman, I always looked at it as being sort of like someone whose a a police officer, or a firefighter, or whatever, someone in the military, this is what they put on to go do what they do, but they come home and they’re still that person. They’re not making an effort to disguise themselves so much, so I’ve always separated Superman from many other characters that way.”
It’s quite telling that the people who know Superman best seem to agree that Clark Kent and Superman aren’t clashing egos, but a kind of harmonious yin and yang on the same archetype. For whatever reason, writers and creatives outside DC circles seem to grasp Clark Kent/Kal-El way differently. In 2015, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat described Superman’s story and his romance with Lois Lane as “a love triangle with two people in it.”
Still, other DC writers have their own ideas. In 2017, Greg Rucka rewrote Wonder Woman’s first encounter with Batman and Superman in Wonder Woman Annual #1. As the three introduced themselves holding the Lasso of Truth, Superman revealed his real name as “Clark Kent. Kal-El.” Batman, meanwhile, said “Batman.” More than anything, this spells out the difference between Batman and Superman perfectly.
Action Comics #1000 and Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman will be released on April 18.