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Monday, September 22, 2014 

A slapdash take on Superman's reporter history

The Bend Bulletin of central Oregon published a fluff-coated article 2 weeks ago about Clark Kent's history as a reporter past and present. At the start, it's said:
Now, make no mistake: Superman writers have always meant for readers to consider Clark Kent a top-flight reporter, mild manners notwithstanding. Superman stories, going back to the character’s inception in 1938, have invariably referred to Kent as an “ace” or “star” reporter, one whose byline is synonymous with “honesty and integrity” (“Superman” No. 98, 1955).

At the same time, he’s been meek to the point of embarrassment. That doesn’t make a lot of sense — how can you be a great reporter, and be afraid of your own shadow? As it happens, that characterization was dropped from the reporter in the “Adventures of Superman” TV show, where a small F/X budget meant Clark Kent had a lot more screen time than Superman — and had to resolve problems without resorting to his more expensive other self. But in the comics, Kent has been preposterously mousy since Lois Lane started pushing Kent around in 1938.
Oh, for pete's sake. Maybe in the Golden/Silver Age, but since they ended, Clark Kent's been anything but mousy (by which I assume they mean shy), and Lois has been anything but bossy to him since those times too; her characterization grew up when Julius Schwartz was the main editor for the Superman titles in 1971-86. In the John Byrne and Marv Wolfman stories from 1987, Clark acted pretty adult and dignified with Lois, who was irked at the time since he'd sold the Daily Planet a story of his Kryptonian history before she could deliver hers. But, she was still depicted pretty dignified too, even as Byrne put in some questionable attitudes towards women in his stories, like the "Byrne-hold" that Lois, Donna Troy and even Granny Goodness were gripped by in 3 stories by 3 villains, one who'd performed a mind-switch on Superman (in Action Comics #584).
That latter part, however, has changed. In 2011, DC Comics re-launched all their superhero characters, and in Superman’s case, began his story over again with young Clark Kent’s arrival in Metropolis. One major change in this brave new world is that Clark Kent isn’t quite as mild-mannered as he used to be. In fact, he’s an aggressive and idealistic investigative reporter who constantly engages in — as Lois Lane admiringly refers to it — “truth to power-ing.”
Regret to inform, but Superman's background was not relaunched: the Superman-Doomsday battle still exists. Yet there is something here they don't care to tell anybody about: the Clark-Lois marriage has been erased, along with any serious relationship between the two of them. And the editors want it to remain that way.
“In the early days, (Clark’s) newspaper job was more of a front for his crime-fighting activities,” said Steve Korte, librarian/archivist at DC Comics, in an interview. “It was a handy place for him to find out what was going on in the world in terms of crime. He could easily slip into his costume and fly away and do his Superman duties without arousing too much suspicion. And now I think it’s probably gone the other way, to where the journalism is really important to him. He’s much more socially aware, perhaps. He probably values being a journalist more than in the early days.”
Knowing what the current staff are like, it wouldn't surprise me if they're channeling J. Michael Strazcynski's take on Spider-Man, which did no favors for Peter Parker in or out of costume. What was wrong with Superman using his reporter's job as an advantage for crimefighting? Wasn't that the whole point, much like Barry Allen's later career as a police forensics scientist aided him in leaning about crimes he could solve as the Flash?
Especially as compared to, say, the early 1970s, when Kent was — I kid thee not — a TV news anchorman. In those days, his journalism career was more an impediment than an advantage in crime-fighting.

“When Clark was assigned to start doing on-air reports by his boss (Morgan Edge) — which he was not happy about — he figured out that he could fight crime during his three-minute commercial breaks,” Korte said with a laugh. “They would break for commercial, he would zip in his costume and run off and undo some criminal mischief, and then be back in front of the camera three minutes later.”
I don't see how his Bronze Age career as a TV newsman got in the way of crimefighting if he could thwart crimes in just a few minutes. I have at least one of those issues from the mid-70s in my collection, and in defense of Schwartz's direction at the time, it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek comedy relief when Clark did that. Besides, even as he went on to become a TV anchor, he still managed to solve plenty of crimes in costume. Say, how come that matters all of a sudden? I thought they wanted Clark to be more reporter than costumed crimefighter. Guess they can't decide what they want.

Now, here's where they get to the direction taken since Clark quit working for the Planet post-New 52, supposedly to do what he considers more serious journalism:
[Morgan] Edge was unimpressed by Kent’s speech, but one Planet staffer ­— gossip/fashion/celebrity writer Cat Grant — was inspired. She also quit, and talked Kent into a joint blog/website to do news the way he wants to. And when CatClarkTropolis.com broke the news that Superman and Wonder Woman are dating — it truly is a brave new world, isn’t it? — the odd couple are doing well, Korte said.

“Cat is pretty business-savvy,” he laughed. “I don’t think Clark is.”
At this point, I'm of the mind they're insulting everyone's intellect and not willing to admit it. At the same time, it's nigh-hilarious. Clark argued with Morgan about lack of serious approach to reporting, and then goes on to advertise his alter ego's editorially mandated relationship with WW? Even in a sci-fi world, that hardly counts as a truly big deal and it already rates as a cliche. It may not even last with DC's silly announcement they don't want their heroes to run happy lives and another crossover coming next year.
In “Men of Tomorrow,” Perry White has cut a deal with Kent, which could result in the not-so-mild-mannered reporter going back to work for the Daily Planet. But will he? And more important, should he?

For one thing, despite what the stories tell us, Clark Kent isn’t exactly the poster boy for journalism ethics. For example, in at least two stories about how Kent got his job at the Daily Planet (there are several), he owes his first big story to an exclusive interview with the Man of Steel ­— who is himself! In those circumstances he’s lying to his editor and his readers, which is certainly unethical, and since it’s a form of fraud, maybe even illegal. And this is an ongoing ethical breach. How can Kent — and the readers ­— justify it?
I guess that means Clark's a criminal by keeping his ID as Superman a secret from Perry and Lois too, huh? This is just so stupid, and I'd argue Clark was only telling a white lie, which may not be great, but is still hardly the most harmful thing you could do. Say, how come Peter Parker doesn't undergo this kind of silly scrutiny when he sells pictures to the Daily Bugle in the Marvel universe and lies about the circumstances under which he got them? Isn't that an ethical breach too? If it's okay for Peter to keep his ID as Spidey a secret for the right reasons, then it's OK for Superman too. And the answers given by two interviewees back up that argument:
“Well,” Korte suggested, after some thought. “You could argue it’s for the greater good.”

Which is a pretty good argument, as it mirrors Kent’s own reasoning, which is that his secret identity keeps the most powerful man on the planet sane (he doesn’t have to be Superman 24/7), it provides the Man of Tomorrow with information to save lives, plus the big one: If the world knew Superman and Clark Kent were one and the same, supervillains and the underworld would target Kent’s friends, family and co-workers.

Those things, said Prof. Hayden, might be worth a lie or two.

“In my view, human life outweighs truth telling,” he said. “If lying prevented the deaths of thousands of people, for example, then, yes, that would be worth it, and almost anyone would agree with that in theory.”
Everyone except the PC lunatics who write up sloppy pieces like this one. The reasons why a superhero keeps a secret ID should've been pretty obvious and criticism was unnecessary.

But if Clark and Cat are going to dabble in news about the former's cliched affair with WW, then that's not exactly reporting news that could help save lives in reporter's guise, is it? It's more like gossip, the kind you find in People, National Enquirer and the UK Daily Star. I certainly don't expect the writers to craft any convincing stories where Clark, in or out of costume, concentrates on issues alluding to real life topics like the terrorism ISIS has inflicted upon Iraq and Syria. And with crossovers constantly around the corner, that'll only guarantee they carry much less impact.

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When was the last time you've done any actual reporting?

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