Superman (vol. 1) #296 (February 1976).
Art by Curt Swan.
|First appearance||Action Comics #1
|Created by||Jerry Siegel
|Place of origin||Krypton|
|Notable aliases||Superman, Superboy|
Clark Joseph/Jerome Kent is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, 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 movie serials and TV (e.g., in Atom Man vs. Superman starring Kirk Alyn and The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves) and radio. In 1986, during John Byrne's revamping of the character, Clark Kent became more emphasized. Different takes persist in the present.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Secret identity
- 3 In other media
- 3.1 The Adventures of Superman radio series (1940-1951)
- 3.2 Kirk Alyn film serials (1948-1950)
- 3.3 Adventures of Superman TV series (1952-1958)
- 3.4 Christopher Reeve films (1978-1987) and Superman Returns (2006)
- 3.5 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)
- 3.6 Smallville TV series (2001-2011)
- 3.7 Animated series
- 3.8 Supergirl
- 3.9 DC Extended Universe
- 4 References
- 5 External links
As Superman's 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 1930s 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 Siegel 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 Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Rise of the American Comic Book.
Clark's middle name is given variously as either Joseph, Jerome or Jonathan, all being allusions to creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
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' affection for Superman and her rejection of Clark's clumsy advances have been a recurring theme in Superman comics, as well as in 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.
In the Pre-Crisis Superman comic book, Clark appears in occasional back-up stories called "The Private Life of Clark Kent", wherein he solves problems subtly as Clark without changing into Superman. The feature was later shown in the Superman Family title.
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 never had biological children of their own and were usually depicted as middle-aged or elderly when they found Clark. In the Golden and Silver Age 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's superpowers manifested upon his landing on Earth and he 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.
Modern Age retroactive continuity
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, which includes at least two original novels, The Janus Contract, and Under a Yellow Sun. 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, does not 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 until she discovers his identity, when, as part of an elaborate plan by a new villain to blackmail Superman. Superman also revealed his identity to Jimmy Olsen.
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.
Security of identity
Various explanations over the decades have been offered for why people have never suspected Superman and Clark Kent of being one and the same:
- The explanation most commonly offered is simply that, despite their physical resemblance, Superman and Clark are perceived as being too different in mannerisms and personality to be the same individual. Some comics note, in the words of Barry Allen, that "Clark slouches, wears clothes two sizes too big and raises his voice an octave", making him appear shorter and overweight instead of muscular. The 2004 limited series Superman: Birthright has a young Clark Kent study the Meisner technique to move seamlessly between his Clark and Superman personae (dropping his head, lowering his shoulders, and talking in a lighter tone as Clark Kent, while standing straight and talking in a deeper tone as Superman). Live-action actors adopting this approach while playing Clark Kent/Superman include:
- George Reeves in the 1950s live-action television series Adventures of Superman, who brought a naturalistic approach to the dual role. Reeves played Clark as moderately assertive, often taking charge in dangerous or risky situations and unafraid to take reasonable risks. This fact was one of the main inspirations for the 1980s reboot of the Clark Kent half of the Superman character, according to writer and artist John Byrne in the article "Super-Discussions" published by Attic Books in Comics Values Monthly Special #2 (1992).
- Christopher Reeve in the Superman film series, who was praised for making the disguise's effectiveness credible to audiences, portrayed Clark Kent as clumsy and mild mannered. In his book Still Me, Reeve says he based his interpretation of Clark Kent on Cary Grant's nerdy character in Bringing Up Baby. Tom Mankiewicz described his performance on the commentary track for Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut as always playing Superman but, when he was Clark, playing Superman playing Clark Kent.
- Dean Cain in the 1990s series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman showed Clark as a normal and shy Everyman demonstrating occasional touches of clumsiness (e.g., pretending to burn his mouth on coffee), but still a highly skilled journalist, much like the current post-Crisis portrayal. His Superman, by contrast, was very much the model of the classic hero who stood up straight and spoke in a more formal and authoritative voice. In the episode "Tempus Fugitive", the time-traveler Tempus mocks Lois, saying that future historians laugh at her for being fooled by a pair of glasses. On the other hand, H.G. Wells tells Lois that in truth the people of the future simply considered Lois to be blinded by love, and that this has made her story a compelling one throughout the intervening years.
- In the 1970s, one suggestion was that the lenses of Clark Kent's glasses (made of Kryptonian materials) constantly amplified a low-level super-hypnosis power, thereby creating the illusion of others viewing Clark Kent as a weak and frailer being. However, this reason was abandoned almost as quickly as it was introduced, since it had various flaws (such as stories where Batman, who is at the peak of human fitness, would disguise himself as Clark Kent, among others).
- Another reason given in the 1987 story "The Secret Revealed" was that the public simply does not know that Superman has a secret identity, considering he does not wear a mask, which implies to most that he has nothing to hide. As an added precaution, Superman would vibrate his face slightly (like Jay Garrick, the Golden-Age Flash), so that photographs would only show his features as a blur, thus preventing the danger of photographs of both identities being reliably compared. However, more subsequent stories showing Superman being photographed have tended to ignore this factor. The 2004 series Superman: Birthright also explained that Superman's eyes are an inhumanly vivid shade of blue, which Clark's glasses diffuse to make his eyes appear more human[volume & issue needed]. A subsequent explanation is the fact that most people only know of Clark as a name in a byline and only see Superman from a distance, if they see him at all. As most people do not spend much time with both Clark Kent and Superman, the similar appearances are not considered.
- The idea of Superman's identity being secret as the idea never occurs to others has been further explored in other continuities. In the Elseworlds story JLA: Another Nail—a sequel to JLA: The Nail, where Kal-El was discovered by and raised in an Amish community when the Kents' truck had a nail in the tyre on the day they would have gone out and seen his ship crash— while trying to establish a civilian identity to give new hero Superman a chance to feel human, the Kents initially heavily disguised him with a thick fake beard and large dark glasses. Arriving as they put this disguise together, Lois Lane suggests the alternative of regular glasses and casual hair, on the grounds that the original look gave the impression that he had something to hide, while nobody would particularly pay attention to Kal-El when he looked like this.
- Various stories over the decades often show Superman relying upon an imitator on occasions when Clark and Superman are required to appear together. The most prominent such means include:
- Superman robots, androids that physically resemble Superman in powers and appearance. Superman robots were primarily used during the Silver Age, but were largely disposed of after the early '70s. Clark Kent robots were also maintained by Superman for similar purposes.
- Batman disguising himself as either Clark or Superman. This was most often seen in Silver Age stories.
- Shapeshifters have also aided Clark in protecting his secret identity. For example, after the "Return of Superman" storyline in the 1990s, "Clark" (in reality the Supergirl at the time, also known as Matrix, who was capable of shape shifting) was photographed besides Superman after Superman had returned from the dead, Matrix using her shape-shifting abilities to create the impression that Clark Kent had been trapped in an underground bunker during Doomsday's rampage to account for Clark and Superman's mutual absences. In other occasions, Clark's comrade in the Justice League, the Martian Manhunter, has provided similar assistance.
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.
Debate over true identity
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:
- Superman is real, Clark Kent the mask: Pre-Crisis interpretations of Superman assumed that Clark Kent was the "mask" and Kal-El the person (in the classic story Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, when Superman's dual life is revealed, he completely abandons his Clark Kent persona). In one 1960s comic, when Kent finds himself at a loose end when staff at the Daily Planet go on strike, he seriously considers it a chance to try out a new identity in case he has "to abandon [his] Clark Kent role permanently". His options include becoming a full-time policeman or even a mere tramp "whom no one would ever suspect of being the Man of Steel". In the Smallville episode "Masquerade", Clark tells Lois that Clark Kent is just a name, just two words, and that the Blur is who he really is. This argument, made in Jules Feiffer's series of articles published in The Great Comic Book Heroes, is famously cited in a climactic scene of Kill Bill: Volume 2, with the character of Bill noting that Superman was not born into his alter ego (Spider-Man was "Peter Parker" first, Batman was born "Bruce Wayne"), using the blanket he was wrapped in as his costume, and Clark Kent is a collage of mankind's less impressive traits meant to blend in with other humans (as well as a device to pursue Lois Lane's affections), though as Bill is the villain of the movie, whether or not audiences are meant to empathize with anything he says is debatable. Richard Donner, the director of the first Reeve movie, stated that he believes Clark Kent to be the disguise (this is never made clear in the film).
- Clark Kent is real, Superman the mask: With John Byrne's more assertive revamp of Clark Kent as well as Superman's greater grounding in Earth culture and humanity (as opposed to the everpresent Kryptonian heritage of the Pre-Crisis version), Superman is considered the "mask" and Clark the person. This is made explicit by Clark himself in Superman (vol. 2) #53, when following his revelation to Lois of his role as Superman (Action Comics #662), he states: "I'm Clark, the man you love. Superman is the creation – you named me, Lois." In pre-Crisis continuity, Kal-El was already a toddler before leaving Krypton, and retained memories of that childhood that later resurfaced, while, in Post-Crisis continuity, he was sent to Earth pre-natally in a "birthing matrix" (more recently retconned as an infant) and raised entirely by the Kents. As a result of their rearing, Kal-El grows up to think of himself as Clark Kent, completely unaware of his alien heritage until he was well into adulthood (the fact that the Kents found him sometime just after the Cold War meant that the Kents assumed the rocket they found him in was from an Earth-based space program — possibly that of Communist Russia — and that Clark had superhuman abilities because he was either a metahuman or some kind of genetic experiment). Although the morals instilled in him by the Kents have motivated Kal-El to use his abilities to help others, he developed the Superman persona to protect his Clark Kent identity. In the Superman: The Animated Series episode "The Late Mr. Kent", wherein Clark Kent is presumed dead, Superman expresses frustration at the idea of not being Clark and having to be someone else instead ("I am Clark. I need to be Clark. I'd go crazy if I had to be Superman all the time!"). In a previous episode, the third part of the "Last Son of Krypton" arc, Jonathan "Pa" Kent assures his adoptive son that he will "always be Clark Kent" and that "Superman just helps out every now and then." In the "Tempus Fugitive" episode of Lois & Clark, Clark attempts to persuade Lois that Superman does not define him: "Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am."
- Neither Clark Kent nor Superman is the real person: Some versions of Superman explain that the Clark Kent and Superman identities are different facets of the same person. It has been implied, especially in the 'alternate future' story Kingdom Come, that the Clark Kent persona represents the values taught to him by his Midwestern parents. These values are what he holds most dear, giving him an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong that allows him to adopt his Superman persona without being consumed by the moral implications of his actions. Superman is the means through which he can bring this example to the world at large. At the story's climax, when Superman stands poised to destroy the United Nations, Norman McCay makes him realise that, when he abandoned Clark Kent fifteen years prior (after the murder of Lois Lane by the Joker) and retreated into his Superman self, he lost his instinctive morality, and thus the ability to be a heroic Superman. With this knowledge and a pair of glasses given to him as a gift by Wonder Woman, "Clark" regains his humanity and sets out to become a hero again by re-fertilizing the formerly-irradiated fields of Kansas. Director Bryan Singer stated at the 2006 Comic-Con that he favored the three-persona concept, stating that there was Clark Kent on the farm, the bumbling Metropolis Clark, and Superman, the Last Son of Krypton. Brandon Routh himself stated, in an HBO First Look interview that he was playing three characters: Clark Kent, the reporter/farm boy; Superman, the protagonist and savior of Metropolis; and Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton.
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 other media
The Adventures of Superman radio series (1940-1951)
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.
Kirk Alyn film serials (1948-1950)
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).
Adventures of Superman TV series (1952-1958)
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.
Christopher Reeve films (1978-1987) and Superman Returns (2006)
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 (1978 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 Lorelei 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.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)
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.
Superman's secret identity was discovered by a number of villains during the series. In some cases, like that of Lex Luthor, the villain died before he could share the discovery. In two cases, the claim was discredited by having Superman and Clark appear together in public, using a hologram in the first case and a Clark Kent from a parallel universe in the second (in the first case, there was also footage filmed of Superman uniforms in Kent's closet, but that was explained by stating Superman simply needs a place to store them). In one case, Superman destroyed the evidence (a time traveler's journal), and stated that the villain's unsupported words will be ignored.
Smallville TV series (2001-2011)
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 way he can "protect" the world from the perceived alien threats is 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, at times Clark also does not have a 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 to the 1966 Superman animated series).
In the Superman: The Animated Series of the mid to late 1990s, Clark Kent is shown as a mild-mannered but competent reporter and is shown exposing various criminals through his reporter identity. In this identity, Clark and Lois are good friends (with Lois frequently calling him "Smallville" in a teasing but good-natured way) but do not share romantic feelings; instead, it is Superman and Lois who have a romantic relationship. Lana Lang on the other hand knows of Clark's identity as Superman but seems more interested in Clark because she knew him as that first.
Clark was mentioned by Cat Grant in Supergirl episode "Stronger Together". It was announced that Clark Kent/Superman will be appearing in the first two episodes of Season 2 portrayed by Tyler Hoechlin.
DC Extended Universe
In this film, Kal-El is Krypton's first natural birth in centuries, a birth without using Krypton's genesis chamber. In order to save Krypton's future and stop Zod's coup, his biological father Jor-El steals Krypton's DNA template (Codex), bonds it to Kal-El's cells, and sends him to Earth before Krypton explodes. Kal-El's ship lands in a small Kansas town. He is raised as the adoptive son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, who name him Clark.
As a boy, Clark is a conflicted and lonely person who questions his place and purpose in the world. At a very young age, he learns of his superhuman abilities such as X-ray vision and superhuman strength, and this discovery frightens him. Jonathan Kent impresses on Clark to keep his abilities a secret and not to use them openly for fear of the consequences. This comes to a head when Clark uses his powers to save his schoolmates from drowning after their bus crashes into a lake. Jonathan is dismayed that Clark would risk exposing himself, and even tells Clark that maybe he should have let the kids die. Despite being ridiculed throughout his childhood and adolescence, Clark still wants to use his abilities to help others and make a difference in the world. This causes tension between him and Jonathan, who would rather he remain on the farm, believing that a useful endeavor by itself, and live his life in relative safety. Jonathan carries this conviction even to his death, when he stops Clark from saving him from being killed by a tornado to prevent him revealing his powers to others.
After Jonathan's death, an adult Clark spends several years living a nomadic lifestyle, working different jobs under false identities while saving people in secret, as well as struggling to cope with the loss of his adoptive father. He is now shown to be a confused, slightly angry individual who is forced to show restraint to bring harm to those who try to harm him or others. He eventually infiltrates a U.S. military investigation of a Kryptonian scout spaceship in the Arctic. Clark enters the alien ship and communicates with the preserved consciousness of Jor-El in the form of a hologram. Jor-El reveals Clark's origins and the extinction of his race, and tells Clark that he was sent to Earth to bring hope to mankind. Lois Lane, a journalist from the Daily Planet sent to write a story on the discovery, sneaks inside the ship while following Clark and is rescued by him when she is injured. Lois's editor, Perry White, rejects her story of a "superhuman" rescuer, so she traces Clark back to Kansas with the intention of writing an exposé. After hearing his story, she decides not to reveal his secret. After the discovery of his background and purpose, he is shown to be less confused and a little more joyful, as evidenced by his discussion with his adoptive mother Martha.
When Zod arrives to transform Earth into a new Krypton, Lois helps Clark/Superman stop Zod. By film's end, to create an alias that gives him access to dangerous situations without arousing suspicion, Clark takes a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet and adopts a modernized version of his "mild-mannered" look from the comics.
It is worth noting that, as a nod to many comics, Clark is implied to have an interest in football, as evidenced when he is seen watching a game while drinking beer just before Zod's arrival and ultimatum.
Henry Cavill reprises his role as Clark Kent in the film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Here, his full name is given as Clark Joseph Kent. Nearly two years after the events of Man of Steel, Clark and Lois are close in their relationship, but Clark finds himself continually questioning his role as Superman. At the beginning, he rescues Lois from African terrorists when a riot ensues that he is blamed for. When he hears of Batman's actions in Gotham, he decides to investigate against Perry White's orders, believing Batman's methods to be unjust. He meets Bruce Wayne at a party hosted by Lex Luthor and grows suspicious when he hears Alfred communicating to Bruce in an earpiece. He later confronts Batman when the vigilante is chasing down Luthor's men who have kryptonite, and orders him to cease his activities. Superman is later summoned by Senator June Finch to the U.S. Capitol to discuss his actions, but the room is bombed by Luthor, framing Superman once more. He goes into a self-exile, feeling guilty for not stopping the bombing.
Later, he dons the costume once more when Lois is endangered by Lex, and confronts the scientist on the roof. However, Lex reveals he knows all about Clark's true identity and blackmails Superman into fighting Batman by holding Martha hostage. Superman tries to reason with Batman, revealing that he knows his secrets, but this leads to a fight in which Batman nearly kills Superman with a kryptonite spear. Superman pleads for Batman to "save Martha", which was also the latter's late mother's name, causing him to come to his senses and realize Superman is not a threat. Upon learning of Luthor's plan, Batman leaves to rescue Martha while Superman confronts Luthor, who unleashes a monstrous artificially-bred creature he dubs as Clark's "Doomsday" made with Kryptonian technology on the crashed ship. Superman is aided by Batman and the mysterious Wonder Woman in confronting the monster, but none of them are able to put the creature down. Knowing it's kryptonian, Clark retrieves the kryptonite spear and impales Doomsday with the object, who in response mortally wounds Clark by stabbing him with one of its claws. Two separate funerals are held. Metropolis holds a funeral for Superman, but the Kent farm holds a private one for Clark Kent (which contains his actual body). Martha gives Lois an engagement ring that Clark planned to give to her. The dirt around Clark's casket briefly levitates indicating he may still be alive.
Batman also had a vision at one point in the movie where he leads a rebellion against the forces of Superman in a dystopian future where Clark kills two hostages with his heat vision before killing Batman while saying "You took her from me." A mysterious time traveler also briefly appears warning him that Lois is the key. Whether or not Batman's vision comes true remains to be seen.
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- This is discussed by the producers in their DVD commentary to the original theatrical cut.
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- Episode in which the pair start and end their relationship: season two's "Exodus", season three's "Phoenix", season five's "Arrival" & "Hypnotic", season seven's "Fierce" & "Arctic"
- Mark Verheiden (writer) & James Marshall (director) (2002-10-01). "Heat". Smallville. Season 2. Episode 2. 42 minutes in. The WB.
- Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer (writers) & Paul Shapiro (director) (2006-10-06). "Sneeze". Smallville. Season 6. Episode 2. The WB.
- Alfred Gough, Miles Millar (writers); David Nutter (director) (October 16, 2001). "Pilot". Smallville. Season 1. Episode 1. 42 minutes in. The WB.
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