Sunday, September 23, 2012

Superman Is A Hack

But wait, there's more!

Now, with a headline like that, you know there's got to be some sort of explanation. This isn't a tabloid. Superman as a superhero is, of course, pretty much beyond reproach. He is the go-to, first-choice, most archetypical superhero there is. His basic power set- flight, super-strength, invulnerability, what have you- has been copied so often that it's gotten its own name, 'flying brick'.

We're not discussing that. No, no. That'd be too simple.

We're discussing Superman's career at the Daily Planet, as Clark Kent.

You know the basic drill: Clark Kent has to hold down a job, so he works at the Daily Planet and oh-so-conveniently is always first on the scene to Superman's various exploits, unless he's saving Lois Lane, in which case Lois is first. Either he or Lois get all the exclusive interviews with Superman, and that pretty much powers Kent's career as a reporter.

Lois doesn't quite need the help, as she's out covering the stories that Superman has to end up saving her from, but she's not about to turn her nose up at the byline. Clark, though, is a different matter. Officially, Clark works the Daily Planet's crime desk, but you never really see him covering stories that aren't Superman-related. The crimes he covers just so happen to be the same ones Superman gets involved in. This is because Clark uses the crime desk as a way to quickly find out about crimes still in progress that require Superman's presence. Reading about them in the paper the next day is rather inconvenient.

So why is he a hack? After all, in-universe, he's described as having won a Pulitzer.

Watch what happens when Superman gets depowered.

For one year from 2006-2007, May to May, DC Comics produced the series '52', in which they made one comic a week for an entire year. (That's kind of a lot.) The idea was that the major DC characters were out of action for the year for a variety of reasons, leaving the detritus of the DC universe to come in off the bench. Superman was out of action due to losing his powers at the end of the previous story arc, 'Infinite Crisis', so he spent the year as Clark Kent working on the crime desk.

Here's the thing about Clark Kent's pieces. Think about what they actually are at the end of the day. Clark Kent is essentially writing about the bad guy he just kicked the crap out of, going into probably loving detail about every tooth that got knocked loose and every rib that got cracked. (Superman has X-ray vision. He'd know if bones got broken.) After bragging about the ass he just whooped, he essentially talks to himself- in an exclusive story, meaning nobody has the chance to beat his writeup- and feeds his own ego in front of the whole of Metropolis. He's never going to talk about if Superman used excessive force or anything like that. Getting bullied by your own paper is Peter Parker's job. (Which, by the way, he's a photographer. You can't sleepwalk through that quite as much. If you get the shot, you get the shot and that's really all there is to it.) And of course Superman's never going to say a bad word about Clark.

Clark isn't really practicing journalism so much as writing a diary. Nice work if you can get it.

So in 52, Superman is out of action, meaning Clark Kent has to ACTUALLY work the crime desk for once. As it turns out, Clark simply can't do it. He's too used to having stories basically get written for him and talking up his own alter-ego. When asked to do the legwork everyone else is doing, he can't keep up and constantly gets beat to the punch.

Within ten weeks, after a failure to get a story on a new superhero, Supernova, editor-in-chief Perry White is ready to fire the former Pulitzer-winning Clark Kent for poor performance. Clark only manages to save his job by leaping out a window and counting on Supernova to fly in and catch him... and scoring an exclusive. Again with the exclusives. Even the types who subsist on daily hour-long interviews with celebrities occasionally let other people speak to the celebrity too. The occasional exclusive is a coup. Exclusives as a business model means you stop caring about the product out of a knowledge that people are going to buy it anyway (see also: the Madden franchise).

No wonder so many journalists love Superman. They're better at their job than he is.

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