Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Open-handed appraisal.

Superman is, by far, my favorite comicbook superhero for a wide variety of reasons. It could be because of his presence in my life for about as long as I can remember. I learned to read from a Fisher-Price Read-Along Book entitled SUPERMAN: FROM KRYPTON TO METROPOLIS. I watched the first Superman film on VHS in Sydney, Cape Breton and instantly accepted it as gospel truth. Superman was real, I'd seen it with my own two eyes.

There's a long essay in me about the character of Superman as an embodiment of hope and an postmodern representation of godhood, or even as an idealized vision of how America wishes to be percieved in the wake of the second world war. That'd be an awesome essay to write, and I promise you we'll get to that in the fullness of time. For now though. . .I'd like to talk to you about something that actually bugs me about the Man of Steel. Indulge me, won't you?

Superman's costume is one of the most distinctive pieces of imagery in popular culture. Even people who've never picked up an issue of Action Comics in their lives know the distinctive s-emblem, the cape, boots, the shorts over the tights and the yellow belt. It's emblematic, it's powerful, it's a little silly looking (tradition usually dictates underwear be worn inside the pants, but the suit was modelled off a circus strongman so the trunks were put in). Simply put, it's a classic piece of imagery. . .that has a distinct design flaw that threatens to bring the whole dual-identity thing of Superman/Clark Kent crashing down.

Never mind the fact that Superman wears no mask and is frequently seen operating in broad daylight, yet no one in Clark Kent's life has made the distinction. I will accept that either something in the water makes people in Metropolis a little slow, or even a pseudoscientific macguffin whipped up on demand (he vibrates his facial features so a clear picture can't be taken, super-hypnosis, he adjusts his posture and wears glasses that cut his distinctive glacier blue eyes, etc). The glasses thing has been picked to death and that's not where I take issue. No no.

Examine the costume for a moment. Do you see the glaringly obvious fault here? Yep, you guessed it: Superman doesn't wear gloves. Everything he touches: the planes he swoops in to save, the steel girders he bends to bind up Metallo, the numerous keys to the city and award plaques, he's leaving fingerprints all over Metropolis and the rest of the damned planet.

You could argue that perhaps kryptonians don't have fingerprints, but if that's the case how did the Kents register him when he went to school? How is it that Lex Luthor hasn't put this together? All those years cramped inside the heads of giant robots or working all hours on purple-green suits of power armor and kryptonite death-rays must have addled his wits.

All in all though, it's a flaw that makes the gem. That's one of the things I love about comics; that they can be epic tales of good and evil that can be as deep and rich as any work of prose but aren't afraid to be silly at the same time.



snell said...

You could argue that perhaps kryptonians don't have fingerprints, but if that's the case how did the Kents register him when he went to school?

Actually (at least in America...I don't know about you Canadians...) you never used to register a kids fingerprints when you sent him to school...I started school in the (very) late sixites and seventies, and none of us were fingerprinted. It wasn't even a concept.

Of course it's impossible to say with the indeterminate sliding timeline DC uses, but even if you assume Clark Kent is what, 30, in 2009, he would have started school in Smallville in 1983 or 1984, well before such measures became standard (especially in wholesome small town America!).

Stacy said...

Hmm. . .an intriguing point you have there. Okay, so he could concievably get away with it into adulthood, but I thought at some point you were expected to put your fingerprints on file with the government. Or perhaps I'm just being Orwellian.

Thanks for the feedback!

snell said...

Well, it's getting more and more difficult, but no, there's no general requirement to have your fingerprints on record. I had managed never to be fingerprinted until last year, when a new state law required fingerprinting and police background checks for one of my professions. So much for my shot at the perfect crime!!

Stacy said...

Yeah, they got me when I had to be bonded in order to work as a security officer a few years ago. So much for my plans for being a supervillain. . .at least until I find the jade talon gauntlet hidden in the jungles of Bangalla. . .then the fools who dared cross me shall know my wrath as I ascend as The Emerald Claw, Lord of Evil! MWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAAAAAH!!


I mean, yeah, it's a real bummer. ^.^