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Why Superman's Disguise Actually Makes Sense

Updated on January 22, 2012

Introduction

Superman is the worlds most famous, and renown superhero. He is the archetype upon which the whole of concept of the superhero is based upon, yet is often considered the most laughable character, in terms of one of the superheroe's most iconic conventions: the secret identity. He is laughed at for his apparently feeble disguise and the other characters in his world, predominantly formed of supposedly intelligent people, are jeered for somehow falling for such a flimsy ruse. And, on the surface, these claims appear quite valid, yet, as with all things, what appears true on the surface, is many times quite false, under closer investigation. This is one such case. Many people criticize his disguise for being simplistic and irrational, all the while failing to think about, and see just how deep and well thought out the disguise truly is. It is far more than just a pair of glasses.

No Mask No Secret

The key to Superman's disguise is that he has convinced the world that he is Superman all the time, that he has nothing at all to hide, because if he did have something to hide, he would wear a mask. That may sound strange at first. No person could possibly exist only to save people, only to rescue those in need or fight for the poor and downtrodden, could they? The answer is no. But nor could a person possibly exist who could fly and move mountains with his hands, withstand virtually every weapon created by man without being harmed, fire beams of pure heat as intense as the sun from his eyes, burst the power of a hurricane or a blizzard from his lungs, or any of the other incredible thing Superman can do. In addition to his mysterious, almost godlike power, Superman has an apparently omnipotent presence across the world. He is present at virtually every major world catastrophe, every major tsunami, every earthquake, every alien invasion or giant monster attack throughout the world, he is there. On a local level, within Metropolis, every bank job, every armored car robbery, even in so much as kitten stuck up a tree, he is always there. The people of Metropolis, and the rest of the world, very realistically, see him as some sort of avenging angel, a visitor from another star who only exists to help them. The world see's someone who says that he is here only to help those in need, and to fight injustice and corruption where ever he see's it, and who genuinely means it, and if he is genuine about such things, what reason do they have to believe he is hiding anything? Yet that alone is not where the disguise ends, even the physical disguise is an incredibly layered and multifaceted ensemble, perfectly designed not to simply hide his features but to make him unnoticeable at all.

That's not quite all there is to it

More Than Just a Pair of Glasses

The main contention people have about Superman's disguise is that it is simply a pair of glasses, but this disguise goes far deeper than that. In the world of the Superman comics, Superman developed a large assortment of very subtle tricks that come together to make Clark Kent look unique, as well as bland and unnoticeable, causing him to blend into the background as a totally inconsequential person. The first subtle trick is that the glasses themselves are designed with a slight tint, that changes the color of his eyes. In addition to this, he possesses extreme muscle control, which allows him to shake hands with a rescued citizen, or give his parents a hug without crushing them, despite his incalculable strength. This ability allows him to alter his voice entirely, giving Clark Kent a completely different voice and manner of speaking. He also makes a point of slouching so he appears shorter, and wearing large, baggy clothes, so that those around him will assume that all of that bulk underneath his business suit is fat as opposed to muscle. This system of disguising his physical appearance, while layered, is not the complete system of disguise. The most important layer to this, mild mannered reporter facade is the personality.

Far more important than physical appearance, in identifying a person is their personality, who they are as an individual. We know who are friends are, not simply because of what they look like but because of what they act like, what their qualities and personality traits are. Here within this facet of the disguise is were the genius of act is really exemplified. Superman is strong, bold, and decisive, the epitome of macho and classical masculinity. He is the ultimate man's man, unwilling to take threats from anyone and powerful enough to stand against anyone or anything that wishes him or those he loves harm. Clark Kent, on the other hand, is shy, and weak, the kind of man who can't muster up the courage to talk to a pretty girl, let alone face down a great physical threat. He always backs down from any fight, allows himself to be bullied by his coworkers, and is always the first to run at any sign of danger. In many ways Clark Kent is presented as the antithesis of the bold and powerful hero in red tights. A perfect example of this is in Richard Donner's classic: Superman The Movie. There is a scene relatively early in the film, shortly after Clark arrives in Metropolis, in which he and Lois are confronted by an armed mugger. In this scene Clark pretends to pass out, out of shear fright, the moment the mugger fire's his gun, when, in reality, he used his superhuman speed to catch the bullet and save Lois. It's this personal mask, of the weak and feeble, frightened man, that not only makes him completely indistinguishable from Superman, but also completely inconsequential in everyday life. People tend to pay little attention to cowards and buffoons. To put this in perspective, imagine if you saw a goofy, wimpy, pudgy guy with a high voice, who's face greatly resembled that of Brad Pitt. Your first instinct would certainly not be "Oh my, there's Brad Pitt in disguise!" It would likely simply occur to you that that that man sort of looks like Brad Pitt, and then you would go about your day. This occurrence would certainly not spark your suspicion that one of Hollywood's biggest stars walks around dressed in some goofy outfit, making a fool of himself, just to throw people off - especially if...

Yes...But this wasn't the only time

They've Been Photographed Together

Yes, my friends, Superman and Clark Kent have been photographed together. There are many shape-shifters and tricksters in the DC Comics universe, and therefore, in order to secure his identity, Superman has, at times, had his trusted colleagues shift into Clark Kent so that the world can see Superman saving the mild mannered reporter, so as to protect his identity. This is also a trick used to explain Clark Kent's over long periods, when Superman was off fighting the forces of evil. The best example of this is the beginning of Action Comics #692, a the very end of the and epic three arc story which saw the death and return of Superman. Superman was killed earlier in the story and had been gone several weeks, before he miraculously returned from the grave and saved the world from his evil doppelganger, the Cyborg Superman. Shortly after his return, Superman has a shape-shifter shift into the form of weary and unkempt Clark Kent and hide amongst the rubble which was created during the battle which killed Superman. Superman then, in full view of news camera's is digging through the rubble looking for survivors, and finds Clark Kent, who claims to have survived, trapped in the basement of a building which housed a civil defense shelter. The world saw Superman and Clark Kent together on television.

Conclusion

Things aren't always what the seem. There are plenty of things which on the surface appear stupid or irrational, yet, when you look deeper, are are full of intelligence and thought. This, my friend is one of those many, many things. Superman has, perhaps the most intricate and layered disguise in the entirety of comic books, and as such, few people look past the obvious first layer into the intricate design of the ruse that is the bumbling, mild mannered reporter. And so, if remember so much as one a single thing from this article, remember this: it's more than just a pair of glasses.

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    • profile image

      Anon-e-mouse 23 months ago

      It should be "our friends are" not "are friends are".

    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 2 years ago

      In the past, they explained Superman's disguise and how well it works to fool people as super-ventriloquism or something like that. Not sure how it works, exactly..https://letterpile.com/books/Superman-vs-Incredibl...

    • profile image

      MsDe 2 years ago

      Lesley Downie - Hi Cath and Richard,I have just read your post. I am truly humbled by your coetnmms. Thankyou so much. We all have people in our photographic industry that we respect, admire and are inspired by. If all of us can inspire others, then we ourselves are enriched.Love you both.Lesley

    • William Avitt profile image

      William Avitt 3 years ago from Dayton, Ohio

      I have been saying this for years! How many times do you see someone from work dressed differently (in street clothes instead of a uniform, a t-shirt and jeans instead of a business suit) and don't recognize them at first? And that's just a change of clothes! Not to mention the hair, glasses, different mannerisms, different personality, subtly different voice... it works! However, it would NOT work on Superman's closest friends (Lois, Jimmy, Perry) because they see Clark Kent and Superman both on a fairly regular basis. But for anyone who knows Clark and not Superman, or doesn't really know either of them (the majority of the world), it totally works.

    • redfive profile image

      Levy Tate 3 years ago from California, USA

      Never saw it that way, so MASSIVE THANKS for writing this hub. Thinking of sharing this to friends!

    • profile image

      boot 4 years ago

      There is additional explanation in the comics that clark's glasses, made from kryptonian glass from his original trasport to Earth, have the ability alter people's perception. Don't feel like looking up where this is explained but you can find the info elsewhere on the net.

    • ParadigmEnacted profile image

      ParadigmEnacted 4 years ago

      This is a very clever and original article that I found very entertaining. Your theories, especially the first one, are sound and well explained. I see that you focus more on the comic books, but I don't recall Clark Kent and Superman being seen together in any of the shows or in the movies, and they definitely didn't have drastically different voices.

      Nonetheless this is a good article. My only suggestion is to go back through it and make a few minor spelling corrections. There are some instances, for example, where you say "are" when you mean "our," and little things like that. But I like this a lot.

    • profile image

      bullsit 4 years ago

      Yeah, no Clark doesn't look fat in any panel I've seen so I'm calling bs on that. All his suits are very fitting, as far as I can tell it's been that way since day one. As for the personality and all, meh it's a mixed thing there. The real reason is everyone is too stupid to believe it. 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. I only believe that would explain it because everything else makes no sense.

    • profile image

      jdaljda 4 years ago

      Hello

    • profile image

      Ben Blackwell 4 years ago

      This is interesting. You've actually cleared up a few things for me. I've always wondered about his disguise.

    • zaton profile image

      Zaton-Taran 4 years ago from California

      Very nice and dedicated post about the Man of Steel. You really did a lot of research lol. Don't forget Silver Age Superman's superability of super-ventriloquism allowed him to change his voice completely.

      https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Man-of-Steel-v...

    • Hazzabanana8 profile image

      Hazzabanana8 5 years ago from Southern Realms of England

      I love this hub. Really cleverly written and on a topic we have all thought about.

    • witnessing101 profile image
      Author

      witnessing101 5 years ago

      Thanks for the comment! I hope to post some more comic's related hubs in the near future. If you would like to read my previous Superman related hub you can check it out here. https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/The-Ultim...

    • animekid profile image

      animekid 5 years ago from Upstate NY

      This is a great hub you have here and a unique subject actually. As the writer for "Comics Eye" on Hubpages I never thought to write an article on this subject.

      I'm voting your hub "up," and I want to thank you for a thought provoking article about one of our most celebrated heroes (although DC is "Killing Him Now!)and I'll try to point to your hub in a future Comics Eye article.