Frank Miller Tells Us Whether Superman or Clark Kent is the Disguise in Superman Year One: Book Three (Spoilers)


Pre-Crisis interpretations of Superman generally assumed that Clark Kent was the "mask" and Kal-El the person. In the final pre-Crisis Superman story by Alan Moore and Curt Swan, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, when Superman's dual life is revealed, he completely abandons his Clark Kent persona. In the sixties, when Kent found himself at a loose end when staff at the Daily Planet goes on strike, he seriously considers it a chance to try out a new identity in case he has "to abandon my Clark Kent role permanently". His options include becoming a full-time policeman or homeless person "whom no one would ever suspect of being the Man of Steel".

In the TV series 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 Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Volume 2, with the character of Bill noting that Superman was not born into his alter ego, as 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, using this analogy to demonstrate how the character of the Bride could never abandon the killer she is even if she pretended to be something else.

Richard Donner, the director of the first Superman movie, stated that he believes Clark Kent to be the disguise. His bumbling Clark was always a put-on, something picked up by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely in All-Star Superman.

With John Byrne's reboot of the character, post-Crisis, that flipped giving Superman a greater grounding in Earth culture and humanity rather than the everpresent Kryptonian heritage of the Pre-Crisis version, which he now has no memory of. Here, Superman is considered the "mask" and Clark the person, made explicit by Clark after he revealed himself to Lois, saying "I'm Clark, the man you love. Superman is the creation – you named me, Lois."

As a result of his adopted parents, Kal-El grows up to think of himself as Clark Kent, completely unaware of his alien heritage until he was well into adulthood. 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, where Clark Kent is presumed dead, Superman expresses frustration at the idea of not being Clark and having to be someone else instead, saying "I am Clark. I need to be Clark. I'd go crazy if I had to be Superman all the time!"

In the Tempus Fugitive episode of TV series Lois & Clark, Clark attempts to persuade Lois that Superman does not define him: "Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am."

But in today, in Superman: Year One Vol 3 by Frank Miller, John Romita and Danny Miki (an art team that also has Batman #81 out as well) Frank Miller goes full Quentin Tarantino on us.

Superman's early rescue of Lois Lane, from the sea rather than the sky, seems to now inspire his future career.

And he studies journalism, goes to Metropolis and the Daily Planet… it does not seem a coincidence.

And he says it clearly. He needs a disguise for Clark Kent, not for Superman. And we get an infant-tantrum-Nixonian response when that doesn't always pan out.

That'd show 'em all – the adolescent power fantasy appeal of the Superman form, as text rather than subtext. Clark Kent is the disguise. Superman is who he really is. And as for Lois Lane…?


There are other options, that don't all begin with the letters LL. WW may potentially do just as well.

(W) Frank Miller (A) John Romita, Danny Miki (CA) Frank Miller

It's the jaw-dropping conclusion to Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.'s blockbuster reimagining of Superman's origin! In this final chapter, Clark Kent arrives in Metropolis, the city where he will fulfill his heroic destiny. Witness the first meeting between Superman and Lois Lane, the beginnings of Clark Kent's career at the Daily Planet, and the birth of his rivalry with Lex Luthor. But when The Joker arrives on the scene, the Man of Steel must enlist the help of his two strange new friends: Wonder Woman and Batman!

In Shops: Oct 16, 2019 SRP: $7.99

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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