Originally posted 11/28/16
I’ve never had much love for Superman. Superman, as a story, is audience wish fulfillment. An infallible superhuman moralist just flies right up and punches his problems in the face. He’s the goodness personified for no real reason outside of the fact that it serves the story best that way. That if he weren’t, the story shifts to one of a terrorizing omnipotent being. There’s nothing wrong with a fairy tale that you don’t want to dissect too much, but he is fantasy.
And yet, I’ve written more stories about Superman than I ever have about his darker, more realistic (if still very improbable) counterpart Batman. In fact, I have never written a story about Batman, despite my deep desire to explore his pathos. I have, however, written poems, essays, extended metaphors, short stories and even once outlined a one shot about Superman. Clearly there’s something about this fantasy that calls to me but It wasn’t until this morning that I figured out what it was. I found myself thinking about an extended metaphor I wrote after watching Man of Steel, that the next director of the Superman films should be an immigrant. What I meant was that there needs to be a conscious effort to reach back to the roots of the Superman tale, a tale crafted by two Jewish immigrants in a developing city in the early 20th century. Two men who understood what it means to be an alien in a foreign land. And it was in remembering this review that the future of Superman seemed clear to me: today, he needs to be written by a black woman.
Black women fluctuate in the popular cutulre between sainthood and vilification. We are queens, the mothers of the earth, forever independent, spiritual warriors of the community and strong. Oh so very strong.
Or we are ratchet, impossibly angry, loud, irrational, welfare queens and the downfall of the black family unit in America. We aren’t ever human because humanity is the space in between the extremes. Humanity is all those things listed and also fun and weirdness and depression and fear and anxiety and confusion and joy and wrong and right and
And, and, and…
Superman knows how that works. Some days he’s the demigod that was faster than a locomotive and some days he’s the adversarial scapegoat that thinks he’s better than us mere mortals. Savior and destroyer. And whatever he is, he’s always the outsider.
Black men still get the privilege of being men, white women of being white. In a culture that values those two things the most, there’s always a safe public space for them. Other races don’t get included in our public discourse often enough for me to feel comfortable to extend this metaphor to them, so for now I’ll speak to what I know.
And what I know is that if it were somehow possible, I jump at the chance to play Clark Kent. While I would never want to abandon what makes me who I am, I certainly fantasize about what it would be like to put on a pair of glasses and instantly blend in. To be assumed unassuming. To be overlooked. To turn it off.
White guys of course know best what it’s like to be a white guy in America. Stories like Fight Club and American Beauty have to be told from a white male perspective because to change one of those elements would be to change the meaning of the story itself. I’m sure that can hold true for a Superman comic as well. But to get to the heart of Superman, you have to get to the heart of being a perpetual outsider. Clark Kent is an act that Kal El performs, he just happens to in the right costume to do so already.
Additionally, there’s a duality of this life that’s hard to capture unless you know it authentically. As great as the burden is, there’s a part of you that wants to be the unobtainable too. It’s an enticing idea, to believe that you suffer society’s judgement for some great purpose. Who doesn’t want to save every kidnapped hostage or be the queen mother to humanity? So Superman flies to as many disasters as he can and black women share memes about self-sufficiency with a “Black Girl Magic” hashtag and a 💯 emoji. The difference is of course that the fictional Superman just needs sunlight and to avoid kryptonite, while black women can only pretend to be invulnerable and can only dream of a true Fortress of Solitude.
White guys don’t usually think about their white male identity unless they are required to but I can’t imagine that Superman is able to not think of his identity and how it stacks up to the rest of the public. I simply want the next fresh take on the man of steel to be from someone who knows that plane of existence on an intimate level.