Pop Culture Questions: Superman Edition (Still Alive at 75)

I haven’t done an edition of Pop Culture Questions in quite some time, but I bought a magazine this past week that gave me the inspiration to write another one today.  It was an issue of a teen gossip magazine, Life Story, dedicated to Superman on the eve of the release of the Man of Steel movie and coinciding with the comic book icon’s 75th anniversary.  The cover promised a comprehensive overview of Superman’s life in comics, television, movies, stage shows, and many other forms of media, and a quick skim through the magazine showed this to be true (There really was a stage play at one point, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman).  The magazine has also caused me to think of some puzzling questions regarding the Man of Tomorrow such as…

How come Superman is 75 years old, but still looks so gosh-darned young?

I am well aware that Superman’s character has been rebooted and revised countless times over the past three-quarters of a century.  I still feel, however, that it is strange to have a character at 75 years of age who rarely shows any signs of his long life.  By now, I’d expect Supes to have a bald spot in place of that wind-swept mane of black hair, a hunched back instead of a straight posture, or even him taking a crosstown bus to a crime or natural disaster instead of flying everywhere.  But instead, all I’ve seen for the majority of my life has been a young big blue Boy Scout in the prime of his life and health.  I have seen an old or aging Superman occasionally, but usually as the result of a strange spell cast by his enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk, and even then, that appearance only lasted for one story at a time.  Whatever magical fountain of youth Supes has been soaking in off-panel for all these years certainly must be working well for him.  I wonder where it’s located…probably some forgotten corner of Oz…

How come Clark Kent has the most effective disguise in the DC Universe?

For the longest time, I thought that Superman’s secret identity of Clark Kent was the most obvious secret in the history of comic books.  Beyond a change in costume and a more well-maintained head of hair, the only significant change between Superman and Clark is a pair of glasses.  (Of course, some might say Clark appears to be noticeably lacking in muscle tone, but I’ve noticed that in recent years, the Daily Planet‘s most famous reporter has looked better and better in this regard, so I tend to ignore that part these days.)  Yet, outside of a select few other heroes who know his true identity, no one can connect the two together.  I’ve come up with two conclusions: either Clark’s disguise is as effective as Boris and Natasha’s costumes on Rocky and Bullwinkle at fooling the general public, or everyone in Metropolis is deliberately ignoring the fact that two of its most famous citizens just so happen to have a very strong resemblance to one another.  Either way, I find both sets of circumstances very telling indeed of the collective sanity of the ordinary peoples of the comic book universes we enjoy so much.

How come Superman is sometimes called the “Man of Tomorrow?”

I appreciate the fact that Superman has acquired many colorful nicknames over the years, all of which tend to represent an aspect of his character.  “Man of Steel” for bending steel bars and being as strong and tough as that substance.  “Man of Might” for being, well, mighty and strong.  “Big Blue” for wearing a suit composed mostly of one particular primary color.  One nickname of Supes that I never could stand, though trust me, I’ve tried, is “Man of Tomorrow.”  I think it’s supposed to be a vague representation of the hope for a brighter future the people of the 1940s and early ’50s had in mind, but I think it looks oddly out of place today.  If I didn’t know any better, based on this nickname alone, I’d make the assumption that by this time tomorrow, we’d all be able to fly, shoot beams of heat vision out of our eyes, and dash off to rescue young female reporters from malfunctioning jet liners.  I think it’s time we found a better way to express hope than saying “Man of Tomorrow.”  How about “The Man We Could Be?”  Supes has always been an upstanding U.S. citizen, a practical paragon of virtue.  Why not use a nickname that reflects such lofty aspirations?  D.C. Comics, I’ll be awaiting my cut of the check.

Are there any questions about Superman or any other aspect of pop culture you’ve always wanted answered?  Let me know in the comments, and your query might become part of the next installment of “Pop Culture Questions.”  Up, up, and away!

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