Jerome Siegel

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Richard Kluger

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Superman is the most fabulous of the comic book heroes—part of our folklore already, one might argue. And the most engaging feature of the Superman stories was surely not the fellow's prowess at bending bridges into pretzels or dispatching felons with a flick of his cuticle—for, by definition, he was invincible, so what suspense could there be over the outcome?—but the fruitless romance between Lois and Superman-Kent.

First, any good logician would have to question the assumption, perpetuated by the comic strip itself, that Superman was real and Clark Kent was the put-on. It is important to recall the famous episode … describing how Superman got here from the doomed planet Krypton: "A scientist placed his infant son within an experimental rocket-ship, launching it toward earth!" A nice rumpled couple discover the baby who is shipped to an orphan asylum till that nice couple decides to adopt the tiny strongman. No indication, mind you, of any documents on the rocket ship identifying the child (and had there been any, they surely would not have identified him as "Superman"—you wouldn't call a baby that, even on Krypton). No, the Superman part had to be invented, for that nice couple was named Kent, and their little hulk grew to supermanhood as a member of the family. When his adoptive parents died, "Clark decided he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind. And so was created—SUPERMAN, champion of the oppressed," etc. So no one's going to tell me Clark Kent slept with that costume on under his pajamas.

But why did he maintain the two identities?… Surely Superman could have performed his constabulary function quite as well without retaining the Kent alter ego. Why all that skulking around in closets and men's rooms and on window ledges shucking his baggy Clark Kent suit? I'll tell you why…. [Because] Superman wanted love. He looked like a man, talked like a man, indeed was a man, albeit a peculiarly endowed one. Why assume he had no libido? Is it not more logical to assume he had a super libido? He could, of course, ravage any woman on earth (not excluding Wonder Woman, I daresay)—may well have, in fact. But that is not love. Nor, understandably, did he want to be loved for his supermanhood. After all, anyone can love a Superman. What he wanted was to be loved as a mortal, as a regular guy; ergo, the Clark Kent identity. He was testing Lois Lane. But she, the dumb bitch, never got the picture; she was unworthy of him. Yet—yet I think he loved her; why else did he keep saving her and not a million other skirts? Beyond this, there is a tantalizing if somewhat clinical and highly speculative theory about why Superman never bedded down with Lois, never really let himself get hotted up over her; Superman, remember, was the Man of Steel. Consider the consequences of supercoitus and the pursuit of The Perfect Orgasm at the highest level. So Supe, a nice guy, had to sublimate…. [It] is a sign not of strength that Superman never goes near girls but, rather, of his critical flaw. (pp. 111-12)

Richard Kluger, "Sex and the Superman" (reprinted by permission of the author and Georges Borchardt, Inc.; copyright © 1966 by Partisan Review, Inc.), in Partisan Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, Winter, 1966, pp. 111-15.∗

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