As promised, from a non-fan to a new fan, a look at the Midwestern-ness of Big Blue himself. It’s a long one but I hope worthwhile.
In his article “Midwestern Distinctiveness,” R. Douglas Hurt calls Midwesterners “the quintessential…archetypal Americans”—the Midwest is “a cultural symbol” of American character. On the surface, that statement seems to come from nowhere. The Midwest includes only eleven or twelve states and does not list the powerhouse states so easily referenced in America: Texas, New York, California, and maybe Pennsylvania if one happens to be attending a history lecture. The statement just begs the question, what about America does the Midwest harbor that other regions do not? And how is it fair to claim other regions do not represent some genuine American vision— they are part of America after all! Hurt gives a fair list of Midwestern qualities that resonate with Americanism, such as diversity in public persona, culture, and opinion, a homely charm, preservation of family, perseverance and adaptability, and of course the legacy of the proud American land. There is no argument that any of these truly characterize the Midwest. Neither does their representation of the ideals of America come under controversy. Rather, support backing the claim that the Midwest in particular radiates with what America stands for—what comes to mind immediately when one thinks of America—still remains undetermined. A solid argument that America stands for glitz and glam, characteristics of the Hollywood scene, is easily extrapolated when considering the “cultural symbol” of America. Likewise, attendance to America as the land of opportunity brings up images of Lady Liberty, not the Great Lakes or the Sears Tower. Certainly, there is a dense history pointing to a time when the Midwest was a locus of Americana, but the same could be said of any region in its historical hay-days. So, again, why does the Midwest earn the title of American-iest region? How would anyone begin to judge the matter?
The simple answer, which becomes increasingly complicated the more one considers it, is to examine an American icon, break down its symbolic nature for the American “pieces,” and determine if they indeed stem from a Midwestern heritage. The idea is that if something is raised in the Midwestern bosom and somehow genuinely expresses quintessential American values, ideas, customs, etc., then Hurt’s claim could be more or less justified. The icon should be something that: (1) originates in America and (2) has amassed a legacy in the American nation as well as around the world—since a quintessential piece of America should be readily recognized outside of its borders—and (3) is not restricted to any particular historical period of America. While there are plenty of icons that shout “America!” around the world today, choosing one that resonates with American values on its surface is sorely difficult. For instance, while the American flag is an obvious choice, it is not really an icon that immediately screams the values of America—maybe its history or marker of pride, but any flag does that. Neither does the bald eagle, the Model-T Ford, apple pie, Disney, or Starbucks emanate a distinctive plethora of American values and imagery. But there is one icon which, while perhaps not an immediate go-to for American symbols, nonetheless expresses American ideals in myriad ways. Across the globe, whenever anyone sees the big red S hung in a golden shield, people know…Superman stands for America. But what about Superman’s link to the Midwest? After determining Superman’s American credentials, the test of his Midwestern heritage will provide strong evidence in favor of Hurt’s claim that the Midwest is “the essence of the United States.”
It is not too difficult to conceive of Superman as an American icon. The easiest allusions are on the face of Superman iconography, like his primary colors (not a perfect match to the red, white, and blue flag, like with say Captain America but the image is not too far off) and the Superman motto: fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. The trick really is to first establish an “American” value or trait which can range in any number of ways, then look to Superman for an image. For example, the very broad representation of America as a powerhouse, a strong national entity, matches perfectly with the, arguably, most powerful superhero to date. Digging deeper, the potential sources of American strength are also invested in the man of steel. The diverse population that brings the cultural diversity and enhanced adaptability to the nation crosses over to Superman’s myriad abilities—flight, super strength, laser and x-ray vision, ice breath, and rapid healing—all of which he must call on to win his bouts. Another way to look at American strength might come from its industriousness, at least at one time. Much of present day systems in America, such as education, are still grounded in industrial visions of the nation. Industriousness sets the foundation for the American value of progress. Looking to Superman, even though his own powers make him virtually indestructible, his Fortress of Solitude warehouses some of the most genius inventions and gadgetry for the 21st Century supervillain fighter. For example, the entire fortress is staffed by a crew of highly sophisticated robots, constructed by Superman. There is an ominous Warsuit in the fortress, granting him enhanced strength in a battle-hardy cocoon of armor wired directly into his brain, complete with panels blocking kryptonite radiation. Superman also devised a selective amnesia-inducer to erase his secret identity from the minds of Batman and Robin. More to the point of industriousness is Superman’s willingness to collaborate and call upon the brilliance of others like John Henry Irons a.k.a. the superhero Steel who helped design the Phantom Zone Projector, allowing Superman to see the history of Krypton without unleashing anything. And S.T.A.R. Labs is a primary trove for Superman gadgetry, including his spacesuit (back when he needed it).
Superman’s iconic Americanism also fits in with some socio-cultural elements of the nation. From the very beginning of Superman, there was a keen sense of chauvinism albeit with a focus on defending women. Unlike the tamer quality of the Superman in the past decade, the first Superman did not shy away from beating down bad guys, who were then just a string of average human thugs, all for the sake of rescuing a woman in distress or peril. Men were depicted as ravaging slime balls while women were depicted as helpless, all except for Lois Lane. But even she needed saving, prompting the manly Superman to unnecessarily use all his brawn to save her. The earliest glimpses of Superman pay tribute to the dominating male-ocracy that plagued and continues to infiltrate society today. But Superman is more than a picture of man, he also contributes to the interest of American diversity as a culture and the hope of America as a new home to immigrants. Superman after all is an alien, one who assimilates to the culture of humanity, American culture in particular. He then comes to respect and believe in American values and fights to preserve them. Superman is in a way an American son despite his Kryptonian blood.
The image of Superman also serves to bolster the American perception of itself as a kind of “number one” in the world. Sure, there is plenty of evidence to decry that perception along with an argument that any debate around which country is best is pointless. But the imagery of America as a leading force in the world, not necessarily by power as discussed above, but perhaps by celebrity figures into the Superman icon. He was the first to have his own title in comics after starting out in Action Comics! But a stronger image comes from looking at the Justice League of America. Take any piece of concept art, any major storyline that comes out of the Justice League franchise, one will find Superman has the central position. He is one of the “big three” next to Batman and Wonder Woman, but he always seems to have that primary focal position—front and center, most protruding, first in line, highest—flanked by the other more prominent figures including Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, etc. In a sense, there is no Justice League without Superman. The same could be said of Batman or Wonder Woman true, but that is likely not the first character to be scouted in an image of the Justice League. In the same perception, American pride in itself could be said to stream from Superman’s perception in the Justice League and its numerous adaptations.
The final two reference points for highlighting Superman’s credit as an American icon are the opposing characteristics the nation seems to fight within itself consistently. First is the stance on justice and freedom as a binding force for all, and the second is the frightening threat of the detrimental power that freedom grants. Now, justice and freedom for all is certainly not perfectly seated in American history or culture in any institution or conception. Yet within the conflicting notions of what justice and freedom for all means to Americans, there is at least the driving principle that the most American thing to do is treat people with respect and that all people have a sense of dignity unless he or she has somehow defiled it on his or her own—the attempt to tread lightly here complicates the point. Superman, however, seems to offer a picture of what the American way, the call for justice and freedom for all, means. The best examples of Superman’s judicious nature stream forth when he encounters beings comparable in power to him who believe their power gives them authority and dominion over others who are powerless to stop them (this accounts for nearly all major Superman nemeses!). For example, Lex Luthor’s extremely advanced intellect which he has refined to deadly precision gives him power in a very real sense, and combined with his egomania, he plots often to claim rule over the world, sometimes under the delusion that he has a duty to do so. Other villains like the three Kryptonians sent into exile before the planet’s destruction and who eventually land on Earth— Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban—immediately seek to enslave humanity with a hypnotizing machine. When these villains confront Superman, calling him naïve and cowardly for not usurping power over humanity since he so easily could, the villains get a lesson in what the preciousness of humanity is: that they are endowed dignity and he (Superman) has no right to lord over them simply because he can. The obvious relation to Americanism needs no further description.
The villains in the previous scenarios do have a point though: Superman could take over the world instantly, which raises the last characteristic quality of the American icon in Superman: he is a potential threat to peace. America boasts a lot of good qualities, but it certainly cannot overlook its many instances of menace to the global community. America harbors a tremendous consumer culture and partakes of a very shallow attitude toward environmentalism. The nation also stands fully prepared for nuclear holocaust, and it maintains a very impressive military. Should the nation’s block to conceptions of dominance, diversity relations in and out of the country, ever fail, then America may wreak a lot of havoc. In the same way, Superman is Earth’s mightiest hero, but not because he has to be. It is by will alone and the belief in the spirit of humanity mentioned above that he plays the role of the protector. Even in fulfilling that role, he attracts a lot of unwanted attention for his super-prowess and causes a lot of damage in fulfilling his role as protector of the innocent, not unlike military actions in the Middle East. In a way, Superman also prevents progress to a certain degree by constantly saving people, fighting battles for others. Compare this characteristic to government bail outs and intervention in nations who could certainly use saving but who are nonetheless rendered ineffective at dealing with their own problems when America steps in to rid the world of heinous dictators. And harking back to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude with its massive armory, the comparison to the capitalistic culture and patents system prevents faster advancements by allowing monetary gain to take precedence over humanitarian gain—not that Superman is holding out for the highest bid on his gravity gun, but he has not shared the insights of such technology either. Since Superman does have such a weighty potential for harm, it is important that he maintain his relationship with humanity through Lois Lane and other humans, just like America has to have its domestic and foreign relations council stay abreast of concerns. One might even say the need for a good friend like Batman, armed with a potent piece of Kryptonite, is important as well just like America needs countries with similar lordship over its weaknesses: oil and other consumer goods!
It seems safe to assume Superman is an appropriate American icon given the many values and characteristic American qualities encapsulated in his persona and story. The task now involves abstracting from this American icon its Midwestern heritage and the Midwestern elements of his character. It is important to note the characteristics mentioned thus far are not specific to the Midwest, though they must necessarily be in the region to make sense of Hurt’s claim. Rather, the Midwestern heritage and character of Superman must serve as a filter in the expression of the American characteristics, whether directly or indirectly. And as serendipity would have it, the greatest Midwestern influence on Superman comes from the creator: a Clevelander from Ohio named Jerry Siegel.
Siegel and the co-creator of Superman Joe Shuster began writing together in Glenville High School in Cleveland, OH. Before they were thirty, they originally created a supervillian with vast intellect which they dubbed “The Superman” in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Later, they reconceived the character as a good guy with the familiar back story. The idea was to present a “Champion of the Oppressed” in a time when so many Americans were beleaguered by the crisis in America, which also included the horrible dust bowl wrecking the overworked Great Plains and sending farmers and their families to sit alongside the broke and unemployed. The Golden Age of Comics, sparked by Superman as the first to gain its own title, provided a much needed escape from the dreary reality to a world where larger-than-life heroes right the wrongs with little effort. However, the heroic nature of Siegel and Shuster’s character does not personify the Midwest as much as his alter ego Clark Kent. The concept of a mild-mannered reporter living a double life was very exciting to the two creators, and much of their design for Clark Kent comes from looking at themselves. For example, Kent’s glasses are iconic to the alter ego; Siegel and Shuster both note how they wore glasses and sort of gave them a boyish look not unlike the then popular silent film comedian Harold Lloyd (the persona for the mild-mannered Clark Kent according to Shuster). Not particularly a Midwest feature, but it is a start! Most important was the backstory of the famed superhero which sets the stage for what makes Superman a Midwestern character.
The co-creators could not have simply dropped their hero into any setting when he crash-landed on Earth. As with the irony of their own story—a world famous character originating from the humble abode of two Jewish Ohioans—Superman starts out in a rural setting, found by two passing motorists, who would be developed more in the Superboy franchise, the Kents. They run a farm in Kansas. As stories have progressed with each succeeding age in comic book history, more writers have paid increasing attention to the humble origins of Superman. Even the most recent adaptation, a feature film set to release in 2013 titled Man of Steel, promises to explore the real nature of Superman from his early years as the theatrical trailer whizzes through shots of gray, rainy settings, large open fields, and the small, lonely rural home of a playful boy. Overhead, the voice assumed to be Jonathan Kent, Superman’s adoptive father, waxes poetic about the moral burden his gifted son will face in the future.
You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be.
Whoever that character is—¬good character or bad—he’s gonna
change the world.
Even though Siegel and Shuster are not responsible for carrying the origin story as far as it has gone—including the very successful ten season run of Smallville on cable television devoted to presenting the early years of Clark Kent coming into his role as a super-powered savior (which stars Newburgh, Indiana native Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor)—they provided a foundation in rural upbringing which allowed the different ages of Superman to retain the sense of Midwesternness through writers from in and out of the Midwestern perspective, such as Edmond Hamilton from Youngstown, Ohio, David S. Goyer and Kurt Johnstead (co-screenwriters for the upcoming Man of Steel) from Michigan and Wisconsin respectively, Cary Bates from Pennsylvania, Grant Morrison from Scotland, and Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (writers and producers of Smallville) from Maryland and England respectively. Siegel and Shuster laid the groundwork for the central tenets of Superman’s Midwestern character.
Hurt’s article on “Midwestern Distinctiveness” sets out the defining features of Midwestern character and personality. He quotes Booth Tarkington’s description of Midwesterners as “‘pleasant people’ who were ‘easy-going, yet not happy-go-lucky; possessing energy without rush, and gaiety without extravagance.’” Midwesterners are also a hospitable people “‘without exertion’” better known as friendly, interested in cultivating a comfortable or homely atmosphere. They are a moral people more interested in the common good than committing to social idealism, even though the two intercede in some regards. They have a tendency to occupy the middle ground on political and social issues of the day, though the characteristic has plenty of aberrations. The Midwestern identity plays to both rural and urban lives; in a sense there are two Midwests, the rural and the urban. And of course there is the distinctive diversity of culture found in the Midwest. In short, Hurt’s analysis of the Midwest suggests an identity marked by contentedness and concern for others. Sounds enough like Superman, and the key to understanding how deep the Midwestern character runs in Superman is arguably in his relationships: from the whole of Earth to his closest kin, from his loving bond with Lois Lane to his tempered distrust of Lex Luthor. Examining these relationships in detail will offer the greatest glimpse at the Midwestern character in an American icon.
Superman’s relationship with Earth is striking from the get go, literally! He begins life really with no knowledge of his home on Krypton and so perfectly assimilates to Earth life and culture in America. His relationship to humanity is reflected in his desire to be like one of the people, in his alter ego Clark Kent. Contrary to the Tarantino-ed version of what Clark represents—a criticism of human weakness, per the words of Bill in Kill Bill, Vol. 2—Clark is Superman’s summation of what is worth protecting in life. Clark’s Midwestern upbringing figures into the preciousness of humanity: hard-working, friendly, reserved, middle-of-the-road, and a moral center. He is an outgoing member of the Daily Planet staff albeit a mild-mannered one. While Kent appears less than Superman in most if not all Superman media, he is an important link to Earth as is his human relationship with Lois Lane, discussed later on. In one story arc, Clark Kent is presumed dead, and Superman admits his frustration with having to be Superman all the time. And major problems arise when Superman loses sight of his Kent identity. The boy raised in rural America and the morality learned there all but disappears and he begins to terrorize Earth in anger. Fortunately, a gift from Wonder Woman, a pair of glasses, helps him see what he loses without Kent, so he resumes the life of awkwardly trying to fit in. Superman needs Clark Kent in as much as Clark Kent, a figure of humanity, needs Superman.
From Clark Kent, the next turn should lead to his parents. As discussed above, the Kents are responsible for bringing about the Superman cherished in superhero comics around the world. While the story has sometimes changed in varying degrees as to how they received Superman into their home, the modern version has remained the most popular, where Jonathan and Martha Kent remain a major part of Superman’s life well into Superman’s adulthood. This version shows prominently how Superman is able to return home, showing his great interest in maintaining close ties with his Earth family despite knowing he is a Kryptonian. While Hurt does not expressly mention it in “Midwestern Distinctiveness,” concern for family and family relations is a well-considered trait of the Midwest and gives rise to the homely and friendly demeanor of its people. The family ties are so great that Martha, in the famed story arc “Death of Superman,” spots the difference between Luthor’s cloned Superman and her boy just by looking at the clone’s disgruntled face on television. Only Martha and Lois, who had become Superman’s secret girlfriend prior to his death, were hesitant when the clone shows up to the shock of everyone who witnessed him die only weeks prior. Not to say that all or only Midwestern mothers can tell their own progeny apart from clones, but the situation says something of the relationship Superman developed to his Midwestern parents and the traits he gained from them that a mere clone will not do.
The importance of the family relationship is also seen in the third version of the Kents in which there is a rift between Jonathan and Superman (also a major theme in Smallville). As Superman becomes more interested in his Kryptonian origins, Jonathan feels estranged and more concerned that Superman use his powers for the good of all mankind, even though he feels isolated from his adopted son and therefore has no major role in shaping Superman’s identity. The dutiful mother maintains family relations and advises Clark, as she always calls him, through encrypted emails as Superman travels across the globe. Truth, justice, and the American way are certainly attitudes Superman receives from his humble childhood in Smallville but so is the friendly mannerism and interest in maintaining a quiet, contented relationship with his parents—a characteristic that greatly influences his intimacy with Lois Lane.
The extension of the Superman family is another reason the Kents are a calling card of Midwesternism. When Superman encounters two other notable figures in comic book history, Supergirl and Superboy or Kara and Conner, he endeavors to assimilate them as he was so they might know the love present in humanity and so be willing to one day protect it. The Kents happily take them in to raise as their own children, befitting their Midwestern character toward strangers. And Superman’s concern for his blood relatives in many instances: not wanting to give up his wardship of Kara so she may be trained by Wonder Woman, his acceptance of Conner, a cloned version of himself, as a member of his Superfamily, attempting a rescue of Kara from Darkseid on Apokolips, etc. The stories surrounding the Kents and the Superman family is an enduring part of the Superman mythos, essential for demonstrating Superman as a friendly and concerned character as well as for establishing his orientation toward human family as characterized by his Midwestern upbringing.
The Kents are not Superman’s only relationship displaying his Midwestern character. Since the introduction of World’s Finest Comics and later the series devoted specifically to them, the friendship between Superman and Batman has become as well-known as the dynamic duo itself (in the comic book universe anyway!). Of course, most of the storylines for these series are consumed by the two heroes confronting a common menace—more like menaces because any storyline involving the need for both requires an unholy amount of bad situations and evildoers. But in between action sequences, both the banter between the two characters as well as the novel device of dual narration—a technique introduced in Superman/Batman to present the characters’ thoughts about their counterparts and deliberations over how the other will likely behave—demonstrates the intricate nature of Superman’s homely Midwestern upbringing played against the tragic, antihero of Batman. Even though they share the same basic set of morals, their personalities are very distinct. On the one hand is Superman with an optimistic outlook and trust for mankind. On the other hand sits the Dark Knight who breathes righteous vengeance, virtuous hatred, and does not trust anyone fully, not even Superman. During a scene where Superman has a Kryptonite bullet lodged dangerously near his heart, he asks Batman, who is performing microsurgery on Big Blue, to use his fortune to buy a sense of humor. In a time of crisis, Superman does not lose his humble charm or friendly demeanor. Batman just grunts.
Even though Superman knows Batman does not play fair, as he contemplates when the two plan to rescue Supergirl from Darkseid—indeed the Dark Knight was ready to nuke the entire planet of Apokolips to retrieve Supergirl—he believes in the good of the dark hero. Superman believes that underneath all of the fear-inducing methods of crime fighting and the calculated ruthlessness there is supreme goodness in Batman. At times, Superman is unnerved by Batman’s lack of trust. He is irritated when Batman does not side with him as to whether or not Supergirl should remain under his care instead of living with Wonder Woman to train to be a hero—family is family. Still, Superman’s trustworthy nature follows from his humble and friendly Midwestern character. And that sense of trust runs so deep that Superman gives a ring of kryptonite to Batman, believing that should Superman ever go rogue (as he does a number of times) Batman will ensure goodness will prevail. As one of his closest friends, Batman will be able to preserve the common good of humanity, a Midwestern ideal.
One last interesting vantage point from the Dark Knight toward Superman is how non-Midwestern characters see Midwestern characters. Batman concedes that deep down Clark Kent, the name he uses when thinking about Superman, is a good person, and that he himself is not. Batman does not envy Superman’s ‘goodness’ but instead finds it frustratingly naïve. He is also irked by Superman’s interest in having a life beyond the cape. He is perplexed why someone with such power and responsibility for that power wastes the time on trying to build a life with Lois Lane and keeping ties with the Kents and his friends at the Daily Planet. He even pulls the old vanishing routine on Superman when he asks the Dark Knight to join him and Lois for a quiet dinner at home. Homeliness just seems a lost cause and a trivial way to live for those who were not raised in a Midwestern setting. To be fair, Superman cannot fully understand what drives his brooding friend to hate so much. But Batman respects Superman’s ability to use strategy and be the kind of hero who uses brain instead of brawn, like when he uses the art of deceit to bring down the powerhouse team The Elite: Superman tricks the team into believing he will kill them to send a message to Earth about the mercy of real heroes—Batman does that all the time! While they share many differences, especially in temperament and attitude toward the world, the contrasts between the two characters make them an ultimate team for good, and that works out to the advantage of all who need protection.
Finally, while the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane has come up numerous times already, how the intimate relationship reflects Superman’s Midwestern character deserves fuller attention. Now of course their relationship is not to say anything about the distinctiveness of Midwestern love; it would likely be hard to make the argument that such a thing exists. Rather, Lois Lane provides a new point of perspective to the Superman character not yet discussed, that is the idea that there are two Midwests: the rural, from the farm boy Clark Kent, and the urban, sassy Lois Lane. Superman’s interaction with the story-driven reporter bring home the point that the Midwest is comfortable with, even attracted to, the urban life as much as it holds a fond place for the rural.
Superman’s move to Metropolis is rarely considered when discussing the Man of Steel, but it raises a very interesting question: why would he move? That question resonates in the Midwest: why would anyone come here? Midwesterners themselves are especially prone to ask that question, doubly so if talking about a small rural area, because they do not feel their region is captivating to non-residents. This line of thinking slips a bit since Metropolis does not necessarily have to be set in the Midwest, although the people of Metropolis, Illinois—a real city proclaiming they serve as the home to Superman and have landmarks celebrating it—would be very upset were someone to assert otherwise! Nevertheless, the move from rural to urban and the lasting relationship between the two are grounded in Midwestern history. But it is not as though Clark Kent suddenly turns urban.
Other than the suggestion that Superman moves to Metropolis to be where he could be of most use with his talents, the prime account for why Clark leaves Smallville is to attend college, set in the story arc where the Kents die soon after Clark’s high school graduation. He bereaves the loss of his parents and aims to do right by his father in becoming a protector of the people. It would help to understand where Metropolis is in relation to Smallville. Smallville and the second generation of Superman comics seem to suggest it is within a relatively short driving distance from Metropolis. Other accounts suggest it is hundreds of miles away. Either way, the move to the port city of Metropolis marks a major turning point for Superman as he relates to his environment. Sure, there was no shortage of weird happenings in Smallville requiring the attention of the young Superman, but the move to a big city provides a whole new perspective for Superman as far as the breadth of crime: organized gangs, corrupt city officials, new supervillains, and no shortage of Earthly catastrophes that seem more devastating in the steel and cement haven of Metropolis. Urban life is also a drastically new social setting for the small town Clark Kent, and one person in particular would more or less break him into life in the big city: Lois Lane.
Even conceding the story where Clark attends college at Metropolis university (thereby suggesting he would have become enculturated to some degree with city life through his school years), making an everyday living in the city submerges Superman in the thick of where he will perform the lot of his superheroism as well as where he will establish his adult life as Clark Kent. Lois Lane greatly influences this transition as a career rival and as an intimate partner. One account of Lois reveals she too grew up on a farm but that city life was her dream, aiming to become a “courageous girl reporter,” “a competent reporter who’s always on the job,” “one of Metropolis’ smartest reporters,” the “star girl reporter for the Daily Planet,” the “audacious girl reporter of the Daily Planet,” “the prettiest girl reporter in Metropolis,” a “well-known newspaperwoman,” and a “famous reporter.” She is also very much interested in advancing the equality of women in the workplace. The career-driven woman is very much a distinct character from the strong rural woman since the former is motivated by the personal while the latter more likely works for a greater good—these lines are of course subject to blur and the comic book world certainly pays tribute to blurriness but for the sake of argument the distinctions help to demonstrate the two worlds which round out the Midwestern character of Superman.
Lois Lane initially pays little attention to “Smallville” as she likes to call him. He seems little threat to her prowess as a reporter until he lands a big story on the new hero in town, Superman. She begins to track the hero herself, but Clark continues to steal the scoops from her for obvious reasons, claiming he has an ‘in’ with Superman. Because Lois tails Superman often as well as seeks big stories to oust her new competition at the Daily Planet, she almost unavoidably runs into trouble, prompting Superman to interact with her to a greater degree than most other civilians he saves. Slight traces of attraction between Lois and her savior begin to develop and that is arguably the point where Superman begins to encompass his urban side—he cannot very well portray himself similarly as Clark Kent yet he does not develop a completely distinct identity. Much like a Peter Parker/Spiderman dynamic, Superman emits a kind of edginess that the mild-mannered farm boy simply does not. Superman is quick with a joke to calm Lois down upon rescuing her whereas the quiet, reserved Clark Kent would rarely if ever approach her so boldly. Superman also displays more brilliantly his charm while the awkward Kent behaves in a clumsy manner around his counterpart in the office (which works to his advantage when he needs to make a quick escape to change into Superman). It is to be expected that Lois should fall for Superman over Clark Kent which builds the irony whenever she throws good-natured insults at Clark for missing out on the action. The reconciling of Superman and Clark Kent through Lois develops through their growing intimacy.
It would be a failure in this discussion not to reference Lois’s obsession with learning Superman’s identity and her clever attempts to prove it is Clark Kent. When it comes to disproving Lois’s claims, Clark has to call on some quick-witted responses not necessarily characteristic of his rural side; thus, one might argue Superman, the urban entity, is responsible for keeping Lois in the dark. In the acclaimed story of Superman’s death though, the grieving Lois Lane is drawn to realize the truth, not to expose it but rather to come to grips with the dynamic individual with whom she has shared her days. She visits the home of the widow Martha Kent looking for comfort that no one in the city can offer her. Lois feels the sense of homeliness she never really paid attention to growing up and connects with the side of Superman she had up to then been teasing. In the same story, she recognizes almost as immediately as Martha that the cloned Superman is not the one she loves. And in The Elites storyline, Lois becomes frantic when Superman begins to behave as though he would kill the tyrannical foursome known as ‘The Elites,’ an act completely inconcsistent with his good-natured rural character, despite the note he leaves her asking her to “believe always believe.” As her love for Superman grows, she becomes enamored more by the humble values of Clark and slowly erodes any distinguishing thoughts she has between the two. Instead, she takes up the mantle of protecting Superman’s identity as a calling of her own, realizing that because of the love they share, his humanity must be protected as much as anyone else’s. Despite Superman’s godliness, Lois becomes one of the few on Earth who sees Superman as a complete character drawn from his rural roots as well as his urban life. Superman’s Midwestern character is reflected in the unity Lois brings to the rural and urban images of the Midwestern identity.
Hurt recognizes at the beginning of his article that for Midwesterners “‘nothing is as good as it used to be, but things are getting better all the time’” and “it is a matter of cultural faith.” There is a familiar tone of naivety in that suggestion, one which may not resonate with all or even the majority of Americans who likely spin their attitudes toward the dry, post-modern cynicism of The Daily Show or overreaching outrage from Fox News. So the shock of calling the attitude expressed by this belief the most American weighs heavily against the frame of reference conceived by America at large. Yet when examining an American cultural icon like Superman, the assertion that naivety and optimism mark the quintessential American perspective does not seem so foolish. Superman stands for truth, justice, and the American way. He is a world known figurehead of Americana who represents key American values and features. Underlying that iconic image though is a very prominent Midwestern character cultivated from a homely couple in rural Kansas. Superman’s relationships with family, friends, coworkers, love interest, and humanity in general demonstrate a friendly, trusting, middle of the road, demeanor spearheaded by optimism and concern for the greater good. Indeed Superman would not be Superman without these qualities. Since his role as an American icon depends so much on his Midwestern character, Hurt’s claim about the distinctive American-ness of the Midwest is conceivable and well-supported.
When I was young, I knew I would be someone different when I grew up. I would leave home and make a new life for myself. A new start, a second chance. When I first went to Metropolis, it was filled with people who’d done the same thing. People from all over America—from all over the world—who went to the city to live the lives they wanted, to be the people they wanted to be. That’s the idea that America was founded on, but it’s not just for people born here. It’s for everyone. —Superman #711 “Grounded, Part Nine” (2011)
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