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Why the return of Superman's secret identity might be larger than the Man of Steel

The iconic status quo returns in Action Comics #1050 in December

Action Comics 1050
Image credit: DC

Everything old is new again, with the news that DC is restoring Superman’s secret identity once again in next month’s Action Comics #1050.

"Some elements of the Lois and Clark dynamic can only be there with the secret identity,” Action Comics writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson told ComicBook.com, which broke the news. “And even just on a deep-down gut level, something about seeing Clark Kent in the tie and glasses again, ripping open his shirt to reveal the S-shield underneath, just feels AMAZING. It's an image that puts John Williams' music right in your ear, and you feel like you can fly. That's how we want every Superman story to feel.”

The restoration of the secret identity — which was revealed to the world in 2019’s Superman #19, although the 'New 52' version of the character had gone through the same thing three years earlier — won’t go entirely easily, it seems; Joshua Williamson, who’ll be writing the new Superman series launching in February, is also quoted as saying that “there are dangerous repercussions to how this happens that lead to more story to explore.”

Just how it happens, and the fact that it doesn’t just restore Clark Kent’s dual life but also Jon Kent’s, might be less important in the long run than the fact that it’s happening at all, of course. Superman’s secret identity — and the fact that the world thinks of Clark Kent as a regular, if meek and perhaps underwhelming, everyday man — might be core parts of the character’s mythos to mainstream audiences, but they’ve been absent from the comic book incarnation of Superman for a number of years at this point, in a change that has been largely accepted by the audience without complaint. It’s not like bringing Superman’s red trunks back after seven years of fans asking for it; it’s a decision that has been made for a specific reason… and at a specific time, as well.

Part of the subtext of the upcoming Dawn of DC initiative is the implicit restoration of DC in its prime, whatever that might mean: bringing back iconic characters, or iconic versions of characters, and pushing them into new spaces and in new directions. It’s why we get a new Green Lantern: Hal Jordan series, or a Green Arrow series, after years; it’s what’s behind bringing Billy Batson back to the Shazam role, or putting the Doom Patrol back together after the events of the Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds series. After the past few years of confusion and disorder when it comes to the DCU, Dawn of DC is telling fans old and new that it’s safe to come back again; everything is just as you remember it, and you can jump right back before we take you to new destinations.

Superman’s secret identity is part of that, as much as it’s fun to think that the Man of Steel would choose to share the truth about himself to the world at large. Outside of comics, people expect Superman to live a dual existence that involves his day job as a reporter at the Daily Planet; it’s a core part of the formula for the majority of people aware of the character. Giving Superman back the ability to put on a suit and tie and, for all intents and purposes, go undercover to solve problems in a way that the Man of Steel can’t, is carrying out part of the Dawn of DC mission, and restoring the character to his most iconic form — ready for a new slate of adventures to unfold for the widest possible audience.

That Clark Kent will once again be able to enter the Daily Planet building without being mobbed by onlookers hoping for super-favors is, of course, a news story in its own right — it’s a status quo change for one of pop culture’s most recognizable characters — but don’t be surprised if it’s just the start of a similar number of reversals to recent changes across the wider DC line, and part of a much bigger story hidden in plain sight.

(If only this means that we’ll see a Cyborg who’s once again sporting the tracksuit leisure wear that he did back in the '80s when his new series launches this summer…)

You can read more about Dawn of DC and what it might mean for the DC line and DC Universe right here.

Graeme McMillan

Graeme McMillan: Popverse Editor Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.


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