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Comic Book / Superman: Secret Identity

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"Maybe I had a 'secret identity,' but then when you think about it, don't we all? A part of ourselves very few people ever get to see. The part we think of as 'me.' The part that deals with the big stuff. Makes the real choices. The part everything else is a reflection of."
Clark Kent

Superman: Secret Identity is a 2004 Elseworld story based on the idea behind Superboy-Prime from Crisis on Infinite Earths, but executed as a standalone non-canonical story without ties to the larger DC universe. It was written by Kurt Busiek with art by Stuart Immonen.

On an Earth much like our own, where superheroes don't exist but Superman comics do, David and Laura Kent decide to name their newborn boy Clark, as a homage to the fictional superhero. He is frequently bullied in school (and later in his life, at work) for his non-existent powers, and people try to jokingly hook him up with girls named Lois. One day on a weekend trip, however, the teenage Clark discovers that, seemingly out of nowhere, he has acquired real superpowers that seem to match Superman's in all aspects.

From that point onwards, he decides to secretly use his powers for public good, adopting a Superboy and later Superman costume. Later, as an adult, he starts collaborating with the US government agent Malloy and settles down with one of the former joke-hook-ups, Lois Chaudhari, whom he develops genuine feelings for.

Provides examples of:

  • Cassandra Truth: Invoked by Clark, who wears an actual Superman costume to make reports of his heroics unbelievable.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Much like his namesake, Clark suffers from this, though he does his best to keep it in check. But, since the day he saved the teen during the flood, there was no turning back. Lois even reminds him of this when he considers retiring to protect his soon to be born children because she knows how much he would agonize over things he couldn't fix.
  • Clark Kenting:
    • Reconstructed. Clark wears large glasses as a basic disguise in case he walks past someone who worked in the lab where he was held captive. Clark knows that the glasses won't stop a government worker from recognising him if they meet face to face, but he figures that's relatively unlikely. He just has to stop them recognising him through the corner of their eye if they pass in the street, reasoning that the chamber he was in would have obscured his face just enough that nobody would have gotten a clear look at him at that point.
    • Clark also takes care to hide his face when in the costume without making a mask. He uses his speed to quickly arrive and disappear from rescue, he tries to stick to shadows and away from eyewitnesses, and his costume distracts attention away from this face. The latter also leads most people to dismiss the stories about him out of hand.
    • When he starts working more closely with the government, Clark uses facial inserts and other stage make-up to subtly change his appearance, and burns his fingerprints off glasses with low-power heat vision. Malloy still figures it out eventually, but keeps it to himself, and assures Clark he's destroyed most of the evidence he found by the time he retires.
  • Da Chief: Subverted with Ms. Mittelmark at The New Yorker. She offers Clark supportive and constructive criticism on his writing, but all it takes is her saying his name when Clark comes very close to laying into one of his co-workers after another bad Superman joke, then calmly telling him she needs one of his pieces by the afternoon without even looking at him.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Even after The Unmasqued World in the Distant Finale, Clark states that he is keeping his superpowers secret, along with the rest of his family, apparently just because he likes having a quiet life.
  • Hand Wave: This is how the presented explanation for Clark's powers can be described; although it's only hypothesized by Clark himself based on available information about his place of birth, and never confirmed definitely to be the real cause.
  • Happily Ever After: Clark gets to grow old happily with Lois and his loving family, still enjoying his superpowers and professional life. The world also seems happy and enriched for its superbeings.
  • Happily Married: Clark's parents were a closely-knit couple, and later Clark and Lois form their own happy family, with the presence of Clark's powers that are later inherited by his daughters enriching their lives.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Through several mostly harmless pranks with national security, such as putting Superman comic books in government briefcases, Clark makes it blatantly clear to Malloy that he could have taken the entire government down if he wanted to, and is more useful as an ally — lest the government pushes him into becoming what they fear him to be.
  • Kryptonite Factor: The only weapon shown to be truly effective against Clark is an electricity cannon the US government uses against him. The first time they hit Clark with it he's knocked unconscious, but not without frying the power grid for two countries.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Clark constantly notes how implausible his powers are. And then there's his name...
    Malloy: Talk about hiding in plain sight.
  • Logical Weakness: The first time the US government attack Clark they hit him with several missiles, which successfully disorientates him enough for him to be taken down with their electricity weapon. Just because Clark is invulnerable doesn't mean that the sensory input of several unexpected explosions at point blank range won't stun him.
  • The Men in Black: The government agents all wear black suits and shades, with Malloy being the ultimately reasonable version.
  • Mundane Utility: Clark's flight and super-senses are implied to be part of the reason he is a successful writer: Clark enjoys a vastly different (and somewhat removed) perspective on the world when flying above it, which allows his books to offer a novel viewpoint.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Clark got really sick of people constantly joking about his lack of superpowers despite sharing the namesake of Superman's secret identity, which he still isn't happy with even after he gets superpowers. "It's not funny. It never was."
  • Painting the Medium: The narration is printed on Clark's typewriter; in the final part, he switches to a computer, and the appearance of the "bubbles" changes accordingly.
  • Phlebotinum Battery: Subverted. When Clark's powers start weakening slightly in middle age, he tries to copy the comics and flies close to the Sun to recharge. He just gets an impressive winter tan.
  • Psychic Powers: It's implied that this is all Clark's powers really are, just shaped by his subconscious into Superman's powers. Clark himself notes that it's impossible that he can "hear" events miles away as they happen, faster and further than the sound travels. So logically he must be psychically sensing the sound waves at their source. This also explains how he can "turn off" his invulnerability for extracting blood and getting his hair cut.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Malloy, albeit not at first. After Clark demonstrates what he could really do if he wanted to via a series of mostly harmless pranks, he takes Clark's suggestions onboard and becomes this as his contact, later apologising for attempts by his colleagues to discover Clark's identity as it's "new blood at the home office". He's also under no illusions about Clark's happiness with their arrangement, apologising to him for it, and telling him that he would like to think he wouldn't have been involved in the attempted vivisection Clark underwent had been working there at the time. It's not just token gestures, either. When he retires, and Clark with him, he reveals that he's known Clark's real identity for decades because, for all Clark's precautions, Malloy is very good at what he does, and kept it a secret, even destroying some of the incriminating evidence so his successors can't use it. In fact, he's just ruefully amused at how Clark hid in plain sight.
  • Reconstruction: Of the superhero genre and Superman in particular. It goes over the obvious trials that would obviously come with someone discovering they had Superman's power set, especially in a universe where he's an in-universe fictional character. The government even reacts with Clark initially with fear and distrust due to the initial lack of superpowered beings in the setting. However, Clark is able to head whatever conflict he could've had with the government at the pass, collaborating with them as he becomes a hero worthy of the character he was named after. Thanks in part to his presence and a general shifting in priorities, the government transitions to becoming more tolerant of superheroes, leading to the world improving as the government opts to work alongside other superheroes as they begin to emerge rather than hunt them down.
  • Sanity Slippage: In the first book, Clark contacts a reporter named Wendy Case so he can have an outlet to express himself to the outside world about who he is and what he wants to do, but he cuts ties with her when he realizes she tried to videotape him without his knowledge. Sometime later, it's clear that the fame and hunger for making this story hers got to Wendy's head, and she stages a bomb scare to try and make Clark expose his powers to the wider world. The last we hear of her is that she was getting psychiatric evaluation.
  • Scrapbook Story: Presented in first-person perspective, as Clark's unpublished autobiography.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Malloy reveals on his retirement that he's figured out Clark's civilian identity years ago, as while Clark took precautions, he is very good at what he does. This and his matter-of-fact acknowledgement that Clark has only ever been working with them to ensure that he's left alone makes Clark decide that he probably will get him a bottle of scotch as a retirement present after all.
  • Secret-Keeper:
  • Shout-Out:
    • The art shifts at the end, including one in the style of Bruce Timm.
    • In the first issue two students are seen talking about Quantum Leap. In an amusing little meta Call-Forward, one states he'd like to see an episode where Sam leaps into either Al or himself when he was younger... two episodes that would in fact occur later on in the series.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero:
    • Clark is explicitly named after the fictional Superman's public identity, and somehow ends up with the character's powers. Semi-Justified/Handwaved: Clark suspects he may have subconsciously molded his latent powers to fit his moniker.
    • He avoided naming his children after any Superman characters. Though that doesn't stop his kids from naming their children after Superman characters.
  • Stronger with Age: Inverted. Clark's powers start to diminish when he reaches middle age, for unclear reasons. Eventually he needs to wear a padded Superman outfit when flying high, to keep out the cold.
  • They Would Cut You Up: The government tries to capture and vivisect Clark, after doing the same thing to plenty of others, including a baby. Clark's relationship with the government gets better eventually, partly because a later administration is less paranoid about superhumans.
  • This Is Reality: Each issue opens with a page from an old Superman comic, contrasting with the "realistic" collage-like art of the main comic. Each of those opening panels is an in-universe object — a Superman-themed gift someone gives to Clark, much to his annoyance.
  • Time Skip: The first issue is set while Clark is a teen, the second and third are both set while he is in his mid-twenties to early thirties, and the fourth starts when he is in his early fifties.
  • The Unmasqued World: By the end of the story, the existence of superhumans is public knowledge, and the government is working alongside them to better the world. However, Clark and his family keep their identities a secret - if nothing else, Clark likes a quiet life.
  • Troll:
    • A non-malicious version. Clark's daughters love giving him Superman gag gifts during Christmas and his birthday just to mess with him, though they both love him dearly.
    • Subverted with the teasing Clark gets from his friends and coworkers about his name. He truly finds it annoying but at times tries not to let it bother him. By the time he meets Lois Chaudhari he'd been set up in almost two dozen blind dates with a bunch of Loises, Lanas, and at one point a Cat Grant (noting that he didn't actually get that joke, but his roommate thought it was funny so he's guessing she was a character). After he's abducted by the government and nearly vivisected, Clark very nearly gives one of his coworkers a beatdown after hearing another Superman joke.
    • Clark plays pranks with the government to hammer his point to Malloy, like replacing classified papers for a meeting with old Superman comics.
  • Unusual Pop Culture Name: Since Clark Kent/Superman exists in that world as a fictional character.
    • Clark Kent's parents deliberately named him after the famous superhero, who he's ironically not a fan of, largely because of all the name-calling and jokes that result from such a name. This is all extra-complicated when he develops powers like Superman.
    • When Clark has two twin girls, he explicitly averts this by giving them non-Superman names... but they in turn name their kids Clark, Jimmy, and Perry.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Clark was pretty sick of the jokes before he developed actual superpowers.
  • X-Ray Vision: Clark isn't entirely sure how it works, but he doesn't use it on people unless he really needs to, just to be safe.