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When Superman: The Animated Series Tried to Make Clark Kent Cool

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When Superman: The Animated Series Tried to Make Clark Kent Cool

The Late Mr. Kent

“The Late Mr. Kent” is easily one of the strongest episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, a clear example of the importance of breaking formula and trusting the audience to accept something different. Can turning the focus to Clark Kent also benefit the monthly tie-in comic?

Superman Adventures #18 (April 1998) presents “It’s A Wonderful Super Life!” by writer Devin K. Grayson and artist Aluir Amancio. Amancio enjoyed a lengthy run on this title, penciling many of Mark Millar’s issues, while Devin K. Grayson was a new writer at DC at this time. She apparently chose to pursue a career working in the non-profit sector over freelance writing, but for a while, Grayson received no shortage of industry press. She was even one of the creators Marvel tried to lure away from DC during the early days of the Marvel Knights imprint, with the 1999 Black Widow miniseries.

While the cover of the issue wouldn’t lead you to believe this is a Clark Kent tale, it fits into a recurring motif — while Clark is investigating a routine public transit story, his life as Superman continually gets in the way. After weeks of mediocre work, Clark’s desperate to please Perry White on the story. Even though his Daily Planet coworkers dismiss the assignment as a joke, Clark investigates the feud over a conflicting monorail and subway stop with grave resolve. However, there’s always a montage of Superman action distracting him from the story.

Frustrated, Clark visits his parents’ home for lunch, explaining to them his unease with his double life. Clark questions if perhaps he should live life as a full-time Superman, since his responsibilities as a hero aren’t allowing him to truly live as Clark Kent anyway. His parents advise him that Clark’s life has a meaning of its own, and that people count on him in both identities. The warm relationship between Clark and his parents stands in sharp contrast with the, let’s say, less than noble portrayal of the Kents in their recent film appearances. My personal bias is that this is the best interpretation of the characters; but I suppose others might enjoying seeing them as selfish, paranoid misanthropes. Everyone has opinions.

Inspired by his parents, and his 4:00 deadline, Clark continues to investigate the feud over the mass transit stop. His enquiry leads to the discovery that the bridge carrying both the subway car and monorail was built by Samson Construction, a shady firm that Clark exposed a year earlier for a different story. And while the bridge seems to be sturdy enough, based on Superman’s discreet strength testing, more research at the Hall of Records offers Clark another surprise. It’s time to “Stop the Presses!”

Clark learns both the subway and monorail lines will pass the bridge at the exact same time, and even though they’re on different tracks, the combined weight will be too much for the bridge to support. It’s actually Clark who saves this day, as his “boring” mass transit story dominates the top page, and his exploits as Superman are relegated to a sidebar.

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