Clark and Kal-El

I still haven’t seen “Man of Steel,” but reading the AV Club’s analysis of it as part of their ongoing “Age of Heroes” feature reminded me of an idea I’ve been mulling for some time.

Much of the fun of past iterations of Superman has been his secret identity — the difference between Superman and Clark Kent. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal was particularly effective at giving the two different personalities.

But the whole secret identity thing now seems quaint and out-of-date, and so more-recent iterations have all but done away with it. Lois Lane is no idiot, and she’s immediately going to recognize that Clark is just Superman wearing glasses. Any time Superman is around, a hundred smartphones are going to be pointed in his direction, giving Lex Luthor or any other potential foe lots of footage to analyze.

Pop culture has sometimes mocked the concept of Superman’s “secret identity.” When Teri Hatcher was on “Lois & Clark,” she guest-hosted “Saturday Night Live,” and in her monologue they did a funny bit where she suddenly became unable to recognize certain SNL cast members if they put on glasses. Some years later, SNL did a skit about a superhero (can’t remember whether they used the actual Superman costume or a knockoff) whose newspaper colleagues snicker behind his back because he thinks he’s fooled everyone, and in fact his secret identity is common knowledge.

Today, with facial-recognition software, voiceprint analysis, etc., anyone who really wanted to learn Superman’s secret identity could do so in a matter of minutes, especially since Clark is a minor public figure sometimes covering big public events where he, too, might be caught on camera. And yet, as I said, I think the whole “secret identity” thing was part of the fun of the character in the past, especially as it applies to his relationship with Lois.

So here’s my idea. The next time they reboot the character (as they surely will, after the disappointing performance of “Batman v Superman” and “Justice League”) they should make a significant but justifiable retcon. This time, they should use two different actors —very similar-looking, but not exactly. (Think of two actors who you’re always getting confused with each other.) Then say that Kal-El’s Kryptonian physiology allows him to distort his facial features (and his larynx!) very slightly. I don’t mean make him a shape-shifter; I think he should only have two looks, period, and they should be pretty similar to each other, but not exactly the same. You can use CGI to show his face morphing from Clark into Supes and back again.

Now you can go back to having Clark attracted to Lois and Lois attracted to Superman, or what have you. In fact, the fun part of this is that the people who know Clark best, and are most familiar with his face, will be the most certain that Clark isn’t Superman, which is exactly what you want. And if you want to do the occasional story where someone discovers/figures out Clark’s secret identity, and that has to be dealt with somehow (a staple of comics over the years), you can just have them catch him in the act of morphing.

Just a thought. You’re welcome, DC Comics/Warner Bros.