How Superman’s secret identity has become one of DC’s most complex stories

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DC has been publishing Superman comics for over 80 years. It’s no surprise that the character’s history and background have become quite convoluted over the decades, despite (or perhaps even because of) the many reboots and Crisis events DC has thrown at Kal-El. . This is especially true when it comes to the surprisingly complicated question of Superman’s secret identity.

DC just upset the status quo once again in Action Comics #1050. This issue is designed to set the stage for the next era of the Superman franchise, and it all starts with a return to a traditional status quo where only a handful of people know that Clark Kent is Superman. But how did Clark get the secret back from him and why? Before breaking down exactly what’s going on, it’s worth taking a step back to examine how DC has handled the Superman/Clark dynamic in recent years and why Superman’s secret identity has become one of the most confusing plot points in DC. DC.

Attention: This article contains spoilers for Action Comics #1050.

Superman’s identity crisis in the New 52

DC has often flirted with the idea of ​​Superman’s secret being exposed to the world. Countless Silver Age comics revolve around the meddlesome Lois Lane, who nearly discovers the truth before Superman gasses her into rejecting her evidence. 1986’s Superman: Man of Steel acts as a hypothetical ending to Superman’s story, showing what happens when his worst enemies discover his secret and join forces to destroy him.

Nevertheless, it was not until 2015 when DC really dove into the idea that Superman had leaked his identity to the world. Superman writer Gene Luen Yang ushered in a shocking new status quo in which a nearly powerless Superman was on the run and dealing with the fact that Lois Lane, of all people, was responsible for exposing him. Only after several months did readers learn that Lois did it because Superman was being blackmailed by a tech villain named Hordr_Root. In her opinion, she was doing Superman and the world a favor by removing Hordr’s power over him.

Art by John Romita, Jr.  (Image Credit: DC)
Art by John Romita, Jr. (Image credit: DC)

Superman eventually regained his powers and agreed to be a public figure, though it wasn’t long before that version of the character (the younger, single Superman introduced during the New 52 reboot) died and was replaced by the classic version of Superman. pre-Flashpoint. The situation became even more confusing when another person claiming to be Clark Kent appeared in Metropolis.

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Long story short, it turned out to be Superman’s nemesis Mr. Mxyzptlk in disguise, and that story ended with the pre-Flashpoint and New 52 versions of Superman merging to form a unified version of the character. In the current version of DC’s timeline, Superman’s first big identity crisis probably didn’t take place anymore.

Superman reveals his truth

Superman got his secret identity back and their marriage thanks to 2016’s DC: Rebirth, and he and Lois even have a child now. But as bad as things were the first time around, the hero decided the time had come to drop the facade and reveal his secret to the whole world in 2019’s Superman #18.

That, along with the decision to age Jon Kent to young adulthood, is easily the most significant development in Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman career. But while Yang’s story dealt with Superman being robbed of his most precious secret, Bendis’ “Truth” saw Superman make a conscious decision to reveal yourself and correct what he came to see as a mistake. As a hero and a journalist, Superman prides himself on his honesty. How can he claim to be an honest man if he leads two lives in broad daylight?

Superman willingly revealed his secret in 2019's Superman #18. Art by Ivan Reis. (Image Credit: DC)
Superman willingly revealed his secret in 2019’s Superman #18. Art by Ivan Reis. (Image credit: DC)

“The Truth” also acknowledges the fact that Superman You don’t lose so much by revealing yourself to the world as a character like Spider-Man. He and his son are so powerful they’re nearly untouchable, and it’s not like the world doesn’t already know that Superman and Lois Lane share a close bond.

Since then, several Superman comics have explored the long-term ramifications of Superman’s decision, both good and bad. For a while, it looked as though DC would hang on to this change, especially with the 5G initiative phasing out classic heroes in favor of younger replacements like Jon Kent’s Superman, Jace Fox’s Batman and Wonder Woman. by Yara Flor. But in the end, DC abandoned its 5G plans, and the spotlight has returned to traditional heroes and stories. With Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths paving the way for Dawn of DC in 2023, it was decided to once again restore Superman’s secret identity.

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Superman’s Identity Restored (Again)

That’s where Acton Comics #1050 comes in. A joint effort between writers Philip Kennedy Johnson, Joshua Williamson, and Tom Taylor, this issue is intended to set the tone for the monthly series Action Comics, Superman and Adventures of Superman: Jon Kent in the future. Here we learn that it is none other than Lex Luthor who is responsible for the world forgetting the identity of Superman.

Luthor reveals his plan to the captive Manchester Black, a former villain who had recently experienced a major redemption arc fighting alongside Superman. Although he hates Superman as deeply as ever, Luthor reluctantly admits that the world needs the greatest hero from him. Also, the world needs to see superman as a god again, not like an ordinary man. Luthor uses his own custom machine to amplify Black’s psychic powers and provide the world with a collective mindwipe.

Art by Mike Perkins. (Image Credit: DC)
Art by Mike Perkins. (Image credit: DC)

Black is killed in the process, though not before delivering a parting gift to an enraged Luthor. He reveals that even though Luthor is obsessed with destroying his nemesis, Superman barely pays him any attention. Whether true or not (we suspect Black is lying), this revelation clearly has its intended effect.

Fortunately for Superman, his closest friends and his family they still know the truth, thanks to the protective barrier surrounding the Kent family farm and the psychic wards provided to the Justice League. But Clark finds out the hard way just how thorough Luthor’s mindwipe is when he approaches Perry White in disguise and his former boss nearly dies of a sudden aneurysm. The world is not only made to be forgotten, but anyone who comes close to remembering is hypnotically blocked. That also explains how mind-wiping can explain the various videos and news stories about Superman’s identity being revealed.

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In many ways, Luthor’s plan is similar to the way Spider-Man got his secret identity back after the events of Civil War (2006) and Spider-Man: One More Day (2007). Over time, readers learned that Peter Parker approached Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange, who built a hybrid magical-technological device to collectively erase the memory of Spider-Man’s unmasking. This plot was also adapted to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Spider-Man: No Way Home, from 2021.

Superman’s new status quo in 2023

The end result of all this is that Superman return to a more traditional status quo at the start of 2023. Previously, Kal-El had spent much of his time away from Earth, helping to form the United Planets and fighting Mongul on Warworld. In his place, Jon Kent has taken up the mantle of Superman and has even spearheaded the formation of a new Justice League in the pages of Dark Crisis.

Now, however, Superman is back in Metropolis and he looks set to resume his double existence as the Man of Steel and Clark Kent, intrepid reporter. He will once again work alongside the entire Daily Planet team and battle classic villains like the imprisoned Luthor and an upgraded Metallo, as well as new enemies yet to be revealed. His son Jon will still be active in the Adventures of Superman: Jon Kent side series, but it appears that Jon is no longer Earth’s designated Man of Steel.

Superman #1 cover by Jamal Campbell. (Image Credit: DC)
Cover of Superman #1 by Jamal Campbell. (Image credit: DC)

Superman has been unmasked and died multiple times in recent years, but by now that story has been mostly buried and forgotten. Some of it was obliterated by DC’s ever-evolving multiverse, and the rest has been handled courtesy of Lex Luthor. Superman’s secret identity has a very convoluted history, but the good news is that you don’t need to worry for none of that to dive into the new line of books.

Do you agree with DC’s decision to undo the reveal of Superman’s identity again? Should he have treated himself differently?

To find out more about the year ahead for DC, check out everything coming from DC in 2023.