Monday, September 25, 2006

Super J

WHAT is faster than a speeding bullet, capable of hurdling a twenty-story building?

Before Gloria Arroyo made a vogue of not blinking before street protesters and impeachment-crazed foes, the most enduring character showing super strength was Superman.

While I would rather hang around folks with less granite-hard square chins, I took another view of the Caped Wonder after finding a copy of the Superman comic strips syndicated in American newspapers from 1939 to 1940.

“Superman: the Dailies” contains the essay “A Job for Superman” where James Vance points out the significance of Superman's alter ego, Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.

While the TV series “Smallville” and the latest movie have humanized Clark, probing his humanity beyond the meek mousiness of his comic book stereotype, the newspaper strips show an entirely different Clark.

Vance writes that the writer-artist tandem of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster intended from the very start that not only would the last Son of Krypton be the “ultimate social reformer,” he would be a “fearless reporter.”

This was in keeping with the mood during the innocent 1930s, long before the news media became tarred and feathered by “scoundrels” outside, as well as within the profession. “In 1939, the press was respected by the public and feared by the corrupt,” notes Vance.

Reviewing the comic strips, I wondered to what extent Siegel and Shuster based their portrait of Clark on the actual practice of newspaper hounds of that era.

Factual or made-up, Clark's sleuthing and scooping techniques in the '30s would make present-day editors earlier candidates for a triple-bypass, not to mention putting publishers out on the streets from early bankruptcy due to lawsuits and readers' boycotts. Here are some samples:

In the 1939 episode “War on Crime,” the Caped Crusader applies to be a reporter at the Daily Star as his mission of saving the world hinges on “getting news flashes promptly.” (Why didn't he choose radio? It must be a Kryptonian quirk.)

Thinking the bespectacled Clark is a “byline-struck galoots,” the editor tries to get rid of him by giving him a tough assignment: get an exclusive on a certain character running around in blue and red tights, exhibiting “gigantic strength.”

Clark, of course, takes up the challenge. Today, many newsrooms follow standards on self-inhibition (“Thou shalt not write about yourself”), as well as unspoken rules on split identities.

While on assignment, the Man of Steel breaks up a graft ring at City Hall, wrings the necks of thugs about to “plug” him, dismantles cars and planes, rescues rival reporter Lois Lane from a “tenacious quicksand,” and arrives in time to hand in copy five minutes before the paper goes to press.

He gets hired, naturally. Even though he makes an informer sing by giving him the third degree hundreds of feet above the city streets, as well as grabs from Lois the story she was investigating, thus helping demote her from the City Hall beat to the “lovelorn column,” Superman does not yet have to worry about complaints on human rights violation, sexism and cut-throat competition in 1939.

In episode three, Superman may have invented embedded journalism several decades and one world war before Operation Desert Storm.

He masquerades as a down-and-out boxer and writes copy showing the outcome in advance of the actual event--two excesses any Journalism 101 student steers clear of.

The 1939-40 newspaper strips show that wimpy Clark had as much fun and excitement as Superman. It wasn't only because he had super-tough skin or extra-sensitive ears, organs I wouldn't mind having when on fieldwork, too.

Superman just happens to be an alpha male.

While poor Lois typed away advice for the lovestruck, Clark cornered the scoops while rescuing the lady, on the side, as she was playing at being a reporter or (chuckle) nearly killing herself to hand in her stories to a perennially patronizing male editor.

Who would pass up on the chance to land in the Daily Star and get a shot at editing this super journalist?

Count me out. This earthling feels lucky she ain't working with this Super Jerk.

( or 09173226131)

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