That throwaway idea of Scott Lobdell’s I mentioned yesterday is still bouncing around inside my head, as I just keep thinking about the possibilities for really twisting the Superman metaphors with a non-white, non-American super character. This is all kind of amorphous and messy, but since it’s thinking about a character that isn’t likely to exist, I’m not sure how tight and print-ready it needs to be. I’m hoping folks will bear with me.
In any case, I’m thinking mostly about the various metaphors swirling about Supes as regards his alien heritage, and obviously the pun-ish theme of alienation.
Superman’s fundamentally different on a genetic level from everyone save a handful of other survivors from his planet. However, we only know that because he lets us know it. If he takes off the brightly colored, skin-tight suit and tones down his not-normal physical expressions (flight, super-strength, etc), he can–and does–pass as a member of our species. Not just that, but as a member of the dominant gender and ethnic group.1
We can have discussions about whether Superman or Clark Kent is the disguise, but the fact of the matter is, in either case, looking like a white, male human gives Kal-El a leg up culturally, above and beyond the (meta)physical gifts of his Kryptonian heritage. His alien-ness, then, is a very internal thing. Especially as Clark, the Last Son can feel out of place without anyone else thinking he is.
Once you divorce Superboy from “Clark as a kid,” though, isn’t it treading a lot of the same territory to make your younger S character so visually similar? What if you take that alienation metaphor, that ‘outsider among us’ element, and house it in a body and a culture which is more obviously different?
It just seems like a more unique twist on the metaphors to share the S mantle with someone who doesn’t have some of the same visual benefits that Clark gets in his attempts to hide. Even though our hypothetical new Superboy is actually more human than the man from whom he takes his name, he is also, culturally, considered more Other by those who would see him outside any hero guise he might don. If we play a little Sting and move our new super, British lad to New York, or just to the Americas in general, there’s even more alien to explore with someone who is nevertheless human.
Beyond that, what might it say to look to as one’s hero–to take on the mantle of–someone who isn’t even of the same species? Is there an unintended “screw you, humanity. I prefer the alien”?
I don’t think this kind of book has to be about “Black Superboy,” any more than I think the Superman titles are explicitly about “Alien Superman.” I just think that it’s a more unique subtext and undercurrent to work with, rather than simply “looks like Superman, but slightly younger and meaner.”
1. Just in case it needs clarifying, dominant is not meant to ascribe any form of inherent superiority. It’s a comment on the culture. White privilege exists, as does male privilege, and pretending it doesn’t only makes it harder do deal with. [back]