Gary Engle discusses Superman through two different lenses in his article “What Makes Superman So Darned American”: as an adult reader of popular culture, and as a man revisiting his personal, childhood associations. I want to respond to two points of this dual analysis: the Clark Kent identity as assimilation myth and the power of flight as a negation of dislocation.
First, Clark Kent. Engle discusses Kent’s lameness and weakness as a metaphor for Superman’s ability to assimilate into the mainstream, Anglo-protestant culture of Metropolis and America. I think that the Clark Kent identity performs a kind of wish-fulfillment for the reader/audience. Superman may have to hide out as Clark Kent, but underneath his monochrome suit and tie he is wearing his proper, ethnic garb. His strengths are inherited and inherent to him. This is a reassuring message for anyone coming to America from another country- you may have to assimilate on the surface, but underneath your core being and home culture remains intact.
Now to the power of flight. Engle remarks that Superman’s power of flight negates the pain of dislocation, as he is able to be anyplace in the universe almost immediately. I see this power of flight as more of a consolation than a negation or solution to the problem of dislocation. Superman can go anywhere in the universe except home to Krypton, because that has exploded. Many immigrants to America in the early 20th century must have felt this same sense of permanent exile, as they fled civil and world wars, pogroms and genocides. Like the Kent identity, the power of flight is a fantasy created to console the hearts of people who had lost as much as Superman had.
Planet Krypton Explodes