DC Comics promised that this December, Superman would tell the world that he was Clark Kent, ditching the original secret identity in superhero comics. This week, Superman #18 did as promised, in a big press conference and a heartfelt speech.
I expected to enjoy the issue, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Ivan Reis, but I didn’t expect to be so touched by it. Before he reveals his identity to the world, first Superman has to tell a few people to which he’s closest. That’s where the issue became intensely familiar to me, someone who came out as bisexual in her 30s. Sharing your identity with people is tough, even when you’re the Man of Steel.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Superman #18.]
Superman has been through a lot in recent months. It turned out his Kryptonian dad was secretly alive, but a supervillain. Just when Clark had sort of come to terms with that, Jor-El was sentenced to be sent back in time to die on Krypton. Meanwhile, Lois finally told her anti-Superman father that his beloved son-in-law and the caring father of his grandson was Superman — only for Sam Lane to be killed by a supervillain before they could reconcile. On top of all of that, Superman just defeated that very supervillain, whose whole deal was that he wanted to fix the world by revealing all of its secrets.
With his run on Superman, Bendis has crafted a sort of perfect storm of Superman stories about the dangerous safety of secrets, in a time when very few of the hero’s loved ones — the ones supposedly protected by his secret identity — actually need protecting. In current DC Comics continuity, most people who are close to Clark Kent/Superman already know that the two are one and the same. Lois, as his wife, obviously knows, as does his super-son, Jon. The core members of the Justice League know. Why, he starts to wonder, does he still need to keep this secret? And would he be happier; would the world be better, if he didn’t?
That leaves two major outliers at the Daily Planet: crack photographer Jimmy Olsen and editor in chief Perry White. Jimmy turns it into a big joke, because by the time Clark gets to him, Lois already broke the news. (I expect we’ll get to actually see her tell him in the pages of either Lois Lane or Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.)
Perry, as Clark’s boss and longtime editor, seems to also take it well. In a page without any dialogue, Clark reveals his costume, and Perry just walks over and hugs him. A few pages later, we see see Supergirl and most members of the Justice League cheering along to Clark’s press conference. Even Batman quirks a wry smile.
Those pages were the ones that put a lump in my throat. Like Clark, I had supportive coworkers, friends, and family when I came out — hell, I even had a supportive online following. And I was pretty confident that everything would go fine.
But even when you’re secure in your identity, your job, and your living situation, and you’re confident that your loved ones are gonna take it well, coming out is still nerve-wracking. No matter how you look at it, you’re making yourself super vulnerable, and doing it in the service of reframing your identity for what’s probably going to be the rest of your life.
The usual cry, when contemplating a modern Superman movie, is that it’s difficult to make him relatable, fallible, or human. It’s hard to look at these three pages and not see someone very, very human.
Bendis and Reis keep the focus of Superman #18 tight on his loved ones, ending the issue before we get any hint at the world’s reaction, and it’s the best way they could have framed something this monumental. In a genre that has a “nothing will ever be the same” twist every other month or so, it’s easy for readers to get tired and cagey with the announcement of each one. Superman #18 does an end run around all of that, by taking a headline and making it human.