Who Should Write Superman? Part 4

January 30, 2007

In light of the comments left by JT, I decided to bump up this week’s “Who Should Write Superman?”, and profile a woman I feel could have a terrific run with the Man of Tomorrow: Jhumpa Lahiri. 08-19-jhumpa-inside.jpgIn my first post, extolling the virtues of Thomas Pynchon’s madcap, conspiracy afflicted Superman, I explained that, in my mind, the ideal Superman was monumental and larger than life. Superman needs to be trapped by an array of implausible, earth threatening forces. He should be forced to interact with some of the more bizarre DC characters like the Phantom Stranger and Adam Strange, characters whose appearances signal the fact that forces are now outside the man of steel’s control. Death for all needs to be on the horizon.


But there’s also a different type of Superman story: the value filled emotional struggle. Jhumpa Lahiri seems to me the perfect author for that type of tale. why? here are my reasons three.


1. The Immigrant Element. Superman is the ultimate immigrant, coming from the planet Krypton to become Earth’s top boy scout. It’s no secret that this reflects the Jewish roots of Superman’s creators and their desires to assimilate into American society. This element has largely been dropped (or at least minimized) from the Superman narrative over time, but it could be time to bring it back. The immigrant experience is the number one theme in Lahiri’s work, where it is often complicated, emotional, and full of nostalgic longing for food. Wouldn’t it be great to finally learn something about Kryptonian cuisine? Are Kryptonian curries dry, or made with a coconut milk base? Not to get all Bill Brown, but its high time a Superman writer focuses on the meaning of Kryptonian items, and how they relate to Superman’s personality, rather than continued reimaginings of Kryptonian society. In other words, its time for the (true) immigrant element to come back.


2. Emotional Complexity. Almost all the stories in the action583-1.jpgInterpreter of Maladies deal with repressed emotional characters (partially because all the stories seem to be written with the same formula: unhappy Indian immigrant in Boston shops at Filene’s Basement, tries to become attached to his/her partner, eats Indian food), or characters struggling with conflicting sets of values. Superman’s emotional attachments are at the core of his character. Unlike Batman, Superman legitimately cares for the people he saves, and the people in his life. His emotions, and the need to hide them, have frequently been the source of some of his greatest stories. Lahiri’s work displays the delicacy needed to write these types of Superman stories, to frame Superman’s emotional challenges within the context of the competing forces and values affecting Superman/Clark Kent.


 3. Names and Masks. Superman’s identity is a difficult one to grasp. Some writers write Superman with the idea that Superman is the “real” persona, others Clark Kent. Some say that the Metropolis Clark is a mask, and that the Smallville Clark is real; other authors don’t distinguish between the two. Names and identity are a major part of Lahiri’s work. While I don’t want her to write “Superman: The Namesake,” the themes of the book are pertinent, and, well-placed, would be terrific elements in the Superman fabula.


Bonus reason: Do you have a PhD in Renaissance Studies? That’s what I thought. I don’t know how the RS background will enter into Superman, all I know is I want to read it.

2 Responses to “Who Should Write Superman? Part 4”

  1. notwithabangbutawhimper Says:

    That as may be, are we really ready to witness Superman crying in his bathtub with the lights off, worried that somehow, he and Lois had never loved each other as much as they had heretofore convinced themselves they had.

  2. JT Says:

    On the topic of consumables: I wonder if Kryptonian women spit or swallow? And, based on the Kryptonian practice, was CK able to convince LL one way or the other? I also wonder what would happen in the event of a BW-LL-CK threeway–intense to say the least!

    Also, YS, who are you to say Batman’s emotions aren’t the core of *his* character? Bruce/Batman is chock full of emotional intensity. One minute he’s beating a man half to death and the next he’s seducing a college-aged Barbara Gordon out of the arms of Dick. Earlier, that same day, he designed an awesome new microchp and got a BJ from Selina Kyle in the backseat of his Aston Martin (Alfred was up front listening to a great Chet Baker piece). Also, I don’t remember CK creating a surrogate family of crimefighters. Batman took in orphans from the circus, the mob, and other victims of street hooliganism. I guess JL could bring some emotional complexity to the CK character but it would require some groping in a dimly lit bathtub, as not… wrote above.

    Is CK wholly different than Superman? Can CK exist without SM or vice versa? Identities are under pressure and JL could deal with this as well.

    Bottom line: the Namesake blew chunks all over the rotting corpse of the American literary scene.

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