Happy Good Friday everyone!
Today's Author Spotlight shines on Nathan Wall, author of the Evolution of Angels series.
With Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice now showing, we are switching gears a bit to venture into the world of super heroes, their alter egos, and why nobody in the comics/movies can figure them out.
Why no one can figure out Clark Kent is Superman; a writer’s journey into meaningless research
by Nathan Wall
by Nathan Wall
How many of you know who Eric Lipton is? No takers? Don’t worry; you’ll see what he has to do with this article in a bit.
Batman v. Superman comes out soon and there’s a question that has always plagued my mind. Why can no one can figure out Clark Kent is Superman?
In comic lore, there’s no short of weird or fantastical explanations—from Clark’s ability to alter facial muscles to his perception altering glasses. However, none of the reasons given in the comics are depicted on the silver screen.
So we’re going to analyze this quandary from as close to a real world perspective as we can. I’ll use plausible explanations (because someone who absorbs solar radiation and turns it into energy to fly is plausible).
In Man of Steel, Smallville, and briefly in the 1978 film, we begin with Clark in his hometown interacting with fellow citizens without his trademark glasses, before eventually growing into the most iconic superhero of all time. If you grow up around someone, you’re going to remember what they look like. Wouldn’t you?
We’re familiar with the tale. A teenage Clark goes on a journey after Pa Kent dies to learn about his Kyrptonian heritage and train to become Superman. He eventually returns to civilization in his early 30’s. In the movies, it’s never really said HOW long Clark is gone, but given his apparent age difference in Donner film number one, it’s safe to assume 10-12 years has past.
Man of Steel would support this theory. Clark holds many jobs ranging from bus boy to a deep sea fisherman. He walks from Kansas to somewhere well north of the Yukon. We never see him do it at supersonic speeds, and it’s likely he never uses his powers since his whole life was spent trying to blend in. For the sake of argument, we’ll say 12 years has passed from his time as a teenager to when he first wears the red cape.
Now, you tell me, how many people from high school would you recognize today? I’m not talking about the one’s you kept up with. I’m talking about the random ones who send you Facebook requests and you have to verify a connection through mutual friends.
What if you saw these former classmates from a long distance, moving super fast? You probably wouldn’t recognize many, if any, of them.
The world has north of 7 billion people. The chances any one person would run into Superman is low, much less see him moving at less than the speed of a bullet. If Superman stayed in just one city all the time (Metropolis) with the population of 8 million, and saw 100 people a day, what are the chances he would randomly see the same person twice? For our case, this is a purely random experiment, and the 100 people are always different until he’s seen them all.
Well, it would take him about 220 years to see every single person just once, moving at supersonic speeds at times. Damn.
You’re probably going to cry foul. “Clark Kent runs into more than 100 people on his way to work each day, and those people are often going to be familiar faces after a while.”
That’s true, but you have to consider that the regular citizen of Metropolis is going to assume Superman could be anyone. So we must separate those Clark sees every day from the number Superman sees every day.
But wait, there’s more. The average person gets a surge of adrenaline when something catastrophic happens—like their plane falling out of a sky—and their memory as a result is jaded or warped. It’s moments like this when someone is most likely to run into Superman. How much are you going to remember of Superman, other than he’s tall, muscular, and washes himself with Old Spice?
This factor is called acute stress and chronic stress. Saving the super-scientific details like glands and hormones for Film Theory, just know chronic and acute stress have very powerful affects on memory.
If you’re randomly running into Superman, you’re using short term memory. According to Miller’s Law, most people only remember about 5-9 details when shown a list of items or an event. So how would a clash with Zod in the financial district affect that number? Well, we’d have to look at Acute Stress.
Acute Stress is the reaction to an immediate perceived threat. There have been mixed findings which show acute stress can have both negative effects on short term memory or actually enhance it. However, in order for it to enhance memory, the part of the brain being affected by stress needs to align with the part of the brain recording the memory. The stress induction must come BEFORE the memory starts recording. In other words, for Acute Stress to positively affect short term memory, many things must happen. Yet, there’s another form of stress which would trump Acute Stress.
Chronic stress affecting the population of Metropolis is an entirely different animal. Chronic stress is the constant subjection to (you guessed it) stressful events. Essentially, it puts your body in a continuous state of fight-or-flight, negatively affecting your ability to learn and remember details.
Yikes! Those poor people of Metropolis. They always have to worry about Darkseid invading, Braniac infiltrating their power grid, or even massive super continents built of kryptonite popping up a few miles off shore. Wait, we want to forget that one ever happened? Ok. I can’t blame you. Anyway, I’d certainly say Metropolis lives in a constant state of stress. Simply put, many people have a hard time remembering the orders and details of a shared event even if they aren’t stressed.
For instance, when police gather information on a child abduction or a store robbery, they’ll gather info from a large group of bystanders. It’s rare any two people have the exact same recollection of the event.
Consider when Superman was originally created. Compare it to the last 15-30 years. It used to be most people stayed close to their hometown after high school. The media available to us 24/7 wasn’t anything like it is now. That means the Superman of George Reeves’ era wasn’t dealing with people from Smallville showing up in Metropolis to see him strut around in blue tights. It’s most likely no one outside of Metropolis would’ve ever seen video or pictures of him during that era.
Obviously, Superman must now account for things like Social Media, the world being more mobile, facial recognition software and so forth, but at the time of his creation none of that was an issue. The people from the Daily Planet and Smallville would know Clark Kent as a bumbling nerd who probably has premature issues in bed, not some suave muscular god destroying giant robots with his bare hands. In fact, Superman’s best mask is Clark Kent and those normal glasses.
I can’t help but feel this isn’t done yet. After all, none of this answers why Lois (outside of MOS) never figured him out, or why Lex Luthor couldn’t put 2&2 together. Maybe there is something else I am missing. Something right in front of us all in the many different theatrical versions of Superman. Wait a minute. That’s it!
Each version of Superman is completely different because we’re not looking into a continuous story. We’re looking into snapshots of multiple realities!
Think about it. How many super villains is Superman really going to come across in his career? How many times is it going to be required for him to fight in the open while hundreds of snapshots are being uploaded to Twitter? It’s likely only a fraction of a percent of the times Superman is needed to save the day actually involve a super-powered being. While certainly enough to induce chronic stress, it’s rare enough that most of his interactions are still going to be him swooping by too fast to see.
You can’t identify what you don’t see.
It’s likely the version of Metropolis we see in the movies is actually a glimpse into several other realities. Viewers of CW series The Flash know what I mean.
In my opinion, any one Superman from any given version of earth only has one interaction with Lex Luthor and not multiple, giving him less of a chance to be identified. Any one Superman is probably only fighting one of Bizaro, Doomsday or Braniac, and not all of them. How do I come to that conclusion?
Well, in the Dark Knight Saga, Christopher Nolan took a realistic view into the world of Batman. Over the course of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne was Batman for six years. I figure that based on the age of Gordon’s kids in BB vs. TDK.
Over the span of those six years, Batman only fought two world class villains (Ra’s al Ghul and The Joker). The rest of the time he took on petty and organized crime, away from the lights and spectacle of City Surveillance, Police, Eyes of the Press and Social Media coverage. It was then another 8 years until Bane showed up, and his 3-4 month rule over Gotham. That’s three super villains in 14 years.
So let’s assume some of the 100 completely random, chronically stressed people who do get to see Superman up close do so in a situation that doesn’t involve a villain like Metallo. We’ll say Superman saves a kitten from a tree for a little girl. Surely those people would remember Superman’s face and figure out he’s Clark Kent!
Um, no. Remember Eric Lipton?
Clark Kent is a news reporter for the Daily Planet, not an on air personality. He also does his research all over the globe. How many investigative journalists who do pieces on Mayan ruins do you know of, much less would recognize on the street?
In 2015, Eric Lipton of the New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize. This is the most prestigious award in Clark Kent’s field of business. I had to Google Lipton’s picture to know who he was.
Holy CRAP! Look at Eric’s picture! If it weren’t for those geeky glasses and haircut, he could be…No. No f*cking way! Ladies and gentleman, have we found Superman? Can’t be. Superman doesn’t NEED a secret identity. He’s always Superman! That’s the exact mentality of the people in Metropolis. They just don’t believe a guy like Superman is doing anything other than being Super.
In conclusion, let’s examine the facts. Most encounters with Superman will involve him moving too fast to be noticed. Even if Superman runs into 300 random people a day, it’s going to take more than the average American lifespan to see them all more than once. Factors like chronic and acute stress are going to warp people’s already fragile memory. Furthermore, not many people would know what Clark Kent looks like in order to compare his appearance with Superman, if they even thought Superman had a secret identity at all.
When factoring in all these modifiers, it’s pretty amazing Lois was able to figure out Clark’s identity in Man of Steel. In order to avoid future detection, all Superman has to do is not fly into highly populated areas and stand reverently with a sad expression on his face while hundreds of people touch him.
I hope you enjoyed the article. If you did, please give it a share with the hashtags #EricLiptonIsClarkKent #WhoIsSuperman #BatmanvSuperman #IndieAuthorsRule #DoThisFilmTheory #DawnofJustice.
Perhaps y’all will check out my book series “Evolution of Angels.” The latest book in the series “Artificial Light” was released on February 10, 2016. Please follow me on Twitter @NathanKnwSports and at Facebook.com/evolutionofangels
Thank you for that thought provoking piece, Nathan. If you don't mind, I'd like to ask a few questions about writing and such...
1. Firstly, thank you for appearing on the blog to talk about your writing, research, and some intriguing thoughts on Superman’s alter ego.
I’m very appreciative of this opportunity. Any chance I can have to reach a new audience, I’ll happily take it. I want to also use this opportunity to let everyone know that my latest novel, “Artificial Light” will be available for a free Kindle download on April 1st. It is part of the Goodreads group “SupportFor Indie Authors,” larger giveaway. If my book isn’t exactly up your aisle, you’ll probably find something that fascinates you. Please check it out and support aspiring writers, even if it isn’t me.
2. It’s obvious that you have done some very in-depth thought and analysis as to why nobody in Metropolis can figure it out that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same. What motivated you to go the extra mile to find this answer?
For one the movie Batman v. Superman is coming out. I thought the subject timely. A lot of people might be searching Google for details on Superman, and perhaps scouring the Twittersphere for anything related to the Man of Steel. Also, it’s a question you hear asked often along with “how does Superman shave?” Superman was the first modern day superhero and by far and away the most iconic, which hurts a little given my affinity for Batman. Yet, aside from his red undies being outside his pants (which has recently been changed) everyone always makes fun of his disguise. In fact, as Henry Cavil recently showed, the glasses are actually more than enough.
3. It sounds like you enjoy learning the psychology (as in the why) of characters’ behaviors and thoughts. Does this research affect your own writing? How?
I’m not as far into psychology as you might think. I’m no expert on Freud. I tend to believe too much research can hinder creativity. However, I do like dissecting the “why” characters do what they do.
Humans are naturally motivated. Even the slacker at home, playing Xbox while stuffing his face with cheetos is motivated by something. Motivations, more so than religion, politics, ethnicity, gender, or whatever have you, define who we are and what we become.
For fiction to be entertaining, you need well established motivations that clash. The most popular series going right now is Game of Thrones. The interesting characters have complex motivations. It’s not just them being humble, sarcastic, or pious, but what fuels their drive.
4. At the beginning of your post, you also mention the large amount of research you conduct as a part of your writing. How much research do you perform on an average book?
Would “a lot” be an acceptable answer? Haha. For my latest book, I did research on Hindu and Egpytian Mythology, along with Time Dilation, the different forces (Gravity, both Nuclear, etc) and the Fermi Paradox. I added this to research from the previous novels.
As I said earlier, too much research can be a bad thing. After all, how silly does the original Independence Day movie look now? Basically, what amounts to MSdos took down an advanced alien warship. That same computer would have a hard time affecting any of our current day technology, yet it disabled a civilization that’s far beyond what we currently have today?
The best thing is to do basic fact research and build your fiction in the plausible, but so far advanced that current technology never outpaces it. The worst thing would be to base my world firmly in string theory and have that disproven 10 years from now. That’s my thought, anyway.
5. It sounds like you write hard sci-fi but also enjoy the lighter stuff such as comic books and pulp fiction. What do you read? Why?
I wouldn’t say I write hard SF. As the books go on, they certainly incorporate more of those elements. There are still plenty of explosions, breaking arms and betrayal for the average reader. I’m not busting unintelligible techno babble. I want to appeal to a wide range of readers. So far, from my reviews, I appear to have done that. Certainly if you like SF details, this series will have that for you.
I’ll read anything. For the first book in my series, I wanted to have something a little more militaristic. So I read thrillers and books dealing with military espionage. For book two, I went in a paranormal mystery direction, so the Dresden Files was a handy reference.
The next book in my series is a mix of Spartacus (the tv show) and Stargate, but with Angels and characters from Norse, Mayan, Yoruba and other mythologies. So, the first Hunger Games is coming in useful.
6. Tell us about the world of your Evolution of Angels books.
The series title can be taken literally. It’s an Evolution of what we expect from Angels. The general premise is that gods of ancient religions were one-time angels. Things like minotaurs and werewolves exist, but they exist from science experimentation and not supernatural means. Demigods (Zues and his ilk breeding with mankind) and Nephilim (fallen angels fornicated with the daughters of man) become one and the same.
In Artificial Light, New Zion is a garrison. Swarga Loka is a hidden planet. In book 4, Helheim is a gladiator arena and Tartarus is a trading post for prisoners, slaves and gladiators.
In book 1, Evolution of Angels, the series title was a little more on the nose. The book dealt with soldiers undergoing the “Double-Helix” project in order to activate latent angelic DNA. Because this DNA is brought out, they can use special weapons that are only activated when in contact with angel DNA. That idea was influenced by a paper I read stating humans have genes passed on by Neanderthals, but in varying degrees. I figured, well why not angels? So the story was really about the next wave of angels—their evolution.
7. Is there a recurring theme in your writing?
Each book builds on the themes of the last, but then focuses on something specific for its story. While Artificial Light dealt with fate vs. free will (book 1 theme) and one’s sense of purpose (book 2 theme), its primary directive was to explore how far someone would go to fight for what they believe in. Sometimes you risk becoming a villain in order to be the hero. At what point do you stop and take notice of what you’re doing? When is your fight no longer worth it, or no longer what you thought it’d be?
I don’t set out to write my books with a particular theme in mind. Books that do that tend to be too heavy handed. I also subscribe to the belief that themes and morals gleaned from texts aren’t always what the author intended, but what the reader interprets. After all, we can’t very well ask Robert Frost what he meant by his poem The Road Not Taken. Whatever he intended doesn’t matter, he’s dead. What’s important is what it means to us.
8. Your covers are well done. Do you compose them or hire it out?
I like to draw, but I’m not nearly that good. I suck it up and hire them out. I’m an indie writer, but I want to compete with trads in every way possible. I hire beta readers, editors and artists. I want my book professional. It needs to pass every test a big 5 (or is it 4 now, can never keep up) publisher would put it through. That doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t made, but I don’t want the fact I’m an indie to be an excuse for lack of quality.
Don’t take that as me putting down someone with a lesser cover, or who self edits. Sometimes finances get in the way, and other people are better at dissecting their own work. For me, to get it where I feel proud of it, I seek professional help.
9. What inspired you to start writing?
I’m a naturally artistic and creative person. I write music and play many instruments. I do video and film. From a young age, though, I was always a story teller. When I’d play with action figures, I’d perform epic storylines. Most boys would just take Batman and slam him into the Joker. Not with me. There needed to be a purpose. That eventually morphed into writing.
I like writing the most out of my hobbies because I can do it anytime, and I can control every aspect of it. I tried working on scripts with other writers and directors, or compose a song collectively with a band, but ultimately their influence just got in the way and worked against whatever vision I had. Being a lone wolf works great for me.
10. Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish as a writer?
At this point, I’d settle for consistent reviews. Haha.
I used to have dreams of being a Richard Castle, or the next GRRM and converting my series into an HBO show, but now I just hope to leave something behind for my descendants to look at and go “wow, I’m related to him!”
My father is really big into Ancestry.com. He did the DNA test and traced our heritage back quite a ways. I’ve got two ancestors from the Mayflower, many who fought in the revolutionary war, others settled Texas before it was popular, and even some involved in the crusades. William the Conqueror is in my bloodline. I’m related to the guy that Mel Gibson’s character in the Patriot was based off of. How freaking awesome is that?
Yet, the more he finds out, the more I’m enamored with just seemingly anonymous individuals who settled Alabama, or migrated from Scandinavia to England and Ireland. These are people who were just living their lives and never thought someone 500 years down the line would be learning about them, or taking an interest.
I love the Marcus Aurelius quote “What we do now echoes in eternity.” That’s so true. When I’m long gone, and my grandkids eight generations from now on some Moon colony in another galaxy swab their DNA, and find out they have an ancestor from what was once called Texas, I want them to be able to pull up my stories and have a connection (because humanity deemed it one of the 100 texts worthy of saving from global annihilation). I want them to be able to read into my soul and get an understanding of where they came from. This is my chance to speak to them through history. My thoughts, dreams and words are time traveling!
When you think about it, it’s kind of appropriate that my book deals with Angels, humans, history and bloodlines. In a way, my books are a manifestation of my story ideas. Instead of leaving behind prophecies and special abilities, I’m leaving behind the written word. My father’s love for discovering our past is mirrored in my love for crafting futuristic interpretations of it.
Thanks again to you, Rob for the interview and allowing for the incredibly long guest post.
Thanks again for visiting the Assembly Area, Nathan and best of luck in your writing career. Please keep us posted!