Should Superman Be Masked?
If you’re following DC’s latest ambitious multi-character, multi-title story-arc—Futures End—then you know it’s presenting all sorts of wacky and familiar incarnations of famous (and not so famous) DCU characters. With time-travel shenanigans from “future Batman” (AKA Terry McGinnis, first featured in underrated animated show Batman Beyond) to the assimilation of most of the regular superheroes into cyborg/bug things, one other element has been teased at recently: a masked version of Superman.
And while various comic pundits are speculating as to what the in-universe meaning of the mask could mean, or if it indicates someone becoming Superman OTHER than Kal-El (which has happened before) there’s an even bigger cultural question: should Superman be masked at all?
Among the pantheon of comic book superheroes, Superman stands apart, if not entirely alone, in that he isn’t forced disguise himself when he’s performing his acts of vigilante justice. True, Professor X never really donned a mask in The Uncanny X-Men, and Shazam existed sans-mask before and in tandem with Supe. And yet, a masked Superman still seems like a shake-up because it’s as jarring as an unmasked Batman. Part of Superman’s affected front is his willingness to show his face, even though the general public has no idea who he really is. In fact, who Superman “really” is, even to himself, is something of a mystery. Depending on which incarnation of the hero you believe in; he either thinks of himself as Clark Kent, Ka-El, or Superman. In the excellent 1980 film Superman II, Lois Lane vents her frustration with how she’s supposed to think about him, “I don’t know what to call you anymore!”
Lacking an ability or desire to really deal with his feelings, there’s a lot of reasons to believe Superman is a far more psychologically troubled character than Batman, owning primarily to the idea that he pretends like it’s perfectly okay to run around in the bright-colored outfit, smiling and acting like everything is great. And while last summer’s Man of Steel gave the world a less-smiley/more-moody Superman, his total arrogance with showing his face makes him polarizing among his other, slightly more careful superhero friends. Because he’s so invulnerable to conventional attacks, the need to hide his identity is more one of affected humbleness than of necessity. If Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen ran around without a mask, they would be hunted down and killed. (Which is sort of almost what happened to Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies.) By being unmasked, Superman is kind of thumbing his nose at other supers, a sort of jerky version of “I know you are, but what am I?”
It’s possible then that this new masked Superman represents a kind of flip in solidarity with other superheroes, a way for Kal-El to join their ranks symbolically without reminding everyone he actually is more powerful and indestructible than them. From a human resources standpoint of running the Justice League, Superman probably should have issued team-masks a long time ago.
Obviously the folks at DC have their own reasons as to why Superman is wearing the mask, and we’ll bet it’s something deliciously plot-twisty. But if this “Futures End” is depicting possible futures of the most famous superheroes of all time, could we possibly live to see the day where a masked Superman becomes the default mode for this legendary guy?
Oh, did we mention he’s not wearing a cape now either?
Mask or no mask? What do you think?