Did Grant Morrison Just Kill Off Clark Kent?

Out of nowhere, Action Comics #10 features the public death of Superman's alter ego. Is this for keeps?

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Action Comics #10

The reputation Grant Morrison has these days is that he can do whatever he wants. Hence, we've got Bruce Wayne coming out as the public financier of the Dark Knight in Batman Incorporated, which is a ludicrous threat to the preservation of his secret identity. Then again, according to Action Comics #10, Morrison doesn't seem to have much regard for secret identities as a concept, because A.) the Justice League gathering blurts both Batman's and Superman's IDs out to each other cavalierly with no regard for the wishes of teammates and B.) Clark Kent dies and is mourned by his colleagues long after next month's issue.

Ordinarily, we'd think this is some kind of single-arc plot thread, and it may be just that. But then again, this is Grant Morrison. He kinda does what he wants.

Action Comics in general has been weird and meandering. The introductory arc was derailed by a confusing Legion of Super-Heroes tangent, and the last issue was introducing alternate-reality Supermen already, with a Super-Obama of sorts. In #10, Superman is back and forth between the official New 52 Superman suit and the old t-shirt and jeans look we thought he was done with, although sometimes the shirt is red and other times it's blue. Some nimrod named Nimrod The Hunter has pieced together Superman's secret ID and is out to kill him for sport. Clark gets a tip-off from Mr. Fry, the guy who now owns the Kent farm, and plans some kind of trap for him. Sort of.

Throughout most of this issue, Clark is really reckless with his secret identity. He confronts a deranged child-killer as Clark Kent, gets a door slammed in his face, and then moments later bursts through it as T-Shirt Superman and railroads the guy in. Then there's the aforementioned confab with the Justice League, wherein he's pushing for the League to get more involved in international social and political justice, and the rest of the team is reticent to become "a gang of authoritarian living weapons from America." That's an interesting debate to have and fodder for good stories, actually, but in the midst of it, Supes blurts out to everybody that Batman is a "billionaire playboy," and Bats immediately returns with "What gave you that idea? Oh, I forgot, you're a journalist, a snoop." Prompting Supes to meekly plead with Bats not to reveal any more. True, Batman in the Justice League context isn't too concerned with his ID, either, given how he inexplicably blurted it out to Hal Jordan over in Geoff Johns' book, but still, it makes them all seem pretty clumsy. Might be kind of the point, as this is still Justice League Young. I think.

Anyway, the death of Clark Kent comes while Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are trying to recruit him to join The Daily Planet, when a lost soul named Angus Grundig, strapped with a bomb, wanders into the competing Daily Star building, claiming they ruined his life. Clark tries to talk him down, but it doesn't take. The bomb goes off, and the world believes Clark Kent is dead. The teaser for the next issue mentions Superman's new secret identity – so is he really going through with this? A completely new disguise?

Or is it all part of the trap for Nimrod? When he comes to Kent's old place, he finds Superman waiting there to beat him down out of nowhere. Again, not all that protective of a secret identity, blurting out the connection Nimrod made in front of Clark's kindly old landlord, while covering it by insisting Clark is dead. Again, it's probably all just a temporary thing, given how important the identity of Clark Kent is to the Superman mythos. But we just can't be sure, because it's Morrison.

Why does he get to do whatever he wants? Because he sometimes manages to balance the highly questionable choices with some good and powerful stuff, like the scene where all the local newsfolk of Metropolis gather at Swan's Tavern to mourn his loss, and toast to absent friends. Lois in particular tells a great little story about the unrelenting human decency of Clark, in his writing, in his behavior and in his priorities. Then, the kicker is that Superman was on a rooftop nearby, listening to the entire gathering – essentially attending his own wake – something we'd all like to do, just to hear people we love say earnestly nice things about us. Except Kal-El looks completely torn by all of it, realizing he can't see his best friends anymore.

Honestly, if this really was the final death of Clark Kent, it would've been hyped a lot more – and the fact that the present-day title Superman (another title that's been a bit of a mess) has Kent alive and kicking would seem to counter any thought that this will stick. Still, it's entirely possible that Morrison is going to leave Kent dead for a good long while in Action Comics, since he's got five years of backstory to play with, and he's also not all that keen on continuity, so can we really know what the plan is? No.

That's another reason why Morrison tends to get to do what he wants – good or bad, he's a writer whose next move we never see coming.

7.5