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Why does he need Clark Kent? What if he just wanted to be a reporter or columnist? I am sure he could get a job – I mean as Superman.

I can see initially when he left the family farm he wanted a normal life, did not even know he would become a superhero so needed to be a normal human to get a job. But after so many years, why the masquerade?

Come to think of it, why does Batman need one? But the main question is, what does Superman get out of the Clark Kent thing?

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  • +1 I made an edit to your closing sentence, because as originally written it seemed to me to be an off-topic "Let's talk about this/What's your opinion" question.
    – Lexible
    Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 17:49
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    The simple thing is Superman is Clark Kent's secret not the other way around. If Superman looked as alien as his powers no one would think he had a secret. Also for early Superman being a reporter gave him early access to crimes and crises so he could spring into action. Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 17:50
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    He could not get a regular job as a reporter/columnist as Superman. The expectations would be completely different, the vibe in the office etc.
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 16:08
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    I didn't know Lex Luthor was on StackExchange.
    – Exal
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 18:31
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    @releseabe Lex shares your inability to understand why Superman would ever be Clark Kent. static1.srcdn.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/…
    – Exal
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 20:39

6 Answers 6

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The special edition of Superman: The Movie included a scene deleted from the theatrical cut, where Jor-El explained to his son that it was important to maintain his secret identity so that he wouldn't be expected to serve humanity 24 hours a day, and to prevent his friends and loved ones from being targeted by his enemies.

JOR-EL: You are revealed to the world. Very well, so be it. But you still must keep your secret identity.

SUPERMAN: Why?

JOR-EL: The reasons are two: first, you cannot serve humanity twenty-eight hours a day.

SUPERMAN: Twenty-four.

JOR-EL: Or twenty-four, as it is in Earth time. Your help would be called for endlessly, even for those tasks which human beings could solve themselves. It is their habit to abuse their resources in such a way.

SUPERMAN: And, secondly?

JOR-EL: Second, your enemies would discover their only way to hurt you: by hurting the people you care for.

SUPERMAN: Thank you, Father.

Superman: The Movie - Special Edition (1978)

These sentiments are somewhat echoed in various Superman comics, such as those cited below.

SUPERMAN: Obviously I can't be "on call" twenty-four hours a day. Even I need time to relax and unwind. To be human for a little while. That's why it's lucky I didn't get the chance to tell anyone my name after I saved the shuttle. Now, with a few minor alterations, I can have a private place where no one will ever think to look for me -- a "Fortress of Solitude," so to speak. Meet the new Clark Kent!

JONATHAN KENT: See, Ma? With his hair all slickered back and an old pair of my spectacles, his whole face seems to change. All he needs to do is stoop a tad, and he looks like a whole different man. And so long as he's careful never to let on that he has two separate identities, he'll be able to move freely, like ordinary folks!

The Man of Steel #1, page 31

The Man of Steel #1 (October, 1986)

SUPERMAN: It all started in Smallville. Right in this room, I thought about giving up Clark Kent completely. But I like being Clark Kent. I like who I am and who my parents were. So I came up with the idea of a dual identity. I thought about wearing a mask like Bruce does. But as close as we are, Batman's going for something different than I am. I'd rather good people trust me than bad people fear me. I think they need to see your eyes for that. So Clark Kent wears a mask instead of Superman.

Justice League Vol. 2 #15, page 4

Justice League Vol. 2 #15 (February, 2013)

JON KENT: Dad, I got another question. Is it hard being Superman?

SUPERMAN: How do you mean?

JON KENT: Well, you don't get paid. An' there's so much wrong in the world that you could be doin' this 24/7.

SUPERMAN: Heh. True enough. But I work at trying to find the right balance of doing what I can while also having a personal life. You and your mom need me to do that... and I need it too. I'm still Clark -- a husband and father -- every bit as much as I'm Superman.

Action Comics Vol. 1 #967, page 6

Action Comics Vol. 1 #967 (January, 2017)

Superman wanting to spend some time living a somewhat normal life -- as a break from his role as a superhero -- makes sense to me. Despite his alien origins, he appears to feel most or all of the same emotions that humans do, and values his relationships with his friends and loved ones as much as a normal human. His having human-like emotions is especially evident when he's portrayed by human actors, but it's evident in the comics as well.

And sure, he's more self-sacrificing than most, but is he completely devoid of selfish desires? Apparently not, or else he surely wouldn't waste time pursuing romantic relationships, as he does in most continuities. He'd spend every waking second serving humanity in general... but living solely for others like that would likely take a toll on the mental health of someone who's portrayed as being as human psychologically as Superman is.

So if we accept that Superman is human enough on a psychological level to want (and possibly even need) some downtime, and the opportunity to experience normal human-style relationships, that explains the value of a secret identity, both as a means to be seen in public without constantly having to live up to the expectations of being Superman, and to avoid placing a bullseye on the backs of everyone he's known to have personal relationships with.

Does it guarantee the safety of his friends and loved ones? Clearly not, because his enemies can and do occasionally draw a link between Superman and people he cares about, as seen in Superman II, when Lex Luthor advised General Zod to take Lois hostage as a means to draw Superman out. However, the danger to his friends and loved ones would be greatly magnified if the full extent of his personal relationships were widely known.

Also, I'm not sure how practical it'd be for him to abandon the Clark Kent identity as an adult and openly work at the Daily Planet as Superman. If Superman were known to work at the Daily Planet, that'd surely make everyone employed there and the building itself a target for his enemies. And if it were known that he used to be Clark Kent, that'd make everyone he grew up with in Smallville a target for his enemies as well.

He could try and keep the fact that he used to be Clark Kent a secret, but in order to prevent anyone from drawing a link between Superman and his friends and family in Smallville, he'd either have to entirely end his relationships with those people, or find some other way to maintain those relationships inconspicuously. Why look for some other way to maintain those relationships inconspicuously, when he could already do so as Clark?

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    Jor-El is a smart guy but Superman is clearly friends with many people who can, and have, been used as leverage against him. This is the AI Jor-El or am I wrong that Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude was not an AI?
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 18:17
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    Who is Superman kidding -- "I need some time to be... human..." Superman is less human than a lobster.
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 19:36
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    @releseabe Have Superman's genetics been explored somewhere? Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 23:36
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    @releseabe - In respect to DNA, Superman may indeed have less in common with humans than lobsters. In respect to anatomy and psychology, though, he clearly has more in common. He can even breed with a human, which makes him the same species according to the scientific definition of the word. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 6:12
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    Also, when Superman made that statement about needing to be human for a little while, he genuinely thought he was human, albeit some sort of mutant. He didn't learn of his alien origins until three years later, in-universe (in the sixth and final issue of that miniseries), and even then, he indicated that he still considered himself human in all the ways that mattered, i.e. his culture and values. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 6:37
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He can't give up Clark - that identity is who he is.

Though not biologically human (in spite of outward appearances - though see the footnote* for one Superman story that takes a different view) Clark Kent was raised as human, and thinks of himself as human - as that particular human named "Clark Kent" (in "Lois and Clark" this is expressed as "Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am."). Clark values his ability to live as a human very highly - in some cases more highly than his superpowers (in the Arrowverse the Smallville version of Clark Kent is shown as giving up his powers so he can have a family).

"Superman" is an identity that Clark uses in order to save lives and prevent disasters - but (in many versions of the character) it's an artificial identity that Clark puts on, in order to protect his real identity as Clark.

This is in contrast with Batman -- in many continuities, Bruce Wayne (the millionaire playboy) is a false identity that Batman puts on, in order to fulfill the goals of Batman. In the Batman Beyond episode "Shriek" Batman recognizes that the voices apparently in his head calling him "Bruce" are not a psychiatric problem - because when he talks to himself, he calls himself "Batman" - even when wearing Bruce Wayne's clothes.

  • In one DC what-if story

Red Son humans and Kryptonians are biologically closely related due to a time loop.

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    This is the key for Superman. Clark Kent is his real identity. 'Superman' is the secret identity he puts on to do 'super-heroing'. With Batman it's the opposite. 'Batman' is the real identity, and 'Bruce Wayne' is the secret identity he uses to keep himself and his loved ones safe while he sleeps. The 'Bruce Wayne' persona is so far removed from what Batman is that no sane person would ever come to the conclusion that they're the same person without actually seeing the mask removed. (Google 'the butts match' for a good take on that aspect.) Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 16:09
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    @TheoBrinkman "The voice kept calling me Bruce. In my mind, that's not what I call myself." - Bruce to Terry in Batman Beyond
    – Clockwork
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 19:23
  • So the "real identity" is the one with the mask in both cases. Interestingly. Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 0:14
  • When you think about it, it's akin to wearing a social mask when you go to work, and being yourself when you go home, or the other way around for Batman.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 16:51
  • @Paŭlo Ebermann: Yeah, Clark's glasses and Batman's mask might be considered to serve the same purpose.
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 21:53
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Come to think of it, why does Batman need one?

Batman is usually easy: What he’s doing is not legal. Yes, he’s cleaning up the streets (though arguments can be made in some continuities that his existence actually makes Gotham more dangerous for normal citizens), but he’s still going around regularly committing assault, trespassing, vandalism, and a slew of other crimes in the process of doing that. There are some exceptions to this in certain continuities, but in most cases, he is operating outside the law as a vigilante (which is actually in and of itself illegal in most parts of the world, independent of any other crimes committed while doing so).

If he were doing so as Bruce Wayne, the cops would have shown up with an arrest warrant within a week of him starting this (even if there were absolutely zero corruption in Gotham’s police force).

Additionally, having the alternate identity as Bruce Wayne allows him to influence society in ways he could not as Batman. In many continuities, he regularly leverages this to great effect, and is as a result able to achieve things he could not just as Batman.

The same premises apply to most other heroes with secret identities, all the way back to Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel who truly cemented the concept in English literature in the first place (and did things just as legally risky, as well as manipulating public opinion using his secret identity).

But the main question is, what does Superman get out of the Clark Kent thing?

This one is a lot more complicated. Superman is still quite often doing things that are, per the actual legal code, not legal. The comics gloss over this much more for Superman than Batman though because Superman is supposed to be a lawful good shining knight archetype (as compared to Batman’s chaotic good blackguard archetype), but it’s still a consideration (especially because Superman tends to do a lot more damage than Batman when he fights). Also just like Batman, having a secret identity allows him to influence things in ways he could not as Superman (though he rarely, if ever, seems to capitalize on this).

However, there are a whole slew of other benefits for him to maintaining the identity of Clark Kent:

  • Sometimes you simply need to be in plain clothes to investigate properly, and having a clear identity for that purpose makes it much easier.
  • Being a journalist is a professional license to be nosy, which is actually extremely useful for a superhero. Press access means he can get on the scene of a crime legally much more quickly without revealing his presence, the amount of information he has quick access to makes it easier to legally track people like crime bosses or major business moguls, and he has a (admittedly somewhat lame and generally shaky) excuse if he gets caught snooping in plain clothes. Additionally, this gives him a quick and easy way to disappear into a crowd when the reporters inevitably show up.
  • Superman is a celebrity. Without a secret identity, he would essentially have to hide most of the time to avoid paparazzi, reporters, people asking for autographs, etc. This would both be taxing psychologically, and it would hamper his ability to reliably deal with major threats.
  • It helps protect his family. This one is a shaky argument in some continuities, but in those in which Lois and Superman are not known publicly to be an item, it reduces the risk to her significantly.
  • By maintaining a ‘normal’ identity, Superman maintains some greater degree of independence as he is still supporting himself financially. This is a bit of a tricky argument that never seems to come up in any of the media, but simply living is not free, and while the world would probably gladly subsidize Superman, he would also be beholden to them as a result, and dependent on their continued fondness for him. This is, admittedly, a bigger consideration for the writers than for Superman, as it makes him a bit more relatable as a character.
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    Adam West's Batman is fully deputised and is agast at the notion that he'd do anything illegal! Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 6:50
  • @lucasbachmann Excellent point that I forgot about when writing the answer. I’ve updated the answer to be clear that what I’m stating about Batman is not always the case. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 16:19
  • After years of Batman origins retold and revisited, my take is: Bruce Wayne vowed as a kid to war against crime. Without superpowers, he embarked on amassing skills, knowledge, and then an array of potent gadgets. But the biggest weapon in his arsenal is the "creature of the night" psychological warfare. Some hoodlums surrender without the Batman having to throw a punch. Those that try to fight often do so while hiding the fact they've messed their pants.
    – Blaze
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 14:40
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He may be Superman, deep within, he considers Clark Kent to be his real identity.

To add up to Andrew's answer, in the DCAU continuity, episode The Late Mr. Kent from Superman: The Animated Series (1996), Clark was doing some detective work, which ended up with an assassination attempt against him. Of course, he survived because he's Superman. But since there was a witness, he couldn't pretend that Clark survived anymore.

When Pa and Ma Kent were told about it on the phone, he was there with them and clearly expressed the need to be Clark Kent.

Ma: Well, this is a fine mess.

Pa: It's not like he's really dead, Martha. He just can't be Clark anymore.

Clark: But I am Clark! I need to be Clark! I'd go crazy if I had to be Superman all the time!

As a bonus, in the same episode, he admitted feeling pride in accomplishing something as Clark Kent and not as Superman (i.e. he actually did a good detective job to prove someone truly was innocent, instead of relying on brute force); emphasis mine:

Clark: I suppose I could have flown to the governor as Superman and given him the [floppy] disk. But that could have raised some awkward questions. Maybe there was some ego involved too. I wanted this to be Clark's victory, not Superman's.

In the same continuity, in the episode Comfort and Joy from Justice League animated series (2001), when Clark brings J'onn (aka. Martian Manhunter) to celebrate Christmas with his family, he expresses how much he enjoys being himself (emphasis mine):

Clark (while letting J'onn rest in Kara's room during her absence): You should be nice and cozy here, J'onn.

J'onn: Nice and cozy... How odd to hear you speak that way. I've never seen this side of you, Clark.

Clark: That's why I like coming home for the holidays. I can just relax and be myself.

Also, in another continuity, in the animated movie The Death of Superman (2018) which is based on the comic, the reason he's detaching his Superman identify from his personal life is because he cannot allow himself to put his loved ones in danger. As Superman, he's bound to have enemies who want him to suffer, either by attacking him directly or his loved ones. And unfortunately for him, they're not as invulnerable as he is.

The only way he can enjoy a peaceful life without putting them in danger is by having 2 separate identities. That, and, unlike Batman who's obviously a human-being, the chances that a super alien from another planet decides to have a secret John Doe life with loved ones are unlikely, which means people won't try to find Superman's secret identity, because he doesn't seem to need one as you pointed out.


To complement the previous quotes, maybe the question has been asked backward. In some continuity, he grew up as Clark Kent, and the Superman persona was created only when he started helping people out.

Still, in episode The Last Son of Krypton, Part III of that same animated series, after he started helping people in Metropolis and people started calling him Superman (which in this continuity wasn't a name he came up with), he was afraid.

Clark: Suddenly, people are calling me Superman. They want to know everything about me. Some are even afraid of me. Just like Jor-El and Lara warned. Does this mean I'm going to have to give up my life?

Which further proves he actually enjoys being Clark, and Superman is only a mean to conceal his real identity.

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  • There used to be a video on Youtube which was some kind of compilation of all the times he expressed in the DCAU how much he liked his life as the journalist that came from Smallville, Clark Kent. The video seems to be long gone though.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 19:14
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    I don't have a reference, but I want to say I've seen something somewhere, where one of Supes' villains discovers his secret identity, and the rest of them are like "Yeah, sure. Do you think he's any less invulnerable dressed up as a reporter?", and the rest of the conversation talks about attacking his friends instead, and what a supremely bad idea it could be to provoke Supes into giving up his 'boyscout' code of ethics by harming them. I don't think it was anything official, but it does give a bit of insight into the problems he and his villains face. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 20:43
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    The TLDR summary being that his secret identity protects his friends from stupid villains, and learning his secret identity protects them from smart villains. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 20:44
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    @TheoBrinkman Was it this? ifunny.co/picture/…
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 15:37
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    There was at one point (and I can't remember where it was) where he noted that being Clark Kent gave him the ability to be able achieve, take pride in, and do something that couldn't be dismissed because he was an alien with physical superpowers, namely his writing and reporting. Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 17:59
1

Several major issues are dealt with by having a secret identity

  • You can't be normal
    • Readers often cannot comprehend this, because they want to be exceptional
    • Others have noted you can't (don't want to) be on call 24 hours a day
      • Doctors, lawyers, and other "exceptional" professions often note this as one of the worst expectations of the job.
      • Expectation is "if you could be available, you will be available"
    • Extremely difficult to have friends or other meaningful relationships
      • Your available pool of friends becomes {people who can associate with Superman}
      • Humans don't respond to celebrities the same way
      • Consider lottery winners, they hide for a reason, "friends" suddenly appear
    • You can't go to normal activities
      • Consider when a celebrity shows up to a baseball or basketball game. The cameraman focuses on them every shot to show the crowd their reaction.
      • Remember Biden going for a bike ride? "Haha, the President fell down..."
    • Money
      • People often assume you don't need money (even though everything in America is expensive)
      • People often assume you work for free (out of "goodness")
      • Caveat - You might get a sponsorship (although this has its own issues)
    • Superman is a literal space alien
      • Xenophobia / racism
      • Demands for alien technology or knowledge
      • The alien is more powerful than any human (jealousy, inferiority)
      • Religious / philosophical issues (DARPA had an interesting conference with the 100 Year Starship program, where several of these types of ideas were discussed. "Framework for the Off-Planet Church", "Did Jesus Die for Klingons", and "Making Aliens" all touched on these kinds of issues.
  • You have all the celebrity detriments (taken from a subset of a Forbes Article on celebrity issues)
    • Loss of privacy.
      • Helen Hunt has An interesting Guardian article on loss of privacy and dealing with paparazzi.
      • Creepy beach photos that appear in every celebrity magazine.
      • What's Superman look like in his underwear?
    • Subjected to hyper-criticism
      • "Why didn't you save that kitten on the other side of the Earth?"
      • "My black grandma fell to her death, while you helped that white male"
    • Lies in the media
      • Spiderman suffers this a lot
      • People find a way to write you as a villain (often: you didn't do what we selfishly demand)
    • Taken advantage of by "friends"
      • "Can we join your entourage?"
      • "Can we borrow some money, you must be rich."
    • Taken advantage of by professionals and businesses
      • "Superman eats ______ every morning, based on our camera images through his window."
      • "Superman shops at our business."
    • Targeted by criminals
      • Everything you own is valuable, you're Superman
      • Automatic relics and mementos
    • Stalkers
      • Even your trash is valuable
      • "I'm sure we had moment while I was hanging from that building."
      • People trying to get blood/skin/hair samples to find a weakness or turn themselves into you.
  • Enemies always want to challenge you a fight
  • All associates are targets
    • If someone can't win in a direct fight, they'll pursue other methods to hurt you.
    • Sometimes they'll hurt people near you just to make a point (consider Joker, Commissioner Gordon, and Batgirl in The Killing Joke)
    • Blackmail and other forms of leverage that make it difficult to respond
  • You're dangerous
    • People don't want to live near you
      • Might get a car thrown through the wall
      • "Superman can look through my clothes?"
      • Literal s*** magnet. People like Doomsday gravitate toward you.
      • Your fights destroy entire cities.
    • Try getting an insurance policy (need catastrophic supervillain coverage)
    • Even if you're nice, you're still a security threat
      • Likely have a spy satellite (or two) aimed at your house constantly
      • Even if one govt. likes you, the others probably won't
      • Govt's will write laws directly related to you Ex: International Oversight of the Avengers
      • Govt's will demand you work for them
      • You live in America, we expect you to fight our wars for us. (see Jon Blue fighting Vietnam, Watchmen)
    • Legal issues of shooting deadly laser beams and knocking buildings over by breathing.
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  • The reason Batman is looking for contingency plans for Superman and everyone else, including himself, is in the eventuality that any of them go rogue. It's directly linked to "Even if you're nice, you're still a security threat". In the DCAU: dcau.fandom.com/wiki/Project_Cadmus "Project Cadmus is in the business of developing weapons, specifically to fight us. They're worried we've grown too powerful, and they want to even the odds."
    – Clockwork
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 1:03
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    Agree, mostly mentioned it with challenges from every direction because it's directly Superman related. Dr. Doom relative to Reed Richards, or Lex Luthor and general obsession with proving his superiority to Superman might be other examples. Had not seen the Cadmus idea previously, yet interesting example of Govt issues with superpower characters (no matter their perceived or assigned "team") "cannot be trusted no matter how well-intentioned they may seem."
    – G. Putnam
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 19:37
0

Ordinary people pay good money to read the magazines: they may be Clark Kents, but the stories allow them to feel that they, too, could be Superman if they needed to. Superman wouldn't have a public without Clark Kent: that is Clark's utility.

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  • I'll beg to differ. There is a continuity in which Superman was dying from sun overdose (not really but that's another story). When he learned about it, he decided to do as much as he could during what little time he had left. But mid-way, he came across a doctor (a psychiatrist of some kind I think) who was telling his patient that he was stuck and will arrive late, and was trying to convince the other person to not drop the phone and keep talking. Later, we realise that person was a child who was about to commit suicide. Despite his limited time, Superman came to comfort that child.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 19:35
  • i.imgur.com/g4Jfgal.jpg
    – Clockwork
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 19:35
  • Some readers mentioned that is Superman's true nature and why they love him: even though he doesn't have much time left, he still took the time to comfort someone in need. Some other readers mentioned that also saved them during difficult times, if you know what I mean.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 19:37

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