Friday, May 07, 2021

College Days: Superman

Verdict: Yes, Clark Kent has a college degree.

This is one of the easiest ones, for two reasons.

First, Clark Kent's profession as a journalist nearly requires it.  

Perhaps in the Golden Age, when Superman was introduced, this was not the case.  After all, in 1940 fewer than 5% of the U.S. adult population had college degrees. So, it's easy to imagine that in 1938, even a Great Metropolitan Newspaper didn't have the luxury of ONLY hiring college graduates as reporters.  Perhaps they just looked for reporters who knew how to treat his editor-in-chief with the proper respect, had a snappy, punchy prose style, and were fast typists.  But nowadays, only 11% of full-time journalists don't have a college degree, and it's pretty likely that Clark Kent isn't one of them.

Lana Lang, however, MIGHT be one of them;
because ain't nobody in comics stupider than Lana Lang.

Second, we've actually seen stories set during Clark's college days.

It's important to remember how little interest Golden Age comics had in character's backstories. Your planet blew up, you came to earth, were raised by foster parents, and then they promptly died so that you could move to the big city with a clear conscience to go adventuring. And all that took two, three pages, tops.  The character's career began in medias res, with immediate action, setting forth what the hero was confronting and how he would overcome it.  Whatever 'worldbuilding' there was went forward in time, not backwards.

Pictured: immediate action.

The Silver Age, well, now, that's a very different stories. THOUSANDS of very different story, in fact, as the Otto Binders of the world poured forth shiploads of ink on every conceivable aspect of every possible point in Superman's life and career. Superboy (the adventures of Superman when was a boy!) got  his own title.  There were Superbaby stories. Jimmy Olsen babysat little Kal-El on Krypton (don't ask).  So naturally "Clark Kent's College Days" became a subject to explore:

If your college doesn't have a working cannon,
why even bother going there?

In fact, college is where SuperBOY became a SuperMAN!

Ugh; the only thing I hate worse than the Silver Age is:
all the ages that followed it.

Quite possibly a mermaid made him into a man.

"Her story seems somewhat... FISHY!"

John Byrne had the nerve to retell this story, even though there was ZERO REASON to reintroduce mer-folk in a post-Crisis world, and the point of the reboot was to jettison exactly that sort of vestigial deadweight.

Lack of nerve was never one of John Byrne's failings.

But, merfolk aside, the post-Crisis stories clearly established that Clark Kent was a college graduate.


John C said...

If I remember correctly, it's the random young woman that the Jor-El's super-creepy Super-Teacher robot brainwashed into falling in love with Clark on their last day of non-super classes that Clark loudly declared made him a Superman. How that got past an editor, I'll never know, because that's more inappropriate than the Golden Age Archie story where he forms an escort service run on bait-and-switch tactics...

But yeah, there are versions of Superman that may not have gone to college, especially on TV. The George Reeves version is implied to have gone straight from the Kent homestead to scamming his way into Perry White's office. The Dean Cain version wandered the world picking up his journalistic experience out of the country. There might be a short-lived modern version that was a blogger, somewhere. But by and large, his entire college career is basically established as a part of continuity.

Bryan L said...

I worked as a reporter a long time ago (during graduate school, so yes, I had a degree) but there were a couple of reporters who did not. However, this was a small local paper, not a great metropolitan newspaper. There's no way you could get hired on a major newspaper without a degree, even now when they are crumbling away.

The bigger question to me is why would anyone think Superman wouldn't get a degree? It's not like he would need to spend hours and hours studying (at least not during the super-intellect days). Even if you go with the John Byrne version, super-speed would make reading and most schoolwork a breeze. I'm sure Superman could spend 10 minutes or so a day earning a degree. If the school is big enough you wouldn't even have to worry much about attending classes. Just show up for tests, turn in your super-speed-written assignments, and you're good.

Now when we get to the characters that don't (or didn't) have super-abilities, I think we may need a bit more investigation.

Anonymous said...

Byrne scans like a fanfic writer who was given far too much liberty to turn his fanfic into canon. Mind you, not everything he did was bad, by any stretch! His centering Superman on earth, rather than continuing Bronze Age fixations on how he's an alien, was exactly the right course correction that makes him an inspirational character.

But then there are questionable calls, like the mermaids, or birthing matrices, that make me think there should have been a cigar-champing editor saying, "Johnny, you've got some good ideas, but keep your weird ones to your copy of WordStar that you run off 5.25 inch disks on your original IBM PC".

Scipio said...

"birthing matrices"
That was specifically done as part of the centering Superman on earth rather than fixating on how he's an alien. He made the rocket a birthing matrix so that Superman would be literally born on earth (though of alien parentage).

Dave said...

I'm reminded of my favorite pre-Code movie, 1933's Night Nurse, where Barbara Stanwyck, needing work, gold-digs a hospital administrator who gives her a letter that basically says, "Hire this woman."

She goes in for the interview, tells the head nurse, "I've always wanted to be a nurse," gets hired, starts work, and is in her underwear (as is Joan Blondell) within the first ten minutes of the movie.

Warners Pre-Codes neither needed college degrees nor wasted time.