NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Action Comics #974
The old saying says that nice guys finish last, but in the case of Clark Kent, the tragedy is twofold: his humble farmboy exterior guarantees he's exceptional to nobody... but when he takes to the skies as Superman, he learns just how much he's missing. Countless writers of comic book page and screen have made the most of that dichotomy, keeping Superman as the brave, courageous, and old-fashioned charming do-gooder, and depicting Clark as everything from laughable to downright invisible. Or in DC's current Superman comics, so creepy it could make your skin crawl.
It should be impossible, since the Superman of the New 52 died as part of DC's "Rebirth" relaunch this past summer - making way for the Supes of yesterday to return to the spotlight. But before long, this older, wiser Superman was stunned to learn that this Earth's Clark Kent was alive and well. It was a mystery obviously set to be solved at writer Dan Jurgens's pace, but with this strange new Clark setting his sights on Lois Lane in Action Comics... well, let's just say Clark has crossed the line from weird to worrying.
Clark Kent Has a Date With Sadness
Superman and Lois Lane - the version of Lois Lane readers of the 1990s saw marry Clark Kent and, prior to Rebirth, give birth to their son, Jonathan - were clearly suspicious when this Clark Kent emerged, claiming that the New 52 Superman had come to him weeks prior to his death, warning him of a coming danger that required he go into hiding. Up to his death, this new Clark claimed, Superman had only been pretending to be both men. It was an obvious lie... but when Superman subjected Clark to memory and DNA tests, he passed with flying colors.
This new, everyday, actual boring farmboy believed his own history, and if it was part of a scheme, it was being run by an impossibly powerful mastermind. Naturally, when Superman failed to solve the riddle, his wife stepped into let her skills of investigation produce some answers. Following Clark to his Metropolis apartment, Lois learned that he apparently disappeared the moment he left her sight - with the doorman claiming Clark Kent hadn't been seen since... well, since Superman died.
The plot thickened substantially, but since this hapless Clark had been clumsily flirting with Lois from the moment she returned to her own doppelganger's vacant desk, the intrepid reporter turned a problem into an opportunity. She accepted the date, and planned to get to the bottom of this mystery. And in Action Comics #974, that date turns into the kind of desperate nightmare that will bring up nasty memories for some readers - and creep out those seeing it for the first time.
The Creep Factor Hits Critical Mass
There is sympathy to be had for this version of Clark Kent, since it's clear that a scheme is under way that extends well beyond himself. And with no shortage of mysterious figures observing, if not outright interfering with Superman's life (and that of his deceased predecessor), it's possible that this Clark has been plucked from a timeline or parallel universe where he really was just Clark Kent. So it's possible that, in his mind, the romantic pursuit of Lois Lane, and his belief that they are "destined" to be together, is as noble as Wally West's undying love for Linda Park.
But that's the last you'll hear us defend the Clark Kent that now calls the DC Universe and Daily Planet home, since he soon ignores Lois's hesitant agreement to dinner, and flies into full on wooing (it's not wooing if it's against the other's will, right?). Instead of meeting her, Clark arrives at her door with a hired limousine. Instead of the casual diner agreed upon, he escorts her into an upscale restaurant, and a private table, in a private room. Since Lois is older, smarter, and more aware of what's really going on here, she's simply annoyed and irritated when any normal woman would be intimidated or worried. And then he proposes.
Seeing Clark take a knee and ask Lois Lane to marry him is significantly less romantic this time around, topped off with his belief that destiny, or, "a little voice in my head showing the way" (ALERT, ALERT) is more important than Lois's actual requests that he stop. Lois obviously decides this isn't worth any insights she could glean, and heads home to her family. But those hoping that Clark's pathetic promises to "be good" would be the end of the encounter are sadly mistaken.
Much of the credit goes to artist Patch Zircher for the moment that Clark's gaze after Lois's taxi flips from forlorn to emotionless, down to the mirrored reflections of his glasses. And as Clark adopts the stereotypical vocabulary of a stalker or predator - "We're meant to be together... We have to be together... Someone took you away from me..." - it's obvious Jurgens is pursuing that exact interpretation. And as Clark instructs his taxi driver to follow Lois home... things just keep getting scarier.
We Have a Serious Problem
The following scene should be a welcome one: Lois, having put this escapade behind her before it got even more insane, Clark, having temporarily solved a crisis involving DC's new Superwoman, and Jonathan, a son just happy to have his parents home for dinner. And it would be, if it weren't for the ghostly shadow of the man standing outside their isolated home, staring at them through their window. The man who has followed the love of his life home, only to see her with a son, and the man she loves - who looks exactly like him.
It should come as no surprise that the issue ends on this revelation, apparently driving Clark to a breakdown, or mental collapse. Dropping to his knees and clutching his head, distraught, he claims that "it's all coming back to me" and that those before him are responsible for ruining his entire life. Unfortunately, the readers don't yet know what to make of his words, or what life he was apparently robbed of (his final claim that if the family wants fun, he'll give it to them is a bit more direct). Could it be related to the visions of the previous Superman witnessed by Superwoman while close to death? Or is this crazed Clark Kent a victim, too?
A chilling chapter has begun in this ongoing story, and the upcoming arc "Superman Reborn" promises to reveal just what is actually going on beneath the surface. On a related note, this may also offer an explanation for readers of Superman #17, following Jonathan as he is terrorized by a mysterious, shadowy figure... who also features the reflective glasses of this disturbed, desperate doppelganger. So in case Lois Lane's new stalker threatening her entire family wasn't creepy enough, there's one more comic guaranteed to scratch the itch.
The truth behind this unsettling sequence is still veiled, but if Jurgens was hoping to re-frame this powerless, meek, and outmatched Clark Kent as a man to be feared, then the job is done. We just hope Superman and Jonathan realize the danger standing outside their window.
Action Comics #974 is available now.