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Faster than a speeding deadline 

He could leap tall buildings in a single bound, but could he write a great lead?

The world’s most famous journalist is finally coming back to the big screen.

As every fanboy worth his blog knows, June 30 marks the opening of Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns.� While I respect the director for the work he did on the X-Men franchise—and count his Usual Suspects as one of the best movies ever made—I can’t say that I’ll be rushing out to see the new take on Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and all the rest of the Metropolis gang.

See, I’m a Batman man myself—mainly for the villains. I believe that a good hero is judged by the miscreants he fights, and in that regard, Batman is tops. The Joker alone would clinch a victory for the Caped Crusader if bad guys were the sole criterion by which heroes were judged, but there’s also a whole stellar pantheon of costumed crooks beyond the Clown Prince of Crime, and they all keep Bruce Wayne’s nocturnal alter ego busy while maintaining diabolically entertaining personas. Yes, I’m even talking about The Penguin.

By my admittedly arbitrary standards, Superman is pretty low on the list. Granted, he’s not as low as some other superheroes (Can anyone name the Flash’s archenemy? Quickly now!), but the Man of Steel’s pretty much only got a rich Mr. Clean wannabe to fight with.

You members of the comic-book set can take a deep breath and calm down now. Yes, I know that Superman fought other villains. I know about General Zod, and Brainiac, and Mr. Mxyzptlk, and Bizarro Superman. But does the average man on the street? No. If you were to ask random passersby for a list of evil-doers with whom Superman regularly fights, you’d get a string of responses that involve the name “Lex Luthor,� followed by pauses long enough to spot both a bird and a plane up in the air.

Note: This test may be skewed if the samples are taken in front of Captain Nemo Games and Comics.

So Superman’s not exactly my main hero, but his lack of memorable ne’er-do-wells isn’t the only reason I prefer Bruce Wayne to Clark Kent. There’s also the matter of his job.

Speaking as one myself (that’s a journalist, not a superhero), I can easily say that Clark Kent is not someone I’d want to share a newsroom with.

First of all, he’s a nerd. He wears glasses—not that wearing glasses automatically makes one a nerd. But his frames are Elvis Costello big. That helps.

Again, before all you sensitive types out there send me vindictive e-mails laced with computer viruses, hear me out: I’m obviously a nerd myself, so a simple fashion faux pas coupled with awkward behavior isn’t completely unfamiliar to me. Clark Kent, however, goes a couple steps too far into the bumbling zone. He’s unsure of himself. Clumsy. “Mild mannered.�

Director and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, philosophizing through David Carradine as Bill at the end of the Kill Bill movies, notes that of all the comic-book heroes, Superman is backwards. Most of his crime-fighting counterparts put on costumes to become something above and beyond who they really are. Superman, however, is an alien. His drab suits and clunky glasses are the elements he uses to disguise the “real� him and the red-and-blue Spandex from his homeworld that he wears next to his skin.

Continuing on this theme, Tarantino’s Bill postulates that Superman hides his identity behind a caricature of how he sees humanity: Weak. Fumbling. Ineffectual.

These traits seem that they would naturally carry over into Superman’s journalistic performance, since that work is basically just a cover for his more super activities. Stammering and cowering, however, aren’t typically characteristics that editors seek in writers.

Still, Supermanica—the online encyclopedia regarding all things Kryptonian—cites a 1945 comic book in explaining the hero’s thoughts on his chosen profession: “A good reporter gets the news—and gets it first! But there’s more to being a reporter than that!�

Superman goes on to wax poetic about the thundering of presses through journalists’ veins. He also makes liberal and regular use of exclamation points. Then, he cautions that neutrality is the most important facet of the job.

“It’s his story that counts!� the Man of Steel sums up in his monologue on reporters. “Always remember that!�

Herein lies the rub. Supermanica also explains that Superman sought a job as a reporter so he could find out about injustices sooner than he could in other positions. Apparently, Clark Kent receives much critical acclaim for his pieces he writes on crime, but don’t forget that Superman is often involved in simultaneously cleaning up that crime, too. To that end, the Man of Steel is making just about as much news as he’s covering, which isn’t exactly an unbiased approach.

The truth of the matter is that no journalist is completely neutral. Everyone agrees on certain subjects to be frowned upon. Reporters and readers alike find common ground on such universal truths as “murder is bad,� and nobody accuses anybody of bias for something like that, even though it technically is.

But at the same time, journalists try not to get involved with the news themselves. We don’t light fires and then print pictures of the ensuing blazes. The more ethical of us don’t, anyway. Likewise, we try to report on injustices so that our subjects and readers can solve problems together. Otherwise, we’d become nothing more than advocates, and that line of work—while noble—just isn’t what we do.
 Does this mean that we’ll stand by and allow crimes to happen as we stick blindly to our journalistic code? Well, some of us will. I know of a columnist in Santa Maria who mutely watched a couple guys vandalize a vehicle. He then vehemently defended his position as a neutral observer after locals screamed about the ensuing coverage.

Fortunately, I’ve never been in such a situation, but I’d like to think that I’d do the right thing if I ever am, whether that means helping a fellow citizen in need or standing back and putting together a story that shows the world an important truth, no matter how ugly.

To that end, in some ways, a journalist’s job is to be a bit of a hero. We do try to be fair and balanced, but we also try to give voices to the voiceless, to champion—or at least give a leg up to—the underdogs, who might otherwise stay downtrodden.

After all, we journalists are all humans at heart, which is something that Superman can’t really say. And that’s what separates real editors and reporters from comic-book types like Clark Kent. That, and we don’t wear our underwear over tights to work under our clothes. Well, most of us don’t. ∆

If Editor Ryan Miller goes crazy, will you still call him Superman? Tell him you will at rmiller@newtimesslo.com.

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