Okay, I’m on this thing now. I know Dean Cain’s Clark from “Lois and Clark” did some petty things that I don’t think of as super(though I can’t think of any specific examples), but maybe that’s part of his relatability? I mean, wouldn’t we do some petty things against people who are jerks if we had Superman’s powers? Most of us would go beyond ‘petty,’ which is strange because I’ve used that word so much to describe super-villains. They aren’t petty, they’re petty and they won’t let it go. Oh, man, with the exception of the hairpiece thing, I’m not really sure what I’ve got on Superman doing that kind of thing. I’m sure it was common in The Silver Age. On the one hand, I get that Superman is a persona; he is that guy of course, but he’s also Clark Kent, average human reporter who doesn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders all of the time. Someone who does relax, who has fun, and enjoys the life that he works so hard to preserve for others. No, again Clark Kent is a reporter who’s clumsy and awkward. He doesn’t exude confidence or enjoy the company of others. Again, I’m thinking is the guy who can bench press planets and have quiet evenings with Lois Lane is someone else entirely, someone who can do all the things I listed two sentences ago. A guy who misses his planets and a family he’ll never see, but enjoys baseball and his mom’s apple pie. A guy who talks to his wife about the burdens of being a living icon while causing some occasional mischief with his god-like powers. Again, I think of Superman as really being Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton, Clark Kent by day, Superman…also by day.
But how it is petty when Lex hates Superman, but not quite so petty when Kal-El puts a macho bully in his place as Clark? It’s easy to say that what Kal does is an extension of what Superman does (tiny justice for tiny injustices) or that since no harm is done it’s somehow okay. There’s economic harm done and whatever people think of bullies or hairpieces (god, I feel so stupid for discussing this one incident ad nauseam), he’s not performing this as a massive public service, he’s doing it because the guy messed with Clark Kent. It is personal. It is proportional and morally unambiguous, though (this guy is presented wholly as a jerk). Killing Superman isn’t proportional to any wrong done to Lex Luthor. While the things that Superman does occasionally have negative consequences, they are largely ‘good’ things that are hard to impugn (though being one of the smartest men in the world does allow you to surmount all manner of challenges). Superman is portrayed as sympathetic and good, while the villains are displayed unsympathetically and as rather bad people. This gives Kal some of the latitude to cause minor trouble the way he does…in the minds of the readers of course.
For me, I think I have to factor in that these actions are rare, proportional, and temporary. Most days, Kal-El’s ego is big enough to take some punishment as Clark. Hell, if anything, it helps to know that he somewhat lives the weak and downtrodden existences of the people he wants to help. Somewhat. I can also see his actions as a desire to protect Clark. After all, the people who give Clark a hard time for being a nice, decent guy are not good people and would give anyone as mild-mannered as Clark a hard time. He still accounts for those people being mere humans; he doesn’t follow them home or trash their houses or get passionate about it; he usually gives them a harmless, momentary inconvenience and then gets on with his life. That’s not what Victor and Lex do. They obsess and act out disproportionately. All the time. Disagree with them? They ruin your career. Touch them? Sniped at the dinner table while your family watches. Fuck their daughters? Release the hounds (the hounds are atomic powered and bark WITH THE VOICE OF DOOM HIMSELF!). I’d add relatable to the defining list of differences in these behaviors, but that only applies if you’ve never wanted to shoot anyone in traffic ever.