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Kewl Kryptonian

  • Fiction by D.V. Glenn

It seems that Superman has fallen on hard times. He is misted by melancholy, as though perceived through afflicted eyes that dress objects in watery glaucoma skirts. His former fastidious appearance – the sleek tubular gloss of the blue and red uniform, the optical insurgency of pumpkin yellow as cubic backdrop for the bold insignia, the calf-high boots benignly suggestive of Schutzstaffel footwear – had once spawned imitative modes of dress among an adoring populace, once inspired fashion designers to christen the 80s as “the decade of imperial primary colors.” Now, twenty years later, his uniform bears unmistakable signs of neglect, as the household of one on an alcoholic binge unravels into desuetude. The once-beloved cape, impervious to puncture or penetration, flaunts an indiscretion of suspicious stains, vaguely masturbatory splotches, insomniac Magic Marker scribblings: a soiled tablecloth covering the furniture of deflated expectations. The blue body stocking has lost its elastic cling; the external red trunks, once outlining the promising bulge of indefatigable genitalia, is a sagging diaper that seems weighted with excreta. This is the least of it. His hair, previously molded by Brillantine into a wet-blackboard pompadour of ebony highlights, treble clef of a solitary lock scrolling down his forehead, seems a nest for the birds of his twig-frail thoughts, while his left eye strobes a stubborn tic. Superman has been prescribed a popular serotonin reuptake inhibitor but dosage levels are difficult for his psychiatrist to determine or calibrate, due to metabolic anomalies that defy scientific quantification. Thus he exhibits symptoms of systemic oversaturation: an unsightly rash stretches in a cycle-shaped sweep from the edge of his bushy right eyebrow to the dimpled cleft of his prominent pale chin. “Why do you think you’re depressed?” the doctor asks. “Do you think it’s a variation on a Freudian theme, something that, for lack of a vocabulary established by clinical precedence, we might call mortality envy? Ennui engendered by lack of meaningful challenges? Have you flown to the nether regions of the universe and seen things that have affected you deeply?” Superman gazes wistfully, with lackluster eyes, out the window of the doctor’s 30th-floor office suite into skies that had once been his trampoline, his playground, his blue blurred toy. “I’ve often wondered what is on the other side of the universe,” the doctor muses. Superman cannot suppress a yawn expressing the usurping power of tedium. “Nothing,” he says finally. “More and more and more universe.”

  • .

The Daily Planet, once a beacon setting standards of journalistic integrity emulated by its competitors, has long since been shredded by hostile corporate takeovers into an insipid salad of supermarket tabloid publications. Over the years Jimmy Olsen has clawed his way up and through the editorial echelons, leaving his cub reporter status far behind; as a majority stockholder he now controls the myriad tentacles of the operation as President and Chief Executive Officer. Whatever earnestness he once possessed has been supplanted by shrewdness, cynicism; though still thin and loose-jointed as a scarecrow, boyish innocence of his face preserved by russet freckles like seeds in fresh strawberry jam, viewed full frontally he somehow manages to suggest the vaguely sinister and rotund appearance epitomized by Alfred Hitchcock’s notorious profiled silhouette. The public exposure of Superman’s secret identity was the newspaper magnate’s handiwork; he had occupied a stall in the men’s room on a floor of the Daily Planet roped off for renovations and spied Clark Kent donning his uniform, legerdemain of windmilling limbs a watercolor smear presaging the reporter’s twinkling transformation into the Man of Steel. Jimmy Olsen - assigned the moniker “J.O.” by a retinue of Cuban-cigar-proffering sycophants deferential as sliding shadows - had stepped from within the stall, Nikon lens like fingers snapping at a discothèque. “Though I never suspected as much, it now makes perfect sense: superhuman virility as sublimation for deep-seated powerlessness. The psychologically maladapted personality submerged by the authoritarian persona. Rather similar to the middle-aged man who feels the need to disguise his impotency with purchases of red sportscars.” “I am not a police officer,” Superman said, “and what I have to hide is nothing more or less than what any mortal man or woman has to hide.” “It could be,” Jimmy Olsen said, “that it is not Superman who nurtures his secret identity as Clark Kent, but the opposite.” Scientists had detected a shifting of the earth by infinitesimal degrees off its axis; catastrophe was imminent. Superman was flexing preparatory to effecting crisis amelioration. “I have a world to save,” the superhero said. “What presumption,” J.O. remarked. “People do not need to be saved. What they need is to be taught to contend with the chaos of life.”

Superman as existential charlatan.

  • .

After the photo had been published, the world evinced disappointment with the secret identity ruse; they felt duped, betrayed, victimized by paranoia played out on a grand scale. What possible purpose had a secret identity served? The logic, when they probed, seemed Machiavellian, yielded no resistance to unsavory implications, was as mushy as pudding. Other questions were posed, unforgiving conclusions ruthlessly drawn: Why tights? Why a cape? A grown man so attired could only fail to feel ridiculous if his array of faculties were not completely intact. Public sentiment slid precipitously downhill and pooled in a mudslide of vilification at Superman’s feet. This, he felt, defied comprehension. His appearance at scenes of dire consequence was greeted by the jeers and catcalls of alienated bystanders. Even as the superhero exercised his considerable cerebral endowments in the midst of chaos, improvising a jazz of stratagems against flame and fragmentation to extricate victims of terrible events (inevitable result of human malfeasance and ineptitude), a barrage of grievances crudely expressed by spectators pierced him as no bullets ever had. “Down from the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane - naw, it’s Superpig, come to bust some heads!” Those with political or ecological agendas found in his sky-streaking torpedo trajectories subliminal advertisement for nuclear warheads or claimed the supersonic booms left in the wake of faster-than-sound speeds were further perforating the ozone layer. Superman noted with dismay the spreading in his abdomen of that sodden pancake of nausea resembling the symptoms of overexposure to green kryptonite each time he observed that the majority of the detractors were African American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, but suppressed within himself the formulation of disturbing conclusions. Nevertheless, impelled by the moral imperatives of an earlier age long since reconfigured by ethical relativism, denuded by phenomenological reduction, unhinged by Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle, the Man of Steel continued to lift limp rag doll survivors from the wreckage of derailed Amtraks, collapsed skyscrapers, remnants of jumbo jets found twisted in accordions of impact, bearing the victims skyward and away to the overutilized emergency rooms of besieged county hospitals. Class action suits were initiated by a legal coalition insisting that such interventions were a violation of civil liberties, callous infringements on the individual’s right to die. Superman declared bankruptcy and his property assets, the Fortress of Solitude, were seized by the IRS, publicly auctioned off to cover the cost his astronomical legal fees.

  • .

Superman has a day job now, clerking the midnight to morning shift at a 7-Eleven in a battailous neighborhood. He turns a blind eye to customers who blatantly stuff Ding Dongs and malt liquor into waistbands and jacket pockets ample as Hefty garbage bags. They are the poor, the weary, the hungry, the disenfranchised, with whom, he realizes, he has nothing in common and therefore has no right to pass judgment or to make citizens arrests as a deputized agent of the state. He is an anachronism in the new millennium, a relic, a dinosaur; yet he lacks even the dubious consolation of thinking that he is the last exemplary specimen of a dying breed, for the solitary burden of his superhuman powers had never allowed him to participate in the camaraderie enjoyed by the plurality of the herd. Lois Lane meets him at the door of their section-eight, 3rd-floor apartment on 56th and Hudson with a gumball-sour twist of the lips and withholds the support and encouragement she freely lavished during happier days. “Super duper pooper man,” she greets him.

That is not all she withholds.

In bed her taunts are fists of thistles and thorns. “Man of Steel? I think not.” Erections are impossible to achieve given the debilitating flux of circumstances; Viagra, granting recourse to synthetic virility, would seem an admission of failure more debasing than chronic flaccidity. She has resorted to pleasuring herself in his presence with vibrating marital aids while simultaneously watching television with sound muted. During rare moments when her ice of hostility and resentment momentarily cracks, she analyzes his dilemma, proposes PR remedies. “You are experiencing a form of celebrity backlash. You need to change your image.” “What do the people want from me?” he asks. “The public is fickle,” she continues, “but in this case, you have justified it. First of all, your name is Ka-El. Use it. It has a neoteric ethnic ring. Now that there’s a long overdue awareness in the media endorsing multiculturalism. …” Superman interrupts to pose a question. “Is the media to be trusted?” Lois Lane extravagantly demonstrates forbearance, refrains from rolling her eyes. “The media may or may not be trusted, as you chose. Either way, it generates reality through the recycling of images. Please don’t encourage these digressions, you know how I hate to digress. I was where? Your problem is, you’re the great white hope of an untenable status quo, privileged and pampered, ultraconservative and dogmatic in your notions of an absolute right and wrong. Champion of freedom and the American way? Freedom to buy, to consume and discard, freedom to seek endless diversions and entertainments, sure, sure. Why have you not melted all the guns on the face of the earth with your super-hot X-ray vision? Why have you not melted, for example, all symbols of Swastikas?” “If I do away with one symbol, I would have to do away with them all,” Superman replies, “either all symbols are equally useful, or equally useless.” But Lois Lane, on an avalanching roll, does not hear him. “What good is the power to literally move mountains ” -she inflects the word lit-trilly, an affectation invoking traces of the wealthy Martha’s Vineyard upbringing she has striven to replace as an adult with less damning egalitarian accents - “if you can’t stamp out racism? What good is power if you can’t change what’s in the heart of a man or a woman? You could have been somebody, you could have been the ultimate outsider. Instead, you’re just another cocky white boy who, number one, believes he is the arbiter of righteousness and who, number two, took the path of least resistance.” Superman plucks from her fingers the joint Lois Lane is puffing and replaces it before she can detect its absence; he inhales deeply, demonstrating to himself the willingness to change. In his bloodstream THC molecules are interpreted and intercepted as an immuno-intrusive presence by white, white, white corpuscles and neutralized before liberating psychotropic effects can be felt. Yet he had known the marijuana would not have an effect and is aware his demonstration was self-deception. Yet self-deception, he reasons, is acceptable in the absence of viable alternatives.

Yet …

Lois Lane sighs and reaches for the marital aid on the bedside table. Tonight he will be unable to bear the high-pitched drone it will make when she turns it on (two octaves above middle C), then the lower-pitched muffled hum as it is launched wombward. “I think I’ll sky it for a bit,” Superman tells her. “Clear my head.” “Close the window when you go, it’s a bit nippy. And could you please bring me back a pint of Dryer’s No-Fat Praline Yogurt, stupor man?” This resurgence of belligerence, a pinball bouncing off paddles toward the apogee of a second chance to trigger red lights and bells, hastens his exit. Superman keeps flying, keeps flying until he plunges, like a tiny wriggling spermatozoa breeching an immensity of ovum, into the fathomless molten core of the sun. Lois Lane may well be right, he decides, about the potential benefits of an image makeover; thus for an hour or so he allows himself to become driftwood tossed by tides in a turbulent nuclear sea. Streaking homeward, he keeps his eyes closed tight, navigating by memory, engaging super-hearing to detect sound waves bouncing off particles small as dust motes, until he perches on the windowsill outside their apartment, an overgrown pigeon in an ill-fitting costume. Opening his eyes, he stretches out his hands, gazing at them and at the reflection of his face in the dingy window: not even the hint of a tan, skin still white as Liquid Paper.

  • .

Scientists once again detect a shifting of the earth by infinitesimal degrees off its axis; catastrophe is imminent. Although in the past superman has successfully aborted the obvious disastrous consequences, global vestiges of the phenomenon always linger in the form of anomalous climatic patterns, funhouse distortions of winter and summer, that seem to spawn more dramatic correlatives in the psychological sphere. The degree of randomness underlying events becomes more readily apparent, definitions that had seemed fixed and solid lose their reliability, consensual reality fragments into jigsaw puzzle pieces too heavily dependent on interpretation. Children in spelling bees declare that the word “werewolf” contains an “h” and the judges argue among themselves over the validity of phonetic variants; the precise locations of well-known landmarks become the subject of violent debate; customers return corned beef sandwiches to delicatessens, insisting that they have been given pastrami. Superman, because of his highly refined sensory apparatus, perhaps suffers more acutely than most. His efforts to freeze fluidity have always arisen from obscure inner mandates; at the very least they constituted the brunt of his job description as savior of mankind, but as Lois Lane has so often insisted, perhaps there are valuable lessons to be learned in loosening up, going with the flow. Fuck it, Superman decides. High-level government authorities and the scientific intelligentsia are desperately trying to contact the Man of Steel. So what? He turns off his pager, unplugs the telephone that is his hotline to the White House. He ignores newspaper headlines that both appeal to the sense of duty that has forsaken him and attempt to shame him into action: “Superman In Selfish Seclusion While World Tilts Toward Abyss.” But in addition to suffering from a paralyzing occupational burnout that precludes his response to entreaties for his help, he has other, more pressing, concerns. He meets with his arch-enemy, Lex Luther, for coffee at Starbuck’s at the criminal genius’s request. “What gives?” Lex Luther asks. “I have to resort to pharmaceutical stimulants to provide the natural adrenaline rush that was the byproduct of our monumental engagements. I need you back in action.” “The people no longer appreciate my efforts on their behalf,” Superman sniffs. Lex Luther nods. “A nasty business, that,” he agrees. “Look,” Superman says, dismally producing a report that had been recently published in The Daily Planet. A long column of assertions, reinforced by statistics and ratios, proposes the condemning hypothesis that Superman’s modus operandi is motivated, perhaps at subconscious levels, by racial profiling:

• A large percent of the suspects he detains and questions in his pursuit of misdemeanor perpetrators results in high numbers of false arrests among African American or Hispanic males between the ages of 16 to 24.

• Legitimate arrests of non-white street thugs outnumber whites four to one.

• Choke-hold mishaps for minorities are alarmingly disproportionate.

• Sightings recorded by ACLU surveillance teams of Superman patrolling ghetto airspace dwarf his token visibility in upscale communities.

• Etc.

“The people I’ve taken oaths to protect, I no longer know who they are,” Superman concludes. “Have I made irrevocable errors in judgment?” Lex Luther smiles ruefully. “Demographics have betrayed you. You no longer represent the prevailing constituency in this metropolis. You are the Lone White Ranger in a world where people are no longer content to play the role of Tonto.” Superman buries his lantern-shaped head in monolithic hands. “What, then?” “You fear change. ‘In the destructive element, immerse.’ Drastic steps are necessary, a gesture of faith on your part is necessary. Let me help you,” Lex Luther offers. Superman reaches across the table top and embraces his arch-nemesis, eyes gushing bayous of tears. Aggrieved employees wearing galoshes appear with mops and industrial-sized buckets. “There, there,” Lex Luther says, “let it go, big guy, just let it go.”

  • .

There is much to be accomplished and they set about it quickly. Lex Luther establishes The Institute of Racial Empathy, funded by generous foundation grants from corporate leviathans eager to bask in the rosy media limelight certain to attend an endeavor promoted as the “Gateway To A New Understanding Between Business And The Minority Community.” Top-ranking representatives, impeccably groomed, executive faces shepherded by fanatical devotion into smiles deemed appropriate by Microsoft and Snappel, are taught down-and-dirty Ebonics, the significance of Kwanzaa, “cultural chameleonics 101,” taught to peel the denotative and connotative onion skin of faux pas surrounding use of the word negr should the necessity of conducting business in the former Soviet Union ever arise. Superman is, of course, a star pupil. At the end of the first week of emotionally draining seminars, while attendees in the audience lean forward in their seats to identify lapses of colloquial or idiomatic authenticity, Superman struts across the stage in an old-fashioned pimp-roll contemporized by hip-hop aesthetics to coordinate new shoulder sway with old lower-limb drag, reaches for Lex Luther’s outstretched hand to engage it in a cat’s-cradle of complex greeting that is substitute for the conventional handshake, then slurs, with admirable mimesis, “L.L., my niggah,” to spontaneous outbreaks of applause.

  • .

Lex Luther, marrying criminal genius to a hidden penchant for legitimate scientific research that is, for him, slightly shameful, breeches the bastions of the superhero’s esoteric body chemistry with a tiny pill that must be taken once a day. “A tab a day keeps the honky at bay,” Lex Luther explains. The tablet is a host on his tongue and he partakes of it with the beatific humility of one savoring the transubstantiation of the wafer into the divine body of the risen Christ. Superman’s complexion deepens, armies of pigmentation retreat, platoons of melanotic soldiers trudge across snowy stretches of skin, leaving dark footprints that smear his paleness beneath smooth mahogany sheen. Lois Lane is demonstrably pleased; she coos, calling him to bed, spurring him on with yawning porno-diva thighs. “Have at it, superstud, show me no mercy, bitch slap me if you like your rocks off rough.” Her musky heat melts memories of his December of inhibitions, rips through the placid wheat field of former Midwestern constraints, unhinges his hips with innovative erotic choreographies of clockwise plunge, counterclockwise thrust. “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” Lois Lane exclaims, simple orgasms multiplying into complex calculus.

  • .

Superman’s new uniform is underwritten by FUBU. Though the color scheme remains the same, new stylistic motifs sing of youthful street-corner a cappelas. The cape now trails smartly from an oversized blue-hooded sweatshirt draping his shaved skull; accessories exploit chains, platinum rings, a “grill” - gold plating for his two front teeth - chunky Rolex, a cane that combines flash and function, releasing sexy pulses of creamy crime-busting laser ejaculations with the push of a button. The overall effect is one of nonchalant flamboyance, Mac- Daddy chic. Hip-hop producer Dr. Dre is commissioned to write a catchy anthemic jingle highlighting Superman’s unique ethnicity called “Kewl Kryptonian,” which rockets to number-one crossover occupancy on pop and R&B charts. The lyrics, rapped by Superman himself in a surprisingly sensuous Barry White baritone, build to affirmation on a series of silky negations:

I ain’t Cally

I ain’t Bostonian

I’m a new kinda suppa niggah

Cold kewl Kryptonian

Composer John Williams is not pleased, implies in a petulance of press releases that the tracks abound in orchestral deficiencies, bury the lack of mythic melodic motifs beneath savage rhythmic superfluities. Soaring platinum sales restore Superman to solvency. He considers donating a portion of the proceeds to the United Negro College Fund.

  • .

The world is still atilt on its errant axis. Walkers lean slightly forward from the waist, negotiate flat pavement as though laboring up inconvenient inclines. A mere tap from his fingertip would restore Earth to orbital viability, yet Superman does nothing, bidding his time, testing the waters. He waits, perhaps not without a certain vindictive satisfaction, for the results of recent Gallop polls to bestow statistical validation, waits for the weathervane of public opinion to whirl definitively in his direction. On the cover of GQ Magazine the Man of Steel is shown sitting in a wicker chair with a great rounded back, beret aslant on his head, face militantly devoid of expression, pose and posture redolent of Huey P. Newton’s, long slain cofounder of the decades-defunct Black Panther Party. The caption bears the quote, “I be chillin.” High government officials of the officially nonexistent U.S. shadow government summon Superman to a secret summit meeting in Geneva, demand to know what it all means. “I be chillin,” Superman answers noncommittally. Then adds, “It’s a Kryptonian thang, you wouldn’t understand.”

  • .

By all accounts Superman should be exuberantly riding the stallion of his newly established vogue with the ethnic demographic, digging spurs into the flanks of his hard-won popularity among the young and hip who, paradoxically, from the margins of a culture that resists their absorption into the mainstream, set standards for the nation’s trends through circuitous and subverting patterns of anti-trends belatedly co-opted. He is not unaware that this is supreme irony in a nation whose history is in large measure the history of co-opted anti-trends. Drifting down from the sky he alights with the insouciance of a feather into mobs of African American teenagers seeking his autograph. “Fuck that bouigzee shit,” Superman announces, pushing away pencil and pen for the greater sincerity of a heartfelt embrace, “I’m everyday people.” When questioned by the media for his refusal to avert the impending global catastrophe, Superman has this to say: “No mo handouts, no mo super-affirmative action, no mo Kryptonian welfare. ‘Bout time the people of the Earth learn some self-reliance, pull up on they bootstraps, do for theyselves.”

  • .

Superman’s inability to view his situation through a lens of triumph, his wide anhedonia, his flattened affect, is a source of concern for both he and his psychiatrist. Yet the fact of Lois Lane’s sudden departure, doctor and patient agreed, was not a salient contributing factor. Her admission of deep disappointment in her own inability to withstand the internal pressures of sustaining the burden of an “interracial” relationship during a time and age when such factors should have been considered anile had driven her away when the novelty of exotic sexuality lost its power to superficially titillate. “I did not know I was so shallow,” Lois Lane had told him. “Perhaps you are not only shallow but a ho as well,” Superman had suggested. “Goodbye Superman, goodbye Clark Kent, goodbye Ka-El,” Lois Lane said. Superman explains to the doctor that her bowed head and posture of defeat as she gathered personal affects from the apartment and walked through the door will forever fill the portrait frame of his recollection of those final moments. “You are fixating,” the doctor says. “I am fixin to fixate some mo,” Superman answers. “I am fixating and I have observations to make.” “Vent them,” the doctor advises. “Well then. Nothing has been clarified by my transformation; in fact, contradictions and unanswerable questions flourish.” Superman, his diction and enunciation no longer stretched into the taffy of slang, displays the linguistic agility of many African Americans who slip from street vernacular into flawless King’s English, depending on the racial orientation of the listener. “Is this all there is to belonging, to enthncity, to race: habits, customs, words, rituals, behaviors? All of these merely reflect the provisional nature of the self,” Superman observes sadly. “You are either very close to insight,” the doctor says, “or very very far from it.” “There is no point,” Superman explains, “at which the gene yields satisfactorily to the language which defines cultural reality: octoroon, quadroon, mulatto, indeed black and white … believe me, I have used my super-vision to scrutinize the gene closely.” “Identity,” the doctor sighs, “the mystery of it.” “I disagree, it is precisely unmysterious,” Superman retorts, “I’ve been hoodwinked. I’ve been had. I’ve been took. I’ve been led astray, run amok. I’ve been bamboozled.” The doctor frowns. “You are paraphrasing.” Superman laughs bitterly, the first laugh of bitterness ever to escape his lips, typically a stern line of demarcation rarely crossed by spontaneous smirk or smile. It is, this bitterness, like sterilized air, not sour, not sweet. “Is not the world paraphrasing itself?: Scientists once again detecting a shifting of the earth by infinitesimal degrees off its axis; catastrophe, imminent?” Then he goes on to ask, “Should I save the Earth?” The doctor replies, “You are close to a breakthrough. I encourage you to do the right thang.”

  • .

Saving the world is one thing, the looming specter of foundational transformations, another. Superman gloomily considers his options and settles on a solution rarely invoked, a solution that is, for him, an ethical taboo. He will fly around the globe faster and faster, cross the line that separates being a concerned participant in the affairs of humankind into monumental historical intrusion, lasso the world in dizzy ropes of speed to reverse the flow of time. He will wind chronology back to a day and place before this day, this place. For at a certain point some people had evidently wanted more, had suddenly found themselves pursuing fluid symbols, gnomic ambiguities, the tragic grandeur of insupportable myths. Now these same people, watching Superman’s orbiting blur, tear comic book pages in half, in quarters, in eights, watch them flutter away violently in crematoriums of wind. Superman, ever stolid, does not say ouch. And I, for one, the black reader with a fondness for the nerdy certainties of nostalgia, nevertheless find it impossible to say whether I will, or will not, miss him.

[Note: In the comics, has Superman traveled through time to different periods by flying faster than light? Yes. Can Superman reverse the flow of time for an environment outside of himself by traveling faster than light, (as he does in the Superman movie)? No. Superman never had such a power in the comics. In the past, (mostly in the Silver Age) when he traveled through time, the only person he was able to affect was himself. This was a particular iteration of Superman who was able to fly back and forth through time with relative ease. See: Time Trapper for an understanding of this particular version of Superboy.]

-The End

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