Superman might seem to hide his identity behind just a pair of glasses, but keeping Clark and the Man of Steel separate takes a lot of work!
It’s one of the oldest jokes in DC Comics, if not the entire comic book industry: Why doesn’t anyone realize that Superman is just Clark Kent without his glasses? It’s a question that’s been given many official and unofficial answers by fans and comic creators, but one that many have accepted as one of the great mysteries in comic book lore.
As it turns out, however, slipping on a pair of glasses is only the first thing Clark does to protect his secret identity. Unlike superheroes like Batman or the Flash, Superman doesn’t wear a mask or gloves, which begs the question… why can’t anyone just fingerprint Superman and discover his real identity that way?
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Does Superman Even Have Fingerprints?
Fans have actually posed this question off and on over the years, leading some to speculate that maybe Superman doesn’t actually have fingerprints. Clark may look human, but thanks to his Kryptonian roots, his body is very different from a regular human’s. Some stories suggest Kryptonians have different internal body structures than humans and even completely foreign organs. Given this, could it be possible that Kal El of Krypton was just born without fingerprints?
Actually, no. According to DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza, Superman does have fingerprints… but he’s perfected the ability of not leaving any as Superman. How? Berganza doesn’t leave any clues in his original post – but a look into Superman’s long comic book history may lead to some interesting speculation. In his early days, Superman had several unusual extra powers – including the ability to reshape his plastic-like face and body into anything he desired. He used this power in Superman #45 to make himself resemble a different alien to infiltrate some extraterrestrial villains.
If Superman could alter his physical appearance so easily, it stands to reason that he could reshape the grooves and circles on his fingertips and give himself and Clark Kent two distinct sets of fingerprints. Eventually, altering his fingerprints could become as reflexive as removing his glasses, making his transformation all the more complete.
This precise muscle control could even extend to other aspects of Superman’s persona – including his voice. In one episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Superman reveals he can perfectly mimic Batman and Robin’s voices with his Kryptonian vocal cords. Superman’s voice has been shown to deepen when he’s saving the day, and minor changes like this could aid in making Clark and Superman seem like two separate people.
Protecting Superman’s Identity in the Modern Age
Eventually, most of Superman’s extra powers (including his shapeshifting abilities) were dropped and he was reimagined into a scaled-down version of himself in the post-Crisis Modern Age (although he’d gradually become more and more powerful again). Even then, however, explanations for how Superman could avoid being fingerprinted continued to suggest themselves.
The modern Superman noted that dirt and makeup didn’t stick to his skin very well. This might suggest that his Kryptonian physiology simply doesn’t produce the oils and substances that help leave fingerprints on most surfaces. And since external oils and powders didn’t stay on Superman very long, this could also make it harder for him to leave any fingerprints.
Of course… sometimes Superman did leave some pretty big impressions – literally. Animated shows, movies, and television shows like Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman showed Clark Kent and Superman leaving deep handprints in the airplanes, buses, and cars. Considering the force it would take to make such perfect hand impressions, one would suspect his fingerprints would be easy to find for anyone who made a cast of the wreckage.
Once again, one of Superman’s new powers suggested a way out of this problem, too. During the modern age, Superman’s invulnerability was explained by an invisible aura that surrounded his entire body. This aura even protected clothes that were tight against his skin (like his Superman costume) although it would not shield his much looser cape. Since the aura naturally surrounded his hands, Superman might be able to alter or erase any sign of his fingerprints even as he was holding up a ship or an airplane. Berganza actually confirmed this in a separate post on the Superman Homepage.
Certainly, Clark did take numerous precautions as Superman to keep others from getting too much hard data on him. Whenever he sensed someone trying to take a photo of him as Superman, he vibrated his face slightly to make sure the photo appeared blurry (sorry, Jimmy Olson). If his aura could disguise his fingerprints, there’s every reason he used it to do this too – consciously or unconsciously.
Clark Kent: Super-Hacker?
A more radical theory is that Superman doesn’t bother with disguising his fingerprints – but takes pains to make sure that all of Clark Kent’s official records don’t match up with his. Superman does have access to Kryptonian technology, after all, and his super-brain could allow him to hack into various official databases and change Clark Kent’s fingerprints and other physical attributes to make the two identities appear to be two distinct individuals.
Of course, this might be an unethical (and, frankly, illegal) act that Clark Kent would be very hesitant about engaging in – but with the lives of his friends, family, and loved ones on the line, he might justify crossing that line just once. Alternately, Clark’s Justice League connections (particularly Batman) might simply do the job for him as a personal favor. In the past, Superman has shown he’s even taken certain government officials into his confidence (notably John F. Kennedy), and could arrange for some special services through such connections as well.
Being a superhero might be tough – but being a superhero with two separate identities in the modern age is definitely even more of a hassle. So, while Superman might seem to only be relying on a pair of glasses to hide his true identity from the world, just remember… he’s doing a lot more work than just that!
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