How Can Clark Kent Disguise His Superman Identity Only by Wearing Glasses?

Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978).
Christopher Reeve in Superman.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

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Answer by Mark Hughes, lifelong Superman fan, comics reader, and collector; Forbes movies blogger:

Three things are very important to remember here, which explain how Clark Kent’s glasses work for protecting his identity as Superman.

First and foremost, nobody has reason to assume Superman even has a “secret identity.” He’s a superpowered alien who seems to always be around when danger strikes, and he has a giant alien fortress in the snow—would you just assume he probably has some ordinary job and apartment where he walks around pretending to be a mortal person? Probably not. So if people don’t even expect to see him “in disguise,” then why would they even look for it or suspect it?

Second, Clark doesn’t just wear glasses—he behaves completely differently, changes his voice, combs his hair differently, wears loose-fitting clothing to hide his physique, slouches, uses different mannerisms, and is in situations where nobody expects to even be seeing Superman—at a desk job, acting weak and normal, buying carrots at the grocery store, etc. If you doubt how well someone could really behave and dress differently to achieve enough effect to fool people, I simply bid you look at Christopher Reeve from the first Superman film.

If you hear the nasally, nervous banter of Clark Kent in that first photo as he pushes his glasses up on his nose with his pencil and slouches around the office in a baggy suit, you’d not remotely think he’s the same person as the tall, muscular, deep-voiced, handsome hero in that second image. Christopher Reeve gave what I feel was an Oscar-worthy performance, appearing to be two entirely different people and seeming almost unrecognizable as the same guy.

The effect of being two different people is enhanced when Superman and Clark seem to be in the same place at almost the same exact time—in the movie, Superman flies off from Lois’ apartment at a leisurely speed, and as she turns away and takes a few steps there is a knock at her front door and Clark is outside calling her name. She opens the door and he’s there, whining that he’s been knocking and she didn’t hear him, and he’s ready for their date. The effect this has is to make it seem Clark was at her door being ignored while Superman was wooing her in the apartment, and it’s perfect.

Finally, consider how often you see people in real life who look extremely similar. Do you, for example, suspect that Hugh Jackman is really Clint Eastwood in a wig? Or that Will Ferrell secretly plays in the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

We all sometimes see a person who resembles someone else but whom we otherwise see in entirely different situations and therefore have no reason to think, “Wait, it’s that other person living an elaborate lie!”

Reeve’s Clark Kent doesn’t resemble his Superman as much as Chad Smith resembles Will Ferrell in that photo. So even when people notice Clark has some vague resemblance to certain features of Superman, they aren’t going to think he looks that much like him, let alone think they’re the same person.

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