THE PRESS has been a-quiver with rumors of changes in the comic-book personae of Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent. The publicity director of DC Comics insists that the nature of the changes is still being debated, that the design team has any number of proposals. But that's not the point.
The point, as Coca-Cola learned, is that there will be changes at all. Now is the time for preventive protest -- before mistakes get written in kryptonite.
Hypothesizing that the old Clark Kent is too wimpy to interest the average American who drives a 4x4 Jeep Comanche and likes to clean his collection of submachine guns after an evening of "Rambo" on the VCR, the DC Comics "design team" is said to have proposed improving Clark's eyesight and removing Cupid's arrow from his Lois-Lane-struck heart.
You have to wonder if DC Comics won't stir up a "Clark Kent classic" movement if they convert him into a nosher of No. 6 nails as the design team may want.
According to reports on the DC team, they believe the no-longer endurable traits of Clark's personality are: his gentleness, his shyness, his thoughtfulness, his decency, his self-effacement, his modesty, his courtesy -- in a word, his woebegonedness. I guess they speculated that he was just too darn much like Garrison Keillor to find a following.
So they suggested making him an $80,000-a-year yuppie investigative reporter -- the kind of guy who shows up as a male centerfold in Cosmo and is much too devoted to making Clark Kent number one to be mooning over Lois Lane, much less rescuing her from the nasty hands of Lex Luthor.
Will he change from his three- piece suit into his airborne long johns in a phone booth or seek out a massage parlor? Will he give up reading in his spare time and turn to heavy metal relaxation? Well, of course not. Clark Kent's gruff new exterior and Deloreanized wardrobe will hide a heart of gold, maintains the design team.
Even so, I like Clark Kent the way he was, and I suspect that the millions of Americans who are keeping Garrison Keillor up all night signing copies of "Lake Wobegon Days" agree with me. Everything Americans love about Garrison Keillor they love about Clark Kent. He's bumbling, he's shy, he's second fiddle, he's anxious, he's caring, he's thoughtful, he's vulnerable.
But -- and this is where Superman becomes genuine myth -- when real danger arrives, meek Clark Kent reveals the inner brawniness, the valor behind the virtue, and becomes Superman.
The great thing about the Superman myth which should never be cast aside is that he is both weak and strong, wimp and he- man, leader of two lives, mysterious, paradoxical, a true stimulus to the imagination. Deprived of his dramatic vulnerability to Lois Lane and kryptonite, Superman would cease to cause tremors in the unconscious. Depriving him of the specs which conceal his X-ray vision is a terrible idea.
Who can respect a four-eyes in these woebegone days? Ask the Garrison Keillor lovers.
What DC Comics' design team proposed was to reduce Superman to a mere cartoon. Until now the double self of Clark Kent-Superman has provided the satisfaction of superior myth. Being Superman, the old Clark Kent could afford to be civilized without being reduced to Jimmy Olsen. Sure of his strength, he could hide it.
According to the design team, all of that may be stuffed in the time capsule and consigned to the Museum of Americana, along with the kryptonite which threatened the super in Superman. As they saw it, Superman should become one-dimensional. When not the tough and all-but-bulletproof investigative reporter, he'd go change his clothes for the bulletproof pajamas. In either guise, he'd no more be vulnerable to Lois Lane than to Lex Luthor.
Behold the design team's New Adam -- unseducable by Eve!
This would be the same mistake TV made with the Bionic Man and Bionic Woman -- to be strong means that you can only be half- human. Instead of pretending not to be Superman, the design team's new Clark Kent would be pretending to be Superman. Then, wowee! he actually becomes Superman!
All wrong. If Clark Kent requires modernizing, he should emerge from the ashes of the past as a computer nerd trying to teach Lois Lane how to do word-processing while she insists on tracking down PLO terrorists.
It should not be forgotten that Kent's wimpiness is a disguise, every bit as indispensable as Columbo's beat-up car and seedy wardrobe or the beggar's disguise of Ulysses when he returned to Ithaca to reclaim Penelope from her fierce suitors.
According to a recent Newsweek report, "Superman, says DC's chief Jenette Kahn, will be seen 'not just as a superbeing but as a person.' Like other New Men of the '80s, he will be open about his feelings."
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! That's what Clark Kent is for, dummies.