June 19, 2006 -- He's clearly into fitness, and splashy summer colors.
The new film about the Man of Steel, "Superman Returns" -- which comes out, er, on June 28 -- is being advertised on Logo, the gay and lesbian cable TV channel. Now, the gay magazine, The Advocate, is asking "How Gay Is Superman?"
The Advocate is not claiming that Superman is gay. It's making a larger point -- that like many gays and lesbians, Superman has a secret life. In the closet or phone booth, as the case may be, Superman has another identity that he doesn't share with anyone.
Nonetheless, Warner Bros. executives -- perhaps afraid questions about the Man of Steel's sexual orientation may marginalize the film -- have pushed back on The Advocate's query and the Internet buzz it has created.
The film's director, Bryan Singer, who is gay, insisted to Reuters that Superman "is probably the most heterosexual character in any movie I've ever made." Whatever that means.
It's an unusual time for superheroes and outing.
DC Comics, which publishes "Superman," recently revealed that Batwoman would become a lesbian socialite and crime fighter by night. Over at rival Marvel Comics, one story line has superheroes required by law to reveal their identities -- outing themselves, as it were -- which Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker, has just done.
Questions about Superman's real identity had been raised long before he became a gay icon.
In the Quentin Tarantino film "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," the character Bill shares his view on what Clark Kent -- Superman's other half -- says about humanity.
"An essential characteristic of the superhero mythology is, there's the superhero, and there's the alter ego," Bill says. "Batman is actually Bruce Wayne. Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When he wakes up in the morning, he's Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic that Superman stands alone. Superman did not become Superman -- Superman was born Superman."
Bill adds, "When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red 'S' -- that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears -- the glasses, the business suit -- that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak. He's unsure of himself. He's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
Still, others view Superman in other iconic ways.
Created by Jewish cartoonists Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the bespectacled newspaper reporter has long been considered by Jews as one of the chosen people. He comes to Earth as an intergalactic Moses -- as a baby in a solo vessel.
His name on his home planet Krypton, Kal-El, resembles the Hebrew words for "voice of God."
In the 1980 film, "Superman 2," a woman who has witnessed Superman save a young child says, "What a nice man! Of course he's Jewish."
Born in 1938, Superman fought the Nazis long before the U.S. military did. In a 1940 Superman comic in LOOK Magazine, for instance, Superman snags Adolph Hitler and threatens to "land a strictly non-Aryan sock" on Hitler's jaw.
According to the German Propaganda Archive at Calvin College in Michigan, soon thereafter, the weekly newspaper of the SS -- Das Schwarze Korps -- responded to Superman taking on Der Fuhrer. The article slammed Siegel as "intellectually and physically circumcised," said Superman was "lacking all strategic sense and tactical ability," and accused the costumed hero of sowing "hate, suspicion, evil, laziness, and criminality" in the "young hearts" of American children.
Yet, truth be told, Superman in the comics has always been vaguely Methodist, recently marrying Lois Lane in a church.
Some see Superman, though, as not only Christian -- but Christ-like.
In the trailer for "Superman Returns," Superman's father, Jor-El, says, "Even though you're being raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason, above all -- their capacity for growth -- I have sent them you: my only son."
A 2002 issue of the Journal of Religion and Film alleges 20 Superman-Jesus parallels.
"Both Superman and Jesus had earthly family ties. Both had heavenly origins. Both heroes were raised incognito on Earth. Both were of 'royal' blood, both righted wrongs, both acted as [saviors], both displayed incredible powers, and both performed miracles," the author wrote.
A new book, "The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero," elaborates on the argument that Jesus and Superman are one and the same.
Of course, it should surprise no one that various groups are tangling over whether Superman is one of their own -- while no one claims, say, Superman's arch nemesis, Lex Luthor.