Is he the 'Man of Steel' or just a deadbeat dad?

If you haven't seen "Superman Returns" and want to be surprised by the latest, if somewhat obvious, story twist, don't read this column. Otherwise, consider yourself warned.

If you haven't seen "Superman Returns" and want to be surprised by the latest, if somewhat obvious, story twist, don't read this column. Otherwise, consider yourself warned.

Much has been written about the scriptwriters' decision to delete Uncle Sam from the Superman triune: truth, justice and the American way. In the latest version, Superman represents "truth, justice and ... all that stuff," as Daily Planet editor Perry White puts it.

Some critics have been deeply offended by the extraction of American exceptionalism from this quintessentially American superhero and take it as yet another manifestation of lefty Hollywood's self-loathing. Both the scriptwriters and director Bryan Singer have explained that they were after a more international hero, sent to Earth to save not just America but the world.

This new Superman may not be strictly American, but he's still unmistakably Western and terribly, terribly modern as he ... (last warning to turn back) ... sires a son. Think "Da Vinci Code" meets "Mr. Mom."

Before leaving Earth for five years in a mysterious exit unexplained to anyone, Superman and gal pal Lois Lane hooked up, as they say. Apparently Superman, like his dorky doppelganger, Clark Kent, is clueless when it comes to men and women, and failed to block certain speeding bullets from reaching their natural destination.


Voila. When he returns to save the world, he finds that Lois has a 5-year-old son, Jason, and is living with -- but is not married to -- "the father," Richard White. Perky Jimmy Olsen explains that, well, you know Lois! She just can't bring herself to consider marriage. All that yucky commitment and stuff.

But having a kid out of wedlock is the superwoman way in Metropolis, as most places these days. Who needs a man? Or a Superman, as Lois posits in a story that earns her a Pulitzer Prize.

Even though women may not need men, children need a father, as even Superman's revisionists seem to believe. Thus, Lois allows fiance White, a lesser editorial light on The Planet staff, to serve as male role model. While Lois is busy saving The Planet from prosaic headlines, the domesticated White plays Mr. Mom, providing food and asthma medication for the understandably anxious tyke.

Unburdened by the muscular masculinity of his nemesis in romance, White is the modern gal's dream guy -- sensitive 'n' supportive while acting as head cheerleader for his beloved's career. And though a tad uneasy about Lois' obvious affection for the man in tights, he nevertheless ... understands.

Back on Planet Earth, countless big-hearted men manage to transcend the intuitive drive to suffuse the world with their own genetic issue and raise other men's children. But most do it knowingly as stepfathers and adoptive parents rather than as dupes of deceit, as in the case of Richard White.

Would White continue to act as Jason's father if he knew the truth? We'd like to think so - for the child's sake. But that might depend upon how 21st century he really is. Uncertain dads these days haul out the DNA testing kit - a post-modern Tree of Knowledge that has produced much spoiled fruit.

As too many fathers have discovered that the child they're raising - or being forced to support - is not their own, some have sought legal relief from paternity. Though their reaction may be understandable, it is also tragic.

The real loser, of course, is the child in whom no one is adequately invested. Hence the insistence that commitment through marriage -- as preface, not postscript, to childbearing - is the best insurance for all, but especially children.


Superman's son, one trusts, will manage to reconcile his confusing origins with Destiny, but his journey will be decidedly easier as long as White is willing to continue playing the castrated stooge -- or the self-sacrificing nobleman, depending on one's perspective.

It is probably impractical to wish for Lois Lane and her supernatural boyfriend to marry and allow White to avoid the inevitable humiliation of discovering that he's been played. On the other hand, in a continuation of the Superman-as-Christ allegory, perhaps White is Joseph to Lois's Mary.

In the absence of a satisfactory moral to the story, we are left to improvise. For my ration of popcorn, one thought emerges with clarity: When it comes to fathers, it's better to have an ordinary man on the ground than have to rely on a flighty narcissist who woos girls on rooftops, and then vanishes in search of self.

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