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Imagining a Vegan Superman

My wife and I recently stared rewatching ‘Smallville,’ the WB show about Superman’s young adulthood. She was a fan of the series when it was on the air and introduced it to me a few years ago. ‘Smallville’ is far from prestige television, but I kind of love it. In these dark times, the show is an optimistic, wholesome distraction.

There are some unsavory elements, of course. I try to block out everything about Alison Mack and NXIVM. As an animal activist, I also try to ignore how Clark Kent’s admirable sense of justice and compassion doesn’t seem to extend to nonhumans. The other night, we were watching an episode called ‘Zero,’ which illustrated this fairly well.

In the episode, the Kent family’s herd of cows is killed by toxic chemicals. Superman attempts to soothe his mother, saying the party believed to be responsible will pay for the damage. Martha Kent responds it’s not just about the money; she’s also concerned about effects of the chemicals on human health. Needless to say, neither character seems worried about animal suffering and death.

I wondered what a more animal-friendly Superman might look like. Of course, there’s precedent for a dramatic reimagining of the Kal-El mythology. While, I’ve never read it, there’s a critically-acclaimed graphic novel, called ‘Red Son,’ in which Superman is raised in the Soviet Union.

This question of how Clark Kent’s upbringing effects his worldview got me thinking about Farm Sanctuary, a rescue organization founded on animal-rights principles. What if Kal-El’s spaceship crash landed near a fictionalized version of Farm Sanctuary and he’d been raised by a fictionalized version of the founding couple?

Would Superman turn against humanity for its meat-eating ways? I have a hard time envisioning Clark Kent as a misanthrope. But perhaps he’d use his power to destroy factory farms. If the government tried to stop him, maybe Superman would fight the military, going to extraordinary lengths to avoid endangering human lives.

In this universe, Clark Kent wouldn’t work for the Daily Planet. He’d work for a fictionalized version of Veg News. Lois Lane might work there too, having served a brief prison sentence for Animal Liberation Front activity. Lex Luthor would be a meat-industry tycoon with political ambitions.

After writing three history books — two published and one on the way — the idea of exploring this fictional, silly concept as a novel sounds very appealing. I’m just not sure how I could get away with it. Perhaps I could change the names and call the book satire. I don’t think Superman enters the public domain until the 2030s.

Most likely, however, I’ll do nothing with the idea and just continue enjoying ‘Smallville’ for what it is. Tom Welling is perfectly cast as Clark Kent. It’s really too bad he didn’t get to play the role on the big screen. Then again, Welling did log more than 150 hours on ‘Smallville,’ which is way more time playing the character than Christopher Reeve or any of the film actors got.

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Jon Hochschartner is the author of a number of books about animal-rights history, including The Animals’ Freedom Fighter, Ingrid Newkirk, and a forthcoming history of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.

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