A dark and suspect past may be the key to a more relatable Superman.
On Monday we received a special sneak-peak at a scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as a new trailer on Wednesday evening. The former, especially, brought up fan discussion of Superman and how DC has portrayed him as a dangerous, even villainous, superhero. The dark portrayal of the Man of Steel is a stark contrast to past iterations of the character, particularly Christopher Reeve and his interpretation of the character. Truth, justice, and the American way don’t seem to apply to Superman like they used to.
So this begs the question, why have creators decided to portray Superman in this way? Why did the opening to the DC Extended Universe, Man of Steel, start off with such a bleak outlook on a character that should inspire hope? Upon extensive analysis of Man of Steel and the promotional material for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I believe that the creators of this dark Superman have a very good reason for their decisions. A dark Superman may just be exactly what we need right now.
One of the biggest criticisms of Man of Steel revolves around the portrayal of Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Superman’s adopted father. In the film, young Clark (Superman) saves a bus full of people and Papa Kent is not quite as happy as you’d think. When Clark asks if he should have let them die, Jonathan Kent responds with “maybe.”
This is a stark contrast to the portrayal of the Kents in the past. Usually they are the force behind Superman’s morality. He learns to be a superhero from them. But this time Jonathan Kent actively discourages Clark from becoming a hero, fearful that a mistrusting world won’t accept him. (Prophetic.)
But before we criticize the portrayal, let’s first look at what this accomplishes. Superman no longer has the same moral compass that past iterations of the character show. This not only makes him an instantly more fallible, and therefore relatable character, but it also makes him very dangerous, which perfectly sets up the ending of Man of Steel. Whether you like Superman’s dark portrayal or not, this change of Jonathan Kent did accomplish exactly what creators intended: to make Superman a potential threat.
But let’s assume that Superman eventually proves himself a true hero. Let’s assume that when we see Superman in Batman v Superman and Justice League that he will be closer to what we’ve seen in past films. If such is the case, this is perhaps even more remarkable given his less-than-perfect moral upbringing. Let’s face it, we live in a broken world, and many children do not have loving parents with a strong moral code to guide them. The fact that Superman could overcome his flawed parental guidance should give us hope for the future. We can become better than our predecessors.
The Destruction of Metropolis
Another major criticism of the film revolves around the massive destruction seen at the end of the film. It was no accident that many saw flashbacks to 9/11 during those scenes. The sequence clearly meant to invoke that tragedy. But what did it accomplish? The last Batman v Superman trailer made it clear that Superman is being held partially responsible for the attacks. Of course, he had the biggest hand in saving humanity, but many understandably fear his power.
This is a perfect metaphor for the world we live in. We constantly fear things and people that we don’t understand, and the more power they have, the more we unite against them. But all too often we forget to look for evil within ourselves, as it’s always easier to see the threat posed by others. In the Batman v Superman controversy, this phenomenon translates perfectly to the story.
People fear Superman, but in the end he’s not the biggest problem; Lex Luthor is. Though we still don’t know too much about the plot, Batman will likely represent each of us in this metaphor, fearing the unknown at first but eventually realizing that the real threat comes from humanity.
The Death of Zod
Of course, let’s not forget how Superman kills Zod at the end of Man of Steel, easily the most hotly debated moment of the film. Besides the fact that this is nothing new for Superman (he killed Zod in Superman II), it really only adds a new layer to everything that has been mentioned already. It paints Superman in a more dangerous light. If he could kill one person, even for the right reasons, what’s to stop him from killing someone else?
But once again, this idea perfectly leads into the film’s sequel, Batman v Superman. Batman is well known for his number one rule: he will not kill. Imagine what Batman would think if he hears that this new ultra-powerful superhero killed someone. He would immediately be suspicious. So much so that it would lead to a face-off between the two, which is exactly what we should see in the upcoming film.
We can assume that Superman and Batman will eventually realize that they are not enemies. They will learn who poses the true threat, and they will team up to fight that individual, most likely Lex Luthor or someone on his payroll.
Why is a Dark Superman Important?
Ultimately, the Batman v Superman controversy will likely continue when the film is released. Superman will once again be portrayed as this dark and dangerous threat. But it’s clear that his portrayal was an active choice to make Superman more relatable to audiences.
Instead of a perfect hero (both physically and mentally), Superman now has some flaws, as do we all. Assuming he overcomes those flaws to be the hero we know him to be (and I think he will), we will have the perfect example of someone overcoming their inner demons and rising above them. Besides, if the latest trailer is any indication, Batman v Superman won’t be without some incarnate demons, even without a truly evil Superman.