With the advent of the “Age of Heroes” in the world of movies and film, this series attempts to explore the benefits that the live-action DCEU can reap by looking at the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) for guidance. Not with the intention of making exact replicas of its animated counterparts, but utilizing them as blueprint that contains all the raw material that will allow our favorite heroes and heroines shine. What did an animated movie achieve? Where did the live-action fall short? Why does it matter? Questions like these are some of which I attempt to explore and discuss. We started by discovering how the DCAU‘s foray into Green Lantern nailed it and in our second edition, we discussed how DCEU‘s Suicide Squad could have been something special. In this newest addition, we discuss why Superman is the superhero we need.
PART 3 – WHY WE NEED SUPERMAN
Superman is the most iconic superhero of all time. The Man of Steel has become an integral part of American Pop culture, modern mythology and has come to be easily recognizable all over the world through a never-ending array of mediums since his debut in Action Comics on June, 1939. Whether it’s on a sticker, a t-shirt, a billboard, a tattoo or a comic book cover, it is very hard to not recognize the Man of Steel or see his emblem anywhere you go on any given day. His is everywhere and that is a very good thing. “Why,” you might ask? Because we need him. Our generation needs Superman. I am not suggesting that we build an inter-dimensional portal that allows us to bring him into our world (though…yes, please); but our generation, my generation needs Superman and what he represents.
Superman has always stood for truth, justice and the American way from time immemorial. That being said, DC has allowed the character to evolve from U.S.A. poster child to the Hero of Earth that we know and love today. But even though that detail of his philosophy has matured, he continues to be an example of what a man or a woman can aspire to be when they stand for truth, justice and the greater good. If it sounds grandiose or utopian even, that’s because it is. But that’s the point of Superman. Vikram Ghandi said it best in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s in a sequence where director Zack Snyder utilizes the media as a way to show the audience the public’s opinion about Superman from a variety of angles (this is one of my favorite bits of the movie). In this scene while playing himself, Ghandi states his opinion. Allow me to paraphrase: “What if Superman is just a guy trying to do the right thing?” It is this statement that encapsulates Superman’s personal philosophy and his worldview perfectly. It informs us how he sees himself, how he sees people and how he views the world that he has chosen to protect.
Through an array of Elseworld stories, writers have explored what could have happened if Superman turned evil or what would have changed with the character if his pod would have landed somewhere other than Kansas; but when it comes to who Kal-El is, the truth about him remains the same: The last son of Krypton is an individual that finds out that he possesses amazing abilities and decides to devote himself entirely to what he deems to be the greater good. Although in certain interpretations, Superman’s morals are twisted to say the least or at odds with American morality or values; what makes Kal-El special is his steadfast devotion to whatever ideals he believes in and to those he deems his people.
As a fan of the character, I am relieved to say that our Earth’s version of Superman is the most popular and known version in the movies, comics and other media. His origin goes little-like this: Kal-El was sent in an escape pod from the now-extinct planet of Krypton to Earth by his parents and was found by Jonathan and Martha Kent when his pod landed Smallvile, Kansas. He was raised with a strong set values, morals and ethics. Named Clark Kent by his adoptive parents, he discovers his powers from an early age and learns to control them as they develop, with his parent’s patience, love and support. Having developed a love for his new home planet, its inhabitants and believing in their capacity to do good; he chooses to place his life and abilities on the line to protect and care for our planet, Earth, against any and all threats.
Kal-El/Clark Kent chooses to become Superman.
This is what makes this character beautiful, iconic and important for our generation. His motives are not born solely out of the tragedy that is the death of his home planet, Krypton; but also from the faith he has decided to place in the people of Earth. His powers are only the way through which he has decided to offer his best to the world and they do not influence who he is as a man or inhabitant of Earth. He simply sees himself as a guy that is doing the best that he can for the good of all. It is this sense of purpose that we see in Superman that we can also see in thousands of men throughout history that gave it their all to leave their mark on this Earth, whether their mark be good or bad. Clark’s life philosophy is what drives him as Superman to be a symbol of hope, to save those in need and its what allows him to be an example for other heroes as well, big or small, super or non-super.
This is why I love Superman and why I want to see more of him on the big screen.
Throughout this series, I have focused on exploring where the DCEU has failed in their movies, whereas the DCAU has succeeded when it comes to writing and adapting our favorite characters in feature films. For this Superman-centric piece, I though it would be appropriate to change gears and suggest where they can go with the character in its future solo-outing. Personally, I love Zack Snyder’s take on Superman on Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. How he took the time to present the different factors, experiences and people that influenced Clark’s journey to becoming Superman, how his sacrifice spoke of who he decided to be for the world called home and all this build-up produced a satisfactory return in Justice League make me want to see more of Henry Cavill‘s iteration. When thinking about where creators can go with the character in future movies, there is one particular idea that I would like the DCEU to explore in earnest: “Is Superman still relevant for the 21st Century? And if he is, how do you prove to this generation that he is?” A topic that has been debated and discussed by fans and general audiences for years, as well as explored throughout different DC comics storylines could make for a new and fresh take on a character that has been around for as long as he has.
WHY REMAINING RELEVANT IS ONE OF SUPERMAN’S GREATEST CHALLENGES
If you asked anyone nowadays who their favorite superhero is, most will say: “Batman,” “Wonder Woman,” “Spider-Man,” among others; but very few of them will say “Superman” and even fewer people will state a reason for liking him that goes beyond his powers or invulnerability. Therein lies part of Superman’s relevance dilemma: only the people that really know Superman beyond what he can physically do understand what makes him so special, but the general populace only sees a god-like being that can defeat any opponent with almost little to no hassle unless a certain green rock makes an cameo. If there is no significant struggle for a hero, if the villain doesn’t present a physical or intellectual challenge, a characters stories and adventures seem stale and unappealing. To tell a complete, complex and interesting story there are certain elements that need to be present within the tale. There needs to be a protagonist that is presented with clear motives and goals, a conflict that presents a challenge that the aforementioned protagonist will need to resolve and once said conflict is resolved, we find the protagonist has evolved into someone different or more capable to achieve his/he goals and the audience has taken that journey with the protagonist from start to finish. This presents a challenge for writers that write Superman stories; because there are very few villains that challenge Superman beyond a physical level. If all Superman stories revolved around him beating the villain of the week with a punch, I don’t think we would still be talking about him. This is why his greatest villain is not another Kryptonian but a twisted, yet genius, mortal.
Lex Luthor challenges Superman in a psychological, intellectual and personal level; because he is a villain whose vendetta against the Man of Steel relies heavily on questioning his motives, ideals and modus operandi. I give credit to BvS’ Lex Luthor, because he wages war against Superman’s identity and philosophy by attempting to turn the world against him and proving how it should be impossible for him to be a genuinely good person, when possessing the powers that he does. Luthor cannot reconcile how Superman has all this power and instead of using it for selfish gain, he uses it for the greater good expecting nothing in return. We know that he does it because he can. We know it’s because he cares for the world he calls home. More on Luthor later.
Another trait that can affect whether or not we consider Superman relevant is the simple fact that he is not human and the reason that he has the extraordinary abilities that he has is because he is not human. In a nut-shell: he is an extraterrestrial being with god-like powers that spends his days saving millions of people across the world while facing enemies and performing feats of impossible proportions. It is easy to understand why some might find him hard to relate with. Batman, on the other hand, is seen as a regular Joe that has spent all his life pushing himself to the limits to become the hero that he is. The foes that Batman faces also challenge him physically, emotionally and mentally with every bout. In the “zeitgeist” of today’s society you will this common opinion about how relatable Batman is: anyone with the right resources, training and determination can become Batman within a reasonable amount of years. On the contrary to most superheroes in general, whether it be through training or a freakish accident, anyone can “become” Batman; but to “become” Superman, you have to come a from a different planet. There is no boot camp, being human disqualifies you from ever “becoming” Superman. Batman is somewhat attainable, while Superman is beyond our reach. Most people when they see the Man of Steel is a savior-like figure in red tights, someone far removed from their reality. Batman is seen as the bad-ass vigilante that takes down those mercenaries in that amazing warehouse in BvS. We see The Caped Crusader and think: “I could do that.” What is interesting about this idea is that it is Batman’s assessment of Superman towards the end of BvS and Justice League that provides us with the response to our Superman dilemma.
SUPERMAN IS THE MOST HUMAN HERO IN THE DC UNIVERSE
The most powerful line in Justice League is spoken by Bruce Wayne in a dialogue with Alfred. When they are discussing the team’s decision to resurrect Superman and whether or not the possibilities of success outweigh the risks, Alfred questions Bruce’s reasoning. Bruce replied with this statement: “He was more human than I am. … The world needs Superman, the team needs Clark.” Those that know Batman know that he does not waste words. Let’s analyze that statement.
Bruce recognized the fact that Clark lived his life to the fullest. He had a job that allowed him to interact with other people, he fell in love, had plans to get married and used is innate abilities to benefit others as Superman. What makes this a powerful reply is who said it, Bruce Wayne. If we analyze Bruce’s character we come to find the following truths: the creation of the Batman persona is strongly fueled by the fact that psychologically he is still the kid that is haunted by the murder of his parent’s which he witnessed. Unable to continue to his life as Bruce Wayne, he forges a new identity in Batman. He is considered a recluse that wears a Bruce Wayne mask in public and that has severe trust issues, which hinder his ability to create meaningful relationships. And though he has a powerful sense of mission that provides him with a sense of purpose, he struggles to live his life and find joy. Though Batman’s traits make for a complex character and interesting stories, the fact that he never left Crime Alley is part of the reason that he himself admires Clark. Much like himself, Clark was given a rough start in life, but in spite of the hand that he was dealt he was able to learn how to enjoy life beyond the skies and wearing the cape. We all know that Clark sees being Superman as the way he helps those in need; but his sense of purpose derives from the love he has for this planet, the life that he has learned to enjoy while on it and the people in it.
Without Clark, there is no Superman.
All the saves, all the feats and challenges that he faces and triumphs over are not for the sake of personal glory, but because he chooses to be a force of good, because he chooses to lead by example and he decides to show others that anyone has the ability to the right thing and forge a better world, even if not at the scale that he does. Kal-El understands what it is to be human and he doesn’t reject it when he finds out that he is from Krypton; but chooses to embraces it as a crucial part of who he is. Taking all the elements that make us who we are and striving to be the best that we can be with it, is the human ideal that Superman exemplifies. Most people see the powers and the grandiosity of the Man of Steel; but I suggest we value the quintessential human qualities that his foes make a mockery of until they become the edge that only hope, love and truth can give a hero. To value life, to believe in truth, to understand one’s role in society, to live a life with a sense purpose are only some of the ideas that he embodies that inspire us. This is why Superman is necessary for our generation and for those to come. The world of DC needs heroes that shine as a beacon of hope just like Superman, but this would be impossible without Clark. Batman may bring the brains and the resources but Clark is the heart of the Justice League.
SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE – TACKLING THE RELEVANCE DEBATE IN THE DCEU
Some might argue that this idea of who Superman is and should be for the world has been somewhat discussed in MoS, BvS and JL which would make another movie where this is the central theme unnecessary. Though I agree that this idea has been hinted at, it has never been thoroughly explored and challenged. There has never been a live-action Superman movie that challenges the audience with the question: “Is Superman the hero we need for the 21st century? Does his brand of justice and truth still work in favor of today’s society? Should we look for a new set of heroes for this generation or can we still count on the Man of Tomorrow?” Interesting, right?
Whenever we see a Superman movie on screen, he is either stopping a real estate scheme or a personal challenge from Lex Luthor or he is facing an intergalactic menace that places the whole world in jeopardy. We have seen Kal-El defends us from General Zod and his squadron, we saw him give his life for us to defeat Doomsday and we saw him with the Justice League in the battle against Steppenwolf; but that is about it. We have yet to see him become the symbol of hope, truth and justice that we know him to be. Nowadays, most viewers sees Superman as the greatest superhero because he is the most powerful; but I believe he is the greatest for what he stands for and for what he represents to all heroes and people (powered and non-powered): an example to strive towards. Superman is the one that inspires many new heroes into existence upon his death, Superman is the one that lives with and cherishes the people and planet he has vowed to protect and it is Superman, that course-corrects Batman into the path of true justice in the DCEU. I would not be surprised if most heroes ask themselves: “What would Superman Do?” when facing a trying situation. Simply put, there is a reason that Superman is the hero that even heroes need and this is where the DCAU‘s Superman vs. The Elite comes into play.
At a time where wars are common place around the world and supervillains continue to escape imprisonment after being tried by the justice system on American soil to continue their spree of criminal activities; the people of the world are wondering if whether or not Superman’s way of upholding justice and truth is still a viable option for today’s world or if its time to move towards new brand of law and order. As Superman begins to manage this understandable concern with the United Nations, a new group of meta-humans who call themselves the Elite come bursting into the playing field. In contrast with Superman, that captures criminals and directs them to the authorities that they so that they may be tried for their crimes; the Elite believes that those that live a life of crime, those that indulge in murder and play with lives of others do not deserve to be incarcerated, but eliminated.
The Elite believe that these people are scum and should be wiped out from the face of the Earth, thus they have dubbed themselves the ones with the power and the backbone needed to take command of this “heroic” endeavor. With the global-social climate questioning Superman and his defense of due process; the Elite quickly becomes the world’s new heroes of choice which puts our hero at odds with them. Allow me to explain why this is significant. Superman is a character that values life and believes himself to be a man like any other in the sense that he understands that he is responsible for upholding the law. This means that Kal-El doesn’t consider himself above anyone else. Being Superman doesn’t give him the right to decide who lives or who dies. In his mind, all criminals, no matter the crime, still have a right to stand trial. Justice, in the end, decides how justice is served. Superman understands that having unlimited degrees of power doesn’t give him carte blanche or makes him eligible to become judge, jury or executioner and yet, The Elite are the physical representation of this contrary philosophy that the world (in the movie) is slowly beginning to embrace.
This dilemma brings forth one of the most powerful struggles that Clark has had to face: Can Superman exist in a world were ideals of truth and justice are no longer valued and upheld? Is a world where cold-hearted murder can be considered an act of justice where humanity is headed? And should he stand back and let it run its course in the midst of the people’s acceptance of The Elite and their rejection of what he represents? Herein lies the brilliance of this animated film. In the film’s resolution, instead of leaving humankind to its own devices, Superman decides to stand for truth, justice and hope. In a dramatic confrontation against The Elite, Superman rains terror over these false idols while the whole world stands watch. Initially, Superman is seemingly defeated by the Elite which leads to the group then revealing a truth about themselves that terrifies all who are listening: they are willing to not only kill criminals; but also those heroes that decide to get in their way executing “justice”. In the aftermath of their final discourse, Superman returns, but seems somewhat “unhinged”. Each member of The Elite is defeated swiftly as “the hero we thought we knew” begins to “embrace” the ways of the Elite. The global audiences tremble as Superman shows himself with an unseen ferocity and rage against the films antagonist.
When the final showdown is reduced to the leader of the Elite, Manchester Black and Superman, the world is left at a stand still. “Did Superman really kill all of them? Are we about to see him kill Black?” As the leader of the Elite breaks down at the face of defeat, now horrified at the sight of the new Man of Steel, he is begged to be spared. As tensions rise and the world cowers at what Superman has become it is revealed that it is was all a ruse. Kal-El made it all look as if he had gone off the deep end to demonstrate to the world where their current path was leading them. A path where what is right and wrong would become a blurred concept due to an ill-conceived sense of justice. A path where someone killing for the greater good would be called a hero instead of a murderer. Where good would no longer triumph over evil, but would become indifferent. In reality, Superman had simply knocked-out all the members of the Elite and proceeded to take away from them their powers through Kryptonian science. This way they couldn’t harm anyone else and could stand trial for their crimes. Instead of allowing humans to be led astray, Superman doesn’t only come to save us; but our humanity. He flies towards danger to show us that true justice can still prevail and good can still overcome evil as long as someone stands against it. He wins the battle and the argument by showing that truth, justice and good can always finds a way to defeat evil without sacrificing its integrity.
THE FINAL LAP – SUPERMAN, A HERO FOR OUR TIME
The Man of Steel has always been seen as god or Christ-like figure, hovering in the sky, watching the life on Earth unfold before his eyes and saving as many of people as he can from unspeakable perils and dangers that come with it. But it is the very people that he saves day in and day out that can evolve to become the greatest adversaries that he has ever faced. Whether is due to a sense of powerlessness in the presence of a seemingly-omnipotent figure or the inability to control said figures in the world; humans, whether its fictional or real, find themselves at odds with Superman and are unable to relate to him. It is for this reason that Lex Luthor is the perfect Superman villain. Unable to cope with the fact that there is a higher power that accentuates the fact that he is a mere human and has limitations; Luthor is the perfect example of man with unlimited resources and potential that instead of using said potential for good he chooses to utilize everything at his disposal to make himself a god-like individual in the eyes of his fellow man that requires praise from Superman himself. From this megalomaniacal aspiration erupt all the battles that Superman and Luthor have had for ages.
While Luthor represents the worst that mankind has to offer, Superman personifies the best mankind can be. Throughout his years on Earth, Clark has understood that just like any other man or woman, his decisions have an immediate effect in the world that surrounds him. His abilities simply magnify the scale of the effects his actions produce. Which makes him, in simpler terms, not so different from us. Anyone can save a life. Anyone can be a force for good. Anyone can stand for what is right. Anyone can give his life for the right ideal. This is why Superman is relevant today and should remain that way for the years to come, because at the end of the day, Clark is just an imaginary, yet inspiring man just trying to do the right thing. Even though we may constantly challenge what he represents and the ideals he brings to life, Superman will forever be there to save us from ourselves. The DCAU, amongst other mediums, has explored the importance of Superman in today’s world and why what he represents is important for our generation. I simply dream of watching an exceptional live-action film that allows him to shine as the beacon of hope we know him to be.