E. Stephen Burnett: As the release date of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice approaches, it would be great to co-write a conversation/article about what Man of Steel was trying to be and why folks keep misunderstanding it.
(Please note: This article and the complete Badfan v Superman series will include gratuitous wanton spoilers.)
As I’m writing this the internet is all a-flutter about a video someone put together titled, “What if Man of Steel was IN COLOR?“1 That video release, after the release of the first Batman vs. Superman trailer and quite a lot of fan hubbub, convinces me that some fans are:
- Unconsciously going along with negative media narratives about Man of Steel (2013).
- Being a bit naive about how media narratives in general can co-opt our response to a popular story or song.
- Accepting some myths about “what Superman (or superhero stories in general) are Supposed to Be,” similar to some people who still believe Sherlock Holmes always said “Elementary, my dear Watson,” or who believe Kirk always said, “Beam me up, Scotty.” For example, I’m not even a comic book fan, but I know enough about the character to know that the friendly, idyllic, Richard Donner version of Superman is only one possible interpretation … more about that later.
Austin Gunderson: I would love that [conversation]. It’s a subject about which I have strong opinions.
Stephen: Same here. We could split the opinions and do an outlined two-parter, or have a conversation we know will be used later for the article, or co-write one or two articles. Plenty of time before 2016 of course.
Austin: Cool. The conversation option sounds fun (and more conducive to my natural tendency to think faster in response to others’ ideas than when conjuring up my own).
Stephen: Oh, I’m looking forward to this.
I’ve written some thoughts on the trailer at ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ Trailer Debuts. I have a sneaking suspicion that you and I are about to be vindicated that the overwrought destruction of Metropolis was actually meant to do this all along. Someone very, very smart could have said, especially after criticisms of “Superman Returns”: Okay, all the fans complained that they wanted to see Superman beat people up, so let’s 1) give them what they want, 2) remind them that they may not exactly like it.
Also I recall I wrote this too: Man of Steel, Heart of Flesh. Ah, I’d forgotten my point about how Superman in either version of “Superman II” turns quite selfish and jerky, surrenders his powers, and goes a-fornicating.
Austin: Mm. And I would say that while Supes’ clothes-nabbing and semi shish-kabobing in Man of Steel are indeed illustrative of his imperfect state (mitigated by the fact that the clothes were being donated and the semi belonged to a man Supes very deliberately refrained from maiming), his destruction of Zod was both carefully calculated and supremely moral.
If Superman hadn’t snapped Zod’s neck in that moment of truth, I would’ve lost respect either for him (were he too weak or stubbornly idealistic to do what was necessary) or for the story-world that he inhabited (were he able to sidestep the problem by magically incapacitating Zod).
And yes, the storytellers forced him into that situation. Of course they did! But it’s not as though the situation’s unusual. Millions of human beings have faced the exact same dilemma since the dawn of time: is it moral to take life in order to protect life?
The answer, in many cases, is a resounding “Yes.” But this isn’t because human beings are strong or just or righteous enough to know when it’s best to kill; no, rather, the fact that we must sometimes put others to death is an indictment of our weakness, our ineffectuality, our fundamental lack of control.
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord,” but we often can’t afford to wait. When a foe stronger than us threatens our lives, our need to destroy said foe is contingent on our inability to contain him peacefully or otherwise manipulate him into quiescence.
And that’s why it was so important to demonstrate Superman’s powerlessness. It’s why the destruction of Metropolis was a necessary evil.
Read part 2, Super-Nostalgia Knockdown, in which E. Stephen Burnett challenges the objection of why Man of Steel isn’t like all those great classic Superman films.