Whether the filmmakers realize it or not, that is the question they’ll be answering if there’s a Man of Steel 2. That is the unspoken subtitle to their planned sequel.
Superman, no matter how he started out (you can tell I’ve spent too much time on the internet, because, qualifiers)
has come to stand for certain ideals. The idea that there is such a thing as real justice. That there is someone that will do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do; no personal gain involved. The idea that it is possible for absolute power not to corrupt absolutely. And of course, the ever controversial idea that “Superman doesn’t kill.” Which isn’t actually true; it’s more, Superman only kills as a last resort, and makes every effort in his power to find another way.
But what they may or may not realize is that Superman is the de facto leader of the Justice League, and as Kingdom Come so powerfully demonstrates,
the superhero that all the other heroes take their cues from. When Kal-El is relegated to the “just the muscle” role, and anyone else seems to take the leadership reigns, it’s just not the same Justice League. Superman, in spite of all his raw power, has never been the master strategist that Batman is. Frank Miller shows us why: because with all that power, he doesn’t have to be. Batman does, because it’s necessary when you’re mortal, you age normally, and you can be hurt. Superman is not necessarily the warrior that Wonder Woman is. His training didn’t include the art of war. He also, very clearly, doesn’t have the same bloodlust that Diana does. It used to be that Diana knew how to fight because of how she was raised. They’ve however turned her into a character that loves to fight (there’s a difference), and it tends to be a first resort for her. Gone is the ambassador or the diplomat that was Diana Prince.
Superman is one of the last of his kind, as J’onn J’onzz is. J’onn however realizes that when people see his true form, and know that he can read minds, that there will be no acceptance for him. Kal-El blends in to his Kansas background; J’onn has to be in disguise to blend. Superman can relate to having responsibility as Aquaman does. Aquaman always struggles more with his dual citizenship though. Being the son of two worlds tends to get on Arthur’s nerves more than anything else. Kal-El uses his earth family to hold on to his sanity, or his loneliness would kill him.
But the one thing that Superman is, that the others are not? …That would be the moral compass.
Oh, I know that they say that Flash is the moral compass on Justice League Unlimited, but that’s incorrect. That’s something they shoehorned in to make the story work. Because Superman will always be the one to reign Batman and Wonder Woman in when their methods start crossing the line. Clark will always be the one to remind Arthur that land dwellers are not less important than Atlanteans. Superman has to remind Barry and Wally that it’s not just about having fun, it’s about saving lives. And Superman is the one hero to teach the next generation altruism. That quality is gone in most of the younger generation; their mantra has leaned toward hedonism at a minimum.
So when Superman is out of character; if he’s written as the strong, silent muscle character…or written as so in love with Lois he can’t see a bigger picture, he is just useless. Remember that in the classic Reeve movies, Kal-El had to learn that he couldn’t throw away his responsibilities on Earth
to live a normal life with Lois. That of course was a plot point specific to that movie, and the time it was written in. Later on in the 90s, they decided that Clark and Lois could indeed become a couple and survive everything that came with that.
I don’t know why it’s so hard for some to understand: it’s not the shield. It’s not the cape. It’s not the powers. Those are indeed an integral part of it. But.
It’s his character. That’s what makes him a hero.
It’s the fact that Kal-El is an alien that was adopted by a kindly midwestern American couple, and
taught old fashioned values. That taught him to be a servant and not a tyrant, because if you notice,
most other Kryptonians that come to Earth want to take over. It’d be so easy. For Superman however, it’s the love that he found that anchors him. The love in his childhood from a couple that didn’t turn him over to the government to be dissected like a lab rat. The love that he found in adulthood with Lois Lane, a woman that accepts all parts of him. Powers, humanity, responsibility, the whole enchilada. And it’s that love that he pays forward by serving humanity and not ruling it.
In Man of Steel, they changed all of that. That process however didn’t begin with Man of Steel. No, it started on Smallville, as Clark proved over and over that all he wanted was Lana. That version of Clark got dragged kicking and screaming into the cape.
Yeah, that’s not Superman.
When we get to Man of Steel, however, they changed Clark by changing the Kents. Their
whole message had changed. Maybe Clark should sacrifice humans to keep his secret. Maybe Clark didn’t owe the people of Earth anything. Maybe Clark should only be concerned with his own survival. And maybe letting his dad die when he could’ve saved him at super speed was the right choice, according to that movie.
Yeah no, that’s not Superman.
We see that same uncharacteristic inaction in Batman vs. Superman when Clark lets a room full of people die. Even if he heard that bomb ticking at the last minute, Superman would have done his best to act, and wouldn’t have just stood there. But that’s par for the course with Snyderverse Clark.
So what we’ll really need to know in Man of Steel 2 is, is this the guy that’s supposed to lead the other heroes? Or will he just do what Batman tells him to do? What we saw in Batman vs. Superman was a version of
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns Batman. That version all of a sudden, in every possible media presentation, whips Superman soundly. In the film he stops short of killing him, because Martha. Okay. But is Clark a leader? Does he care about anybody but Lois? Does he care about truth, justice, and the American Way? (Although, that phrase has lost its meaning, but it should be something that Superman addresses)
And will Clark continue to kill to stop global threats? In the comics, Superman has been known to banish enemies that he couldn’t physically conquer to the Phantom Zone. It doesn’t look like the Snyderverse version of Clark has that option.
So again, the question that needs to be answered definitively in Man of Steel 2 is, who is he? Because whether they know it or not, the answer to the question is going to be the difference. The difference between the Justice League coming off like super powered assassins versus actually being heroes.