The (Metaphorical) Death of Superman
- by Steve Garcia, 4 April 2016
This article contains spoilers from both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Reader discretion is advised.
Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to be Superman. The iconic symbol on his chest, the vast array of powers, his ideology, and uncanny desire to do good for goodness sake is only a short list of why this is the superhero I aspired to be. Contrary to popular belief, Superman was one of the most relatable comic book characters of all time.
Anyone who took a single look at the character and dismissed him because “he’s too powerful” or “he’s too perfect” completely missed the point, and clearly didn’t understand how he survived since his introduction to the world in 1938. He wasn’t born from tragedy. He didn’t take the easy way out and end the bad guys’ lives with the simple flick of his wrist. He believed in rehabilitation over fighting. He lived and died by a strict moral code, and respected Earth and her people (good and bad) because, while he wasn’t one of her biological children, it was the only place he’s ever called home. His entire species was gone, and depending on the continuity, he didn’t even have a family after the death of Ma and Pa Kent. He had every reason to be a bad guy, but at the end of the day, he was just a good guy that wanted to fit in. And if you can’t relate to any of that, ironically, you’re simply not human. So when I heard that they were rebooting the Superman film franchise with what eventually became Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel way back in 2008, I was ecstatic. Little did I know, this would be the nail in the character’s metaphorical coffin.
Let’s not get it twisted: I liked Man of Steel. It was ok. Despite the problems it had as both a film and an adaptation, I was still excited to see him fly again, the beautiful representation of Krypton, the brutality of the fight sequences (something we’d never seen before in a Superman movie before), and I cried when I first heard Russell Crowe’s Jor-El deliver his monologue about how Superman’s purpose was to help mankind achieve greatness. Unfortunately, there was one problem in this movie that I couldn’t put my finger on until having had to watch it a few times. No, it wasn’t the murder of General Zod. It wasn’t the shoehorned romance between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and I even got over the muted color scheme and lack of those iconic red trunks outside of his tights. Zack Snyder’s weapon in the murder of Superman was his characterization of Pa Kent.
There were four key ingredients that made Superman who he was, and they were beautifully illustrated on the very first page of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman: “Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.” Man of Steel only had half of that kindly couple, and the broken part of it was Jonathan Kent. Pa Kent was so terrified of losing his son to the government, that instead of hearing out Clark’s struggle to maybe use his powers for the good of mankind, he immediately dismissed them and fought with him whenever the topic was brought up. This was a man who would have allowed his own son to let an entire school bus of children die in order to protect his identity. This was a man who literally allowed himself to die than to see Clark use his talents to help his fellow man while he watched. But this was just the beginning. After Superman snapped Zod’s neck (which I’ll give him a free pass for, as it was his first day on the job), he screamed with the remorse of his actions, but that was it-- from there on in, the Superman we knew died.
Fast forward to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) -- the next chapter of this new breed of Superman. Superman is now a being who constantly second guesses himself, refrains from communicating with others, and is, quite frankly, a scary motherfucker that immediately fights before asking questions, uses intimidation to get what he wants, and takes no pleasure in saving the people he was sent here to protect. He didn’t learn anything from killing Zod. Contrary to that aforementioned remorseful scream, in his introduction in BvS, Superman crashed from the sky, tackled a human being with his lightning speed, and proceeded to tackle him with super strength through a building. Now, Superman doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone that doesn’t agree with him… And that includes Batman.
In a film literally titled “Batman v Superman” about more than half of it was used to set the stage for the two characters to engage in a brutal smackdown. For example, in their first meeting, Superman made Batman crash his car, he forcefully ripped its doors off, and threatened Batman from ever going to his own signal ever again. He was a bully. Now, if you don’t follow Superman’s code, don’t bother standing against him because he won’t hesitate to break your car and snap your neck. That symbol on his chest may have stood for hope in the last film, but today, that symbol is a warning to get your shit together. Again, this Superman uses fear and intimidation to get what he wants. I’m not going to call this Superman a terrorist, but… He’s not far off.
If you saw a man that just got mugged and you had a chance to contact this Superman to help, would you? Because here’s what would happen: you’d tell him the story, his eyes would go red, he’d make you point him out, and then he’d make you watch as he pops the robber’s head like the insignificant pimple it is to him. He has no respect for human life. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He just wants to fight. This was made clear when the main fight between him and Batman could have been avoided if he had simply opened with “Hey Batman. Lex Luthor has my mom hostage. Can you please help me save her?” But no. They savagely punched each other, and then Superman said “If I wanted it, you’d be dead.” It was absolutely heartbreaking.
And then what happened? He died. Twice. Lex Luthor created Doomsday, which gave something new for Superman to take his daddy issues out on, and through the combination of the lack of communication and the fear that Superman inspired in humanity, humanity decided to shoot a nuclear missile at him with little hesitation for his safety. Of course, a simple sunbathe was enough to regenerate him so that he can join the fray once more, that wasn’t enough for Snyder, as his new Superman was finished once and for all by taking a stab wound to the chest from Doomsday. While this was supposed to be an impactful climax, I found myself relieved and thankful that this all-powerful, godlike bully was finally put out of his misery. And that made me embarrassed to have ever been a Superman fan.
Superman was a beacon of hope once. He didn’t ever want to see anyone die. He lived to serve humanity and strived to help them become greater than they ever dreamed possible. Superman was a hero. But with these two films, that optimism quickly turned into the ugliest kind of cynicism. A cynicism that forced this once compelling character to kill in order to solve his problems, use fear and intimidation to get his way, and actually hesitate to save the lives he was sent here to protect. The good man that was raised to do good for goodness sake is dead, and Zack Snyder killed him. Rest in peace, Superman. We hardly knew ye.
Do you think Superman is, metaphorically, dead? Or is he very much alive thanks to Zack Snyder? Let us know below!