The Man of Steel: A Heart That Eclipses Darkness
“My parents taught me to respect justice.”
“My parents killer was never brought to justice.”
Those are the opening lines from Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness’s World’s Finest (aka Superman/Batman). Those two lines became the nails upon which the narrative captions of Loeb’s run were hanged on. These two heroes see the world in a very different way, but both work for justice. Throughout the series there are dueling captions exploring the mindset of two individuals with the same goal but through dissimilar eyes. I can’t imagine many polls tough that would show Superman is a more favored than Batman. Reasons for that are aplenty. It could be that it’s easier to relate to a woundable human than a virtually impervious alien. It could be that society has turned towards loving heroes with an edge over the “boyscout”. Or maybe it’s just dark is cool.
And that was some of the debate that went into Man of Steel before it hit theaters. What kind of Superman would we get? What kind of Superman would best draw in an audience? Desperate for a project to fill the void Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy left behind, DC and Warner Bros. searched for the pieces to solve that conundrum. Enter Zack Snyder—whose work on Watchmen, 300 and Sucker Punch created a buzz from movie goers. Enter further into the debate about doing a darker, more sellable Superman—after all, Batman is a “dark” character and he proved to be a cash cow for all involved. Snyder, not known for placing his hand into light-hearted films made the possibility of a darker Superman became more conceivable.
Man of Steel is not Ironman—the high octane, charismatic action movie of the summer of 2008. I read a review that hailed it as a “meditation of good and evil”. There are certainly notions of that. And the strong usage of dark hues helps to create that dark world many suggested would help elevate Superman into favor. I don’t feel that Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Clark Kent or Superman is done in a way that makes him like Bruce Wayne or Batman though. To the contrary, for the majority of the movie, while conflicted at times between the guidance of his fathers, he sees the earth and its people as a place worth protecting. At times, he exudes an innocence that is foreign to the culture around him. This Superman has lived on earth since he was a child, but even it’s darkness hasn’t robbed his bright vision of its worth.
And he should not be robbed of it. The world Superman inhabits is not a bright, sunny place. It never was. But Superman, he’s always been meant to be who we could be if we looked passed the flaws in the world and focused on doing good. That’s the Superman we get in Man of Steel. And that’s what Jeph Loeb pointed on right from the beginning of his World’s Finest run. Justice, to Superman is something he was taught about. For Batman, it’s something he searches for. Superman stares into the light. Batman looks through the darkness and searches for it.
Now, there is a turn at the end, the climatic confrontation between General Zod and Superman that tilts this movie towards the darker side. Superman ends up having to choose between watching a family die or accepting that he must be killed Zod. It was unexpected and turns the movie in a direction some were not necessarily pleased with. He’s Superman after all. He isn’t supposed to make a decision that even while understandable is the act of killing someone. That’s not what anyone expects from a Superman movie. I can forgive that. I need something in return though. I need that moment to resonate with Clark Kent so that he realizes that as Superman he must always find a better way. I need the second Man of Steel to show me a Clark Kent/Superman with a thick resolve to always find another way. It’s not that he’s a boyscout; it’s that he never sacrifices justice for peace and he always fight for both. And whether you agree with that notion or not, it should be explored. If you’ve read any of my other articles I hope you realize that is how I see the comic book (and the movies spawned from them) medium. Comic books are at their best when they explore something in society. And Superman can do that. He doesn’t need to enter into the darkness as a character. There’s plenty of darkness around him. While Batman has adopted the darkness that’s not Superman. He needs to be what his name implies. He can do anything. He needs to continue to sift through this often cynical, often greed driven world and be an example of what the world should be. Batman understands that criminals go unpunished in this world and justice should be searched for. Superman however, isn’t interested in the psyche of the criminals of the world. He’s not longing to fill the void in his thoughts haunted by his parents deaths. He’s simply looking to serve and protect. Batman is in a lot ways the hero we want. He places fear in the hearts of criminals. He’s us if we put our mind to it. The world hasn’t darkened Superman’s view of it though. He still sees the best in it—always. He’s the us we can only ever aspire to. In that way, Superman is the hero we need.
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