Since the release of Man of Steel in 2013 there has been much debate on the direction in which Snyder took our beloved hero. On one side you have those who praise the more realistic approach in showing Clark’s growth into Superman. On the other, you have those who demand a comic accurate take on the character, the charm and hopefulness that has built up for 80+ years. While both arguments are valid, this article will explain why this characterization is the quintessential version we should all respect. Regardless of which side of the debate you are on.
Let’s start with the human side of the character. Clark Kent is a farm boy from Smallville Kansas, his father Johnathan Kent and mother Martha are both strong willed parents who would do anything to protect their family. Both love their son unconditionally and always looked to do what was in his best interest.
One area the naysayers love to criticize is Johnathan’s desire and demanding that Clark keep his alien side hidden from the world. It isn’t simply to protect his son, although that is the main driving force behind the motive, but it’s also to protect the World. An idea that Clark would replicate on multiple occasions within Zack Snyder’s arc.
Now, Johnathan Kent believed so deeply that the world was not ready for a reveal of who Clark was that he allowed himself to die in a Tornado, waving off his son from rescuing him. This, honoring and respecting of his fathers wishes, was and is one of the most Superman things the character could do. This moment encapsulates so much of who Clark Kent becomes. He witnesses his father not simply rescue a dog but others who are running scared and in panic from the tornado. Johnathan knew the danger and was willing to take that chance to rescue who and what he could. In the end it cost him his life. A lesson Clark would struggle with for years.
No longer having his father to guide him through life Clark becomes lost when trying to find where he fits in the world. While on his journey of finding himself he discovers an old Kryptonian ship which connects him with a memory of his birth father, Jor El. The pain and uncertainty that Clark goes through up to this point should not be mistaken for poor characterization. It needs to be reminded that we were not getting a representation of the Clark we know in the comics because he has yet to become that man.
His adopted father, Johnathan, taught him to walk away from a fight, he taught him to stay hidden to protect himself and others. We see this in the bar scene where a drunk womanizer dumps a beer on his head. Clark simply walks away, but as he continues to struggle with who he is, he does something out of character. He mangles the man’s Tractor Trailer beyond repair. This was meant to be out of character because this is not the Clark Kent we all know and love from the comics. At least not yet.
As he discovers who he is and where he comes from, with the help of a Kryptonian computer and the memory of Jor El, everything starts coming into focus for Clark.
“The people of Earth are different from us, it’s true, but ultimately I believe that is a good thing. They won’t necessarily make the same mistakes we did, but if you guide them, Kal, if you give them hope, that’s what this symbol means. The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.” -Jor El
“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders” – Jor El
As the realization of his purpose of being on Earth begins to take form he continues to struggle with the ramifications of revealing who he is to the World. On one hand he wants to respect what his adoptive father taught him. On the other, his birth father reveals that he will be something Great, someone who will help accomplish wonders. This struggle is depicted in fantastic form when Zod demands that Clark turn himself over to the Kryptonians and Clark goes to a Priest and asks for guidance weighing the pros and cons of his eventual decision.
During the events of Man of Steel Lois is essentially the viewers connection to everything happening. She is investigating this amazing story of a man who can do many great things. Her becoming a proxy of the audience is enhanced by her support and encouragement of Clark becoming who Jor El believed he would become.
It’s during Batman v Superman that her role makes a significant impact on who Superman does become. However, it takes him time to come to this realization as he shuts out nearly everyone in his life due to the controversies going on around him. He fears that opening up to Lois, his only other connection to his humanity besides his mother, that she would look at him differently.
It’s not until the end of that movie where things fall in place for him and Lois. More on that in a bit.
It isn’t until an hour and twenty six minutes through Man of Steel that we finally get a glimpse of Superman. In this moment he is finally beginning to accept his purpose. Sacrificing his old life of hiding and being a simple farm boy from Kansas to becoming a Savior. His roles are beginning to flip. Prior to this moment, the movie has been a Clark Kent story. Now, until the final few minutes of the movie it becomes a Superman film. This is all done for a very specific reason.
As Clark floats into space and becomes Superman, his journey in learning how to be…. well, Superman takes form. Naturally he is unsure of himself through the second half of the movie. He attacks on emotion and without any thought against Faora.
Later, against Zod, you can tell he tries to be a little more calculated even attempting to talk sense into Zod to surrender. Unfortunately, Zod leads Superman in a fight of death and destruction, despite Superman’s attempts in minimizing the damage.
There are some incredible scenes where you actually see Superman regret moments in his fight. The most noticeable is the moment he has to decide whether to kill his only living connection to his home world or allow those from his adopted world to die. He makes a hard decision ultimately killing Zod. This leads to Superman screaming in pain as he not only lost someone who could have taught him so much more, but he had to take the life of a living being.
For many it is understood that Superman in the blue and red is his true self. His disguise is that of ace reporter Clark Kent. So, it’s only fitting that we finally see this transformation as Man of Steel ends.
Superman makes his way to his new job at the daily planet rushing into an elevator. It’s here we get a quick glimpse of the first piece of his disguise. He then makes his way to the cubicles as he is introduced to the crew, including Lois. As he turns around its this moment we no longer see a lost boy, no. We see a man who has put on a disguise of thick rimmed glasses and an awe shucks smile. “Welcome to the Planet.” Lois says. A double meaning of welcoming Superman to the world, but also welcoming Clark to the Daily Planet. Clark has found meaning and understanding. Now the question is, how will the World react?
As Clark Kent’s journey ends Superman’s journey has just begun.
They Will Stumble, They will Fall
In the months following the events of Man of Steel the World has fallen into a frenzy of debate.
“Does the World Need A Superman?”
Not only is there a great divide within humanity for the need of someone like Superman, But he is also torn as the conflict takes form within. He is realizing that he cannot save everyone but, he also struggles with the idea that he cannot be culpable for his actions that are out of his control. This is especially prevalent when the bombing at the Senate Hearing takes place. All those people injured and killed with him standing there unable to act. Add that to the controversy in the World and it’s easy to see why his view on where he belongs becomes muddled. Earth is not his home.
This conflict is explained as it is building inside of him prior to the events at the Capitol by his mother perfectly.
“Be their hero, Clark. Be their monument, be their angel, be anything they need you to be. Or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.” – Martha Kent
A mother, seeing her son in pain, simply wants what is best. She will support him in anything he decides to do but ultimately that decision needs to be made by him. Not the people of the World, not her…. Him.
After the horrific Capitol explosion he is struggling more than he has at any point in his journey. This pushes him to once again go on a search for meaning and understanding. It’s during this he remembers a story his father told him years ago that brings him realization that he cannot do this alone.
Clark – “Do the nightmares ever stop?”
Johnathan – “Yeah, when I met your mother. She gave me faith that there is good in this World. She was my World.”
Up to this point in the film Clark has been pushing Lois, who has been by his side the entire time, aside not allowing her to help him through these difficult times. And while he is starting to understand this, the story picks up and doesn’t relent for even a moment. Lex, who has been manipulating Bruce Wayne and the media begins his endgame.
This is My World
In the final moments of Superman’s life, as he looks at the Hell Luthor has created, he finally grasps and understands what he was looking for.
Just as Martha was Johnathan’s connection to the World and him believing there is good in it. Clark realizes Lois is that for him. Making the decision and accepting that Earth is his World for the first time, we finally catch a glimpse of the Superman we have all waited for.
This moment is by far the most important moment in these two films. Fans and critics wanted a smiling Superman, you get that here. They wanted a selfless boy scout, you get that here.
Just like the lessons his father Johnathan taught him, he risks his life for the better of others. It then parallels not only with a death similar to that of his birth father, Jor El, but also with his adoptive father. A beautiful and poetic moment connecting him to both of the most important men in his life.
Upon his death the World mourned. The symbol of Hope that Superman represented for so many was gone. There was no more divide, no more debating. The World, despite them stumbling, finally realized they needed Superman .
In Time They will Join You in the Sun
The most intriguing aspect about this version of Superman is how Snyder takes a look at the character through the lens of the real world. Think how the world would react to something like this transpiring. Now, look at it from Superman/Clark’s perspective. A boy who was lost and unsure where he belonged. Lessons that he learned from a young age were not simply to protect himself, but to protect the World from itself. When the time was right he would be able to become something great, but until then he would have to learn how to understand the teachings of his fathers.
The idea wasn’t to simply throw the Superman we all know from the comics on screen immediately. Storytelling is about developing characters over time. That is exactly what Snyder has done and is continuing to do.
We don’t know for sure where Zack Snyder’s Justice League will take the character. We have heard rumors of Superman heading down a dark path because of Darkseid. What we do know though, is the story of Superman is not yet over as in time humanity will join him in the sun.
The difficult part of telling a Superman story is humanizing him and finding ways for the audience to relate to what a character like Superman is going through. Snyder found a way to show Clark going through very human emotions and circumstances to help mold him in becoming Superman. With that it leads him to capture everything the character has always been about. You just have to accept the journey in getting there. You have to find a way to join him in the Sun.