Recently, director Zack Snyder (300, Man of Steel) stated in an interview with the “Hall of Justice” podcast that, “If you’re a comic book fan, you know that I didn’t change Superman. If you know the true canon, you know that I didn’t change Superman. If you’re a fan of the old movies, yeah I changed him a bit. That’s the difference. I’m a bit of a comic book fan and I always default to the true canon.” This comes in reference to the harsh criticisms aimed at 2013’s Man of Steel, which kickstarted DC’s shared cinematic universe and will be followed by the fast approaching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in late March. Many comic book fans (myself included) were not entirely pleased with Snyder’s depiction of Superman, thinking he was too gritty and melancholy. Not to mention the small fact that he outright killed the movie’s villain.
Snyder’s assertion therefore comes as a bit of a surprise to me. I’ve read my fair share of Superman comics. Snyder’s interview led me to wonder if he was referring to the same comic book canon that I had in mind. Perhaps he was confusing Superman with Batman, who is an appropriately grim character. Man of Steel’s Superman comes off as an outwardly stoic, inwardly tormented individual; an attempt to make the godlike Superman someone who is easier to relate to. And sure, I appreciate Snyder’s efforts to bring this “relatable” Superman into the world we live in. If Superman were to show up in our world, we’d have some serious security concerns, and I can bet that all the 2016 presidential candidates would have official positions on how to view/treat the invulnerable Kryptonian.
Yet, this is where Snyder misses the point of Superman. In crafting a real-world version of Superman, with his struggles to balance the conflicting messages of his biological father (be a hero, use your powers!) and adopted father (keep your powers a secret, or people will hate and fear you- which is notably not a message found in the comic book canon), Snyder creates a Superman who actively contradicts himself. Man of Steel drives home the idea that Superman should be a beacon of hope and should inspire people to reach for the stars. At the same time however, it presents Superman as a being whose incredible powers put the entire world at serious risk. The movie’s Superman seems to end up embodying the latter of these two things; one only needs to watch the final brawl between Superman and Zod to understand why.
This is precisely the opposite of what Superman is supposed to be; everything about Superman defies logic and realism. Superman is not meant to be relatable in any regards. He is the unattainable role model we all must strive to be. Superman is supposed to make people look up in the sky and feel hope. He is supposed make them think that they too can be heroes in their own way; he is not meant to inspire fear and mistrust. Sure, that’s how all of us would react at first; After all, we’re only human. But the canonical Superman that Snyder thinks he is honoring would never give us a reason to fear him, and that’s something he just doesn’t seem to get. The argument can be made that Snyder’s Superman is an evolving character who will improve over time. Man of Steel literally portrays Superman’s first day on the job, and it’s not like he’d be the moral role model and textbook hero that we expect Superman to be right off the bat. This is an argument I agree with and actually support, but only time will tell if it turns out to be the case.
In short, Mr. Snyder, you did change Superman; You turned him into a gritty and brooding alien with a perma-frown. You turned him into someone we should rightly fear. If I am ever in a city that your Superman tries to “save,” I am getting the heck out of there. Apparently, I must not be a very good comic book fan if I disagree with you. Forgive me then, for my selfish and uninformed desire to see a modern-day Superman who isn’t ashamed to be the Big Blue Boy Scout I’ve read about in all those comic books.