The next cinematic evolution of Superman should leave behind the tired trope of showing the evil version of the hero, as prior projects have fully explored it. The image of a menacing, fiery-eyed, out-of-control Superman has become surprisingly commonplace in the modern media landscape, the guise of DC’s signature superhero reimagined as a threatening figure, some otherworldly outsider who regards humanity with, at best, deep uncertainty.
Virtually all modern iterations of Superman have flirted with the idea of a darker, edgier version of the hero, but what was once an excitingly transgressive take has now become commonplace and arguably lost most of its novelty. Still, debate rings out – should the newest film incarnation of Superman, from producer J.J. Abrams, lean more into this hardened, cynical view of the world and the heroes it needs, or revert to a more traditional, inspirational take on the Last Son of Krypton?
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There’s a clear answer here, and it’s in favor of the lighter approach. It’s finally time to stop deconstructing Superman and let the character get back to its most inherently virtuous themes, as the subversion of an immoral or evil Superman no longer packs the punch it once did.
“Dark Superman” Is Overdone Now
Whether on the big or the small screen, every piece of media featuring the Man of Steel has done some variant on the “Evil Superman” formula. From the comics, to several episodes of the DC Animated Universe, to the Injustice fighting games – and their numerous tie-in comics – no corner of Superman’s world has been left without a certain level of despair and cynicism.
Of course, the live-action movies recently released by Warner Bros. have controversially skewed towards a darker, tormented take on Superman, beginning with 2013’s Man Of Steel. And Zack Snyder’s upcoming director’s cut of the Justice League movie promises to deliver even more of the dour Kryptonian, wearing a funereal black version of his costume.
Though there has seemingly been an effort to compensate for this in other, more family-friendly DC outings, such as the CW multiverse of shows or the Shazam movie, this trend isn’t going away either – as the recently-announced Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League game developed by fan-favorite Rocksteady Studios is also banking on the relative novelty of letting players go up against power-crazed versions of Superman and the rest of the Justice League. This has left certain segments of the fandom with what can only be called “Evil Superman” fatigue.
Why An Evil Superman Is So Compelling
That’s not to say there is no reason why this has become such a common trope; the premise of an all-powerful being who uses his gifts for good will obviously always lend itself to the question of what would happen if they didn’t. Even in the Silver Age of comics, the suggestion that Superman had seemingly gone off the deep end and was acting immorally, or at least irresponsibly, was a common cover image to entice readers.
But the image of Superman crowning himself King of Metropolis or denying water to a dying Aquaman is only as amusing as it is unexpected – the humor comes from the sheer disconnect from the authentic, heroic Superman. But the taboo loses its appeal when it becomes too common, and these days, not only is Superman shown with scary-red-heat-vision-eyes all too often, but there are numerous other ersatz Men of Steel in the cultural zeitgeist. In satirical comics, films and TV shows, such as the super-horror movie Brightburn or the character Homelander in The Boys comics and Amazon TV show, pop culture has more than enough answers to the question “what if the most powerful man in the world was a psychopath?” For one reason or another, the world as a whole seems to be getting tired of handling that question.
The New Reboot Needs To Be Very Different
The recently-announced reboot of the Superman film franchise needs to be radically different to set it apart from the previously attempted relaunches of the 2000s and 2010s if it wants to both distinguish itself as its own interpretation and to bring Superman back to his place as the most prominent and beloved superhero, a position he arguably hasn’t enjoyed since a certain Batman introduced himself in 1989.
The overwhelming response to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy have borne out that audiences are much more in the mood for straightforward, all-ages adventure spectacle than for ambitious, attempted deconstructions of heroic narratives. Most people are already well-aware of the inequities in society surrounding us. What Superman can offer is a release valve, a paragon of justice whose heroism provides catharsis for those overlooked or oppressed by society at large.
The current world and cultural landscape is very different to the world of 2013, or in 2006, or even 1978 – the public deserves a Man of Tomorrow who represents the best not only of who we are, but also of what we can be.
Superman Doesn’t Need To Be Compromised To Be Cool
Not every recent incarnation of the Man of Steel has been moody or surly – the various versions of the Last Son of Krypton seen in the CW Arrowverse shows by Greg Berlanti have been generally well-received, in large part because – whether portrayed by Tyler Hoechlin, Brandon Routh, or even Tom Welling – they each capture the spirit of what made the character so relatable and likable despite his demigod-like powers. In Routh’s case, his Superman mourns the loss of his surrogate family at the Daily Planet while still maintaining his heroic optimism, “because even in the darkest times, hope cuts through” in the Arrowverse crossover Crisis On Infinite Earths. In the same crossover event, former Smallville star Welling is briefly seen as a happy family man, having traded his Kryptonian abilities for a quiet life with Lois and their children. This, in turn, seems to foreshadow the new CW series Superman & Lois, featuring Mr. and Mrs. Kent juggling their sons’ needs for a father with the world’s need for a hero.
This emphasis on family is essential to humanizing Clark Kent, and the generally positive reception to these appearances shows that audiences at large aren’t necessarily looking for a Superman who is “relatable” by focusing on his capacity for failure or for making dubious moral judgments, – and certainly not for indulging his killer instinct. They’re looking for a Superman who reminds them of people at their best, not at their worst.
Next: How Arrowverse Can Still Have An Evil Superman (Despite Crisis’ Ending)
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