“Human beings have a horrible track record of following people with great power down paths that led to huge human atrocities. We have always created icons in our own image. What we’ve done is we project ourselves on to him. The fact is, maybe he’s not some sort of Devil or Jesus character. Maybe he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing.”
The purpose of comic book films has generally been the same throughout their history. These are characters we have grown up with and because they are loved from childhood, not many people have taken the risk of changing them a little in fear of challenging their own childhoods as well. The truth behind it is much deeper; the superheroes we love have always had a greater purpose, whether it was to distract the audience from the horrible wars at the time or to make them laugh and create an escapism.
The truth about the world we live in is simply ugly. Whether we admit it or not, there are much deeper wars going on, hate is spreading from within communities and across all lines. Superheroes have no use to distract people from this growing hate or make them laugh to forget it because its time to step out of that denial and face the truth. Comic book films hold the power to tell a story with a much deeper meaning behind but few filmmakers have taken the risk to illustrate the real truth through comic book films.
The DCEU Superman one of those exceptions. What Zack Snyder had done with his story was simply incredible, there isn’t just one deeper meaning behind his story, there are multiple ones. The DCEU Superman isn’t just a superhero; he’s a concept of an ideal in today’s world. He faces all the problems any “human” could but he’s far from being a human. Besides originating from a different planet, him being an “alien” is more like him being more human that anyone else. He doesn’t let that hate imbed itself inside him and instead you see all the characteristics like love, acceptance, loyalty, selflessness, positivity, purity –which in turn form this sort of a light around him and that light can be best described as hope.
Those characteristics weren’t entirely inherited from his birth parents and they certainly hadn’t originated from Krypton, they originated from within “Clark Kent,” a boy raised by two humans who embedded the belief of being a good “human” inside him when he wasn’t even a human. He was treated and groomed to be a one and that was why Clark was so surprised when he started having enhanced abilities which caused him to turn to his parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, for advice who then proceeded to reason his enhanced abilities as being chosen to do good.
“You just have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark. Because whoever that man is – good character or bad, He’s gonna change the world.”
When he was old enough to know everything, his father Jonathan was the one to tell that to him, showing him the ship he arrived in, and it was that moment that gave Clark a purpose, which was to find the reason he was sent to Earth for, even if it took him the rest of his life because he had the potential to change the world. Even after Jonathan’s death, Clark did just that, taking on different identities, saving people, and exploring the world to find out what he was sent for.
Growing up, Clark knew that he was feared for being different which made him feel like something was wrong with him. His classmates called him a “freak” and incidences like the school bus going in to the river instilled a fear in the people that knew of Clark’s abilities. This in turn caused Clark’s parents to be afraid of what could happen if the world found out about their son’s abilities and feared that they would reject him out of that fear. Clark understood this and kept his identity a secret for as long as he could. Then, when his adoptive father wasn’t there to advise him, surprisingly for him, his biological father was. He then found the reason he was sent to Earth for.
“The people of Earth are different from us, it’s true, but ultimately I believe that’s a good thing. They won’t necessarily make the same mistakes we did, not if you guide them, Kal, not 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. You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They’ll 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. ”
This was important because what he had taught by his adoptive parents was what his biological parents had intended. This strengthened his belief to do good in the world and all of the characteristics that he had gotten from his adoptive parents were now stronger. When Zod arrived, Clark had no choice but to reveal his identity to the world and just as his father had predicted, the people of Earth started to fear him. Clark, now having finally found his people, could have chosen them over the people of Earth but his loyalties lied with his adoptive planet.
Unfortunately, the loyalties of the people of Earth didn’t lie with Superman and we can see this being the main focus of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. We see Lex Luthor feeding people’s fear of Superman – an alien, through planted events, which ended up working out against Superman and made him question himself. Batman v Superman also focuses deeply on the media’s role in generating this xenophobia. Clark’ confrontation with Bruce Wayne at the Benefit for the Library of Metropolis deeply disturbs him as he realizes that the hate for him being an ‘alien’ is more than he had thought to be. But immediately after this confrontation, when he sees the news of the factory fire during the Day of the Dead celebrations in Juarez, he goes to save the girl trapped in the fire. It almost seems like this was to show that Superman is still the Clark Kent who is staying true to his cause and existing to do good for the people of Earth and this is strengthened even more as we see Superman as a savior while the media is having the “Must There Be A Superman?” debate.
“There he is, an alien, among us. We’re not alone.”
This is what made him extraordinary. Any human wouldn’t have reacted this way to so much criticism and scrutiny over every thing he did but the fact that Superman kept doing what he was sent to do deepened the concept of him not being a human and being more than that – an ideal in today’s world without even a little bit of bitterness and hate inside him. The media accused Superman for being involved in the U.S. Capitol bombing and when he blamed himself and went in to a temporary retreat out of that guilt, the media accused him of leaving and not helping out. Against the threat of Doomsday, the people of Earth, not knowing whether it would kill him or not, nuked him and Doomsday feeling that he could be the one casualty necessary to save the planet. What no one realized was that he was already willing to sacrifice himself for the planet he had adopted. And what could project him better as a symbol of love, hope and loyalty than him killing Doomsday with the Kryptonite Spear knowing that it would kill him too? His selfless act was enough to show the true purpose of his existence – to be the savior that Earth needed and now the world truly recognized it.
What makes this projection of Superman so different from all the others is the aspect of truth in it. Superman was originally created to be a distraction during the horrible world wars and he was just a fictional superhero. But we have to step back and realize that if that fictional superhero did exist in the world we live in today, what would have happened? The Xenophobia spreading quickly makes it clear that what happened to the DCEU Superman was exactly how it could have happened – how millions of immigrants face the same xenophobia the DCEU Superman faced. These movies make us realize that we are so concerned about labeling people who we find to be different than us that we forget about everything else.
This Superman has a different purpose. He isn’t here for the distraction against the wars going on around us. He’s here for the awareness of the wars brewing within us. But with that awareness is the metaphoric light around him – In the form of hope. He is a superhero for everyone regardless of their origin, religion, race, gender or anything for that matter. A so-called flawed Superman generates the hope inside you, more than any fictional superhero because you can relate to him. His fictional existence in a non-fictionally projected world makes you realize the need for a superhero-like figure in today’s world but even when he doesn’t exist, he doesn’t fail to make you feel that hope. When you step back, though, you can see how universally spread out his impact is supposed to be. What makes this Superman so different is that he isn’t there to be the savior of one place, he was meant to be the bridge between different people.
The impact of this Superman is undeniably universal and that is what makes him so exceptional. The DCEU Superman is different from other superheroes for the sole purpose that he is more of an idea of an ideal that, simply wording it, makes him out to be a Universal Symbol of Hope.