It’s official: Warner Bros. has a hit with Man of Steel. And while the box office figures are stunning, the fan reaction has been surprisingly mixed. In fact, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a comic book movie be so divisive. While there are always a few naysayers whenever a big comic book adaptation is released, the negative reactions online for Man of Steel have, in my opinion, gone too far into the red, causing many nerds to spout vitriol at not only the filmmakers involved, but also fans who enjoyed it too.
Chief among the negative camp is Mark Waid, the renowned writer of Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk, Kingdom Come, and Superman: Birthright (where much of Man of Steel takes ideas from). Waid is not only one of the best comic book writers in the business, but also possibly the biggest Superman fan of all time, so his extremely passionate reaction to MoS isn’t surprising. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but his weekend-long rant against the filmmaker’s decision to have Superman kill General Zod to protect an innocent family went too far. There have been Superman comics in the past where Supes has killed to protect people, but the one used most to back up Man of Steel is John Byrne’s Superman issue 22, where he uses lethal force as an absolute last resort.
Waid is a far better writer and Superman fan than I. There’s no questioning that. He’s one of my favorite writers in comics. But I was very disappointed with the way he handled people’s reactions to his opinions. Of course, some of these reactions crossed the line from expressing their views to attacking Waid personally. I know if I was being personally attacked for my opinions on the film I would probably react the same way he did.
Superman is not the first comic book hero to break his “no killing” code on screen. Remember Spider-Man letting Uncle Ben’s killer fall? Or Michael Keaton’s Batman throwing one of Penguin’s clown thugs into a sewer grate with dynamite in Batman Returns? Superman himself even killed twice before on screen, in Superman II and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Nolan’s Batman, a character who we all know has a strict “no-killing” code, borderline commits murder in Batman Begins, telling Ra’s Al Ghul that he’s “not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you” right before jumping out of a runaway train. Superheroes not killing on screen have always been a touchy subject, and one that’s still a point of debate amongst fans.
Just because someone accepted the ending of Man of Steel doesn’t mean they are an idiot, nor does it mean they’re not a “real” Superman fan. It’s all opinion. It’s a shame that every time a new comic book film comes out we have to deal with the same over exaggerated reactions to them. The stereotype of the hyperbolic nerd spouting “Worst. Movie. Ever.” is sadly, still true in many cases. I’ve been guilty of this. You’ve been guilty of this. We’ve all been guilty of this.
My girlfriend brought up an interesting point last year, around the time The Amazing Spider-Man was released. In regards to the people complaining about the reboot, she asked me “why can’t you just look at it as a different take on Spider-Man? Like a different universe?” This idea is even more apt for Man of Steel. This isn’t Superman from the Richard Donner films. Hell, it’s not even the Superman from the comic books. It’s a new take on the character, in a new universe. To put it in DC terms, it’s an “Elseworlds” tale. In fact, ALL comic book films are “Elseworld” tales (or for Marvel, “What If’s”?). The Nolan Batman movies “Elseworlds” take is “Batman in the real world”. The Raimi Spider-Man movies are ” What if Peter Parker had organic webbing and Sandman was responsible for Uncle Ben’s death”? Even the terrible Fantastic Four films are “What if Dr. Doom was with the crew when they were hit by Cosmic Rays?”
There’s NEVER going to be a film that truly captures a comic book character. There just isn’t. Comic book films are a reflection of how the director (or producer, or studio) perceives the character and what they mean to people. Sometimes it’s done right (like the Nolan Batman films) and sometimes directors miss the mark completely (Ang Lee’s Hulk), but you’re still seeing someone else’s take on the character, just like when a new writer comes on board a title. Don’t like the way Scott Lobdell is writing Superman? Don’t buy it anymore and try a different Superman title. Same applies for Man of Steel. There are countless different interpretations of the character on film for you to enjoy if you didn’t like this one.
There are some of you that hated Man of Steel, and that’s okay. There are some of you that loved Man of Steel, and that’s okay. There are even some of you who thought it was just “ok”, and guess what? THAT’S ALSO OKAY. You’re talking about the film, which the filmmakers want. Instead of shrugging your shoulders, you have an emotional reaction to it, good or bad. It makes you think about the situation Clark was in, and the decision he had to make. Could he have flown Zod away? Could he have found a non-lethal solution to the conflict? Maybe. But this Superman is still trying to figure out what it means to be Superman. His reaction to killing Zod was an absolute last resort, and it’s something that I personally feel wasn’t handled lightly in the film. Sure, they could have given a little more time to the fall out of the act, but I thought what was there handled it very well, and I’m hopeful that it will be touched on further in the sequel.
I myself am okay with the death of Zod. In the timeline of the film, Clark has only been “Superman” for a day, and has never had to test himself in a situation where he has to defend others. He even pleads with Zod before committing the act, begging him to stop before he kills him. Clark does not want to kill Zod, but ends up doing it to protect innocent people. In regards to the destruction of Metropolis during the fight, I took the scenes of people leaving when the gravity device arrives as a sign that much of the city was evacuated (or people went underground, like the family Zod threatens in the train station). If the city still had a huge number of citizens in Metropolis, wouldn’t some of them come out of hiding when the gravity device was destroyed, and watched Superman and Lois make with the smooches? The Daily Planet staff remained because they’re journalists and they want to be able to report on the events occurring before them. Superman tried to clear Zod out of the area by knocking him into space, but Zod eventually brought the fight back to Metropolis. Who’s to say that Zod wouldn’t keep bringing the fight back to an even more populated area? He already established that he had nothing left to live for, and was going to destroy everything as a way to get back at Superman.
Superman has been around for 75 years, and with that, means that there are hundreds of versions of the character that people relate to. Just because this wasn’t “your Superman” doesn’t mean you should belittle someone who thought Man of Steel represented the character. There’s no need to call people who enjoyed Man of Steel “not “real” fans of Superman” or “mindless idiots”. Superman is supposed to inspire you to help others and care about one another. Keep that in mind when you debate his film.