Introduction: The DC Extended Universe is indisputably filled with commentary on our world and this includes areas of philosophy. This series will attempt to illuminate and expand upon those philosophical musings and each part will span the entire DCEU up to Wonder Woman and so I warn that there are spoilers for every DCEU film from here on out.
Aspired to Something Greater:
To start with, Friedrich Neitschze first established the concept of the Übermensch. It has been controversially translated roughly to “Superman” but ascended man would be better suited. Superlative man, making the long-form of the word, could reconcile both camps but regardless of the muddy translation the concept is clear: it is an ideal goalpost for exemplary men. Coincidentally, the best examples of Übermensch in the DCEU are not Superman at all, but Batman and Lex Luthor.
Neitschze’s conception of the Übermensch is the idea of men prioritizing achievement and advancement at all costs. This is a great characterization of Lex Luthor in the DCEU. While Lex grapples with some serious insecurity and feels of powerlessness, he is none-the-less self-contradicting. “The bittersweet pain among men is having knowledge with no power.” Lex Luthor proved to himself, to Superman, and to the world that he did wield the weapon of knowledge and this made him powerful indeed. Lex’s meltdown at the fundraiser in Batman v Superman over that paradox proved unfounded. In fact, every defeat of that film was brought about through knowledge: Batman defeats Superman by exploiting a weakness he didn’t know about. Superman stops Batman with the revelation of knowledge Batman never recognized about Superman. Lois Lane brought down Lex through knowledge of his involvement in the Capital Bombing. Lex Luthor, despite his concerns, is the quintessential Übermensch. Cruelly ironic given the target of his hatred. Lex and Batman are both characterized by the second parameter of what makes an Übermensch as well.
It has been supposed that the Übermensch may be attained through selective breeding or through pushing oneself to the maximum human potential. Lex and Batman both come from noble stock and while Lex pushes the mind to Über human limits, Bruce Wayne pushes his body as well as his mind. Batman is also disturbed by the existence of Superman. Is it possible that these men are merely challenged when before they were the Übermensch. Perhaps what scares Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor alike is the mirror. Batman particularly made a career out of scaring criminals straight and when he’s scared by a power finally towering over him, he lashed out.
Now God is Good as Dead:
Further evidence of Superman’s greatest adversary being more in-line with the idea of the Übermensch than the Man of Steel is in Nietzsche’s assertion that a true Übermensch means the death of God as a concept. Indeed Lex Luthor’s entire plan and point of contention with Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is based on his idea that people have flawed conceptions of God and the innocence of power. In order for Lex Luthor to feel comfortable in his own power, he must exstinguish anything that seems to unseat mankind from the seat of power or authority in the Universe. The concept of Meta-Humans, Superman especially, is threatening to Lex’s sense of self-worth, security, and the very concept of an Übermensch such as himself.
The Basis of Our Myths:
The concept of the Übermensch has left us with some misconceptions and misalignments with the concept, as I pointed out earlier. But do Meta-Humans fit the criteria? Sure. Aquaman is royalty that exhibits the peak of his culture and is well above mankind. Superman still fits the criteria as well. He also upsets a lot of people’s conceptions of God merely by existing (though not everyone feels that way). Perhaps the best proof that Meta-Humans fit the bill for Übermensch comes in the form of the Suicide Squad.
The Suicide Squad is ARGUS’ response to Superman’s death. Amanda Waller recognized that Superman was a crutch to American National Security. In response Waller wanted to assemble a team of Meta-Humans to deal with Meta threats. The implication is, of course, ordinary soldiers cannot contend with Meta-Human Übermensch. The other implication is that the only way to compete with Übermensch is another Übermensch. The Squad exhibits gifts and abilities beyond human potential, or at the very height.
Nietzsche never applied the idea of Übermensch to women to follow things to their natural conclusion. Instead, Nietzsche made it clear that the goal of women should be to give birth to Übermensch. The DCEU pushes back against this narrowed perspective, a by-product of a bygone age. Instead, we are given a Lois Lane who has a frequent habit of investigating for stories in dangerous locations, often setting herself opposite dangerous men. We have Amanda Waller, who is every bit as ruthless, ambitious, and cunning in government as Lex Luthor is in the private sector. Then, of course, there’s Diana of Themyscira- better known as Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is capable of forging a path through No Man’s Land which is very symbolic of feminism. Another reading is that “Man” in “No Man’s Land” is a reference to ordinary men because Superman would have no problem crossing No Man’s Land and the film Wonder Woman seems to advocate for the idea that men and women are equal in capabilities and should be partners and colleagues. Apart from being female, Wonder Woman still fits the idea of the Übermensch even if Amanda Waller encapsulates it better. The DCEU doesn’t just push back against the Übermensch concept along gender lines, however.
Gods Among Men on Our Little Blue Planet:
The DCEU shows no hesitation in acknowledging the existence of Übermensch in universe. It DOES, however, have much to say about the concept as Nietzsche invisioned it. Nietzsche seems to think the ideal of the Übermensch would indicate a right and desire to leverage those advantages and rule lesser men. Yet the DCEU treats such efforts as inherently negative. Tyrant Superman in Batman’s dreams, Batman’s circumvention of Justice, and Lex Luthor’s ruthless disposal of Mercy being prime examples.
Instead, the preferred ideal for the Übermensch is humility before others and before God. Superman seeks the advice of a Priest in his struggles and ultimately decides to submit himself to humanity for their sake. Superman answers the request to come to the US Capitol by doing so and doing so on their terms. Lex Luthor’s use of power to destroy the Capitol is abhorrent. Amanda Waller’s use of her status to assemble and coerce the Suicide Squad, even though they are criminals, is frowned upon. There are Übermensch in the DCEU but we are shown both male and female renditions, honorable and dishonorable. The gifted and the extraordinary live among us, but they have a duty to be the best they can be for themselves and for all mankind.
Miss out on the previous article in this series? Click this link to catch up! Part 1