Spoiler Alert: storylines from the comic books Superman: Peace on Earth, Superman: For Tomorrow, and Kingdom Come are given in detail.
The Christopher Reeve Superman movies helped pave the way for the plethora and popularity of superhero films today. Much can be said and high praise be given to what those films did. But through no real fault of its own, the Superman films developed a one-sided view of the character of Superman; one where he is always happy, is very clumsy, and always has a smile on his face. The films created a misconception about who the “true Superman” is in the comics. Fans who grew up mainly with the films as their “source” material were sorely disappointed when they saw the Boy Scout mourn after killing General Zod, or looked on in disgust when Superman forlornly looked at the destruction caused by the bomb at the Senate Committee Hearing in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
#NotMySuperman trended, critics reviled director Zack Snyder’s Superman, calling him just another version of the dour Batman. He didn’t smile enough, didn’t laugh or quip much, and wasn’t endearingly clumsy enough to be the “real” or “comic book” Superman. Yes, Superman is optimistic, he does fight for truth in his never-ending battle against the bad guys, and he is the penultimate “Boy Scout.” But he is so much more complex of a character than that. As with any well-written character, there is always more than one dimension to be shown.
Swords get dull, rules get broken, lanterns need recharging, and sometimes the beacon of hope fades. Snyder’s Superman touched on an element of the character not seen yet on film. Although it is unsettling for some, Snyder’s version is a more well-rounded character, plucked right from the pages of the comics; and he is not afraid to touch on an aspect of Superman’s character that had not been shown on the silver screen before Man of Steel and BvS: Superman gets weary.
Superman: Peace on Earth, Superman: For Tomorrow, and Kingdom Come, all deal with the theme of what happens when the Superman grows weary, what happens when the arrogance and determination by mankind to destroy itself cuts the Man of Steel, and causes the beacon of hope to fade. These plotlines show how, other than Kryptonite and Magic, the only thing that can penetrate the will of the Man of Steel, is mankind’s penchant to commit wanton destruction. There is a common theme threading these spectacular stories on the comic book pages and the silver screen; the theme of hope rekindled.
Kal-El is no longer Superman. He secluded himself from society after tragedy struck when Joker killed Lois Lane. In Kingdom Come, Superman has left the spotlight. After the new most popular hero, Magog, was acquitted of killing the Joker, Superman couldn’t bear to see society embrace this new antihero. During his seclusion, half of Kansas was destroyed when Captain Atom was unable to contain his energy in a fight to stop a scared villain. Magog was the one who led the charge, killing any and every villain with extreme prejudice. Magog’s carelessness in the battle in Kansas led to the deaths of thousands. Superman blamed himself for not stopping the pride of Magog. Depressed, he gave up his suit and cape, and his first appearance in the story is as a grey haired man, hard at work in a simulated Kansas field; a simpler time of days gone – back to when he still had hope.
Kingdom Come is a social commentary on the anti-hero boom prevalent in comic books in the post-modern era. Superman has been discarded in favor of the reckless anti-hero who leave a mess of carnage and mayhem in their wake. Superheroes representing absolutes such as truth and justice were traded for heroes cast more in their own image: easily corruptible and more than willing to kill as a first option instead of the last. But soon their destruction was uncontrolled. Magog went missing. Citizens could barely tell the heroes from the villains any more. And a society of superheroes came knocking on Superman’s door, and he answered. He would be the one to restore justice to the world, starting with the “heroes.”
Although I already gave a spoiler alert, I don’t want to go much further into Kingdom Come, it’s one of those comic books that must be fully appreciated by sitting down and reading the wonderfully written storyline and looking at the images by Alex Ross, who beautifully painted a world about to end. Just know that by the end, new friends are made, old friendships rekindled, and Superman’s hope is restored.
In the opening pages of For Tomorrow, Superman surprises a young priest who himself is going through a bout of weariness. During their conversation the man of God is surprised once again; he is asked to hear Superman’s confession. He confesses his sin: he saved people. An odd confession, but throughout the storyline it is revealed Superman created a “paradise” from the phantom zone, and was sending people against their will to the paradise he created. He confesses the weariness in his heart caused by mankind’s endless wars. These are poignant moments behind the iron smile of Superman. Reports in the media blame Superman for hundreds of deaths when he intervened during a civil war in the Middle East. He can’t trust anyone on earth anymore; Lois is gone – sent with the first wave to the paradise, he must keep her safe. And so he begins a friendship with the priest, the only other man in the world he can trust.
But as with all things, something goes awry in his plan. He is sent to the paradise only to find not all is well in his creation. Sin had entered Superman’s Paradise, his Garden of Eden. And as with Earth, it wasn’t brought by its creator, but by humanity. Some had banded together to fight against this Utopian paradise, and they served under the leadership of someone Superman thought long gone: General Zod. Zod led these men against Superman’s defenses, destroying everything in their wake. Dejected but determined, he goes to fight his greatest foe, and with each blow the fabric of paradise is torn; somehow the life of Superman and Zod was intertwined with the phantom zone. Words weren’t enough to stop Zod though. Sometimes, words aren’t enough to stop a man who is hell-bent on doom.
As he is engaged in the battle of his life with the other last man of Krypton, Superman does what comes naturally; he finds a way to save the people trapped in a paradise lost. The fabric gives way, and Hell breaks loose – but not before Superman saves the day. He is able to save most and escapes just in time to Earth. He is reminded no matter how hard he tries or how many people he saves, he won’t be able to save them all, and he won’t be able to save humanity from itself. But he can be a beacon of hope, an example for humans to strive toward. He flies off into the sunset, ready to save the day once again.
Perhaps the closest rendition of Snyder’s Superman to the comics is the Superman found in Superman: Peace on Earth. This is where many of the iconic images from BvS are found. The montage of Superman saving citizens, the worried look on his face when some worship him, Superman before congress, and a weary Superman, alone in his house after seeing the media constantly question his good intentions are all ripped from the pages of the expertly written and drawn story by Paul Dini and Alex Ross.
People are hungry. There is enough food to feed the world, but corrupt governments and ceaseless wars get in the way of people getting fed. So Superman comes up with a plan to unilaterally feed the hungry of the world. But while on his mission of peace, he runs into a government that warns against him feeding their citizens. He continues to feed them and they fire chemical weapons at him. The citizens watch from below as the Man of Steel is hit with the chemical weapons. Superman saves the people, but is unable to keep the food from being tainted by the man-made chemicals. So to save any other citizens from harm, he stops, unable to complete what he started. The press gets ahold of it. He is either hailed as a hero or condemned as a “Misguided Outsider.” His will broke. But not for long He remembers his father’s teachings about the unforeseen consequences of helping people, and he vows to be an example for people to look toward.
The Superman of the comics is a rich, complex character filled with emotions and questions about his identity. Will he ever be truly accepted in this world? Is his love for Lois Lane real? Can he find a balance between a Kansas farm boy and the Man of Steel? More than any film iteration before, Snyder’s Superman dug deeper to the core of who Superman is and what he represents: a beacon of hope in the midst of a dark and broken world.
If you liked what you read, give these other articles over Superman a read: