Comics on Film: Here's Hoping 'Justice League' Completes a Proper 'Man of Steel' Trilogy

Comics on Film: Here's Hoping 'Justice League' Completes a Proper 'Man of Steel' Trilogy

Jun 10, 2016

WARNING: Spoilers for the ending of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice follow.

With the annual Superman Celebration happening in Metropolis, Illinois this weekend, it seems only appropriate that this week's Comics on Film focuses on the iconic Man of Steel. The biggest recent news about him concerns the character's upcoming appearance in Justice League, shooting right now with controversial director Zack Snyder at the helm, as well as in the midst of what seems to be a major reorganization at Warner Bros. concerning the future use of their DC Comics properties.

Over the last month, we've heard about executive appointments and replacements, a new, dedicated'"back to basics' course correction for the publishing side of things, as well as a picture of a jacked up J.K. Simmons preparing for his role as Commissioner Gordon in the upcoming crossover film that nearly broke the internet.
 
When we recently recounted for you the news that the upcoming team-up film would simply be entitled Justice League, we also told you about how this upcoming project is aiming to be the conclusion to a trilogy. That trilogy began with 2013's Man of Steel, and continued into this past March's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Between those two movies, what we now know to be the "DC Extended Universe" is alive and kicking.
 
What we don't know, though, is how Justice League can correct the course on what a lot of people perceive to be missteps with the iconic original superhero, especially with the man most identified with causing some of those problems remaining in the director's chair for the trilogy's impending resolution. Let's explore that a little bit.
 
 
What We've Seen So Far: Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice Revisited
 
Three years ago this month, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures released the opening shot of this DC Extended Universe in the form of director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. The first film featuring Henry Cavill as the eponymous superhero attempted to update the character's very famous origin story for the 21st century, while also repudiating Superman's widely held public perception as little more than a paragon and boy scout. In the film, the young Kryptonian who was raised as Clark Kent in Smallville, Kansas is shown coming to grips with his alien heritage and his humanity at the same time, which causes some aimlessness in the powerful being as he attempts to find out about himself and his lineage in something of a worldwide road trip.
 
Then, of course, after learning about his origins, he's confronted more than ever with his differences due to the arrival of General Zod and his band of Kryptonian outlaws. When it becomes clear that Zod intends to give birth to a new Krypton on the foundation of a crumbling, dead Earth, Clark first takes flight as Superman, directly confronting Zod in a conflict that culminates with the General's murder at the hands of the new hero.
 
 
This leads directly into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Although Superman saved countless lives by putting a stop to Zod's plans, the collateral damage and heavy loss of life caused by the confrontation in the heart of Metropolis catches the attention of industrialist Bruce Wayne, a seasoned and gruff vigilante who's secretly operated on the streets of Gotham City as Batman for over two decades. Seeing firsthand how much of a threat Superman and his kind pose to the human race, Batman reasons that a being that exists with such destructive power is incompatible with the continued prosperity of humanity, and decides that he must take on the task of destroying Superman.
 
As this scenario plays out, Metropolis business mogul Lex Luthor, similarly distrustful of Superman's existence but also far more acquisitive and corrupt than Bruce Wayne, puts his own plans in motion to destroy the Man of Steel. Eventually deducing his identity and gaining access to Kryptonian technology, Luthor sets out to create a being even more destructive than Superman, while also manipulating a battle between he and the already distrustful Batman. Unfortunately for Luthor, the course of the battle reveals to Batman a human commonality with Superman, and where it was once easy for the Dark Knight to think of destroying an inhuman demi-god, this realization causes him to reel from a desire to kill him and instead become Superman's ally.
 
Luthor then unleashes his monstrosity, whom he calls Superman's "Doomsday," into Metropolis and Gotham, culminating in a fight that seemingly ends with Superman's death. At his grave in Smallville, Bruce Wayne and the long-lost Princess Diana of Themyscira decide that they need to stand together, and in Superman's name, find other meta-humans to stand with as well.
 
 
 
Why a Trilogy's Structure Makes Sense
 
Whether you're an ardent defender of Snyder's first efforts with DC's characters or a fervent detractor, it's clear that his iteration of Superman is indeed a darker reflection of the original superhero when compared with the one generations of fans have grown accustomed to through over 75 years of DC Comics publications, along with previous film and television efforts. A previous edition of this very column has already provided a critical perspective of Superman's darker place in Dawn of Justice, with a prescription of light and reverence for life given to create a more recognizable vision of who Superman is.
 
When looking at the forthcoming Justice League film as the conclusion of a trilogy of Superman-centric stories, though, the first major team-up effort from Warner Bros. and the new DC Films does have a very unique opportunity to "bring it all home." Now with the perspective of "part 1," Man of Steel plays out in a pretty classic sense of introducing the players and the larger world. As a middle part, Dawn of Justice readily fulfills the purpose that most second acts serve in a play: everything seems to have gone to hell.
 
By starting Justice League with the legacy of this Superman as we know him, the Man of Steel still has a lot to prove to the world, even in death. Though Batman is both intelligent and effective, his potential as a symbol of unity isn't nearly as large as Superman's, and that will likely serve as a major impediment to his goal of unifying the eventual Justice League.
 
This is where Superman has the very great potential to step into both literal and metaphorical light as a symbol of aspirational heroism.
 
 
As DC's heroic standard-bearer, and the recent initiatives from Warner Bros. to "lighten up" both the comics and the films, the story for Justice League is in a unique position to align this cinematic incarnation of Superman with his wider perception as a symbol of hope. That doesn't mean that he needs to be a paragon, as the Superman of the comics for many years has simply been a good man that happens to be extremely powerful. He is a moral authority, but contrary to the perceptions of many, his authority asserts itself in a way that's not condescending. Similarly to Marvel Studios' success with the cinematic incarnation of Captain America, the modern Superman of the comics - and in celebrated works like the 1990's animated series - is almost impossible not to like because of his earnestness, his dedication to heroism and his own inherent humanity.
 
The biggest x-factor in all of this, though, is the return of director Zack Snyder. While Snyder seemed to learn a somewhat basic and obvious lesson about having a practical concern for collateral damage in the construction of Dawn of Justice, he didn't really seem to concern himself with changing his largely dark philosophy on who the characters themselves are. Superman in particular, if anything, seemed darker in his second appearance than his first. Instead of treating these films as a deconstruction of the superhero concept as was done in Watchmen (both the original series and his film), he should instead try and celebrate what makes the characters great in the first place.
 
If Snyder can learn from the perceived narrative shortcomings of his last two films pointed out by both constructive critics and moderate fans, and if the story really does aim to position Superman as the beacon of hope and heroism that he's supposed to be, then it's hard not to imagine that these actions would go a long way toward making Justice League a critical hit in addition to a commercial one.
 
In other words, it seems that it's very possible that as goes Superman, so goes the Justice League. Here's hoping that the direction is up.
 

Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Features, Geek
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