I think it’s pretty safe to say that if you’re a Superman fan, a DC Comics fan, or perhaps even a fan that disliked the new film, the out-of-the-gate box office success of Man of Steel is good news for everyone. We’ve been hearing for months that the future exploitation of the DC Universe on film was contingent upon the success or failure of Superman’s latest adventure, and commercial failure seems to be the last thing that fans and analysts are accusing of Man of Steel.
We’ve grown accustomed to a shared universe for superhero films over the past five years with the efforts beginning in 2008 with the first Iron Man film. With all of the rumors and scuttlebutt surrounding a forthcoming Justice League film, did Man of Steel lay any major foundation toward its own universe? The answer is actually both yes and no. It’s obvious that Warner Bros. may want to emulate the success of The Avengers with its own franchise, but as has been discussed before, the studio has had severe bouts of cold feet when it comes to the exploitation of DC Comics properties. So, a toe from that cold foot may have been dipped into the warm waters of a shared universe, but only barely.
Allow me to explain, with a minor spoiler warning in effect for the two of you that haven’t yet seen Man of Steel.
How Man of Steel Hints at a Larger Universe
While the majority of the film's hints at a larger universe were actually largely within the Superman world itself, there was one, blink-and-you’d-miss-it DC Universe reference to one other character, and some people may be disappointed that it was aimed at the one guy they’ve seen the most of in DC Comics. Near the end of the film, as Superman and Zod’s fight goes into orbit around the Earth, both combatants crash into a satellite that has a very distinct name plastered across it under a giant, stylized letter “W:” Wayne. The hint, of course, being that it belongs to Wayne Enterprises, the company owned by Gotham City billionaire Bruce Wayne, better known to comics and movie fans as the one and only Dark Knight: Batman.
The logo in the film is actually rather similar to the one first seen in Batman Begins, and was perpetuated in both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Some fans might try to extrapolate a little too much and assume that Man of Steel takes place within the same universe as The Dark Knight trilogy, but it can now be pretty easily assumed that Nolan’s Batman story is completely finished, thanks to recent words from Nolan producing partner Charles Roven.
Jeffrey Taylor recently recounted the presence in Man of Steel of a character named Captain Carrie Ferris, strikingly similar to Carol Ferris, the main love interest to Hal Jordan/Green Lantern and later one of his enemies. Whether or not this is actually Carol Ferris is unknown, but there are some notable differences between the version seen in the film and the one from the comics and 2011 Green Lantern film.
Of course, the biggest reference within the world of Superman itself is to a company called “LexCorp,” which most fans know belongs to the man destined to become Superman’s greatest enemy: Lex Luthor. With LexCorp’s presence in the Metropolis of Man of Steel, it can likely be inferred that this version is similar to the predominant characterization of the last couple of decades of comics, depicting Lex as a corporate mogul billionaire, philanthropist, military contractor and Metropolis benefactor. It’s only upon further inspection by Superman that he discovers Luthor’s narcissism, cruelty, paranoia and sadism.
The promise of LexCorp has me very excited for what Lex may look like in a sequel or in a Justice League film, since the previous films have all shown a goofy, rather campy iteration of Luthor. I want general audiences to see Luthor as most comics fans know him: he’s not funny, and in many ways he’s frightening.
Beyond these, the last of which may only barely count as a larger DCU reference, Man of Steel largely keeps the majority of its Easter eggs within the realm of Superman. Be sure to check out Jeffrey Taylor’s ultimate guide to Easter eggs in references within the film. Here's part one and part two.
How Man of Steel Doesn’t Hint at a Larger Universe
Because the vast majority of Easter eggs are limited to the world of Superman, it’s actually a very self-contained film. The Wayne Enterprises satellite would be able to stand for something fun if the film failed, or in the event of success it’s something that could be revisited in a future meeting between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. For the most part, Man of Steel’s lack of larger-universe hints is symptomatic of Warner Bros.' cold feet in delving into the mountains of DCU content, and seems to fall in line with its “play it safe” approach in any DC Universe reference outside of Batman or Superman.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (at least this time) if what we’ve been hearing about future DC spin-off films is true, because hopefully Man of Steel’s success will give the studio heads the confidence they need to exploit future DC properties.
Man of Steel did not have the mission statement of starting a DC Universe in mind, but if it’s so chosen by the studio and the creative team working on the franchise, it can be retconned as such in a future installment. David Goyer recently spoke to Bleeding Cool about how Man of Steel could be the match that lit the fuse to a DCU when he said, "The idea is that Superman is the first one. There might be people helping people, but not in costumes, and that Superman comes forward and announces himself to the world. In him announcing himself, he’s the one that changes things.”
In my mind, that’s how it should be. Superman has always been the beacon that got the ball rolling on an entire pantheon of people who discovered that they can make a difference outside the box, and if this is the foundation from which a new DC Universe is built upon, I am one fan that will be pretty satisfied as long as each outing is handled with care.
My Pick This Week at the Comic Shop (Releasing 6/19)
Still reeling from the death of his son Damian earlier this year, Batman is experiencing all of the classic stages of grief in the formerly titled Batman and Robin series. Now, after Robin, the series changes it’s title with each new guest character from Batman’s other protégés. This month, Batman and Batgirl #21 continues the look at Batman’s coping by bringing in Barbara Gordon, his second sidekick after the original Robin.
The creative team of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have continued to make this series hard-hitting and extremely emotional, even more than it already was before Damian was taken out. With each issue exploring a stage of grief, readers are learning at how desperately Batman is clinging on to the memory of his son, and exactly what lengths, at times equally heartwarming and even somewhat monstrous, he will go in order to try and save Damian from the jaws of death. The entire series comes highly recommended, and it’s easy to make it my pick this week.
Thanks for reading the Geek Beat. See you in seven days for a new installment! What would you like to see written about next week?
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his weekly piece The Geek Beat every Tuesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.