Comics on Film: In 'Justice League,' Will Superman Live?

Comics on Film: In 'Justice League,' Will Superman Live?

Apr 07, 2017

In the immediate aftermath of the theatrical bow of Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was easy to detect this was an extremely divisive movie. Even this column couldn't help but be swept up in the emotion, since we had a pretty...vocal reaction to the way the film ended.

Now that we're over a year removed from the film's release, hopefully we're not spoiling anything for you by now openly (and without a spoiler tag) talking about the film's decision to kill off the Man of Steel himself, Superman.

While at the time we were pretty caught up in the raw emotion caused by the character's on-screen death, recent rumblings around Justice League — that come both from the film's new trailer as well as things that the cast and crew have said — indicate that the loss of the iconic hero will have lasting consequences on some key personalities in the DC Extended Universe. Still, though, there have been very few hints in those materials about what Superman's true role in the team-up film will be.

So, we thought it might be interesting to explore that this week.

 

The Return of Superman in the Comics

Of course, the death of Superman as depicted in Dawn of Justice is loosely based off of the way that event played out in the pages of the character's monthly comics in the early 1990's, which ended with both Superman and Doomsday striking some seemingly killing blows on each other. Superman's body was recovered, given a funeral, and placed in a tomb underneath a newly-erected massive statue, a show of reverence from a grateful Metropolis. Not too long afterward, though, Superman's casket was found empty, with the lid discarded in a way that looked like someone had punched his way out instead of having it broken into.

That revelation ultimately led to the arrival of no less than four apparent "Supermen." One who seemed more alien to human culture and customs than Superman ever was, a teenager who was the result of an apparent cloning experiment, a cyborg who seems, somehow, to be a rebuilt Superman, and one covered head-to-toe in steel with the S-shield bolted boldly to the front of his chest. Of course, this was all a distraction: while fans were asking which one of these could possibly be the real Superman, DC Comics had another plan: it was none of them.

After he was apparently killed, Superman's body went into what some have described as a "healing coma." His body's vital signs were slowed down so rapidly that he looked and felt fully deceased. While he was comatose, a Kryptonian A.I. known as "the Eradicator" had stolen the body from its crypt, and placed it in a machine called the "regeneration matrix" in Superman's Fortress of Solitude. From its place there, the Eradicator drew power from the body, causing it to create a body for itself that gave him both the appearance and limited memories of Superman himself. This caused him to become the most visibly familiar of the four pretenders to the proverbial throne, but the real Superman didn't awake from his coma until much later, greatly depowered.

By this point, the Cyborg Superman — who had nearly convinced the planet that he was the real Superman — revealed himself as an enemy of the Man of Steel named Hank Henshaw, a surviving consciousness reconstituted by alien technology and angry at Superman over his belief that the hero had caused the death of his wife. In a fateful battle, the Eradicator flung himself between the depowered Superman and the Cyborg as the evil villain blasted the Eradicator. Unfortunately for the Cyborg, the blast somehow filtered Superman's powers from the Eradicator's body back into his own, and the Cyborg was defeated by the one, true and returned Last Son of Krypton.

Rumblings of Superman's Return to the DCEU, and a Connection Between the Last Kryptonian and the Last Jedi

As we saw in the opening few minutes of Suicide Squad, the world seems to have reconciled the fear it may have had for Superman after his self-sacrifice, and have memorialized him, seeing him as the hero he really was. It seems highly unlikely that Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. killed Superman at the end of the character's last film with the intent of keeping him dead. The death in the film represents some key elements of the death in the comics, and we know that Henry Cavill is, apparently, a part of the cast for Justice League. No conversations are happening that revolve around the idea that the DCEU will feature no more stories with Superman, so the question that remains is how will he come back.

Recently at CinemaCon, Zack Snyder brought most of his Justice League to premiere a slightly extended version of the trailer that was released last week. While Gal Gadot is still recovering from recently giving birth to her second child, on-hand were Ben Affleck (Batman), Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), Ezra Miller (Flash), and...Henry Cavill. The trailer itself featured no footage that showed, or even hinted at the possibility of Superman's appearance. Cavill's presence there, though, more than other recent DC-related appearances, would seem to imply that the Man of Steel will — somehow — make his presence felt during the runtime of this November's Justice League.

This scenario does have a certain level of familiarity to it. Although it was shrouded in mystery for much of its time in varying levels of production, Star Wars: The Force Awakens officially announced that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill would be appearing in the film in April of 2014: a full 20 months before the film eventually bowed in theaters in December of the following year. For a long time, fans and critics alike speculated how Luke Skywalker would factor into the story of the new film, especially considering that trailers seemed to lack any indication that Luke was at all a factor in the story.

It turns out that there was a good reason for that, since in the finished film, Luke doesn't appear until 1-minute and 12 seconds before the credits roll. In that 72-second appearance, he also doesn't utter a word of dialogue. So, it would've been partially dishonest for the marketing materials surrounding The Force Awakens to advertise Luke with any substance, since his primary purpose there is to set the stage for the next film, this December's The Last Jedi.

So...you can see where we're going with this, right?

While it would likely be disappointing to some fans if Superman himself was relegated to a similar role in Justice League without giving a lot of service to his return to life, it does seem like Superman's presence will be felt in other ways.

While we can talk ad nauseum about the actual content of Dawn of Justice, the end result seems to be that the heroes of the DCEU are in a bit of a different place than the world of Dawn of Justice would seem to indicate. Batman, specifically, seems to be most affected by the death of Superman, and is aiming to honor the memory of the fallen hero by spearheading the mission of forming the Justice League for an oncoming threat he knows is coming.

Hopefully, all of these factors will translate into a movie experience that gives a little more service to Superman's place as a beacon of aspirational heroism. We've banged that drum here before, but whether his appearance in Justice League is for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, we hope it's enough to make our hearts soar once again.


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.

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