Superman belongs to no one. Maybe that’s the reason the DCEU has been under such intensive fire: Zack Snyder and his team have taken a decisive and controversial stand on their version of the Man of Steel. Though he bears all the physical markings of the Kal-El from the comics, the Superman of the DC Extended Universe is at once familiar and alien. The world around him is greatly evolved, so his role in it has also changed. His Earthly parents have greater wants and needs, his romantic interests are more significant to Clark Kent and the story, his sensitivities are enhanced, his powers untested, and his identity still greatly in flux.
Superman has been in American and global culture for nearly 85 years, so who can say what Superman "is" and is not? Wherever you may stand on the characters' most recent incarnation, here are the 15 Biggest Changes To Superman From The Comics To The DCEU.
15 He’s Not the Superman We Know (Yet)
You can’t watch Man of Steel with a nostalgic heart. Though it’s a movie that features Superman and follows his rise to power, it’s not exactly a Superman movie in the purest sense of the word. In the same way that Batman Begins is less about the Dark Knight and more about Bruce Wayne’s battles against his inner demons, Man of Steel asks major questions about Kal-El’s plight: What is his purpose? What does he do with all that power? How does he fit in? Cue the crushing insecurity that often accompanies extended periods of soul-searching.
When comics readers reflect on the Golden and Silver ages of Superman, they might laugh at the “big blue boy scout” who almost seems sociopathic in his cheerful attitude and selfless behavior. He’s an almighty space-god who asks no questions because he already has the answers. That’s where Man of Steel diverges heavily from the Superman we know and love. It’s an origin story where the hero is young and still getting used to his powers, and his responsibility remains too overwhelming to process. From Zack Snyder’s first film to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Kal-El takes nothing for granted while the world does it for him.
14 He Lacks Confidence
From the comics through Christopher Reeve, Superman used to be famous for embodying a charismatic and willing hero. He made wisecracks here and there, smiled in perpetuity, and had a subtle swagger to accompany that signature “S.” In Man of Steel, however, Superman speaks in hushed tones and with vulnerable eyes. In contrast with his quickly-developed and otherworldly powers, his personality is still very much in the fetal stage. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Kal-El seldom talks, and when he does, he offers such terse responses that they hardly reveal any insight into his inner state of being.
In Man of Steel, he spends more time alone than in the company of others. At every turn, right up until the moment he snaps Zod’s neck (and arguably after), he seems to second-guess himself. To be clear, that’s not necessarily a negative change to the character as much as a bold evolution. In order for Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill to make a compelling character arc for one of the most invulnerable heroes of fiction, that kind of development is key. Though he may be on a new and exciting journey, however, this new Superman doesn’t appear to be having any fun whatsoever.
13 He Lets His Haters Bring Him Down
Along with the Statue of Liberty, Superman’s fists-on-hips pose is a hallmark American symbol. It exudes a brazen confidence that has come to define Superman until the DCEU temporarily dismantled such outward shows of arrogance. While we expect Superman to return to his former glory in Justice League and beyond, everything we’ve seen in the former two films indicates that the new Superman is in need of a serious pep talk. The media in particular, especially Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson, bears responsibility for crushing Superman’s ego and making him question his own worth.
Whether in the newspapers or on Capitol Hill, the Man of Steel is treated like a villain. For a figure as Messianic as Superman, such misunderstanding is to be expected. Yet, unlike the foundational hero of the comics, this Superman reads his own negative press and lets it cripple him. He believes he is hated and misunderstood, so he acts like he is hated and misunderstood, creating a vicious cycle that gives him a markedly detached on-screen presence. Fortunately, DCEU-producer Deborah Snyder promises, “Where we’re going is kind of what the audience is wanting. We just had to take the characters from somewhere to bring them up to where they are, and that was our journey.” If Mel Gibson directed BvS, it would have been called "The Passion of the Superman."
12 A Less Savvy Clark Kent
Kal-El can fly at insane speeds, lift unfathomably heavy objects, and hear a pin drop in a foreign country. Yet somehow, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, he doesn’t have the faintest knowledge of Gotham’s foremost businessman, playboy, and philanthropist, Bruce Wayne. There is hardly a living soul in the DCEU who would fail to pick out Bruce Wayne’s mug in a lineup. More than a regional celebrity, he’s a living icon.
When Clark sees him at Lex Luthor’s gala, he blankly asks a photographer, “Who’s that?” His baffling unworldliness deserves the curt response he receives: “You must be new.” After learning about Bruce Wayne, Clark then jumps at the first opportunity to grill the billionaire and asks him debate-worthy questions about the “masked vigilante.” It's possibly the least smooth move Clark could have made in that moment. Though he certainly is confused by Wayne’s evasive answers, he still can’t figure out the root of the problem. Not until he overhears Alfred communicating with Bruce does he put two and two together and wonder, "could this be the Batman?" We can forgive Clark Kent for being good-hearted, but his naivete has no place in the DCEU.
11 Superman & The World Don’t Match Like They Used To
Though BvS divided audiences more than the US Presidential election, it succeeded in adapting Superman into a frightening and almost dystopian world. While the comics (particularly the New 52) haven’t shied away from experimenting with Superman as a more unpredictable hero, both Man of Steel and BvS broke new ground. Gone are the days of the gleaming red and blue hero who saves the endangered before throngs of adoring fans. The Superman of the DCEU exists in our world, but he really doesn’t belong in it (at least not yet).
The destruction of Metropolis evokes 9/11 imagery for a reason, and that seismic event declares the world of Superman to be a fallen one. He may be a hero, but he’s also complicit in the decimation of a major city, presenting himself as a security threat to America and beyond. There was a time when Superman was welcomed by the people of the Earth, not made to be an outcast. Leading up to the final moments of BvS, Superman is something of a pariah.
10 Pa Kent is More Confusing Than Helpful
Kal-El received his outer strength on Krypton and his inner resolve from Ma and Pa Kent. Though they have many iterations in the comics, Clark’s Earthly parents are consistently depicted as the moral foundation of Superman. Overwhelmed by the physical potential of their son, they helped guide and direct his strengths to be a force for good in the world. Jonathan Kent, in particular, urged Superman to keep his identity a secret, fearful of what might become of him should the truth be revealed.
Ma and Pa Kent have always been the backbone of Clark’s world. In Man of Steel, their unfailing loyalty and support exists with a caveat: Ma and Pa Kent are unsure when and how their boy should become a man in the eyes of the world. They even question if he "owes" the world anything at all. Jonathan Kent even castigates his son for saving a busload of children from drowning, imploring him to not flex his muscle in public settings.
Though there’s no denying Jonathan's love for his son, he seems distracted by the metaphysical questions Clark’s existence seems to create. When he shows Clark the Kryptonian pod in which he crash-landed on earth, he talks about him being proof of life beyond the known world as if he’s a science experiment. Unsurprisingly, Jonathan's train of thought leaves Clark in emotional shambles, asking, “can’t I just keep on pretending I’m your son?” That’s a devastating question that reveals the core of Clark Kent in the DCEU. Though he's more human than ever in Man of Steel, Pa Kent's presence is a complicated one that makes his son more insecure than self-assured.
9 Superman Is More Like Batman Than Ever
What are the defining traits of Batman's personality? Above all, he’s fueled by a violent rage that drives him to beat evildoers in the hopes of vindicating the deaths of his parents. In his onscreen origin stories and comic reboots, Batman establishes and enhances his identity through his work as a vigilante. Though much of Man of Steel shows Superman in a state of wandering, it begins to sharpen his character in the presence of the villains Zod and Faora. When Lois and Martha are endangered, Superman hones in on his purpose and gets to work. In BvS, these themes are consummated when Lex kidnaps Ma Kent and drives Superman to the point of madness. The unbridled anger we see in these moments is deeply reminiscent of the Batman we’ve come to know, even eclipsing him in surprising ways. It’s “Where’s Rachel?!” on steroids.
The Superman of the DCEU has aligned with Batman more than ever. Due to their conflict in BvS, the Man of Steel is forced to lower himself to Batman's standards. Whereas Supes was once famous for saving doomed airliners and falling lovers, he now fights in the dirt with the Dark Knight of Gotham. Armed with a similarly righteous anger, Superman punches viciously, yells out in terror, and is far less concerned with collateral damage than Batman. The opening scenes of BvS show Bruce Wayne horrified by the destruction of Metropolis, a reaction we’ve not come to expect from the guy who lives in a world of chaos.
8 He’s Less Eager to Save People
If the DCEU Superman could receive Yelp! reviews, his gloomy attitude would keep him short of a five-star rating. In the few instances of his heroism seen in Man of Steel and BvS, he comes across truly despondent. Superman no longer saves the day with an irrepressible smile, but with the look of someone in the doldrums of depression. In the new world, he successfully does his job, but only because he feels an overwhelming obligation to do so. The Superman of the comics, meanwhile, is often an exuberant hero who can’t do enough to save others, and he's essentially treated as a criminal in the DCEU. When everyone wants to drag him and his accomplishments down, it makes sense that he isn't chomping at the bit to be a hero.
In Man of Steel and BvS, his feats are undeniably impressive – saving astronauts from certain doom, lugging a flipped cargo ship over his shoulder, stopping the damage on an oil rig – Superman completes these tasks with visible sadness. Whether it’s self-loathing, insecurity, or weariness from the fallen nature of our world, the Man of Steel offers few signs of eagerness in the line of duty.
7 Lois Lane: From Girlfriend to Deus Ex Machina
The marquee fight in BvS hinged on a single name. Whether the “Martha!” moment made you laugh or cry, it's difficult to comprehend the unexpected arrival of Lois Lane. Batman fighting Superman was the movie’s main attraction, and though few expected one of the heroes to actually get killed, nobody could have expected the duel to be mediated by Clark Kent’s girlfriend. Though Amy Adams makes for a great Lois Lane, no actor is up for the task of becoming a living, breathing plot device. After all, her well-timed arrival single-handedly saved Superman from getting a Krypto-spear jammed through his skull.
It’s a deflating moment in an otherwise compelling sequence. To make matters worse, poor Lois is left between the boys like a referee on fight night. Without question, Lois Lane has been used as a plot device in many a Superman comic panel, but in BvS, she reaches full deus ex machina status.
6 Supes Is Now More God Than Human
The Snyders, David Goyer, and Christopher Nolan have done admirable work in carving Clark Kent’s character from a block of godlike marble. When written well, Superman makes for a compelling hero, but when his naturally-imbued powers overtake his limitations, he’s not terribly fun to read. In Man of Steel, the new Superman is made to be a Christ-like figure. If his actions and disposition aren’t evidence enough, the photography elevates him from son of man to savior, son of God. In BvS, Superman reaches his apotheosis as he hovers over a family stranded on a rooftop. The image seems copied straight out of a Renaissance art exhibition.
Though he looks good in the sky, Superman fails to assimilate on the ground. However human he may look, he’s still very much an alien, a reality that Zack Snyder hammers home throughout Man of Steel and BvS. In a few rare instances, however, Clark eschews his god-like status and acts as a man. When the news media questions the ethics of his role as a guardian, he reaches for the phone and calls his mother. Even within the phone call, he toggles between his alien and human identities, starting the conversation and then restarting it with a humble, “Hi.” He then asks about his dad and wishes for simpler times. Clark is understandably having a crisis of self, and in this rare moment (emphasis on the rare), his human side overshadows his Kryptonian nature.
5 He Snaps Necks
Has Superman killed in the comics? He most certainly has. He’s even killed Zod before, not only on the comics page but in Superman II. There, Christopher Reeve's Superman crushes the hand of a de-powered Zod and boots him into a pit of nothingness. While the argument is certainly valid that Superman has killed before (and seemingly enjoyed doing it), these examples don’t hold a candle to the brutal death of Zod in Man of Steel. Guns are violent, knives are personal, but the twisting of one’s neck is the most intimate coup de grace of all.
Outside of that stunning fist-through-Joker’s-heart moment in the Injustice arc, none of Superman’s comics contain the kind of murder we see in Man of Steel. It’s fitting for the more morose universe Zack Snyder created, and the gravity of Superman's decision is highlighted by his blood-curdling scream. Not since Supergirl died in Crisis on Infinite Earths has the Man of Steel been so defeated. In BvS, Kal-El doesn’t explicitly kill anyone, but that African warlord using Lois as a human shield was likely paralyzed at best. The point is, the Superman of the DCEU killed brazenly and early in his character arc. It remains to be seen how the resurrected Supes will respond in Justice League and beyond.
4 He's Reckless With Collateral Damage
By the end of Man of Steel, Superman was stuck in a Catch-22 from hell. However shocking the epic fight scene’s conclusion may be, he had no choice but to snap Zod’s neck. Unfortunately, he did have a choice in where that final fight would take place, and despite multiple opportunities to redirect the chaos to anywhere but Metropolis, Superman kept things local. Zod may have brought the fight to planet Earth and to Metropolis in particular, but Superman bears equal blame in allowing the pummeling to continue across the skyline.
In this final fight, Superman's uncharacteristic moves abound. When Zod uses his heat vision for the first time, Superman allows him to slice a building in half before intervening. When Zod hurls two LexCorp tank trucks at him, Superman jumps between them like he’s Spider-Man rather than keep the thousands of gallons of gas from flooding the base of a parking garage. Sure enough, the tanks explode and set fire to the structure. Killing a mass murderer is one thing, but allowing him to lay waste to the city is an arguably more egregious crime of which there's no equal in the comics.
For those of you who were still skeptical...Zod was dead set on killing Clark for what he'd done, right? So if Supes were to take to the skies and try to bring the fight elsewhere (read: not a heavy populated city), Zod probably would have followed him, no?
3 Jimmy Olsen is...a Dead CIA Agent
Having first appeared in the 1938 edition of Action Comics #6, Jimmy Olsen is a longtime friend of Superman. He’s his confidante and his pal, a source of lightheartedness for the perpetually busy Man of Steel. Given Jimmy's bubbly personality and chummy relationship with Superman, it’s not hard to guess why he was scrubbed from the long-term vision of the DC Extended Universe. It is harder to explain why he was included at all, if only to be converted into an undercover CIA operative who says a few milquetoast lines before taking a bullet to the head.
Zack Snyder candidly revealed his thoughts on the character, saying, “We don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him right?” If Russian roulette is your idea of Saturday night fun, then this fits right in. Otherwise, the life and death of Jimmy Olsen may make for the shortest cameo in a superhero movie outside of Stan Lee.
2 He’s Prone to Vengeance
Clark Kent’s wandering adventures in Man of Steel are some of the most compelling parts of the movie. He explores his adoptive homeworld while simultaneously searching for himself. Like a recent college grad on a European backpacking trip, Clark makes a few mistakes. While he’s working as a busboy at a remote mountainside bar, he succumbs to the hostile treatment of the local guests. When Clark attempts to protect a waitress from unwanted attention, the offending patron demeans him and dumps a pint of beer on his head. It’s a callous act that makes the buffed-up Clark Kent look like he’s eleven years old.
Though he literally throws in the towel on the job, Clark’s quiet exit from the bar is just smoke and mirrors. He proceeds to destroy the man’s truck in an impressively disjointed way, literally hoisting the vehicle by its own petard. While it’s a vindicating moment for Clark (and the audience), it’s new territory for a character who is usually humbled by the extent of his strengths, not driven to showboat them in acts of revenge.
1 The World’s Finest…For Like a Minute
Many viewers complain about the DCEU being too “dark.” Though BvS is undoubtedly one of the most thematically intense superhero films around, the complaints about its tone may derive from Superman's lack of familiarity. Few people complained about Batman (much to their surprise), and Wonder Woman was met with rave reviews. This inadvertently passes the buck to Superman, who has yet to be given the keys to his own proverbial kingdom. While Batman and Wonder Woman are near the height of their powers in BvS, Superman basically fights with one hand (and half of his ego) tied behind his back.
Thus far, the DCEU has been built around Superman. Man of Steel is his origin story and BvS is the follow-up, despite having Batman's name in the title. Though he is the reigning champ of the DCEU, Superman is also currently dead. Over five hours of cinematic run-time, we witnessed the birth of Kal-El, the emergence of Clark Kent, and the rise of Superman. When he sacrificed himself to bring down Doomsday, however, Superman died and ended the laborious arc and reemergence of his character in the DCEU. All of that anticipation ended in a lowly Kansas grave.
That’s about as satisfying as attending a revival of The White Stripes where they don't play “Seven Nation Army.” Simply put, the DCEU hasn’t allowed Superman to become the boss we all know and love. He has shown flashes of brilliance in Zack Snyder’s first two movies, but before he could get back to his A-game, he got a stake driven through his heart. The good news is, that dirt on his casket definitely moved, and we’ll be seeing him again soon.
What other major differences separate Superman comics from the DCEU? Let us know in the comments!
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