The Key Difference Between Iron Man & Man of Steel (That Defined Their Universes)

In both Iron Man and Man of Steel, the superhero defeats the bad guy and ultimately starts a shared universe of superheroes and supervillains, but the very end of both movies defined their respective franchises. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and the unofficially titled DC Extended Universe are fundamentally the same, just like their source material, but certain things have remained different over the years.

For instance, instead of starting off with solo movies, such as Thor and Captain America, and then leading into a team-up film like the MCU, the DCEU began with one solo movie and then used a team-up movie - specifically, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice - to set up another one a year later: Justice League. It was a stark difference, but it was one that separated them from each other.

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But that's not the only difference between the two superhero universes. Each one has thematic and story elements that significantly diverge from one another, and part of that is the secret identity trope that has plagued comic books, as well as comic book movies and TV shows, for decades. And, interestingly, Iron Man and Man of Steel - the first installments of their respective shared universes - took separate approaches to the idea.

Iron Man's Ending

Iron Man ending

As the first movie in the MCU, Iron Man bore the responsibility of laying the foundation upon which Marvel Studios would build one of the biggest movie franchises ever created. Of course, while much of that setup was placed on the shoulders of the movie's sequel, Iron Man 2, the first Iron Man movie contained several thematic choices that continue to resonate in the MCU to this day, such as the identities of its superheroes being known to the public (or, at least to the governments).

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At the end of Iron Man - after having defeated Obadiah Stane, aka Iron Monger - Tony Stark held a press conference where he revealed himself to be Iron Man. It wasn't just the immediate cut to black that shocked audiences, but also the fact that Marvel Studios had just thrown out the superhero identity trope that's been part of superhero comics for decades. The sheer notion of a superhero withholding his or her identity from the public in order to protect themselves and the ones that they love is why most superheroes wear costumes and masks - but not Iron Man, and certainly not Tony Stark.

Man Of Steel's Ending

Henry Cavill as Clark Kent in Man Of Steel

Throughout Man of Steel, one of the themes that kept cropping up was secrecy. Clark went to great lengths to keep his identity hidden from the public (and the government, for that matter) - even letting his own father, Jonathan Kent, be killed in a tornado - because he and his family believed that the world would reject him if they found out who he really was. Of course, that didn't happen, at least not right away. Instead, the world look to Superman as their savior in light of the Black Zero event in Metropolis. But that still didn't convince Superman to out himself as Clark Kent.

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Like many superhero movies that came before it, Man of Steel was very much an origin story for both Superman and the Clark Kent that people have come to know and love over the years. After defeating General Zod and saving the world, Clark put on his signature eyeglasses and took a job at The Daily Planet as a reporter alongside his future wife, Lois Lane. In addition to destroying the drone that was searching for where Superman hung his cape (aka the Fortress of Solitude), taking a job as a mild-mannered reporter solidified his choice to keep his identity a secret - and that was a decision that Lois chose to honor. It maintained the secret identity trope from the comics and set the stage for the rest of the DCEU.

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