Warning: Possible SPOILERS for Justice League ahead.
While contentious even among some fans, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice constructed the framework for DC’s shared comic book universe. The starkly violent film ended with Superman giving his life to destroy supervillain Doomsday. His sacrifice not only saved the planet but also gave humanity (and Batman) hope for the future, paving the way for Justice League. Of course, as Batman goes about assembling the team, there’s one problem with the first lineup: Supes is missing.
Everyone knows he won’t stay dead for long; the team just wouldn’t be the same without its Kryptonian keystone. Fortunately, the vibrating dirt sequence at his funeral in BvS, as well as the “dream sequence” from the most recent Justice League trailer – where Clark Kent and Lois Lane reunite – both tease his resurrection. Of course, Superman returning from the dead is one thing. He’s an alien from Krypton with an alien physiology. Sure, it’ll be abnormal, but Superman is already abnormal.
But what about his alter-ego, Daily Planet reporter and presumed human Clark Kent? Between his open casket funeral and widely-circulated obituary, walking into work would, at best, could cause some panic and, at worst, strip away whatever pretenses about his secret identity remain. So, how can Clark return to his day job without causing numerous raised eyebrows?
Clark Is Dead
The easiest solution is the simplest one: Clark Kent stays dead. In the classic Death of Superman story arc, Kent was missing rather than dead. Being trapped in a basement was much easier to explain than having him walk in after a well-attended funeral. Instead of going to the hassle of crafting a plausible story for the intrepid reporter’s resurrection (no, the walking Kent doesn’t work), writer Chris Terrio may leave him functionally deceased.
There is one problem with leaving him in the casket, though: it kills one of the defining romantic relationships in DC Comics’ history. True, Superman lives once more, but it might look suspicious if a recently mourning Lois leaps straight into the arms of an eerily familiar caped hero. At the same time, screenwriter David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder cut out the traditional love triangle angle in Man of Steel. Since Lois knows Superman’s true identity, at least they can sidestep the issue of his and Kent’s death with her.
Leaving his glasses-clad analog effectively dead also allows the filmmakers to dig into Kal-El’s makeup without his “human” side. At the same time, it also strips him of his most humanizing and identifiable trait: a day job. Still, the red and blue-clad (or perhaps black-clad) hero can now devote his time to saving lives, cutting out the energy-suck of maintaining a double life. Man of Steel 2 could even focus on his efforts to rebuild his life with Lois and devote himself to a full-time superhero-ing.
DC could go a different route, though, one which already feels par for the course.
Clark Is Superman
Seeing as Lois already knows her fiance is Superman and most of his coworkers probably assume he is, Clark could simply come clean about his true self. Snyder’s world is already more realistic than the traditional DC comic book world, relatively speaking. In the un-DCEU, Batman is only a hair removed from Bruce Wayne, so letting the cat out of the bag on Supes isn’t that of big a deal in theory.
There is one problem with an unveiled Clark-Superman dynamic, though. It puts Kal-El’s family, as well as Daily Planet and its staff, in harm’s way – much like when Spider-Man revealed his identity during Civil War and wound up causing no end of heartache. Now, any two-bit thug looking to hurt Superman can pick and choose their targets from folks who know him. However, the revelation could lead to some interesting subplots.
On the other hand, Terrio and company could walk down a different path after the Man of Steel is revived…
A New Alter-Ego
Warner Bros. could introduce an alternative version of him, similar to what happens in Alan Moore’s 1986 storyline, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” In the tale, Clark decides to take some serious time off from world-protecting. So, he walks into a room full of gold kryptonite and depowers himself. He renames himself Jordan Elliot (a take-off of Jor-El) and goes to work as a mechanic, retiring into a normal life with Lois and their son Jonathan.
While harder to sell to the fan base, creating a brand new alter ego might be the perfect set-up for Man of Steel 2. Metropolis is a massive city. Rather than returning to his old job, where his boss and his coworkers will ask lots of extremely uncomfortable questions, Kal-El can set up in another industry with a new name. And no one would be the wiser.
Another possible option: Clark could walk into work and nobody bats an eye. Hopefully, this isn’t the case, especially with the amount of detail that went into worldbuilding and plotting the DC films. At the same time, Kent’s resurrection could be glossed over as a falsified report or even as “fake news,” depending on how parodic the creatives feel. Since the funeral took place in front of close friends and colleagues, they’d be the only ones who knew the truth about Clark’s “death” ‒ at least until a nasty nemesis turns up to torture or mind-control someone who’s in on the secret anyway.
At present, DC and Warner Bros. have several options available for Clark Kent after his alter-ego returns. A post-Clark Metropolis wouldn’t constrain the film to traditional lore. A world without a dual identity Kal-El also has its curious merits. However, after Zack Snyder’s deconstruction rubbed some fans the wrong way, the filmmakers will probably revisit the status quo and bring the mild-mannered reporter back to the forefront.
One way or another, the Superman will return in Justice League, setting up the possibly Matthew Vaughn-directed Man of Steel 2, as well as his full-fledged membership in Justice League 2. Without a doubt, DC also has a plan for Clark Kent as well. It will be interesting to see how they bring back their number one newsy… and how his co-workers react.
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