Warning: Major spoilers for Batman V Superman ahead
The Man of Steel’s final battle in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – with the mutated Kryptonian abomination Doomsday – partially adapted one of the most popular recent comic book storylines. In the “Death of Superman” story arc, Superman (Henry Cavill) is thought to be genuinely deceased, as in the film. Although everyone knew DC would never permanently dismantle their most popular superhero, cutting Clark Kent out of the picture right before the Justice League assembles would be similarly unfathomable... and that's just what happened in the DC Extended Universe.
During our Justice League set visit, Producer Deborah Snyder asserted “there wouldn’t be a Justice League without Superman.” The only trouble with that is, the Man of Steel appears to be very much dead. Sure, we watched as the dirt shifted atop his grave, but even if he’s not dead he’s clearly in pretty rough shape. To that effect, Snyder teased that Superman might not resurface right away, and may play a limited role in the first Justice League movie.
If that’s the case, it means the collaborative efforts of assembling the League will fall to Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Still, in order to properly assemble the League, founding member Kal-El needs to sign on. There’s just the small matter of how to bring him back from the dead – and whether he’ll be the same man upon his return. Here are some of the ways in which it could happen (ranging from the likely to the ridiculous).
Kryptonian Scout Ship
The deleted scene dubbed “Communion” showed up just after the release of the Batman V Superman. In the clip, fans are introduced to Lex Luthor’s secret ally against his superhero adversaries. Thanks to his defense work with the U.S. Government, he’s brokered a deal to gain access to a downed Kryptonian scout ship – the same high-powered alien ship which authorities left lying in a crater in the middle of Metropolis.
Upon entering the ship, Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) discovers all the wonders of Krypton, including a computer that makes Star Trek’s ship computer look like a Speak ‘N Spell. Contained with its memory core is a vast trove of Kryptonian knowledge collected from throughout the cosmos. Even though Lex Luthor apparently concealed or deactivated the program upon departure, it could contain vital clues to Superman’s rebirth.
A crack team of DC heroes should have no trouble – especially with Batman’s resources – locating and infiltrating the Kryptonian ship. If they’re able to access the computer, the fledgling League may discover key medical information about Kryptonian physiology. Perhaps the ship itself contains a recuperative device similar to the one found at the Fortress of Solitude in the comics (more on that later).
If not, there are always those handy little cubes that Luthor discovered onboard with the ship, the Mother Boxes.
Reconstructed by Mother Box
Along with teasing the villains from the next film, the deleted scene gave us another look at the technology of the New Gods. In Batman V Superman, our first hint of the sentient alien devices (confirmed by director Zack Snyder) was from Lex Luthor’s metahuman surveillance archives. In it, we catch a glimpse of Silas Simon (Joe Morton) at S.T.A.R. Labs using a Mother Box to transform his amputee son Victor (Ray Fisher) into the superhero Cyborg.
Among the advanced technological marvels possessed by Darkseid and his fellow Apokoliptians are the Mother Boxes. First introduced during comic visionary Jack Kirby’s New Gods series, these fully sentient mechanical marvels tap into the Source (of all life). They’ve already proven capable of manipulating matter, summoning Boom Tubes, healing the ill, and even reviving the mortally wounded.
We already know that S.T.A.R. Labs, at one point, had possession of the powerful tech. The deleted scene with Lex and the scout ship also revealed several more Mother Boxes in existence. If the assembling Justice League got hold of one of these devices, Superman is as good as healed.
The Flash Brings in Reinforcements
If there’s one thing Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash, (Ezra Miller) does well (and sometimes not very well), it’s zipping back and forth through time and parallel dimensions. In fact, several major reboots (including Flashpoint, which bear his name) in the DC universe happened thanks in part to Mr. Allen. Assuming this Earth’s Superman is truly dead, perhaps another version of him could make do for the mean time.
The infamous “Knightmare” sequence – where Bruce Wayne witnesses a desolate, Parademon-infested realm – could very well be a vision from an alternate Earth. A very similar course of events occurred during the Earth 2 saga during the New 52 redux. Could the Flash have fed Batman a taste of things to come across the multiverse?
Assuming the Man of Steel is actually deceased, Barry Allen could also provide a solution. Both blessed and cursed by the Speed Force, the Flash could easily zoom off to an alternate dimension and convince a variation of Superman to fight for truth and justice in our realm. In Batman V Superman, Allen also appeared to possess technology eerily similar to the Boom Tubes, which are used like an intergalactic mass transit system by the New Gods.
Whether via Speed Force or Boom Tube, the Flash could, in theory, bring an iteration of Kal-El to our realm before Justice League gets cranking. On the other hand, Flash would feel a bit silly if he went to all the trouble of recruiting a bonus Man of Steel, only to find out that his own universe's Superman was just resting.
The Gift of Life from New Gods
The average viewer may think to themselves, why in the world would an energy-sucking villain want to resurrect one of their greatest foes? While the logic is sound, many casual moviegoers aren’t privy to the Earth 2 storyline. In this alternate course of events, Darkseid assaults the parallel planet, causing massive devastation and killing the Man of Steel, only to resurrect him as a villain.
Naturally, Superman didn’t actually go bad. He wasn’t even himself, merely a clone manufactured by Darkseid. Before he could wreak too much havoc, the alternate-universe version of General Zod’s son, Val-Zod – who looks a whole lot like Kal-El aside from being brown-skinned with blue eyes – steps in to save the day. He thwarts the clone and kicks out the Apokoliptian menace, restoring a modicum of peace to his war-torn world.
Snyder and company have borrowed a thread or two from the Earth 2 series for Batman V Superman, so the idea of a New God rebirth for the Kal-El isn’t an entirely far-fetched solution for Justice League. Still, the possibility of a big bad like Steppenwolf or Darkseid reviving Clark Kent for dubious purposes sounds like a shot in the dark – unless of course the reborn Man of Steel is merely a clone.
Send in the Clones
Admittedly, the lack of foreshadowing or hints about clones in Man of Steel or Batman V Superman makes this option less likely. At the same time, Doomsday’s origins are no secret. He’s a cross-pollination of Lex Luthor and General Zod. In that regard, we already know the technology exists to create alternate versions of characters in the DCEU.
Taking another page from the oft-referenced “Death of Superman” story arc, a clone played a prevalent role in filling the power void after Superman’s apparent death. One of his replacement heroes, The Metropolis Kid, wound up as a legitimate clone of the Man of Steel. In addition, the Earth 2 plot also introduced the idea of a once-believed-deceased Clark Kent who was kept alive by Apokoliptian DeSaad – who used the weakened hero to create an army of Super-clones. Lex Luthor himself has even cloned the Man of Steel on occasion, so it's not a new DC trope by any means.
Even though it appears the real Superman still lives at the Dawn of Justice – even if in hibernation – a cloned version of Superman could swoop in to save the day (and confuse the heck out of everyone). Still, the chances of that happening are wedged somewhere between slim and none.
Jonathan Kent Saves Superman’s Soul
Returning once again to the “Death of Superman” saga, there is one offbeat thread the Justice League writer Chris Terrio could (but probably won’t) tug on. Following the events depicted in the series, good old Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) has a heart attack. He winds up in a version of purgatory, where he meets his now-deceased adopted son and gives Clark the talking to of a lifetime (no pun intended). Before his heart restarts, he convinces Clark’s soul to leave purgatory with him; that the world needs Superman alive more than dead.
In Batman V Superman, of course, Mr. Kent is long gone but nonetheless still manages to show up and tell his son a cryptic anecdote about the time he accidentally flooded the Lang farm. If Jonathan was able to give Clark pep talks while his son was still alive, perhaps it will be even better to do so while both he and Superman are on the same plane of existence. Given that Superman was completely skewered by Doomsday, however, it will probably take more than a nice father-son talk to heal him.
Everyone Needs a Regeneration Matrix
Since Terrio borrowed elements from the “Death of Superman” storyline for Batman V Superman, it wouldn’t be a shocker if the Man of Steel’s rebirth takes a page or two from it as well. Later in the arc, we find out the gravely wounded superhero is winged to the Fortress of Solitude by The Last Son of Krypton/Eradicator. While Superman's hair grows 1990s-fashionably-long, he mends his wounds (slowly, thanks to the Eradicator recharging his batteries from Superman’s life force).
In the same manner, a kindly (or exploitative) force could carry Krypton’s last son to his polar abode. Once there, the Man of Steel can kick back, get some R & R, and recover his powers so he can soar back into the Justice League action. That is, unless some unscrupulous so-and-so decides to tap into his sleeping form.
Of course, the Fortress of Solitude has never been mentioned by name in the current DCEU. In Man of Steel, the Fortress is depicted as a massive Kryptonian ship – one which contains a room with all kinds of amazing tools for creating and manipulating life. Theoretically, there may be ways to use its advanced technology to revive Kal-El – assuming the ship doesn’t come with a regeneration matrix.
Superman’s Just Sleeping
The final possibility: maybe Superman is just in a super-coma. The final scene in Batman V Superman depicts some aspect of Superman’s massive internal energy stores as active. Something certainly caused the dirt above his grave to float. Clearly, a part of him is still alive. After all, if the Man of Steel can take a nuclear blast to the face and survive, what’s a little impaling among friends and giant mutated Kryptonians?
However, Zack Snyder continues to insist that the Man of Steel isn’t just sleeping it off. Snyder expressed the need for a full life cycle to bring about Superman’s next phase in the DCEU. As the director of Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and Justice League, he certainly ought to know what becomes of Kal-El.
If Snyder and Terrio take inspiration from one of several possible and relevant comic book sources – as they’ve done in past – Superman’s resurrection could, at the very least, give devotees a great Easter egg moment. However, if they create a resurrection scene that’s convoluted or overloaded with cheap symbolism, they could face similar criticism to Batman V Superman, as well as running the risk of irritating Super-fans who simply want the Man of Steel join the team-building efforts.
To paraphrase an old saying, the simplest solution is the typically the best solution. Fans will probably forgive the creative team if they simply show Superman burst from his grave after long healing slumber. Of course, if Snyder and Co. create an exciting and metaphysically-pleasing rebirth, they can score major points with critics and fans. No matter what, filmgoers of all ages will be thrilled to see Kal-El back in action next fall.
Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.