SPOILERS for MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN

A common complaint of the DCEU’s Superman, first appearing in MAN OF STEEL (2013), is that he has no arc. There are some loose motivations, but no clear character arc to show Clark Kent’s growth. When Clark puts on the cape, it does not feel earned.

When Superman sacrifices himself to save the world from Doomsday, it is not even clear why. After reviewing it further, there is an arc for Superman. Unfortunately, it is buried under a lot of poorly handled writing. To understand the last son of Krypton, we have to look to his fathers.

Jonathan Kent

Character Arc

There was a monsoon of fan backlash about Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent in MAN OF STEEL. He was not the Pa Kent we know from the comics, movies, and TV that came before. Instead of instilling this sense of greater duty in his adoptive alien son, he told him to hide. Jonathan told Clark to hide who he was instead of using his powers to save people. That goes against everything we know about the character from previous mediums, but why? What could the reasoning have been for this? To put it simply, Jonathan Kent was afraid.

MAN OF STEEL tried to bring a much more grounded approach to the Superman story. Director Zack Snyder wanted it to feel like an alien came to our world, the real world. Moreover, in the real world, if a parent found out their son was the strongest being on the planet, what do you think they would do? They would hide them, protect them, keep them from any unwanted attention. No farmer plans on raising a God to exact justice upon the world; they want their child to have a normal life.

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Jonathan and Martha Kent decided to keep Clark’s powers a secret because they knew if anyone found out, Clark’s life could never be normal. The government would try to catch him and experiment on him while others might try to exploit and manipulate him. They feared for their child and his future. Jonathan Kent was not a bad father; Jonathan was scared. He was not trying to make a superhero; he just wanted his son to be safe.

What Clark learned from Jonathan Kent

While he Jonathan told Clark throughout his life to hide his powers and not to save people, Clark picked something else from his father along the way. A common thing I heard from my own parents growing up was, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This was in reference to picking up similar habits as my parents. So, is it any surprise that the reason Clark is so inclined to be a good Samaritan and save people was because his own father was just that? A child will often model themselves after their parents, and Jonathan Kent was a great man.

In Jonathan’s final moments, he died saving people. Clark could’ve helped, but he said no. He wanted to protect his family and others, no matter the cost to himself. If Clark had exposed himself then, their world would’ve flipped, and they would never have a normal life again.

What Clark learned from all of this was that when he was ready, he would save and protect people, no matter the cost to him. He would do as his father did, and hopefully, make him proud. He would hide his true identity to protect his mother, and save as many people as he could, so no one would have to suffer the loss that he suffered. What Clark learned was what it feels like to be helpless. Clark knew that he could save the helpless, and he was aware that it is what his father would do.

Jor-ElCharacter Arc

Russel Crowe’s Jor-El in MAN OF STEEL was more in tone with his comics counterpart as the great Scientologist who saved his son from Krypton’s demise. Jor-El is a different man than Jonathan Kent, but still extremely important to Clark Kent, or Kal-El, in becoming Superman. Why would Jor-El put so much on the line to save his son’s life? What was the reasoning for sending him to a foreign planet so far away? There’s a reason the House of El crest is what it is; Jor-El had hope.

Jor-El tried to save Krypton, but he was just a man amongst men. He could not save his home as just a man; he knew it was doomed. With all the advanced technologies and knowledge Krypton had, it ended up killing itself. Jor-El still had hope, he had an idea that wouldn’t save his own people, but it would save someone.

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Jor-El would send his own child, Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, to a place where he would be a God to them. He would give the people of Earth a new hope, a deity amongst men, the savior that Jor-El could not be to his own people. Jor-El sacrificed his life, even before Krypton’s demise, to send his only child to save a world he would never know. He did all of this because he had hope. He accepted his fate because he was aware that it was for the greater good, even if it was not his own people’s greater good.

What did Kal-El learn from Jor-El?

Jor-El came to Kal-El only as an AI remnant of what he used to be, but he still taught Kal so much. Kal became Superman and bore that S-Shield on his chest because he knew, in his heart of hearts, he was sent here for a reason. While Jonathan taught him how to be a good and brave man, Jor-El taught him why. He would not just be saving a cat out of a tree; he would be changing the world. Superman could protect the ones who could not protect themselves and lead the world to a better place, but not by force; by example.

Kal-El learned that his dual lineage allowed him to the bridge between two worlds. He could help Earth become the utopia that Krypton was and save it from destroying itself. Jor-El and Jonathan both sacrificed themselves for their son so that he could be the savior and the ideal of hope that the world so desperately needs.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN/Death of SupermanCharacter Arc

When Superman sacrificed himself at the end of BATMAN V SUPERMAN, it fell on deaf ears. It felt hollow when it should have felt almost poetic or biblical. Both his father’s sacrificed themselves so he could save the world, and he sacrifices himself doing just that. It is a beautiful thing that could’ve been set up so well, and they have totally missed it. Another thing they missed was Clark understanding all of this, understanding why he is who he is, and fulfilling this arc with his death.

In BVS, Clark is extremely conflicted on if what he is doing is right. Everything he does is being judged and criticized; he is blamed for the destruction of Metropolis, which he tried his best to stop. If he did not stop General Zod, the entire human race would’ve been wiped out, but he cannot catch a break. He saves all these people, like both of his father’s wanted. He is trying to lead by example, but the world is misinterpreting it all. This, in turn, leaves Clark feeling unsure of himself as Superman.

READ: While DC ever show us the previous 20 years of Batman’s adventures in the DCEU?

This would’ve been great if emphasized more, but it is still in the story. When Clark learns more of the Bat vigilante in Gotham, he sees that as what people are saying about him. Maybe that is why Clark takes on the case, as a way to maybe save his own soul that he feels is being trampled on. It is not until much later that he realizes Lex Luthor manufactured his own angst towards Batman to have Superman killed. When that fails, Doomsday is born.

Doomsday

“If man will not kill God, the devil will do it.”

The whole movie, Clark is conflicted over whether all the deaths in Metropolis the day General Zod showed up are his fault. He is questioned and judged for every move he makes; he cannot seem to do anything in a way that’s good for everyone. It drives him to go up a vigilante he does not understand because Clark sees Batman as a microcosm of all the horrible things people say about him. In the final act, the one person who started this all, General Zod, returns as this demented creature that’s DNA is mixed with Lex Luthor’s. Everything Superman has done is coming full circle; he cannot make the same mistakes again.

Doomsday is the embodiment of the struggle that Superman has faced through all of BVS; Doomsday is the Kryptonian nightmare resurrected and Earth’s judgment. This is the battle to define Superman in this universe. Superman’s sacrifice to save the world was meant to answer all the doubt the people of Earth had in him and complete Jor-El’s dream. A man from two worlds, of which both his father’s sacrificed themselves so that he may save the world one day, dies sacrificing himself to save the world. This was when Clark Kent/Kal-El truly became Superman.

In Completion

Character Arc

Superman has had a complete character arc in the DCEU that is beautiful and poetic, but no one saw it. It is so lost underneath so many layers of poor writing, directing, and editing. There wasn’t enough emphasis on what make’s the DCEU Superman unique to other versions but still something great. He is Superman, just not as simple as the one we know. There are so many complexities this the DCEU’s Superman that go unnoticed and unused for reasons far beyond my comprehension.

READ: How to Make the Man of Steel Great Again!

BATMAN V SUPERMAN has a lot going on, and the further out we get, the more I appreciate it. MAN OF STEEL is the same situation. I think with a superior director, Superman’s story would have been much more noticeable and appreciated. Unfortunately, this was all cut in favor of great visuals. I love Zack Snyder’s vision, but he butchers stories. With the help of Joss Whedon, I think we will get a truly breathtaking Superman in JUSTICE LEAGUE.

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