The Man of Steel.” “Truth and Justice.” “ The American Way.” These are three of the many taglines associated with Superman, the most famous DC Comics superhero. Though he may be seen as overpowered and boring, he has proven to be one of the most important characters in the past couple years.
From the late 50s, the character began exhibiting abilities and behavior that would be considered strange to the modern audience. He never showed any emotion whatsoever, nor did any of the characters of DC at the time. In the early 1960s, Marvel came on to the scene with a slate of all new characters. These characters felt pain, they made mistakes, and fell in love, even the villains were likable. That was when the Marvel Age of Comics began. Marvel even made Hyperion and Ikaris, two of the most famous Superman-like characters of the comic book world. Unfortunately, for almost three decades, the characters of DC Comics were stashed away like forgotten memories.
The reason Superman’s popularity declined was that many people began to say that he was “overpowered” and “boring.” Although he still had a fanbase, the negativity became the majority.
In 1986, Frank Miller hit the comic book world by storm with “The Dark Knight Returns.” Not only did this story reinvent Batman for modern audiences, but it also exposed the problem with Superman. He was portrayed as a government stooge, willing to do anything to protect America and its interests. But what about the common man around the world? Was Batman to be their only protector? Miller wrote what the general audience had been feeling up until the time.
That was until Dan Jurgens got his hands on the character. He finally showed Superman, and other characters like Lois Lane, as being just like the rest of us. A good example of this is the “Crisis at Hand“ storyline. In it Clark deals with the fact that he can’t intervene with a domestic violence situation. This is a great callback to his origin story, when in his very first appearance he beats up a man that was whipping his wife with a belt. Lois tries to be of help, but she can’t intervene either. Things end up working well, but the emotional damage is done. With Jurgens, Superman became a character that could cry, get angry, have a dark side (as all humans do) and even die. Even the Justice League became more popular.
Throughout the rest of the decade to the early 2000s, there were great stories. For example, “For All Seasons” was a great retelling of his origin story and it showed the human side of the characters that people, even the fans tend to forget. Brian Azarello penned For Tomorrow, whose story was greatly helped thanks to the brilliant art of Jim Lee. Luthor did a great service to him and to his Arch-Nemesis, Lex Luthor. It deconstructed the relationship between hero and villain. And Lee Bermejo’s art helps visualize the story. Grant Morrison also did a great service with the story, All-Star Superman. Paul Dini also helped out with his stories as well, especially with the help of Alex Ross, one of the best artists in the Comic book genre.
The popularity wasn’t to last, however. In 2006, Bryan Singer released Superman Returns. Not only were audiences disappointed in the story, but they were also upset that it was just a rehash
of the Christophor Reeve movies. Marvel took over with storylines such as Civil War and it dominated the Box office with Iron Man, which served as a kick start for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dynamite Entertainment and Image Comics also got in on the action with The Boys and Invincible, respectively.
The “Injustice” video game and storyline was introduced and DC’s popularity climbed again. It asked the questions “what if the Justice League became divided? How would the world be if the most powerful Superhero became the self appointed king of the world?”
Not long after, Zack Snyder came on to the scene with “Man of Steel,” Batman vs. Superman” and his own cut of the “Justice League.” These films were met with immediate controversy by critics and fans alike. Unfortunately, they nitpicked certain details and took a lot of scenes out of context — which is why these two movies are the most polarizing comic book movies to date. Some of them even made up false claims about both the films and Snyder himself.
However, ever since they were released, they have gained massive support. Many fans, Snyder and DC alike, were enthralled seeing Clark Kent acting like a normal human on screen. He was portrayed as an immigrant, a man from Kansas just trying to do the right thing. Other characters, such as Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, have also gotten their own fanbases.
The stories help challenge the audience because they present good and bad as a gray area. They also had many historical references and a ton of imagery. These films also present audiences with everyday problems, such as sexism and overcoming depression.
This was especially evident in “Justice League.” The characters overcame the darkness in their lives and endured the challenges presented throughout the film. Not only does the film serve as a foundation for future stories but they also serve as a tribute to Zack’s daughter Autumn, who tragically died in 2017.
Although this character is not for everyone, Superman has proven to be a light of hope for a lot of people around the world. If the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery gives him more live action projects and greenlights Zack Snyder’s vision for DC, then fans all around the globe will be able to see him on the silver screen for years to come.