I generally liked Man of Steel, though I saw some of its flaws and question a few decisions that may or may not have been flaws. That said, there has been a lot of discussion about a point at the end. That is Superman’s decision to (SPOILERS) kill Zod. And while it was interesting in the movie itself I found it even more so after watching the DC animated movie Superman vs. The Elite yesterday. This is a movie which in many ways attacks the most basic parts of Man of Steel, and so I wanted to look at how the two different movies handle Superman. After all the subtitle of Superman vs. the Elite was world saved, humanity lost, which could have been the title for Man of Steel as well.
This will have spoilers for both Man of Steel and Superman vs the Elite and both are certainly worth watching. If you’re interested in Superman vs the Elite you can watch it instantly on Netflix. For those of you who can’t do it the basic premise of this is that there is a new team of heroes who appear. They are trying to help people, but part of the way that they are doing that is killing people. Superman’s response to this is that because they have power it is even more important that they do not stand above the law. They can’t be judge, jury and executioner simply because it would be easier because that undermines what they are trying to do.
To underscore this point Superman is fighting the atomic skull. A character I haven’t seen before, but who among other things turns people into dust. He does this almost immediately at the beginning of the movie and Superman comes in, stops him, catches him and turns him over to the police. And late in the movie, as so often happens in the comics, he escapes and kills more people. Leading to the obvious question of whether Superman should have killed him the first time and saved those lives.
And that is the basic conflict of the entire movie. The Elite are willing to kill people and even overthrow governments based on what they think is right and they ignore the rule of law in doing so. Yet the people love them because they are killing and breaking the law to protect them. They are the heroes that are so often seen in modern comics, dark, flawed, brooding with dark back stories, strange powers and all the other things that are inserted to add internal conflict. But in the end they aren’t really heroes. They just happen to be fighting on the right side.
Of course eventually the Elite decided to attack Superman because you need a major battle in a comic book movie, and the fight is reasonably good. But to me in many ways this is a fight between the Superman that has existed and the Superman of the Man of Steel. Neither is necessarily wrong and they are both heroes, but the question remains whether Superman can really be the symbol of hope and a driving force to improve humanity after he has killed someone, even if he did it for the right reasons. After all there are things that change a person, over even a superhuman, even if they had good reasons to do it. Just ask anyone who has ever fought in a war. That is because it should hurt to kill, it should hurt to watch people suffer and it’s going to hurt a lot more for a person like Superman who has a lot of empathy and is a good person than it would for the average criminal or psychopath who don’t care about other people, and he was certainly more connected to Zod than the average soldier is to the enemy soldiers they have to kill.
So, if you’re newly interested in Superman thanks to Man of Steel, or simply want to continue to explore the concept of the morality of being a hero then you should watch Superman vs. the Elite.