There’s been an unsettling rumor floating around about Man of Steel. If true, it would mark a pretty major change to the Superman mythos, and one that we can’t at all agree with. Consider this your spoiler warning for something that might be.
Last chance before spoilers!
Supposedly in Man of Steel, Superman’s home planet of Krypton does not explode. At all. Baby Kal-El is shot into outer space, either because he’s special and thus considered dangerous by other Kryptonians. Rumor has it, Kal-El is the only Kryptonian who wasn't genetically engineered to be a soldier or scientist, and instead was just born naturally, making him an abomination on Krypton. Also, there may have been a Kryptonian civil war. But when Zod comes to Earth, part of his plan is to bring Kal-El back to Krypton.
Some confirmation of this comes via Entertainment Weekly, which writes in its recent summer preview:
That's what pits him against General Zod (Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian tyrant who wants Clark to join him back on Krypton, which would mean abandoning his post as defender of the weaklings of Earth.
(Thanks to eagle-eyed reader Matt for spotting this.)
If true, this would be a major, major change not just to Superman’s origin, but to his actual character. This change alters him in a lot of major ways — and none of them, I would argue, are actually improvements.
By leaving Krypton intact, Superman loses the primary source of his pathos (actually, maybe the only source, as he’s generally a pretty upbeat character by his nature). Superman is an immigrant, one whose past and people are lost to him by a terrible tragedy. It’s a powerful backstory that loses much of its impact when he could theoretically go back home any time he wants to.
Furthermore, it strips Superman of his uniqueness. DC learnd the hard way that just adding Superboy, Supergirl, Krypto and the rest of the Super-extended family in the comics made Superman less special, which is why they got rid of all of them in Crisis on Infinite Earths. They slowly brought them back again, as comics invariably do, but the housecleaning was still a good idea.
And now there’s a whole planet of potential Supermen out there. Maybe this opens up storytelling possibilities in the future, but I think it costs Superman a lot more than it could potentially add. And it complicates him in ways that the character just doesn’t need.
I have to assume that at the end of the movie, Superman chooses to stay on Earth to protect it, because it’s his new home, etc., but there’s only two possibilities here: Either Krypton doesn’t need Superman, and thus not going home isn’t really that impressive because he’s simply not leaving the home he’s always known, or Krypton is in some sort of peril and does need him, and Superman chooses Earth over Krypton which kind of makes him a jerk.
Sure, it’s kind of powerful in that Superman has chosen his adopted home over his real home, but it degrades Superman in that his character is all about not making those tough choices — he always finds a way to help everybody.
Save the troubled moral dilemmas for some other superhero, because Superman is supposed to inspire us to be the best, and choosing sides — even if its “us” instead of “them” — isn’t compatible with that.
What bugs me most of all is that it seems to be a change solely for change’s sake. With no real benefit, this major alteration to Superman’s canon — as established for the last 75 years or so — seems to be solely so Warner Bros. can say “It’s an all-new Superman!” or some such, failing to realize Superman has worked pretty goddamn well for a long goddamn time.
If Superman has failed in the past, it’s because someone else didn’t understand the character, or understand what audiences wanted out of Superman (cough Superman Returns cough), and there has never, ever, ever been a point where anyone has ever said, “You know what would make Superman more interesting to me? If his home planet didn’t blow up.”
Look, I’m not going to pretend this is the biggest deal in the world, or the most egregious change they could have made (feel free to check out the Superman Lives script here to see how someone can get Superman wrong on just about every conceivable level). But it’s maddening to see even when WB actually seems close to getting another DC movie right, they change shit for no apparent reason.
Different is not always better. Of course, different is not always worse, either. But when you have a character that has been around for 75 years, is one of the most recognized characters in the entire world, and is the greatest superhero of all time, maybe making random changes to his origin isn’t strictly necessary.
But maybe I’m just biased. After all, I’m still upset that they took away his underpants.