Zack Snyder’s DC comic book movies have divided critics and fans alike, but there’s no question: Each film is singular. The 300 director teamed up with producer Christopher Nolan to give Superman the psychological, grandiose Dark Knight treatment in 2013’s Man of Steel. The character clashed with the Caped Crusader — and the adoring world — in the idiosyncratic nightmare that was Batman v Superman. And now, with the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Henry Cavill’s incarnation of the hero has (likely) come to an end, having been born, killed, and reborn with a clearer sight of the world.
The arc rubbed some longtime Superman fans the wrong way. From Christopher Reeves’ take back in 1978 and in many screen incarnations since, many see Clark Kent as an idealist and a beacon of hope. Snyder’s Superman was tormented and sad.
But on our Justice League episode of Galaxy Brains, Polygon’s brand-new movie & TV podcast, host Dave Schilling floats a theory to his friend and co-host Jonah Ray: Superman should be sad. And why wouldn’t he be? His real dad is dead. His adopted dad is dead, too. He’s an orphan from a planet that exploded! Plus, he’s responsible for getting cats out of trees and beating up robots most of the day. How much sleep could Clark Kent possibly get each night?
By the end of the Critical Brain segment, Dave was willing to take his theory one step further: Snyder may have created the best onscreen version of Superman.
To help decide if this was the mother (box) of all DC comic movie takes or the Anti-Life Equation to Jonah’s love of Happy Superman, our hosts turned to Polygon’s comics expert, Susana Polo, to dig into the history and future of the character. Here’s a snippet:
Susana: I think that we’ve been trying to deconstruct Superman by making him grimdark for so long that we kind of come to this weird place where that’s the only angle we can take on the character. And the thing about deconstructions is, you have to have the thing you’re deconstructing really fresh in the audience’s mind for it to work. And the problem is that we haven’t really done a basic Superman for a widespread audience since, like, the ’70s or ’80s.
The conversation leaps tall buildings into true galaxy brain territory, complete with necessary mentions of Superman’s least flattering moments.
Dave: Remember when Clark Kent had a ponytail? When Superman had the mullet? I always thought he looked like an art dealer.
Jonah: I remember there was a graphic novel when I was a kid where Clark Kent is trying to write a novel — it’s called Under a Yellow Sun. It was very much like if there was a mumblecore comic book about Superman. It was about Clark Kent trying to write a novel and having a hard time with it because he doesn’t actually know the human experience.
Dave: Like, it’s like Adaptation, but with superheroes!
For a bigger deep dive into Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Superman’s current place in the comic book culture cosmos, check out the new episode of Galaxy Brains, out now wherever you get your podcasts.