I'm sure many Superman fans were perturbed by the superhero's actions at the end of Man of Steel, when he was forced to murder the villainous General Zod.
I won't think to predict the opinion of the readers, however we can pin-down the general argument as having three realistic sides:
- Superman shouldn't have murdered Zod. As The Man of Steel he has a duty to adhere to a greater level or morality
- Superman has a duty to adhere to a higher level of morality, but in order to protect the people of earth he was forced to commit murder
- And the less popular -- he's the man of steel, he can do whatever he wants!
Fans of the Superman comic books will know that Superman has a pretty solid reputation of not being a killer. However , these same fans will likely know that this theory only holds up under scrutiny if one doesn't dig too deep into the character's past.
It's apparent that far from being that arbiter of moral justice, Superman has strayed from the path of virtue on a number of occasions. In fact he has absolutely killed. I won't go into too much detail, but Superman indirectly murdered Brainiac and Imperiex in Action Comics (vol. 1 #782, 2001) and let's not forget when he killed The Joker!
The case for the defense
Regardless of which perspective you subscribe to, it's worth noting that Man of Steel writer David Goyer recently offered his own opinion on the controversial ending to the most recent rendition of Superman.
In an interview with 'Nerdist,' Goyer argued that Zod's murder was the only possible ending for the story, suggesting that as a writer he had to conclude the narrative of Man of Steel in the most organic way possible.
"The way I work, the way Chris [Nolan] works, is you do what’s right for the story. That exists entirely separately from what fans should or shouldn’t think of that character. You have to do what’s right for the story."
Goyer went on to say that:
"This was a Superman who had only been Superman for like, a week. He wasn’t Superman as we think of him in the DC Comics..."
This point is certainly noteworthy. It seems that Goyer and Nolan were using the comic books as source material, but rather than adhering to them religiously they were using them to construct a film independent from them.
Goyar's explanation for why Superman had to kill Zod is intelligent and well thought out. It's clear that this wasn't a decision made in ignorance of the source material, but rather in spite of the comic books.
David Goyer and Chris Nolan wanted to make a movie which satisfied the audience and most importantly -- which seemed real.
"If you take Superman out of it, what’s the right way to tell that story? ... the moral, horrible situation to be in is to actually be forced to kill ... Take Superman aside, I think that’s the right way to tell that story."
Goyer certainly makes a valid point. The storyline of Man of Steel makes perfect sense, the only action which seems irregular is Superman murdering Zod, so perhaps if the story seems otherwise natural then the character is evolving to meet the needs of a modern audience. In which case Goyer was simply adhering to that fact.
This poses the question, in a modern world of darker superheroes and villains, is the incorruptible Superman becoming a darker figure? Man of Steel certainly had more of a Dark Knight feel than previous Superman movies, and Superman is predicted to appear as a much darker character in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice; I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Batman V Superman is due to air on March 25, 2016. Have another look at the trailer, does it make you rethink Superman's role?