Superman Just Did Something Very Un-Superman Again [Spoilers]

If you haven’t read Justice League #22 yet, go away somewhere and come back when you’re done. There are spoilers for the Injustice comics series and the Man of Steel movie. You've been warned.

The first issue of DC Comics’ Trinity War summer crossover event features the Man of Steel doing something that he rarely does: killing someone.

The victim this time is Dr Light, a reluctant superhero caught up in the battle between two superteams. After he inadvertently attacks Wonder Woman — who Superman happens to be dating — Dr. Light gets his head burned off by Kal-El’s heat vision. It's clearly set up as an accident with any number of outs, and Superman expresses shock and regret right after it happens. There’s a vast evil conspiracy going on that’s trying to get the public to distrust the Justice League and this apparent murder at the Man of Steel’s hands is part of that campaign.

Justice League #22 marks the second time in recent months that Superman’s killed someone. The previous incident comes at the end of Man of Steel, the blockbuster film that’s re-introducing Superman to a new generation of fans. In the Zack Snyder film, Superman snaps the neck of fellow Kryptonian General Zod when faced with the reality that someone just as unstoppable as him will kill as many people as possible. It’s presented by the movie’s creators as the only possible out.

The moments where Superman kills in this year's Injustice: Gods Among Us comic are both similar and different

Between the Injustice comic, the Man of Steel movie and today’s issue of Justice League, the questions of the moment now seem to be these: "Is Superman still Superman if he kills?" "Should Superman kill?"

Comic book creators have toyed with the idea of a Superman who kills before.

In fact, a quarter century ago, writer-artist John Byrne climaxed his revolutionary revamp of the character by having the Man of Steel reluctantly kill three Kryptonian criminals who had murdered the entire population of an alternate Earth.

In the ensuing months, Superman was wracked by grief. The comic's post-Byrne creators had Superman temporarily exile himself to outer space for a bit of soul searching. He committed himself to not killing again, which seemed to be the character's default moral position. Comics creators kept him from violating that oath for years.

Many people believe that Superman’s supposed to represent the best of humanity’s ideals. He solves problems by punching them, yes, but that use of force has generally been portrayed to be judicious. There’s an implicit trust that Superman will use his powers and judgment in the best way possible.

But that steadfastness gets read as boring by lots of comics readers. And a fear of being seen as staid seems to be what’s driving the most recent instances of Super-killing. With the exception of writer Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run, DC’s New 52 reboot has struggled to make Superman feel as vibrant as other competing characters. And Man of Steel hit theatres in the wake of superhero movie successes where the lead characters could be more human, with more snark or attitude. So the more scuffed-up, less-than-perfect Superman that we're getting now may just be a sign of the times.

Yeah, Superman kills. Human beings kill, too. But that last resort is seen as a moral failing if there are other possible solutions. Of course, the failing here isn’t necessarily at the character’s hands. It’s at the creators’.

Super-killing seems to happen when creators want to convince readers that their take on the character is radically different from the baseline iterations of the character. The problem with continually having Superman send folks to the cemetery is that it robs death of its power as a plot device. Super-Killing-Man also implies a lack of ideas, too. When you have a character who can do impossible things, he shouldn’t be resorting to the most regretful of actions once a month. There've been three Super-killings in 2013, the year of Superman's 75th birthday. It's a really weird way to commemorate his creation.


    I don't understand peoples outrage over this, a character who does not have to face their worse fears. suffers great regrets and generally has their belief system come into question by themselves will not develop. Unfortunately Superman represents one of the worst character devices in stories, which is basically based on him, an infallible character who can do no wrong has little to no weakness and always comes out on top. I know comic creators have tried to break this down over the years to make him interesting, but if they can't play with his morals then he will continue to become even more of a cliche.

      Exactly, once in a while his limits should be tested by himself, in the sense that he should stumble, metaphorically speaking. Here, he's obviously going to learn an immense lesson in control. However, the question is, how does it all play out... is Dr Light really Dr Light... was it all a setup? etc etc, will there be a giant copout in the end?

        Of course there will be, always is with comics, sadly DC is a worse offender than Marvel in that case. I was also more referring to the Man Of Steel situation, which is causing massive bitching by Superman fans.

          Indeed, which is ironic. Batman has the code of no killing (but actually has once or twice anyhow). Superman has never sworn never to kill to my knowledge, he just does his best not to.

        Having read the entire issue, there seems to be some form of external control that forces him to go a bit too heavy on the heat vision (I think his lashing out after Dr Light attacks Wonder Woman is also part of this). As after he fries Dr Light he's quite shocked at the level of heat he put out (as seen in the fourth image on this article).

      But you don't overcome the difficulty by just changing the character. That's lazy. Wolverine is rarely in actual danger because of his healing factor but you don't just remove it.
      I'm not outraged over Man of Steel or anything, although I do feel they did a bad job of it. Superman didn't struggle with it at any point prior to snapping Zod's neck. Smallville was burning, people he'd known his entire life were dying and at no point did he stop to consider it. He didn't even give the military crap for bombing Main St. Metropolis crumbled and he didn't notice. During the last 30 seconds of the final fight with Zod it suddenly became an issue for him.
      I think that was mostly just a directional thing. They sort of forgot there was a character and a story in there while they were doing the fight scenes. The same goes for stuff like Pa Kent being a jerk. He wasn't a bad guy and the idea seems to be that he didn't want Clark to hide away forever, he just wanted Clark figure himself out before introducing himself to the world, but the movie itself didn't really dig into it enough to get that point across.

    The Justice League cartoon did a great take on it, where Superman discovers an alternate reality where he did kill someone and the group spends their time worrying about whether they're capable of doing the same thing, and dealing with Cadmus creating ways to counter the Leagues superpowers for good reason. It's really been the only time that I was actually interested in Superman.

    I don't understand anyones issue with MAN OF STEEL honestly. He kills an equal, an equal threatening to destroy the whole planet, the sacrifice of the one ensures the survival of the race he is part of.

    When we flash back to Donners SUPERMAN 2, which for some reason people hold in high esteem over MOS, (I was born in 77, it was a big part of my childhood), what never EVER sat right with me, was that Superman took their (Zod, Non and Ursa's, powers at the end, making them MORTAL and WEAK, then KILLED THEM.

    This makes this ending far worse than Man of Steels. Superman in Man of Steel kills an *equal*. In Superman 2, he basically *murders* 3 human equivelants. There's the difference.

    Last edited 11/07/13 3:28 pm

    In regards to the kill/no kill argument, I fall quite heavily on the side of no kill. Why? Because here you have a being that is essentially a solar powered god who could quite easily just start wiping scores of people without breaking a sweat, because of this he's supposed to (except for a few instances in Superman history) have the idea that he shouldn't kill because once he does it just gets easier to do so in the future. This is why I have always had problems with Superman 2's ending (seriously you wiped out their powers, just drag them off to a high security prison like you did Lex Luthor in the original film) and most recently Man of Steel's ending. Yes, it was kind of a no win scenario, but that comes from poor writing as it seems easier for villains to simply be offed in film adaptations. Why can't we have the big villain team ups the likes of the Secret Society and the Sinister Six in film adaptations of our favourite comics?

    I think that Birthright is the story that's handled his reasons for not killing the best; the idea is that because of his high variance in focal length of his vision he can literally see the life energy of a being fade on a deeper than cellular level. An image he sees as absolutely heartbreaking.

    EDIT: In order to add a bit more personal perspective to this, I'd just like to point out that Superman is not my favourite superhero (that'd be Green Lantern Hal Jordan and, yes, I freely admit that movie was terrible and I hope they do a decent reboot before they make a Justice League film). I'm actually a fan of both DC and Marvel, I just love comics, thus, the lengthy post. :)

    Last edited 11/07/13 3:54 pm

      One thing to consider is that Zod is an equal. Most of Superman's rules stem from the idea that he feels he's allowed to help and protect humans, but it's not his place to interfere. With Zod that stuff doesn't really apply. Zod is like him, so Superman holds him to the same standards he set for himself.
      Really if anything Superman should have snapped Zod's neck the instant he realised he couldn't get him back into the Phantom Zone. He already knew Zod and his goons couldn't be reasoned with which is why he tried to send them all to the Phantom Zone. It was his second last resort and it failed.

    Not a big fan of superman but look at Spiderman recently, Spiderman has killed (while being possed by another super villain) which is also giving the current Spiderman book average to poor reviews. I'm actually finding it slightly hard to read the comic once I knew he did that ...

    If superheroes actually killed the villians they'd probably save more lives in the long run. Batman is the worst in this regard. Seriously how many times has he put Joker in jail only to have him escape and kill dozens of people again. Superman is the same with Zod, you'd think he'd learn that the phantom zone doesn't exactly work in keeping the bad guys locked up; should of just snapped Luthors neck too.

    They seem to be trying to turn superman into robert kirkmans invincible, simular powers to superman but after the first fiew voliumes wont hesitate to kill his oponents.

    f#%k DR Light! isn't he a rapist in infinte crisis. justice served.

    I miss all those ridiculous old Superman covers, where he kills or tortures lois lane and jimmy olsen on every other cover.

      you can view a lot of them here (just incase you didn't already know) :D

        Oh my god! How have I gone so long without knowing about this site???

    Yeah I remember when the punisher killed that one guy, just couldn't believe it.

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