We know very little about Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Aside from a few carefully-timed press releases (the casting of Henry Cavill in the lead or Amy Adams as Lois Lane, for example), Warner Bros has kept the plot shrouded in mystery.
But this month, Bleeding Cool uncovered possible plot details on The Studio System that read, “A young reporter named Clark Kent roams the world covering various news stories. When he is compelled to use his secret powers to intervene in a crisis in West Africa, he returns to Smallville to learn more about his origins and the hero he was born to be.”
If the synopsis is accurate, these tentative plot details certainly point to the 12-issue comic book miniseries titled “Superman: Birthright,” written by Mark Waid, and drawn by Leinil Francis Yu. Early in the monthly editions, which spanned a full year between September 2003 and 2004, Kent is a freelance reporter drawn wrestling lions and soaring just over herds of zebra in the African safari, but also gaining exclusive, unprecedented access to a revolutionary named Kobe — not that one.
As leader of the Ghuri Tribe, Kobe guides a growing resistance movement against an oppressive government presided over by wealthy members of the Turaaba Tribe. (Now extra timely considering the recent uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and other regions.) When Kobe’s advocacy for passive response is met with an “insidious” attack from the opposing faction — people respond to displays of “unexpected strength with fear, not reason,” Kent knowingly advises — Clark and his handy ability to deflect bullets protect the defenseless citizenry. He is unable to stop the assassination, but not before Kobe leaves an inspirational legacy, one that makes a significant impact on 25-year-old Clark Kent.
At home in Smallville (to be recreated in Plano, Illinois), an emboldened Clark Kent works alongside his mother to craft a costume and alternate identity. Since he doesn’t trust masks (it breeds distrust), the Kents decide to disguise Clark’s “human” half under baggier clothes, a diminutive personality, and distracting prescription glasses. Essentially, it’s a means to re-tell Superman’s origins, perhaps without rewinding to his infancy on Krypton.
However, Diane Lane (who will play Martha Kent in the December 2012 release) recently told E! Online that David Goyer’s script “does cover the entire range of years, from infancy on.” Waid’s “Birthright” storyline does include the classic bits about Superman’s parents, Jor-El and Lara, lovingly placing the “Last Son of Krypton” into an interstellar pod and rocketing the baby into the cosmos, but it was my understanding that Warner Bros/DC Comics lost the rights to Superman’s parents and Kryptonian origins in an August 2010 lawsuit won by the estates of Action Comics creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.
Update: Latino Review’s reliable source says we WILL see Jor-el and Lara, plus a Krypton with a similar futuristic skyline to Coruscant from Star Wars. Again, this fits with the “Birthright” saga.
Perhaps Warners cut a deal to reuse the setup, but, if not, the film could continue without a rehash of his fateful blast-off and Kansas crash. In “Birthright,” upon returning to Smallville Clark becomes curious about his home planet and, with the aid of a hologram tablet, discovers more about the “S” as a symbol of hope, his calling on Earth, and his birthright.
These are reasons enough for Clark to reinvent himself and discover his true roots as a hopeful defender, despite his adoptive father’s initial objections. It also explains why Snyder would search for (and find) strong actors like Lane and Kevin Costner to play the Kents, since Waid’s version lends more emotional depth and crucial influence to the characters than standing idly by as Clark matures and leaves for Metropolis.
For anyone that has read the series, it’s clear “Birthright” eventually diverges from what we know about Snyder’s upcoming take on the superhero. For starters, the antagonist in the comic is none other than evil genius and former Smallville resident Lex Luthor (uncast?), who then introduces “Commander Van-Gar,” an illusory Kryptonian invader that briefly bests a crippled Superman in the streets of Metropolis. But, with a few tweaks, the sudden arrival of an alien military officer could cleverly be replaced with someone more recognizable to the casual Superman observer: General Zod (to be played by Michael Shannon).
Though “Van-Gar” and his metallic army arrive in a massive, spider-like space vessel (Kevin Smith would have a field day) instead of emerging from the Phantom Zone (as he does in Superman II), the megalomaniacal Zod of comic book canon is a former military leader on Krypton quite capable of a similar show of force and one hell of a destructive third act.
Admittedly, the theory consists of numerous loosely-led assumptions and plenty of blind speculation, but when Hollywood veteran Diane Lane is forced to read the Man of Steel script under lock and key, it’s safe to assume (again) that few people know quite what to expect from Snyder’s vision. As Lane explained to Jay Leno this month, “Of course, there is a lot of secrecy these days, with the Internet and everything.” It’s clear Snyder and company are taking a page from producer Christopher Nolan’s clandestine playbook — the same paranoid strategy that would not allow even series star Gary Oldman to read the final pages of The Dark Knight Rises for fear of a leak.
Modern comic book movies, like Nolan’s, have gone to great lengths to portray their heroes as flawed and vulnerable, drawing their motivations from internal emotional struggles rather than relying on the hokey theater of clashing costumes. From Batman’s prevalent themes of fear to Thor and Iron Man’s daddy issues to Spider-Man’s coming-of-age allegory, comics continue to be a reflection of what we grapple(d) with in our own lives and comic book movies (at least since Bryan Singer’s X-Men shifted the cinematic landscape in 2000) have simply amplified those same broad, metaphorical connections to a wider audience.
But the challenge with Superman has always been to make the alien character relatable to an audience. However, to diminish his powers is to subtract from what makes him unique — and super, for lack of a better word — especially if a hackneyed shard of kryptonite is Superman’s only weakness. Which is why Waid’s more complex, expertly-plotted backstory also brings us into the conflicted mind of the indestructible hero as he contends with his crisis of identity. This provides more weight to Superman’s vigilant protection of our fragile species and, inevitably, the climactic battle with the only other Kryptonians he’s ever known.