I have in recent weeks read that the reinterpretation of Jorel and Zod in the movie Man of Steel is unpopular. The devout have also voiced a dislike for his parents’ treatment. Jonathan Kent has a scene where he advises Kal’el to hide his powers even if it means allowing others to suffer. He dies in a sacrifice to keep his adopted son from giving his abilities away. His parents both believe that revealing what he can do will cause him to be treated like a lab rat or worse. One could go on and on about the way Superman has been altered in such a way that his character and background are not those which the American public is accustomed to, or comfortable with.
Let’s face it, Superman is a flat character. He started off interesting enough. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzche once wrote that each man has a choice, to either achieve everything he is capable of and become something much greater, or be an ordinary man and fit into human society. Superman was a response to that philosophical question. It is unfortunate that his developing powers (to the point of being unstoppable by Earthlings) and the need for simple plots veered the character away from its origins early on in his development.
For me, Man of Steel represents a return to the original promise of the character. The first part of the movie isn’t just about him finding the artifact that shows him who he is, it’s about him debating with himself over which path to take in his life. By traveling and taking odd jobs he is doing just that, much like human adolescents often do. In the process, he just happens to find the Kryptonian technology that moves the plot forward.
Which brings him to his antagonist, Zod. Here again he is being given the same choice, man or Superman, a typical Kryptonian who falls in with Zod or a hero who protects Earth from him. Again he settles on a compromise; he will be Superman, but he will hide among the people as a regular man.
I find it interesting that the two biggest influences on him pull the hero in two different directions. It makes for more tension in a theatrical sense, but it also brings the character right back to his Nietzchean origins. I hope any sequels and stories including him maintain that connection, and the new depth it has brought to the character.