The Death of Superman : Loïs Perfectly Knows That Clark Is Superman, part 1 (3325 Words)
DC Animated movies are tough to interpret (at least for me). I already ventured in their world with The Killing Joke but it was only because I was shocked by the unfair criticism it had received. There is some kind of old school purity and rigor in the way DC stories are told, they are entirely metaphorical and use symbols unapologetically which is agreeable but a bit disconcerting. They’re very simple and quite complex at the same time and The Death of Superman is no exception to the rule. It’s simple, straight forward and at first so hermetic that it feels a bit hollow.
Before I start talking about the movie itself, I’d like to talk about Superman in general because I’ll need this background to explain what’s so specific to The Death of Superman.
-----------------Clark, Superman, Kal El-----------------
On a literal level, Superman is an alien who comes from another planet and is so much more powerful than a human being that it is just as if he possessed superpowers. However, strictly speaking he doesn’t have any. The Flash runs abnormally fast for a human being, that’s a superpower, Wonder Woman is stronger than all the other amazons, she has superpowers. But Superman is just from another planet and happens to look human.
Now, on a metaphorical level, Superman is the idea of a perfect man, the alpha male, the most attractive man you can find. And as such, his character is strongly related to gender, sexuality and women. Superman is the man against whom no man can compete with in terms of attractiveness. I'm surprised he hasn't given his name to a perfume yet. Of course, it is strongly ideological; the definition you give of such a man varies according to space and time (and Women). Since his creation (1930s) Superman’s character has been altered many times, as well as his origin story, his arch-enemies and love interests.
Overall, he’s strong, beautiful, polite and obliging. Also, he is the good guy, he’s clean, righteous, sacrificial and somewhat naïve. He is often compared to a boy scout.
I think it is safe to say that the ideas that men have of the perfect woman, and that women have of the perfect man, are very detrimental to real men and women. We live in a culture in which both sexes find themselves in competition with ideas. It’s very different from being in competition with real people in that an idea can be totally unrealistic. And that’s what our ideas of men and women have been for decades now: illusions.
In Batman v Superman, Clark bitterly states “Superman was never real” and he is right, Superman doesn’t exist. Just like behind every single super seducer or perfect guy hides a normal human being who is scared of truly exposing who he is. Behind every Superman there’s always a Clark Kent. The glasses are quite symbolic for that matter. It’s a jab taken at women. Without them he’s a superhero, wearing them he is a loser. Men are often one pair of glasses away from being unattractive.
It might seem a bit complacent to pretend that Superman is just an illusion. The guy’s eyes can truly shoot lasers; he can truly fly in the blue sky, throw cars at his enemies, see through walls and hear you curse at him from very far away, but the illusion lies on a level different from that of his superpowers. Superman very scrupulously hides everything that would make him look like a “mortal” from the public eye. Strangely enough, I never truly realised how logical it was that people would perceive him as a god. I think it’s because I thought people knew that he lived among them under a secret identity. But in reality he’s just a mysterious entity that regularly descends from the skies to save them and it’s very understandable that people should mistake him for a god.
The fact that Superman should be a construct is important to understand when you want to reflect upon one of his stories. For example, I’m here analysing The Death of Superman. Suddenly, this doesn’t need to involve any death anymore. Superman being an idea, The Death of Superman is only people learning that this god can die and therefore is not a god… and the idea dies. That’s what the movie is about: The death of the lie that is Superman.
When you can’t look for love, you look for admiration. And that’s what Kal El does with Superman. Because Kal El was raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he wishes he could be able to pass off and be loved as a normal human being, as a continuation of his life with his parents. The problem with that is that he does have superpowers and trying to pretend that he’s just a human amongst others will necessarily alienate and frustrate him.
Also Clark Kent doesn’t earn him much attention: he is the average insignificant guy whom nobody notices because there’s nothing noticeable about him. His human identity is defined by a complete absence of means to impress, to show off, to arouse someone’s interest. It is thus quite surprising that his girlfriend should be a journalist always greedy for a scoop (something sensational). Clark Kent is the contrary of the type of man whom she should consider worthy of her attention.
Loïs is a metaphor for the people of earth and Kal El’s goal is to have them shift from being fascinated by Superman to loving Clark Kent. He never considers the idea of merging these two identities because he wants to be loved as Jonathan and Martha’s son. It cannot happen if he confesses that he has superpowers. So, it is a tricky situation.
And so, the whole dynamic of a superman story is always, Clark Kent tries to bring Loïs to fall in love with him, while he heals his ego wounds by being Superman. He satiates his need for love by being the saviour of humanity even if he knows, deep inside, that they do not truly love him as they think of him as a God.
This dynamic is problematic because, for example, if Loïs told Clark “I love you, I don’t care about Superman.” Superman would become useless to Kal El and the kryptonian might lose any interest in saving people.
Another problem is that of Loïs remaining unaware of Clark Kent’s secret identity. These last few years, fans have been making fun of the “pair of glasses trick” with haughtiness without ever coming close to imagine that people might know about Clark being Superman and pretend not to.
Kal El is an alien with extremely acute senses. It is quite possible that he could think that putting on a pair of glasses makes him unrecognizable in the eyes of human beings. And sure, the difference in character and situation might make people oblivious to the similarities. Also, many people only know Superman and only a few people know Clark Kent. It’s only when it comes to characters like Perry White or Loïs Lane that the story is asking for a strong suspension of disbelief… or not: It’s very believable that Perry and Loïs are aware that Clark Kent is Superman and that they simply play along because they understand the importance of Kal El’s attempt at blending in.
In Man of Steel, Clark Kent’s hiring at the Daily Planet makes zero sense. You don’t get a job at a big newspaper company as a journalist by snapping your fingers. It’s a lot more likely that Clark is hired because they know he’s superman. Loïs welcomes him by saying "Welcome to the Planet." Wink wink.
Actually, it's not even a secret in Man of Steel, Lois does recognise Superman as soon as she sees Clark, she just makes him understand that she doesn't want people to know.
And so, if Loïs is aware of it from the beginning that makes her a hypocrite. Sadly, she most probably is one, until she’s not anymore and honestly falls in love with Kal El instead of pretending to love Clark because she is attracted to Superman.
Now, let's dive into The Death of Superman.
-----------------The Destruction of Masculinity-----------------
The first scene of the movie encompasses perfectly the old school simplicity married with a solid actual meaningfulness and depth of DC movies. It could be seen as just another intervention of Superman, a “business as usual” scene which abruptly ends with the title unexpectedly announcing “The Death of Superman.” In this case it would represent an unforeseen threat, a cloud in the middle of a blue sky, but of course we can also look at this scene as the very depiction of the creation of the problem, of Superman's relationship with humanity/metropolis reaching some kind of limit. (Number 8 of my clues of a subtext).
A bunch of criminals have captured the mayor. Why would someone kidnap a mayor, I don’t know. The scene ends on a very funny one-liner by Sup: “No one tears my city apart and gets away with it.”
There are two important things here:
- Superman becomes the Mayor. “MY city.”
- “and gets away with it” is a silly thing to add because it means Superman is fine with people destroying Metropolis as long as he can kick their asses afterwards.
…that which is exactly what happens during this introduction. Bad guys blow some stuff up, wound several cops, until Superman heroically arrives when they threaten a beautiful young woman.
The superhero chooses a very specific moment to intervene, the moment at which it is going to make him look like the alpha male, the ultimate protector of women against… other men. He doesn’t appear in order to save the mayor, he appears to save the gorgeous woman… and from a phallic tentacle with that.
What’s truly happening here is that the kryptonian is in a fight with Metropolis men. He sees them as rivals and hates them because on an equal foot (when he is Clark Kent) they surpass him on every level. He thus emasculates them as Superman and they fight back as best as they can.
Truly, the criminals are not here to kidnap the mayor, they’re here to confront Superman. They’re not aware of it because it’s actually Lex Luthor who’s behind the initiative. The whole incident is an attempt at either killing the superhuman or at least at proving that he is not invincible. That’s why the criminals are armed with the best pieces of existing weaponry. Luthor stole them from a lab and now wants to try them on Superman. If truly their goal was to abduct the mayor, they really chose a stupidly loud and noticeable approach.
I wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing was actually mostly planned. The mayor and his wife look bored out of their mind. The teleporter doesn't work (I know Superman is convinced he is responsible for its dysfunction). And Luthor will be exonerated for his crimes at the end of the story.
This is the last stand of a dying masculinity. All men have been “saved” that is to say infantilised, humiliated or emasculated by Superman. He slowly and patiently made the demonstration of their uselessness. You cannot compete for a woman with a man who saved your life.
The kidnapping of the mayor is superbly ambivalent because it suggests that, in the eyes of the criminals, the man is still important. So, their threat is actually a protection from Superman’s influence, they are asserting the Mayor’s authority and usefulness… by kidnapping him. I know, it’s funny.
They fail though, as the scene ends with Superman stating “Nobody tears MY CITY apart...” Metropolis is now his. From that moment, there isn’t one man or woman who is not under Superman’s chaperonage.
Saying that the stupid thugs’ assault represents the last stand of masculinity sounds a bit degrading but it is not a metaphor for masculinity but what’s left of it.
- Get Mr. Mayor and his better half out of there, before we get trouble from the man upstairs.
- Didn’t know you was a believer boss.
- That ain’t the man upstairs I’m talking about.
These villains are the last men who dare openly challenge Superman’s godliness. You need to be stupid to do that.
Also, notice the ambiguity of the order he gives: It can be heard as “Hurry up with the kidnapping of the mayor otherwise Superman will be here before we have time to clear out,” or as “Quickly get the mayor to a safe place before we start fighting Superman.”
I’m not saying that these guys truly came to protect the mayor, I just want to underline that there’s a lot of respect for the man in the formulation. The criminal doesn’t say “scumbag” or “parasite” or anything that would hint at any disrespect for his official position. He can be heard using the expression “our esteemed mayor” that could hint at the fact that he despises the man but respect the position. Also he uses “better half” to refer to the man’s wife. And it has to be underlined that the mayor’s wife is not beautiful when 99% of Metropolis’ women are models. So, the mayor’s sentimental life includes the idea that appearances are not everything.
I know it might sound far-fetched but I think that it is really not trivial that these super-armed seemingly ruthless criminals would take the pain to kidnap the mayor’s wife and that their boss makes sure to take her into account whenever he gives orders. “Get the mayor and his better half out of here.”
I’m not entirely convinced of that but the extreme beauty of Metropolis’ women to me feels like all these women are secretly trying to appeal to Superman and that only superbeautiful women dare go out in Metropolis. Either them or their husbands have been saved, and every single Metropolis couple thus owe its existence to the kryptonian.
I know it seems like I’m going in a lot of different directions at a time, but what I’m trying to say is that the mayor represents the last man who is actually on a higher position than Superman. He is the last manly man who can pretend to still be independent and autonomous from the alien. And he is, as a metaphor, the last MEN (plural intended) who still entertain a certain degree of autonomy.
Who could be these men ? The ones who can look beyond physical appearances. Because superman is all about appearances, he leaves plain women alone, and these women do not fancy him because they cannot not be aware of his hypocrisy… and they thus can still fully appreciate normal men and normal men’s attention.
So truly, the mayor and his wife stand for the last real loving couples (plural intended) of Metropolis. And the abduction (ordered by Luthor if I understand well) is not an aggression. It’s a trap set for superman, the kidnappers have nothing against the mayor. They represent Superman’s rivals rebelling against him, the last stand of proud manliness.
The two cops that arrive as back up and with which the movie starts are quite interesting. They also stand for another group of people who are yet to be converted to Superman’s religion. By intervening, they challenge the kryptonian’s authority, and they know it. They also know that the stealing of highly technological weapons and armours has to do with him.
Still, they go and get their asses kicked in two seconds. Surprisingly, the kidnappers do not leave them alone but decide on the contrary to make sure to kill them. Why ? Because they chose the wrong enemy. These two cops aren’t scared of anything, they should see that Superman uses people’s fears and his ability to reassure them as a mean to dominate them.
Coincidentally, these two characters have no sexuality. I can’t exactly explain it but the woman is indifferent to men and the man’s older age bears that meaning of lack of interest in sex. And so, they are both, on a metaphorical level, capable of kicking superman’s ass. Not in a literal fight, but they represent the people who should defend the idea that he isn’t useful, that Metropolis can do without him, like Lex Luthor. The woman can resist him and the man cannot be submitted through rivalry.
The problem is that because they are not involved in the sexual dynamic, they are also blind to Superman’s noxiousness. They despise manliness and are indifferent to its destruction by the caped crusader.
It’s the reason why the kidnappers do not accept their antagonism. The normal cops are honestly fighting to protect the mayor and the city, they would do it against Superman as well, and thus the criminals do not directly shoot at them. But the older guy and the young woman are traitors and hypocrites. They should defend masculinity along with the kidnappers and instead they side with Superman. The tentacles with which they are vanquished represent alienated masculinity. Against Superman, Mannheim first uses his gun (extended technological /arguably alienated/ masculinity), then his fist (natural one) and finally the tentacles: in front of the super invader, men undergo a regression into the shapeless. They lose their structure. It also is comparable to impotence; from hard and stiff, to flabby.
As I already said, this introductory attack represents a last stand against Superman’s invasion that only not very bright men would dare undertake… and behind it, a smarter guy: Lex Luthor. Also, it has to be underlined that only men who are ready to be categorized as evil still dare confront Superman. If you want to be perceived as manly but also as good, you’re screwed, Superman made every real man evil, because they have to stand up to him and he managed to appear as the incarnation of good; a saint, a godlike figure.
Of course, everything goes marvellously for him here: the outcome of the incident is that the two autonomous cops will never dare be so anymore and will from now on rely on Superman just like everybody else. The mayor is “saved” and therefore symbolically discredited and the criminals who weren’t afraid of the kryptonian are taught a lesson: “Be afraid of the kryptonian.” That’s the meaning of the armour tearing shot.
Kal El is constantly "humbled" by his human enemies who dare challenge him when they perfectly know that he is a lot stronger.
Mannheim is not afraid of dying in a fight and for that specific reason Superman puts him in a situation in which he can experience absolute powerlessness, he makes him feel exposed and instils fear in his heart. “You were never brave, men are brave” says Batman to Superman.
During the fight, Superman man utters an interesting remark: “You know, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a bully.”
The kidnappers aren’t bullies. The fight weight in their favour for sure, but they’re kidnapping the mayor and the cops are trying to prevent them from doing so. The situation has nothing to do with a scene of bullying. More, they avoid making too many victims amongst the average cops while they decide to kill the two last ones. Bullying is toying with your victims while having no reason to do so and pretending that you’re going to hurt them a lot more than you actually intend to.
The bully in this scene is Superman. His entire intervention is bullying. He doesn’t focus on preventing any tragedy, he’s just having fun showing off his moral and physical superiority.
Mannheim is a Germanic name. Mann = Man. Heim = Home of. So Mannheim is the place where masculinity is safe, the home of masculinity. Superman destroys masculinity once and for all and as a consequence, at the end of this scene, he is the last man of Metropolis (earth) who can boast about being manly. Men are now scared of being manly because it means becoming an enemy of Superman.
When he states “no one tears my city apart” it means that he now has submitted everybody; not only men but both sexes are now either seduced, saved or vanquished. Being able to make this statement marks an important step for Kal El. Now that Metropolis is his, a few things are going to change; the situation opens up possibilities.