The Batman is already a runaway success, and Warner Bros. couldn’t be happier. They’ve already ordered HBO Max spin-offs of the film, focusing on Arkham Asylum and Colin Firth’s Penguin, each expanding the world and exploring its own little corner of the rain-drenched nightmare that is Gotham City. However, other costumed DC heroes such as Superman are conspicuously (and deliberately) absent from The Batman’s world. Director and writer Matt Reeves hasn’t ruled out Robin joining in a (currently unannounced) sequel film, and Gotham is certainly full of many colorful characters. However, The Batman was designed to stand alone, a world apart from the somewhat interconnected films of the DC Extended Universe. And it’s stronger as a result.
Warning: I’m about to spoil the climax of The Batman.
For three hours, this film constantly reminds you that Batman is vulnerable. For all of his tech and training, Bruce Wayne is just one man, and can only do so much. That’s why it’s so genuinely astonishing when he takes down the gunmen in the rafters of the stadium – a fight that you could easily win within the opening two hours of any of Batman’s Arkham video games.
When it comes to The Batman, less is more, because that single room full of wannabe mass-shooters was as spectacular as taking down CGI alien armies. The situation and the stakes are tangible because they’re in a reality that feels like a heightened version of our own, rather than a superhero spectacular full of magical weapons.
To me, that’s the best argument there is for keeping things relatively grounded. It can feel more intimate and real, even if it’s set in a gothic nightmare city that’s (in its own way) just as stylized as Tim Burton’s 90s-tastic vision of Gotham.
If we accept Superman and Wonder Woman are in the same universe as The Batman, that goes out the window fast. Even significantly weaker and slower versions of those two characters would have to be put up against much larger threats, in order to maintain tension in the story – and that’s before we even get into Green Lantern Rings and the Speed Force. Regardless of whether that means a giant monster or a platoon of soldiers, the power level is going to escalate.
So, The Batman’s universe doesn’t need his super friends to show up anytime soon, and it might be better if they’re never included. But at the same time, the concept has a spellbinding appeal to it.
In our hypothetical alternate universe where Warner Bros. decided to build a universe of heroes around The Batman, I’m going to say that the filmmakers were wise enough to accept the need to escalate, and they leaned into it. As for how, well… put a pin in it. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Because The Batman had such an unusual and distinctive style, some aspects of Matt Reeves’s film would have to become defining features of the universe’s look and feel. Other parts would be changed to better suit characters like Wonder Woman or Superman, showing how distinct each lead character and their setting is through the contrast in filmmaking.
On top of that, The Batman offered a radically different view of Bruce Wayne while staying true to the core of his character. That’s one hell of a precedent to set. What are the essential elements of the Justice League, and what needs to be stripped away to show the beating heart underneath?
To me, these are the core elements of The Batman that should carry over to other films:
Distinct visual flair. Not every movie is going to be a gritty homage to film noir, and that’s for the best. They should strive for a unique aesthetic that highlights what’s different from Gotham. At the same time, there should be enough common ground that when we get into crossovers down the line, the style of each film can complement the look of The Batman while remaining its own thing.
This extends to the setting, too. If the Batman’s home turf is a gargoyle-ridden gothic hellhole, Metropolis is a city of glistening art deco towers.
A unifying direction and purpose. The reinterpretation of the characters is guided by more than what’s fun or interesting. Like The Batman, any other movies in the universe should have a point of view to how they approach the characters, world, and themes of the comics.
And while we’re at it, reinterpretations of these characters should be true to their cores, but highlight previously understated aspects to play with how we perceive them. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne plays up his depression and PTSD more than the vast majority of Batmen, and the movie is much better for it.
That said, not everyone needs a reinvention, because sometimes the classic character plays best into the movie’s themes. Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle and Jeffery Wright’s Jim Gordon are much more familiar than the Zodiac-inspired Riddler, but they’re iconic takes that were perfect for the movie.
The movie reflects our world deliberately. I’m not going to pretend every capes-and-tights outing needs to serve a higher purpose, but it’s kind of a missed opportunity not to try with these characters. The Justice League or Avengers weren’t created as value-neutral corporate branding products, because nobody would’ve cared enough to make them financial successes if creative people hadn’t breathed life into them.
Superman was an immigrant refugee, created by the Jewish children of immigrant parents who fled antisemitism. Wonder Woman was a revolutionary examination of gender roles and compassion. Batman was a kid’s PTSD coping mechanism. These characters mean things, and they’re better when you let them.
Nobody is above being taken down a peg. The botched aftermath of Batman’s wingsuit escape is the funniest thing in any Batman movie. (And yes, I’m including Lego Batman and Adam West, but I’ll admit that’s close competition.)
The Batman was able to simultaneously elevate Bruce’s character and display his remarkable drive and insane achievements, but was also willing to poke fun at him and his villains as was appropriate for the story. The film had a fan’s attention to detail and admiration of Batman, but the creative team was wise enough to remember that both the Riddler and Batman are inherently a little ridiculous and kind of sad. This allows the film’s characters to be played for high drama, comic relief, and genuinely awe-inspiring displays of ability, without ever feeling like the story is betraying its cast.
With those guiding principles set, here’s our plan for this project. This article is about Superman, but we’ll follow it up with an article for a Wonder Woman movie, and bring them all together with a film starring the entire Trinity. Sounds good? Then let’s get into it.
It goes like this:
- The Batman
- The Wonders of the Gods
- The Superman
In my mind, The Batman has to come first in the chronology because its third act shows the birth of the superhero as an idea. Before he foiled a bloodbath in front of hundreds and led them out of darkness, there simply wasn’t anything like him. If a sun god from Krypton was bench-pressing tanks on the other side of the bay, it would kind of undermine how remarkable Batman’s feats were.
You might wonder why The Wonders of the Gods is listed as coming before The Superman, and I have a very good reason: I haven’t finished that article yet. But in all seriousness, it’s because it serves as a bridge between the heightened reality of The Batman, and the blatant fiction that is a spaceship full of cities.
The Wonders of the Gods is a story with a mythic scope and stakes, but most of it happens out of the public eye and is confined to a private military’s high-tech HQ. It’s about people privileged with the knowledge that the world isn’t what it seems to be, and what they do with that information. (And Diana and Etta Candy kicking ass.)
Meanwhile, Clark became Superman in response to the Gotham flood. He had been thinking about a public debut for a while, and had been saving people for years while moving too fast for a camera to catch him. But then the news broke that the local weirdo and minor viral sensation called “The Batman” foiled what could’ve been America’s deadliest mass shooting yet, in front of a crowd of hundreds, signified to Clark that it was time to step into the light. Plus, you know, there’s a flooded city that needs his help.
As for why Clark is in Metropolis and not helping out the no-man’s-land formerly known as Gotham: well, the military occupation that’s maintaining martial law tried taking shots at him. With tanks. At the height of his powers, Superman could shrug off that caliber of weapon – but for our younger Clark Kent, that kind of shell is enough to crack his ribs. So he wants to help Gotham but hasn’t figured out how to do it safely.
By the same token, the government can’t simply wheel tanks into Metropolis and start shooting. Superman is fast enough that they’d probably miss a few times, and the shots that go wild would damage and endanger skyscrapers full of people. (The government isn’t willing to deal with that PR nightmare, but they’re about to anyway. If they didn’t want something like this, they shouldn’t have paid Lex Luthor.)
The Superman is about the public debut of an impossible person, and the fallout from how that reframes humanity’s view of the universe. That’s starting to sound a lot like Man of Steel – but also like Superman ‘78, Superman: Man of Tomorrow, and many comic origins. That’s all right, because what makes these ideas feel fresh is hop each movie approaches them. If The Batman can present such a radically different Bruce Wayne while staying 100% true to his character, I think a few surface-level comparisons to other Superman flicks aren’t going to sink the ship.
The Batman’s cinematographer, Grieg Fraser, did phenomenal work. Your mileage may vary, but I think it does a better job of channeling the strengths and stylization of its comic book inspirations into a film than any other (live-action) superhero movie.
The visual storytelling is heightened by The Batman’s commitment to the neon-noir aesthetic, but it isn’t bound by its influences, either. The combination of rain-drenched 90s crime thrillers, genre-defining noir films from the 40s, the brutally stylized fistfights of recent flicks like Birds of Prey, and the heavy influence of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain on this film’s Bruce Wayne conjures a sort of grunge myth into being before your eyes, something more than the sum of its parts.
The Batman goes farther than simply drenching the film in shadow and vivid colors. Even the film’s relatively neutral-looking scenes have subtle but distinctly-defined color palettes. (Often the orange-and-green of many early comic book supervillains, or blue-and-gray moonlight.)
The filmmakers also buck conventional wisdom by making the visuals a little harder to follow at times, but they always do it in ways that put you in the shoes of the characters. Darkness and depth of field are used to obscure key elements and build tension. The camera stays almost claustrophobically close to the cars during the Batmobile’s debut chase, turning in tandem with the vehicles even as one careens through the air. Batman’s tactics inform Fraser and Reeves’ storytelling choices, and that’s both a gleeful celebration of the character, and just plain smart movie making.
Another clever thing they do with The Batman’s cinematography is that they frame certain shots with deep shadows in such a way that they make unique shapes that look like they could be comic book panels.
The upside-down car window framing Batman’s Terminator-like march towards the camera worked like a goddamn charm, because I can’t stop thinking about it. And that’s just one example.
So, that’s a lot of wonderful things that can carry over to the visuals of The Superman. Now, let’s talk about what’s different.
Metropolis is not Gotham. While we aren’t entirely moving away from The Batman’s inky darkness, it’s less prominently (and less frequently) used. Scenes in The Batman were also frequently saturated with a single color contrasting the black shadows, but in Metropolis, there are frequently more colors at play.
Generally speaking, “Detective Pikachu meets Akira” isn’t going to be a sentence you hear that often. However, my collaborator Bree pointed out that if you look at the aesthetics of the cities they portray, there’s a similar glow to them. Vivid neon signs shining in every alley light the city up in saturated technicolor, the full spectrum of the rainbow used across each movie in contrast to the deep shadows of the nighttime.
Its skyline adorned with glistening monuments and towering skyscrapers, Metropolis looks much more inviting than Gotham – at least, in the business and shopping districts. The rest of the city is under a thick layer of dirt and disrepair. Despite infrastructure and funding issues hampering its “city of tomorrow” vibe, the aesthetic of Metropolis is dominated by charming art deco architecture. It was constructed for the 1939 World’s Fair, an artificial island just off the coast of New York constructed to thrill and delight visitors. (And sell real estate as a real community, not unlike Disney’s original plans for EPCOT).
If you can imagine the midpoint of these aesthetics, that’s Metropolis. (Photography by Liam Wong.)
But once you get past the glitz and glamor, there’s a sleazy griminess inherent to most of the city, particularly poorer areas. This was once the city of tomorrow, but poor upkeep and slashed infrastructure budgets have led to two Metropolises: the shining shopping district lined with corporate headquarters, and the rotting carcass of the World’s Fair that surrounds it.
Michael Giacchino’s score for The Batman provided the perfect atmosphere, saturating the movie with most drama an orchestra can muster. The steady toll of the bell in his theme casts Batman as a horror movie monster, a relentless and unstoppable creature emerging from the shadows to exact vengeance on the criminals of his city.
I’m not going to fan-cast a composer for the same reason I’m not fan-casting actors: I think it distracts from the ideas.(And colors people’s perception of the characters based on the actor’s past roles. And it relies on the sound of past soundtracks each composer has written, when they’d have to do something bold and new for a character as iconic as Superman.
…And I’d probably just give every movie soundtrack job to Daniel Pemberton anyways. That guy is amazing.)
This isn’t exactly a novel idea, but I think Superman’s theme song should sound very distinct from Batman’s. Batman’s theme evolves sonically over the course of the film, beginning as a grim march and ending as something hopeful.
On one hand, Superman’s theme song could be bold and bombastic, a chorus of brass instruments bellowing every time he enters the scene. It’s worked before, and it might be the direction they take his musical motifs in the future.
At the same time, we could go for a more reflective sound. Not quiet or dainty, but something that alternates between contemplative and decisive moments…which is where we get into Nirvana.
While we don’t have to build a sound around a song as The Batman did, it’s a fun exercise all the same. So for Superman, I think “Staring at the Sun” by TV on the Radio would really create a mood that reflects Clark’s doubt and hope, and what it feels like to get inside his head.
Or, if we’re sticking with Nirvana, it’s got to be “Come As You Are.”
Now, the audiovisual experience is the biggest and most immediate part of the impact a trailer would have. Still, there’s another huge element that colors the public’s perceptions of an upcoming film.
Calling this movie The Superman makes sense for marketing reasons, of course. It doesn’t even indicate it’s part of a shared universe, because The Batman certainly doesn’t take place in the same world as The Suicide Squad. Even so, titling it The Superman has a very distinct feel from The Batman, while sharing a similar connection to how its protagonists are seen.
“The Batman” is a figure of the shadows, but he evolves over the course of the movie into just Batman, the guy who saved Gotham City. “The Superman” isn’t necessarily a compliment, either – it’s a title that defines him as something fundamentally different, something that puts a wall between him and humanity as we know it. Even the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, originally conceived of a villainous bald telepath known as The Super-Man before reworking the basic concept into the character we know.
Now, that’s far removed from the man of steel. However, while The Super-Man loomed over the cities he menaced, and the modern Superman is an incorruptible beacon of goodness, the freshly-minted 1938 Clark Kent was a complete mystery to the public.
Look at the cover of Action Comics #1, and try to imagine you don’t know who that car belonged to, or why it was being smashed by someone with impossible strength. You can’t be sure what side he’s on– at least, not without buying the issue. The central question that propelled people to pick up that comic book is, simply, who the hell is wearing that cape?
Superman’s first appearance in 1938 defined him as a mysterious stranger leaping to action, barreling past the authorities to stop an innocent man’s execution before they could even react to his impossible feats. In his first years, supervillains hadn’t been invented yet, so Superman tackled the issues of the day. He’d take down wife-beaters, slum lords, and greedy businessmen in the span of a few pages, and keep moving forward towards a better world.
Before he was anything else, Superman comics called him “the champion of the oppressed.” So we’re harkening back to those early years, to a time when the concept of a superhero was still raw and new, and to a world that doesn’t know if it loves or hates the Superman.
That brings up one of the largest influences on this movie. Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’s 2011 run on Action Comics was part of the controversial New 52 reboot – the best part, specifically. It showed us a Superman new to his powers, still climbing in strength and speed, trying to root out corrupt leaders and corporate greed. And then it faced him with a challenge that was orders of magnitude above what he could outmuscle.
But we’ll get to that in a bit. First, we have to answer a simple question. Who is Superman to Clark Kent?
Much like Batman was reinvented for his 2022 outing, Superman is stripped back to the bare essentials, and rebuilt with a focus on elements we haven’t seen highlighted in many past takes or films. This starts with its interpretation of Clark Kent’s dual identity.
When he’s Superman, Clark can loosen up. He doesn’t have to fake normalcy, or pretend to be attentive when his focus is on something halfway across the city, and when he hears a scream he can just sprint over to the problem instead of mangling an excuse.
An important detail of this Superman is that he never poses. Why would he? Unlike Robert Battinson, Superman is calm and relaxed. He doesn’t need to act intimidating for his words to carry weight, because everyone already knows he’s Superman.
As with many aspects of this article, this portrayal of Superman draws heavily on Morrison and Morales’s Action Comics. The core distinction is that Superman doesn’t go all the way to taking threats and ultimatums out of Batman’s playbook. Also, despite having heat vision, there shouldn’t be more than a handful of moments where his eyes blaze with alien fire. The scary red eyes lose their weight if they’re overused.
Still, a Batman-lite portrayal is actually very much in line with the original 1939 Superman’s approach to crimefighting. Over the years, Superman evolved into a much more diplomatic character. Meanwhile, Batman’s whole deal was invoking fear in criminals with his “creature of the night” shtick.
It’s interesting to do a much more aggressive Superman, and it’s very clever how Morrison paralleled Clark’s real-world history with his character development in the DC Universe, but we can’t go all-in on that. It would alienate people used to a much calmer and classically heroic version – but more importantly, adapting Superman in this way would be treading on The Batman’s cape.
Plus, the last thing you want to do is convince audiences that Superman is just diet Batman. That’s bad for the story, bad for future crossovers, and bad for the box office.
Side note here: seriously, Superman started as a blatantly socialist character up against corrupt institutions, and was punching fascists through drywall before it was cool. This was a time before World War 2 rallied America against the Nazis, and “that Hitler guy has some pretty good ideas” was a commonly-held opinion in our country.
When he was created, Superman was a literal social justice warrior. That fact has always been at the core of our idea of superheroes, Marvel and DC alike.
So, we want to balance 1939 Clark Kent’s determination to make a better world with the more relaxed and polite version of Superman that people remember. Our hypothetical film’s Superman is still a young firebrand who will intimidate corrupt businessmen into confessing their crimes, but he’s extremely casual and nonchalant about it. He doesn’t need to posture or establish dominance at all, because his qualification for kicking your ass is the trail of destruction in his wake.
At the same time, how he uses his power has affected the city’s perception of him. Superman is viewed as an unpredictable and dangerous outsider, and that’s before the world learns he’s an alien.
We are not going to make this film peddle the narrative “you should have been nicer to those union-busting billionaires, but because you’re scary and act mean to famous people, you must grow into a more non-threatening person who upholds the status quo of society.”
Practically everybody can see the system is broken at this point, so wagging our finger at the protagonist for not being kind enough to venture capitalists would be shooting the narrative in the foot. We’d lose the heart of the film, and undermine the themes of rebellion against corrupt institutions.
This Superman’s attitude can best be described as “Do no harm, take no shit.” He won’t hurt people if it isn’t necessary, because he can shrug off bullets, walk over to the gunman, and calmly break their AK-47 with the touch of a finger.
Superman’s no-kill policy is not a hard-and-fast moral rule that he holds everyone to. Instead, it’s a standard he only holds himself to, because of his power. He doesn’t kill because that kind of violence is excessive and unnecessary when he can shrug off bullets and lift a bus over his head.
One parallel with The Batman is that Bruce and Clark wear masks, because the identities of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent are performative. Clark does the things Superman can’t, backing up his alter ego’s crimefighting with hard facts that the authorities can’t ignore.
Bruce and Clark’s common ground in this universe is isolation. While they each approach vigilantism in very different ways, the two of them begin their stories as people who only use their public identities in order to achieve their ends as costumed vigilantes. (Batman isn’t in this movie, but hey, gotta plan ahead, right?)
However, Clark’s accidental rivalry with Lois and friendship with Jimmy start to make him feel like a person again. Ever since Clark’s adoptive parents passed away, he’d forgotten how to be somebody who can exist for something more than just serving others.
One day they’ll get him a job at the Daily Planet, but Lois and Jimmy’s first gift to Clark Kent is that they care about the guy behind the bylines. They recognize how he hides behind thick glasses and lame excuses, and gradually pull him out of his workaholic shell.
Clark Kent as we know him doesn’t exist yet. He actually thinks the glasses disguise won’t work if anyone sees him up close, but he makes such an idiot out of himself constantly that nobody would ever consider the thought.
Nobody except for the greatest reporter in the world, of course. Lois gradually develops a pet theory that Clark is Superman, but doesn’t tell anyone. Jimmy wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut, and besides, she wants Clark to be the one to tell her.
Clark Kent is not a dork on purpose. He can fool people with trick lenses in his glasses, but the clumsiness, distractibility, and general “head in the clouds” vibe leads to most people being unwilling to put up with his unprofessional and spaced-out attitude.
People assume Clark has ADHD or is otherwise not neurotypical, and they might be right – but also, anyone would bump into a stack of printer paper or drop their coffee if they were constantly listening for any scream of terror in a 5-mile radius.
Clark is clumsy because, as Superman, he’s always on call. His ineptitude is genuinely accidental (at first) because he hasn’t figured out how to juggle being a human being and Superman at the same time. It’s a constant source of anxiety for Clark, but it’s not like he can say “sorry, there’s a fire down on Siegel and Swan avenue, gotta run.”
To avoid constantly excusing himself from the office, Clark mostly works from home. This leads to people like Jimmy thinking he’s so socially awkward because he’s a homebody who doesn’t get out much. Since it’s convenient, Clark doesn’t correct anyone. He keeps to himself, hiding his sky blue eyes behind thick glasses that distort their color and make his eyes look bigger than they are.
While Clark doesn’t get to enjoy the same kinds of freedom that Superman does, there are still a few things that his colleagues and rivals are impressed by. He can follow a story across the city and never lose the trail, he’s an incredibly fast and thorough proofreader, and he’s genuinely lovable despite his flakiness and constant excuses.
Clark never went to a 4-year college, but he’s able to get inside info on crime and corruption by using his X-Ray vision, making him one hell of a reporter. And he can spell-check Lois’s work without busting a gasket, unlike her editor-in-chief Perry White.
That said, Clark doesn’t get any jobs by landing an interview with Superman. It wouldn’t be unforgivably unethical or anything, but it’s still a line he won’t cross. (Half for moral reasons, and half because he gets embarrassed talking about himself.)
Clark has been infatuated with Lois Lane since the day he read her first headline. It’s a little bit embarrassing, actually, as he’s been a fanboy for years. As far as he knows, she has no idea who Clark Kent is.
Lois, meanwhile, kind of hates Clark Kent before she meets him. Despite the fact that she broke the world-changing news that the Superman is real less than a month ago, she’s been beaten to a scoop three times in a row by this Clark Kent fellow, with who nobody except Jimmy seems to have ever shared more than a few words with. Jimmy was an unproven photographer, and Kent was an unproven reporter, so they both bumped into each other doing freelance work. Despite his space-cadet attitude and constant bumbling, Clark became Jimmy’s good friend.
Both Clark and Superman have this sort of (initially) irrepressible glass-half-full optimism, but neither identity is unrealistic about it. He just believes that fighting for a better world will inspire people to action.
After Lex Luthor leaks the details of his alien history and physiology to the public, we start to see the first cracks in Superman’s metaphorical mask of perpetual cheerfulness and calm. Lex Luthor’s warnings about the threat of more Kryptonians arriving meant Superman fell from a somewhat controversial vigilante to being public enemy number one, hated and feared by America.
And when the Collector of Worlds arrives to abduct Metropolis, his hope really begins to falter. For all of his power, he was a big fish in a small pond. He’s practically an ant to the Collector, so what can he do?
Well, his powers earned him the moniker Superman, and now he has to live up to it.
Both The Batman’s Bruce and this film’s Clark are young, relatively inexperienced heroes, without all the toys/powers/skills we’re used to seeing them with. Neither movie is an “origin story” in the traditional sense, as both stories begin with their hero in a costume. Still, each movie shows their journey from raw and unrefined warriors to their status as beloved and trusted heroes.
Bruce and Clark’s character arcs are the main point of contrast with the Wonder Woman of this universe. They’re young and new to this, but she’s an ancient immortal Amazon who’s secretly been saving people behind the scenes for the last 80+ years she’s been in Man’s World. (I’m gonna have to save the bulk of the info about her for a later article, because if I started going into plans for Diana, this article would be twice as long.)
Most people would’ve been laughed out of the newsroom after trying to explain that somebody just jumped over a building. Lois didn’t even slow down to humor them, she just wrote her piece and sent it to editorial.
By the start of the movie, one month later, Lois Lane is a strong contender for the Pulitzer after breaking the story of the Superman of Metropolis. While the Batman is an unusually well-armed weirdo who trends on social media from time to time, Superman can stop a car dead in its tracks with a single hand. That’s world-changing.
Reinterpreting a character to fit the movie’s narrative is a great option, and can be the definitive part of a film. But, sometimes, the version everyone loves already is perfect for the story we’re trying to tell.
That’s the situation with Lois Lane. The issue isn’t giving her a personality or anything, because she has been a phenomenal character since her introduction in 1938. All she needs is some exciting things to do in the movie, some memorable dynamics with the other characters, and her classic willingness to go to extremes for the sake of journalism will do the rest.
Throughout the events of the movie, Lois is constantly taking notes on her smartphone. Occasionally she asks Jimmy or Clark or whoever is nearby how to spell certain words, because despite her many accomplishments, every universe’s Lois Lane can’t spell worth a damn.
Despite initially disliking Clark, she can’t help but start to enjoy his company. (And pity him for knocking over several stacks of paper in the Daily Planet, somehow. He’s a klutz.)
But in all seriousness, she appreciates Clark because of his commitment to getting the right stories out to the right people, and she has to respect his hustle. After all, he got her scoop three times in a row, without ever knowing he was following the same lead as Lois Lane.
Dr. John Henry Irons
A well-renowned expert on the subject of human-machine interfaces, Dr. Irons was brought on to the Steel Soldier project as a third-party consultant from STAR Labs. Lex Luthor, the other consultant, clashed with Irons practically every other day. The two men have incredibly different values, to say the least.
He’s an interesting character for a lot of reasons, but one that I think would play well with The Batman’s characters (in the future) is how he handled his parents’ murder as a child. Specifically, he resolved to become wealthy So that nothing can hurt him like that again. In later films, this would be an interesting point of contrast with Bruce, because they are approaching the same trauma in very different ways.
Anyways, after a very successful career that took him from MIT to Star Labs to consulting on the Metal-0 project, Irons has found himself in an awkward position. Luthor and the general steered the project in the direction of weaponizing Metal-0 against the Superman, developing more lethal countermeasures with a worrying attitude about collateral damage.
Luthor’s train derailing stunt is the final straw that leads Dr. Irons to end his involvement with the military. While he was able to insulate himself and his loved ones from the dangers of the world, now he sees danger is coming at Superman from every angle. And if the Earth itself is in danger? No amount of wealth is gonna protect his family from that.
After the US army captures Superman, John Henry Irons puts in his resignation and takes matters into his own hands.
He’s internally terrified, he’s flying by the seat of his pants, but he’s (mostly) not showing it because he’s got a job to do. Irons takes his prototype of the Metal-0.12 Exoskeleton, armors it up as best as he can in half an hour, and heads off to help Superman, picking up a sledgehammer from a construction site along the way.
He didn’t know he was signing up to go toe-to-toe with alien robots in Earth’s orbit, But as long as he keeps moving forward and keeps focusing on the next problem, he can keep perspective. Unfortunately for him, this quest ends up forcing him to partner with Luthor once again, but they make it work. With a minimal amount of brawling, even.
Lois’s photographer friend Jimmy Olsen is already perfect and we don’t need to change him. Please read the Matt Fraction/Steve Lieber comic about him, it’s so much fun.
Sadly, I don’t have room to give every character a ton of screen time and a character arc, so Jimmy is mostly Lois’s sidekick/hype guy. But as background characters go, Jimmy Olsen is the cream of the crop.
Among other things his companies are involved with, Glen Glenmorgan is the real-estate mogul of Metropolis (for now). He’s a tool who underpays his employees, cuts corners with public infrastructure projects to save a few bucks, and hires even cheaper labor under the table. That’s basically it, because he’s barely in this movie.
John Corben / Metal-0
John Corben is almost tragic, but he was a dick. He’s essentially a walking lesson in how giving into toxic masculinity will eventually destroy you, because no matter how handsome and badass you are, there’s always a bigger fish. (Namely, the Collector of Worlds.) Now, the US Army isn’t exactly a small pond for him to flop around in – he has accomplished many impressive things. Qualifying for the Steel Soldier program is more difficult than becoming an astronaut, and that’s a feat.
Even so, he doesn’t realize that no matter how badass he gets, Lois would have left him anyways. She’s just not here for macho posturing, and Corben clearly is. This is a point of contrast between the easily-enraged Metal-0 pilot and the lowkey confidence of Superman – at least, until Brainiac hijacks control of his suit and his brain with a few nanites.
Metal-0 is gradually being possessed by the alien AI known as the Collector of Worlds, and it isn’t pretty. He tears through the city looking for Superman and/or Lois, but doesn’t realize that he’s losing his identity to the Collector’s nanites until it’s too late for him to be separated from the Metal-0 exoskeleton.
After the AI begins to remote-control him via his spinal exoskeleton interface, John Corben is played (mostly) sympathetically. He’s an unwilling participant in it’s theft of Metropolis, screaming with rage and despair against his own actions as his body is puppeteered.
A charming (if somewhat abrasive) public figure, this Lex Luthor has a friendly smile and has weaponized it.
The Lex Luthor in the 2011 Action Comics run that I’m heavily drawing from was a little out of shape. The idea was that Lex wouldn’t get motivated to hit the gym until he was active as a supervillain, pushing himself to embody the heights of human potential in some sort of roundabout fuck-you to the naturally-musclebound Superman.
This Lex, on the other hand, is already jacked. Superpowers aside, he’s certainly bulkier than Superman. He has pushed himself to his mental and physical limits, and might have even been okay with that being his peak, if a shining super-powered god hadn’t showed up right as he was starting to age and lose his edge. The debut of a savior from a distant star got under Lex’s skin like nobody has in years.
However he justifies it or claims it’s a gift to humanity, Lex signed on with the military’s capture of Superman for selfish reasons. He’d never admit it, even to himself, but he feels the need to be humanity’s pinnacle, simultaneously feared as an apex predator and beloved by the masses. But next to a man who can bench-press a tank, his achievements look like nothing.
Speaking of Lex’s achievements – Much like how the Lex Luthor of the comics was a mad scientist reinvented as a slick businessman, this Lex Luthor began by revolutionizing excavation and mining with his rudimentary but promising “Locust” nanites. (They’re the first remotely viable nanites in the world, so they’re janky and only work on certain minerals, which is one reason Batman hasn’t stolen some for himself. Yet.)
Why the fuck would he name them something that ominous? Well…mad scientist. Comes with the territory. But mostly he just likes names that start with L. It’s a branding thing.
Spoiler for the end of a non-existent movie, but his expertise with nanites allows him to hijack the Collector of Worlds’ spaceship, shutting off the temporal stasis fields around Brainiac’s captured cities.
Despite being an astonishingly remorseless man, he’s clearly intelligent enough that Superman genuinely believes Lex could make the world a better place. (If, and that’s a BIG IF, he stopped swimming in his piles of cash like Scrooge McDuck.)
At the same time, while it would be nice, Superman doesn’t pretend Lex is going to change. He doesn’t want to. Why would he? Lex Luthor had it all. As one of the wealthiest and most renowned businessmen in the world, and a two-time Nobel prize winner, nobody could knock him down to size.
Until Superman showed up.
Up until that point, Luthor saw himself as someone who transcended the masses, mastering social manipulation, nanite engineering, and political glad-handing to install himself at the top of the social pyramid.
Lex Luthor pulled himself up by his bootstraps, according to him, and he believes that entitles him to steer the human race in whichever direction he pleases. He sees Superman as a rival for this position, an invasive alien species that latches onto civilizations and sucks them dry like a parasite. Lex Luthor thinks that’s as muscling in on his job.
Later, when he realizes Superman’s compassion and devotion to helping others is more than an act, Lex feels genuinely revolted. That behavior isn’t just alien to him, it’s akin to coddling the world like a child. Lex wants humanity to grow up big and strong and mean, and Superman helping the public is going to rob them of the drive that they will need to conquer their way through the galaxy.
Mercy is Lex Luthor’s strong right hand. She’s brilliant, quiet, and totally professional (until somebody says some stupid shit in front of her). Unusually for both of them, Lex and Mercy genuinely have a nice rapport with each other, because they’re kindred spirits. Each of them saw that the other climbed their way to the top of a pile of defeated enemies, and that established mutual respect.
This guy is barely a character, and that’s deliberate. While the comics introduced Lois’s father as the general tasked with capturing the Superman, I don’t think we have the time to really do justice to his relationship with his daughter. So, we’ll save general Sam Lane’s appearance for a sequel and only allude to him for now, rather than half-assing his character.
The Collector of Worlds
So, first things first: in the comics, this character is named Brainiac, and sometimes referred to as the Collector of Worlds. The character Brainiac is where the term Brainiac comes from, but its use as an insult for nerds has long since surpassed the fame of the original.
That means we’re going to have to call him something else. I know, I don’t like it either, but literally none of the non-comic-reading people I asked could take the name even remotely seriously. Sometimes sacrifices must be made.
Brainiac is the name of an app that LexCorp released recently. It’s an engaging puzzle game with no in-app purchases whatsoever, unlockable cosmetic items, a built-in social network, and a really fun quiz creation side feature where you can learn things about your other friends and such. (Despite his best efforts to remain above the fad, Jimmy Olsen is very invested in Brainiac now, to the point where he’s pestering Lois to join.)
The quizzes in particular are there as data mining tools. Initially, it seems like that’s just Lex Luthor pulling a Zuckerberg and treating the app’s user base as the product rather than the customers. However, The Collector of Worlds is the one who gave Lex most of the app, in order to gather and preserve data from as broad a sample of humanity as is possible.
In fact, the app Brainiac is an extension of the Collector’s vast cybernetic consciousness, its ancient synthetic mind easily put it together within seconds of making contact with Earth’s internet. Once the collector passed the rings of Saturn, it was within range to interface with Earth’s technology remotely. The collector’s ancient synthetic mind has done this to countless civilizations, so by now, it can analyze the vast totality of information on our internet in under an hour. Still, it wanted more data on the humans, because it seeks to preserve as much information about the culture it visits as possible.
In addition to trying to record information about every organic culture in the cosmos, the Collector is driven to preserve sample cities of each culture it visits. This is because every single organic species it has encountered in its travels across our vast universe has destroyed itself Within 15 thousand years. The Collector of Worlds find this tragic on some level, and wants to Preserve life past the end of this universe in the only way it knows how: by Suspending them in Frozen time, unable to progress beyond the day when the collector took it, an authentic representation of their culture before they first encountered alien life.
Is the Collector of Worlds’ ship unimaginably huge, then? Well, it’s large, but it only looks like it could hold two or three cities at most. However, the Collector has mastered technology that allows it to fold space inside of itself. This means that the interior of the ship can be much larger than the exterior, which is how he stores all of his cities in one vessel.
The Collector is incapable of perceiving that it has the solution to the frailty of organic life at its fingertips. If the Collector shared the knowledge it has stored in its archive with the sample cities it took, those orphans of dead worlds could come together and have a chance at surviving their own self-destructive tendencies.
Giving organic species that kind of knowledge would change them irreparably, and the Collector finds the idea abhorrent because they could destroy much more than a single civilization.
In fact, the Collector has a borderline religious devotion to its mission of preserving records of dead civilizations beyond the end of this universe. Allowing organic species access to the Archive of Stars would give them knowledge on par with the Collector, and that could potentially endanger its mission.
To the Collector of Worlds, the only action anyone can take in the face of the inevitable collapse of the universe is to try and preserve as much as you can of the universe beyond its end. Superman’s position is that living only to preserve life misses the point of life: the growth, the change, the infinite potential. The chance to rise above our nature and build something just.
We don’t need to name-drop it in this film, but this destined end that the Collector of Worlds sees coming? It’s the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Hey, they’re gonna go there eventually. Might as well start foreshadowing it.
While Bruce’s monologue at the beginning of The Batman grimly reflects that he’s unsure that he’s making a difference, Clark puts up the opposite front. He’s unrelentingly positive, despite public opinion on Superman varying heavily from person to person, ranging from gratitude to wariness to outright hatred and everything in between.
As Clark’s voice recaps a little of what Superman has been doing to help people in Metropolis, the first thing we see is the destruction left in his wake.
A businessman is stepping into a helicopter on the roof as it takes off. He’s nervous, looking behind him towards the sound of bullets tearing up his ostentatious offices. But the helicopter lifts off, and Mr. Glenmorgan breathes a sigh of relief. It’s in the air now, 50 feet above the helipad and rising higher.
And then a blur of red and blue leaps through the open sides of the helicopter, grabbing Glenmorgan along the way, and falls back down to the street.
Cops quickly surround Superman, but he casually shrugs off their bullets and sprints off at a good seventy miles per hour.
Jimmy snaps a picture of Superman, but Lois isn’t even paying attention to him.
Jimmy: You’re missing your favorite part! C’mon, he just caught a bullet! Lois: Yeah, and I’m sure you got a great picture for the front page of tomorrow’s Daily Planet. Look, Olsen, until I figure out how to land that interview, the Superman story isn’t going anywhere. And your pal Kent has, for the THIRD CONSECUTIVE TIME, published a story while I’m still digging through the facts of the subject.
Jimmy looks behind him, at the newsstand Lois has her eyes on. The latest headline on the Metropolis Star front page: “Glen Glenmorgan’s Corruption Exposed!” followed in small text with a byline for Clark Kent.
Jimmy: No silver medals for Lois Lane, huh? Lois: Not in a few years. Are you sure you didn’t say anything to your pal about the Glenmorgan story? Jimmy: Not a peep. How Clark gets his info is a mystery to me, but he’s got a knack for it. Plus, he’s surprisingly silent when he needs to be. The guy once snuck up on me and I didn’t even hear his boots touch the floor. Lois: And he works for our rival paper, so don’t get too chummy. Jimmy: Oh, please. The Metropolis Star isn’t exactly giving the Daily Planet a run for its money.
Clark makes his deadline, but breaks another cheap netbook in the process simply by typing too hard and too fast. He adds it to the pile of busted netbooks next to his desk, then passes out, exhausted.
He’s awakened a few hours later that night by a chorus of screams, and the sound of Metropolis’s new bullet train careening out of control. Superman sprints to action like lightning. No time to look for some clean jeans, even with super speed, so Clark grabs some red workout shorts and sprints to action.
Superman saves the train, but takes the brunt of its force and momentum, knocking him out. Quickly, Superman is surrounded and finally taken in by the military.
Despite his amazing photograph of the save, Jimmy thinks “the Superman” might be gone. Lois isn’t going to let that happen – not without getting an interview first.
After Lex and the general spring their trap, Dr. Irons calls them out on massive endangerment of life, and Luthor replies that letting an alien run amok is a far greater risk, even if it’s playing nice now.
Luthor: “Hm. Have any of you been looking at the sky? There’s something out past the orbit of Neptune getting closer. Accelerating.” Dr. Irons: “For once, Luthor, will you shut the hell up and listen? You can’t get innocent people killed just because of the threat this Superman might pose!” Luthor: “Might? Doctor Irons, the alien already has a cult of personality around him. Every blurry video of him leaping over a tall building has views in the millions, with more flocking to his side every day. Less than 24 hours ago, he reduced the city’s most prominent philanthropist to a pathetic wreck of a man, and the people cheered. How long until the good people of Metropolis demand he takes action against our leaders? Our country? He’s playing the long game, that’s all. This alien’s heroics are a ploy to get the public to accept and rely on him. In the span of a month, he went from running past police cars and leaping tall buildings to outpacing a bullet train. He’s stronger, tougher, and faster, and his abilities are developing at an exponential pace. Capturing the Superman isn’t even a choice, it’s a necessity. If he goes unchecked, America will cheer on gleefully while he overthrows everything we hold dear. Dr. Irons: “You don’t give a damn about the public, Luthor. If you did, you wouldn’t blow up a goddamn train full of people.” Luthor: “Oh, please. American drone strikes have killed hundreds of noncombatants, and that’s just in the last several years. This whole country was built on acceptable casualties.” Dr. Irons: “Make your excuses. None of it changes what you did. It doesn’t matter if the law sees you for what you are. I know you’re a monster.” Luthor: “A monster with a ludicrously high consulting fee, yes. But please, continue with the righteous anger. Uncle Sam is paying me fourteen grand an hour to stand here while you clean out your desk.”
The police and (some of) the public are quick to point to The Superman’s past actions, including (mild) intimidation, and they initially disregard the records of Mr. Glenmorgan’s corruption in Clark’s paper.
Lois sneaks onto the army base easily, given her background as a high-ranking general’s daughter. She’s caught by John Corben, who tries to rekindle their past. (“I regrew the mustache. You liked that mustache, right?”)
Corben is unhelpful, and Lois has better things to do. She sends him on a wild goose chase while she slips away.
Meanwhile, Luthor calls his mysterious benefactor, unaware that Superman is awake and listening to his call. Clark is only able to pick out a few words from the voice on the other end – Invader, Sun, Ark, Krypton.
When Lex tortures Superman to get answers about Krypton, that’s actually Clark’s first time seeing images of home as more than a fleeting memory. There’s a tangible sense of loss as he sees the life he might’ve had, the world he might have known.
He’s idealized it to an extent, unaware of Krypton’s struggles and its tragic end. Lex accuses him of being a part of Krypton’s destruction, assuming his species wiped that planet off the map — but Kal-El’s rocket, stored in a nearby room, begins broadcasting Jor-El and Lara’s final message to their son.
Lara: "Don't mourn us, Kal-El. Survive. Live. Celebrate the Krypton that was. That's all we ever wanted. That's why we sent you to a world with a yellow sun, a world where nobody can--" Jor-El: "Lara, the core is giving way beneath our feet! The vessel isn't going to be intact if we wait any longer, it has to be now!"
Lara presses the launch button, and the rocket begins to rise as fire explodes through the building, engulfing her and Jor-El.
Lex is astonished for a few moments, absolutely dumbfounded by this revelation for a few seconds — but only a few, as a malicious grin creeps across his face.
Luthor: "Well, color me embarrassed. You're no conqueror, Superman. You're an endangered species." Superman: "Does that match up with what the voice on the phone told you, Luthor? Are you really so goddamn spiteful that you’d just blindly trust someone who won’t even give you a name?" Luthor: “Frankly, Kal-El – can I call you Kal? I don’t trust anyone I don’t have leverage on.” Superman: “That’s not trust.”
Luthor smirks, smug and self-satisfied.
Luthor: It’s close enough for government work. In all honesty, Kal, I’m pretty disappointed by “the Superman.” I was hoping we could find some common ground. Superman: You and some alien? Please. I can hear what you’re saying about me out there. Luthor: Well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t planning on betraying you, but Kal, you didn’t even give me the chance. Conquerors, I can work with. But finding out that your good samaritan routine was the real deal? Disappointing, Kal, very disappointing. I can work with evil, and even turn it to the betterment of mankind – while making a pretty profit on the side, I might add. But trying to coddle the people of the world, like some divine gift from the stars? You’re flying in the face of everything that I love so much about the human race.
Superman: So your philanthropy, your smiles, your wholesome image. Just convenient lies. Luthor: I wouldn’t say they’re lies, per se. I’m just not smiling for the reasons they think. We’re apex predators, meant to touch the stars and conquer the vast frontier of space. Altruism isn’t going to help us get there, Kal-El of Krypton. Superman: Nice speech. Were you practicing for the campaign trail?
Lex’s voice drops to a whisper, well aware that Superman can hear him loud and clear even if the rest of the base can’t.
Luthor: “As if I’d waste my time on this evolutionary dead-end of a nation. America serves my interests already, Kal. I’ve always had the only presidency that matters. Gentlemen? Take the Kryptonian vessel to the loading bay. We've got work to do."
Remember about Lex shipping the rocket off somewhere – we’ll come back to it in a bit. Anyways, Luthor gets up, dusts himself off, and exits the room, leaving Superman alone.
Superman: ...I really hate that guy.
Reclaiming his memories leaves Clark feeling lost – after all, his birth home was destroyed by climate change, and any chance at saving it was lost by ignorance. Faced with dangers he can’t outmuscle or outmaneuver, Earth feels more fragile than ever.
But someone saw that story — namely, Lois Lane, who records some of the Kryptonian ship’s holograms on her smartphone, preparing to discredit Luthor’s claims of the conquering Kryptonians.
Later, Lex is going to save face by claiming he mistranslated the Kryptonian language, but he only resorts to that plan because Lois forced his hand with hard evidence.
Once Superman gets a few moments to himself where he’s not being interrogated and or shocked with hundreds of thousands of volts worth of electricity, he breaks out of the electric chair’s restraints.
John Henry Irons takes advantage of the chaos during Superman’s escape, and begins to purge all the project’s data on Superman’s weaknesses, but it’s too late: Luthor’s already leaked most of the data out to the press.
However, this creates the opportunity for Lois to begin looking into and exposing the horrors of the Metal-0 program. She also makes contact with Dr. Irons, establishing him as her ally and source.
Lex has already been looking for a way out of the Metal-0 program and new opportunities, and drops his military clearance keycard into the trash once it becomes clear that James Corbin and Metal-0 are pale imitations of Superman’s power. Lex was already working on plan B: using his nanites to break down the nigh-indestructible Kryptonian rocket, and reconfigure its atoms into weapons capable of piercing Superman’s flesh. This is also his plan-B against his mysterious informant, who is later revealed as the Collector of Worlds.
John Corben, realizing that Superman is breaking out and knowing that Lois is on the base, rushes the Metal-0 start-up sequence to get ready to fight and look super cool and macho. Not only does he fail miserably, but his alpha male knee-jerk response is exactly why Lois broke up with him, and here he goes making an ass out of himself all over again.
After Lois secretly records the rocket’s holograms and Superman’s escape on her phone, she tries to hide on the truck transporting the rocket. However, as the truck is driving away, she sees her ex John Corben in the Metal-0 suit, trying to take down Superman. She sighs, weighs her options, and jumps off of the truck in order to yell at Corben.
It becomes clear quickly that Clark can run circles around John Corben’s experimental Metal-0 suit, and after one solid hit it’s blatant that he’s holding back for Corben’s benefit. However strong Metal-0 is, it can’t come close to matching Superman’s speed or durability. Clark allows Metal-0 To destroy the wall of the complex, providing him with a clear path to freedom.
Lois’s distraction makes it possible for Clark to handily take Corben down, melting Metal-0s rubber treads so that he’s rooted to the floor. As Metal-0’s pilot has a bit of a meltdown, Superman picks up Lois, and they make it back to the city — only to see Luthor has paid for ad time on every jumbotron, and is leaking a heavily edited clip of the rocket hologram that proves that Superman is an alien.
Public opinion is mixed. Some look on him with awe, some with terror, and some rush him for autographs – but after the second handshake or so, somebody actually throws a pipe at his head, uncaring that he could’ve hit Lois or another bystander. Superman says he needs to go, while Lois says the same thing at the same time, leaving them both a little flustered.
Neither of them knows that they’re chasing down the same lead: Lex Luthor’s mysterious benefactor.
These events shake Clark’s resolve to be Superman, but Lois believes in Superman more than ever, particularly because he escaped without giving his captors any fatalities or serious injuries. (But he broke every gun in his way, too.)
Okay, so there are four total acts. This isn’t act III, though, since traditionally that’s the end of the story. Because the second half of Act II is a pretty huge shift from the first half, it makes sense to split it. Besides, Act II is almost always approximately 50% of the narrative in typical Hollywood productions, so splitting it into two 25% halves works out and all the acts are approximately the same length.
Does this really need all that justification? Well, any time a roman numeral is followed by a decimal point, somebody better have a half-decent excuse for pulling that shit. Looking at you, Kingdom Hearts II.8.
Superman might be public enemy number one, but Clark Kent can still fight the good fight in his own way. Because he has a lot of reasons to be furious at Lex, that’s where Clark starts. He follows up on an old lead at LexCorp, and heads to a warehouse he suspects is actually one of Lex’s off the book labs.
He runs into Jimmy and Lois outside of the warehouse, and makes an idiot out of himself in front of Lois. Again. The poor boy has such a crush that he’s stuttering practically every time he sees her.
As they step into the warehouse, it does in fact turn out to be a secret lab. (X-Ray vision is helpful for finding that.) But by distributing the Brainiac app, Lex gave the Collector of Worlds a backdoor into his most sophisticated systems.
The Collector of Worlds’ Terminauts assemble themselves with nanotech. They consume and incorporate nearby inorganic matter into their design, taking on the properties of skyscrapers or trucks or bricks. But while they’re as fragile as whatever they’re made of, and Superman can punch clean through a brick wall, the real danger is how they can regenerate themselves by touching any inorganic material.
Lois and Jimmy and Clark scramble out just before Superman arrives on the scene, and barely defeats the Terminauts.
Shortly after, The Collector of Worlds finally arrives in orbit, and captures Metropolis with a zeta beam teleporter. He even hijacks control of Metal-0 with the backdoor Lex left on the military project’s servers.
Putting two and two together when he sees the footage of the Terminauts, Lex gets pissed. Simmering with anger after the betrayal of his mysterious benefactor, rushes to his labs to retrieve his insurance.
It’s Superman’s rocket, which his nanites have been dismantling and shaving the metal into bullets – bullets strong enough to pierce even Superman’s flesh.
Meanwhile, Metal-0 is gradually being possessed by the Collector of Worlds, and it isn’t pretty. He tears through the city looking for Superman and/or Lois, but doesn’t realize that he’s losing his identity to the Collector’s nanites until it’s too late for him to be separated from the Metal-0 exoskeleton.
Despite Superman’s best efforts, Metropolis disappears before his eyes. He’s lost.
Metropolis has been teleported into the Collector’s vessel in orbit, far outside the reach of even a Superman.
That’s not going to stop him from trying.
Superman makes an impossible leap, arcing through the atmosphere, close but not nearly close enough. But just as it looks like he’s about to fall…he doesn’t. For the first time, Superman is flying.
Rocketing towards his destination, Superman begins tearing the Collector’s ship apart from the inside, which forces the Collector to retrieve a specimen from one of its cities – specifically, the city it harvested from Krypton shortly before its destruction.
We’ve seen Superman take a few hits, get bruised, and get a little frustrated, but this is new. He is giving his all, and not making more than a dent.
At the same time, the Collector has brought out a new, improved Metal-0. The irradiated material from Kandor, Kryptonite, is installed as its new heart.
The last time we see John Corben’s face, he’s being sealed into the final form of Metal-0, nanites constructing skeletal armor made around him made from Kandor’s indestructible walls.
John Corben: “No, please, no! I – I had a country, a future, a PURPOSE–” The Collector of Worlds: “Your purpose is the same as it always has been, Metal-0. You are one cog in a much greater machine.”
As the Kryptonite radiation begins to force Clark to his knees, he slams his hands against the floor. The impact opens a hole beneath him, and he escapes, falling into the depths of the ship.
Superman is at a complete loss. Not only is the Collector physically stronger than him, he can’t even get within 30 feet of it while it holds the Kryptonite. And Metal-0, once a joke, is now kicking his ass.
Clark’s (cracked) phone beeps. It’s a text from Lois – and she says that not only did she and Jimmy escape the city, she’s with John Henry Irons. And, he discovers, with Mercy and Lex, too.
Crisis makes for strange bedfellows. Our heroes regroup, and bicker quite a bit because Lex is a tool. But, in short order, they have a plan.
Luthor: Loath as I am to admit it, the Collector's nanotech makes mine look relatively rudimentary. But so was the spear, and that's the beauty of it. The tiger doesn't think the man stands a chance until it’s too late.
Lois rolls her eyes and Dr. Irons slow claps.
Dr. Irons: Wow. Yeah, you kill that hypothetical tiger. Lois: Do you have any other fun metaphors about caveman violence, or was that an ad-lib? Luthor: God, you people are insufferable. Superman: Let’s just go.
Lex points Superman to Kandor, the sample city taken from Krypton, and they’re off.
Superman and Dr. Irons are the distraction for Lois and Lex to disable the Colletor’s shields with their “splinter” bullets forged from the Kryptonian rocket.
Irons fights off the Kryptonite-ridden Metal-0, giving Superman the chance to engage in a spirited debate/fight with the Collector. The super-powered brawl sends the combatants flying through dozens of frozen cities, crashing through alien architecture.
While it looks like Metal-0 and the Collector itself are gaining the upper hand, Dr. Irons is the one who built the Metal-0 armor – so all he needed to do was keep it on its toes long enough to shove its override codes into a USB port.
Before the Collector of Worlds can disconnect from Metal-0 completely, Irons’s override begins to slow it down, its reaction speed glitching.
As Irons buys Clark a moment to recover, he uses his super-speed to grab some indestructible Kryptonian clothes from Kandor before jumping back into the fray.
While up until this point, we’ve barely seen Clark fly, he takes to it quickly. He’s now the iconic Superman in all his glory, sparring verbally with a godlike AI even as he attacks it from every angle. He still takes some painful hits in the process, but each time he gets back up Superman hits harder and moves faster. After working with John Henry Irons, Lois Lane, and even Lex Luthor, the limitless nature of human potential is clear to him, and it inspires him to keep getting back up.
Superman: For all of humanity’s failures and mistakes, despite every cruelty the universe throws at them, there is something inside of them that can’t help but try to make a better world. The Collector of Worlds: Justice is an arbitrary line drawn by small minds pretending at a higher level of consciousness. It is subjective, a reflection of values and fears of a fleeting life. Across the span of eons, the lifetimes of entire civilizations are nothing.
The moment when Superman’s resolve hardens is when he asks the Collector of Worlds how many species it’s shared the knowledge of its archive with.
The Collector of Worlds: None. No organic life can be trusted with the fruits of distant stars. Any such knowledge would make a species extremely unpredictable and dangerous. Their self-destructive nature would consume innumerable worlds across countless galaxies. Superman: Just because you’ve told yourself that story for a few million years doesn’t make it any more true. You sit on your throne and tell yourself that you are preserving something, but you won't even lift a finger to spare anyone. This place is a mausoleum because you let it be, Collector.
It looks like Superman is beginning to be worn down by the Collector of Worlds, but that’s when he reveals that he’s the distraction.
Lex shoots the controls with a Splinter bullet and disables the chronostasis fields around the captured alien cities, freeing most of them and giving our heroes the numbers to overrun the Collector of Worlds and win.
Superman uses the confusion to toss the LexCorp nanite injector to Lois, who jams it into the Collector of Worlds’ Archive. Lex’s nanites override the Archive’s more sophisticated alien nanite shielding, hijacking the frequency that the Collector uses to control every nanite in the ship.
Surrounded on all sides, the AI can feel its starship being torn up by thousands of freed aliens. The Collector of Worlds freezes, unable to come up with countermeasures for countless points of attack without control of its nanites. This leaves the central Archive of Stars vulnerable, and the “main” body of the Collector is open to attack.
After the battle, Lex holds off Superman by claiming he placed a small explosive inside the Collector of Worlds’ Archive of Stars.
Superman: Lex. Lex: Still walking away. Don’t even try it. I already placed a small plastic explosive on the Archive’s internal databanks, attached to a velocity trigger that will explode if it moves faster than 15 miles per hour, so no, you can’t use your super-speed to cheat. Superman: ...You have got to be kidding me. Lex: I always keep a little C4 in a hidden blast-proof compartment in my Signature Edition RoLex. Lois: Come on. This Saturday morning cartoon villain shit isn’t going to work out. Plus, your plan would also blow up your hand. Lex: Go on, check with your X-Ray eyes. I didn’t have time to line it with lead, and hey, why would I? I want you to know I’m not bluffing, Kal-El. And it’s not like I haven’t replaced an arm or three before.
Mercy Graves rolls up the sleeve of her dress shirt with one hand, while her other hand splits along five seams and folds into itself, a steel gun barrel emerging from her prosthetic.
Mercy: I saved a couple of those Rocket-Splinter bullets for you, boy scout. Lex: Hmm. We’ll workshop the name. I do like the irony of killing him with a piece of his own dead world, though. Mercy: Right? Lex: And remember, our defense tech is lightyears ahead of Wayne Industries or the has-beens of the Stagg Conglomerate. What can I say? Government contracts pay well. Superman: Maybe keeping the knowledge out of your hands is a risk worth taking. You’re not exactly giving me reasons to trust you. Besides, the Collector was only a robot. Lex: Oh, please. The man who wouldn’t even rough up Uncle Sam’s troops? They’ve given you plenty of reasons to crack a few ribs. Those were people who were arguably much more deserving of a little retribution. You just aren’t cold-hearted enough to pretend that thing wasn’t alive. And if you can’t kill a monster like that, much less bruise a few trigger-happy soldiers…well. Do you really think I’d believe for a minute that you’d risk destroying the Archive? You’d never priceless trove of the knowledge thought lost with countless long-dead civilizations? Including Krypton, no less? Come on, Superman. Shouldn’t someone like you be above good and evil? Lois: Oh, fuck off, diet Nietsche. Superman: If it would be so easy for you to save the world, Luthor, why won’t you?
Lex: Strife shapes humanity, Superman. It sharpens it, like a– Lois: Please. Spare us the soundbites from your self-help book and listen, for once in your sad little life. You have countless eons of scientific achievements in the palm of your hand, and you couldn’t save the world if you tried. Superman: It takes a world to save the world. And you’re too damn petty to share, so you’ll let the rest of the planet suffer in the meantime. Lex: …Alright. Two years. Superman: What was that?
Lex grins, steps back towards Superman, and offers a handshake.
Lex: What can I say? You’ve talked me into it. Two years, and if the world isn’t saved by then, I’ll turn the Archive over to the people. Superman: A deal’s a deal. …I still hate you, though. Luthor: Likewise.
After defeating the Collector, it’s up to Dr. Irons to figure out how to land the ship. Just to be safe and make sure nobody gets crushed underfoot, they pick Antarctica.
The massive ship will become a home for all of the aliens they released from the Collector’s time-stopping field. Long-dead cultures, once separated by the vastness of space, come together for the first time.
Kandor wasn’t freed from stasis, and the controls are VERY broken now, but Clark holds out hope that he can free them one day.
And exploring the frozen city of his forefathers, he finds something interesting: the Phantom Zone Projector. (But that’s a story for another article.)
Meanwhile, Luthor has recovered John Corben. The man is a wreck, his flesh remade into skeletal armor by Brainiac’s nanites. In fact, he’s legally dead – but being more machine than man at this point, that’s not the end.
Haunting light glows from within the Metal-0 armor. He sits up slowly, methodically. John Corben was driven by emotion and passion, impulsive to a fault. Almost nothing of that remains. It was burned out of him as he raged against a godlike AI’s mind invading his own, his despair and pain so far gone that he’s simply numb.
The man who was John Corben looks down at the Kryptonite embedded in his chest, and a cold chuckle escapes his lips.
Metal-0: So, you’ve performed the miracle of resurrection. Luthor: I’m still about seventeen months away from that, I’m afraid. But I can flip an on switch. Metal-0 You did this for a reason. Luthor: I always do. You wouldn’t believe what I’m willing to spend to have the right weapon in my arsenal. Metal-0 A weapon for what, Luthor. What do I have left? Luthor Hate, tin can. It’s the one thing that Superman hasn’t taken from you.
Finally, Metropolis is teleported back into place, definitely worse for wear but unbroken. The damage isn’t the only change, though. The cheering and hollering crowd is dotted with aliens, the ones that decided to leave the Collector of Worlds’ ship and step out into a new life.
Lois: After saving a whole city, you could have just taken the win. It's a lot less controversial than introducing more aliens to the world. But avoiding controversy has never been your priority, has it? Superman: Controversy is an inevitable side effect of change, so I think that’s not going away any time soon. And if I’m gonna run out of goodwill sooner or later, I want to spend it on giving people a new life. A new home. Lois: And you’re going to need someone to tell that story. Look, I was thinking about this, and there’s this Clark Kent guy at the Metropolis Star has the right priorities and the voice for it.
Superman glances in the direction of the Metropolis Star’s building. It’s not looking great.
Superman: Yeah, I think the Metropolis Star might have printed its last page. I’m sure he’ll get around to some good pieces on our planet’s latest citizens, but Mr. Kent’s going to need a new gig. In the meantime, though…does the roof of the Planet work for you? Maybe tomorrow, 8 PM? Lois: …Well, I’m sure as hell not gonna turn that interview down. Kent’s a tough little weirdo, he’ll bounce back. And – wait. What do you see?
Superman’s face is something between confusion and exasperation.
Superman: It’s Gotham. There’s a – wow. I don’t even know where to start. Lois: Looks like a job for Superman.
Glancing back at Lois, Superman grins as Clark’s anxieties melt away.
And with that, Superman rockets off towards the setting sun. Within seconds, his cape is a red speck on the horizon, and then it’s gone. Lois glances down at her phone, opens a note, and begins typing the words “Is Clark Kent Superman?”
Lois: Nah. Nah, no goddamn way. …Right?
Roll the credits.
Look, if HBO Max wants spinoffs of The Batman, they’re gonna want spinoffs of The Superman. Here’s two:
The Daily Planet:
A series following Lois and Jimmy, the world’s greatest reporters getting into trouble for the sake of uncovering the truth.
The show focuses on what a street-level perspective of all this crazy superhuman drama looks like.
Clark is seen sparingly, because he’s always sneaking off to do something Supermanly, and works from home pretty often. (No, but seriously, you could record a Zoom call with the actor and it would make perfect sense.)
The Daily Planet show is the perfect vehicle to explore the sudden influx of weirdness and super powers in this DC Universe. It’s a ground-level view of the fantastical as it is being born.
Dr. John Henry Irons deserves a goddamn show. He was the cooler Iron Man over a decade before Robert Downey Jr. and company revolutionized that character.
Also, his niece should be in here, because she inherits the Steel moniker after building her own suit.
Superman deals with sweeping science fiction concepts, but a Steel show can examine the individual impacts of different kinds of supertechnology with more space to breathe than a movie would allow. Dr. Irons has the perfect perspective for that.
So, that’s one direction that Warner Bros. could steer Superman after the events of The Batman. In the end, it’s all hypothetical. This is also my idealized version of a Superman movie, and I don’t have to deal with the messy realities of bringing it to life on film. Still, I think this is a very interesting space to explore. I hope you did too, but if not, hey, congratulations for reaching the end of this stupidly long article anyways.
While this is the conclusion of The Superman, this universe has more to offer – so keep checking back for articles on what The Wonders of the Gods and its follow-up crossover The Trinity would look like.
Here are a few details to tide you over:
Batman starts the no-man’s-land crossover movie with a new iteration of his batsuit, stronger and sleeker than ever before. By the end of the movie, it’s practically destroyed, with a good chunk of his mask missing and a cape riddled with bullet holes. (We’re taking a page from the Arkham video games, in that regard.)
While introducing insanely powerful aliens to the world means Bruce has to get so good that the climactic fight of The Batman would be child’s play to him, we don’t lose all of the ways Matt Reeves grounded his world. Specifically, Batman isn’t perfect. He’s human. He might be good enough to take down ten men bare-handed, but if they surround him, he’s going to take a few hits.
Batman should accumulate minor injuries over the course of the Trinity film, and his suit’s fancy gadgets should be used up or damaged until Bruce Wayne has nothing left but his mind and his fists.
He’s way in over his head, up against beings that have much more raw strength than Superman or Wonder Woman, and nursing some cracked ribs, but Batman just doesn’t stop coming. Both his borderline-deranged anger and his ice-cold focus compel Bruce to keep looking for a way to win, even as he walks into fights where he fully expects to die.
And with that, I’ll just leave you a glimpse of concept art.