Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ was one of the few films this summer that actually managed to live up to the hype, but it wasn’t without controversy. Whether it was on social media websites or just in the comments sections of many reviews, there seemed to be many fans who were upset with the ending because “Superman doesn’t kill.”
David Goyer has now weighed in on the subject, and he’s spot on in his analysis: The “Superman doesn’t kill” rule hurts the character.
“We were pretty sure that was going to be controversial,” Goyer said. “It’s not like we were deluding ourselves, and we weren’t just doing it to be cool. We felt, in the case of Zod, we wanted to put the character in an impossible situation and make an impossible choice.
“This is one area, and I’ve written comic books as well and this is where I disagree with some of my fellow comic book writers – ‘Superman doesn’t kill’. It’s a rule that exists outside of the narrative and I just don’t believe in rules like that. I believe when you’re writing film or television, you can’t rely on a crutch or rule that exists outside of the narrative of the film.
“So the situation was, Zod says ‘I’m not going to stop until you kill me or I kill you.’ The reality is no prison on the planet could hold him and in our film Superman can’t fly to the moon, and we didn’t want to come up with that crutch.
“Also our movie was in a way Superman Begins, he’s not really Superman until the end of the film. We wanted him to have had that experience of having taken a life and carry that through onto the next films. Because he’s Superman and because people idolize him he will have to hold himself to a higher standard.” …
Boom. This is the exact argument I had with Dan Slott’s version of Peter Parker (before he killed the character and replaced Spider-Man with a guy who tried to exterminate six billion people). In Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott’s Peter Parker had a “no one dies” rule, which came across as absurd and silly because sometimes heroes are placed in impossible situations. Sometimes they must make a decision that ends a life in order to save a life. Those are the sorts of stories that add new layers and depth to a character, and the response from advocates of “no one dies” or “Superman doesn’t kill” rules tends to be weak.
Dan Slott’s response to my critique of the “no one dies” mentality was to call me an idiot over and over again while abusing the caps-lock button, and then to distort what I said. The “Superman doesn’t kill” crowd often goes into a realm of thought occupied by anti-war protesters. “War is bad. Always. Nothing good ever comes from war. Nothing. … Superman doesn’t kill. Ever. Because taking a life is always bad. Always.”
Well, okay. On some level, yes. Sane people don’t thirst for war and don’t enjoy the thought of having to kill. But war did help end slavery in the United States and it also brought down Nazi Germany, for example. That’s why we honor the fallen. We know that in many ways the price for liberty is often paid for in blood.
Thomas Paine puts it more beautifully than I ever could:
“These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated,” (Thomas Paine)
Years ago I worked with a Quaker, and she said there was nothing — nothing — that could convince her to take up arms against her fellow man. I said that I respected her decision, but that it would be nice if she acknowledged that her safety and security was then dependent on better men and women than she, who would stand up to those who would deny her of life and liberty. She was livid — and I was unapologetic.
If armed men burst into my Quaker-coworker’s house in the middle of the night and tried to harm her children, would she just stand there and watch? Or, would she find her inner Superman and attempt to extinguish the threat to her children? Would she, placed in that situation, be willing to possibly end lives to save lives? I would hope so.
If Superman fans want the best stories possible, in print or projected on the big screen, they should stop trying to get writers to adhere to random rules that limit the possibilities for character growth. It would be bizarre if creators tried to turn Superman into Batman, but at the same time he should not be spared the pain, sorrow, anguish and regret that can often come by making a life-or-death decision. If he truly is a hero, then he will exit the gauntlet a better person and teach us all something about ourselves in the process.