There’s going to be spoilers for Man of Steel after the jump, but I want to make sure you all see this short film regardless because it’s super cool, so I’ll talk about that first and then tie it all together.
Marcus Alqueres released this short film three weeks ago and I thought it was a great look at the superhero genre. In it, we have a titular Flying Man with super strength who fights crime. The weird thing about it in terms of superheroism is that the Flying Man a silent protagonist who doesn’t cooperate with any law inforcement and he only deals justice by killing his victims. The tension that builds in the seven minute run-time of this video may make this “hero” the scariest villain I’ve ever seen. Man of Steel really bothered me as a comic guy for one big reason: Superman was either directly or indirectly responsible for an immense loss of life in the climactic battle scene with General Zod, including going as far as to murder Zod himself. I think that the proliferation of bloody, gritty anti-heroes in comics and comic book movies (including characters I love like Wolverine, Deadpool, and now that I think about it a ton of the Marvel canon) has led to a need to show characters as being “cool” rather than letting them be heroes. And to a certain extent that’s fine IF that’s what the character was designed to be. But when you have a character like Superman who is built around protecting people, who has years of non-violent canon stored up, to suddenly have him destroying cities and snapping necks makes no sense. It takes away an element of his heroism.
One of my favorite DC stories is the Hal Jordan Green Lantern arc from the 90s. Jordan is placed in a similar situation to Man of Steel’s Superman. His city has been obliterated and the guilt he feels at being able to stop the villain eventually drives him to villainy himself. He becomes a killer, destroying the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians because he sees them as those who failed to stop the evil in the world. The difference between Green Lantern and Man of Steel is that the death and loss of life weigh on Hal Jordan. When he takes lives, even those who have done wrong and may “deserve it” (they don’t) like Zod in Man of Steel he is treated as a monster. His character needs to be redeemed and the writers spend a great deal of time with Hal Jordan as a villain before he begins his path towards being a Green Lantern, a hero, again. Superman killing Zod is the catharsis of the film. The destruction is collateral damage “for the greater good.” It’s why I appreciate what Joss Whedon did with The Avengers so much. Yes, New York gets smashed to bits in that final fight, but there are scenes where Captain America and the others are helping to evacuate people, to minimize the potential for casualties. Maybe I’m just clutching my pearls and slipping onto my fainting couch, but I think we’ve got enough comic book anti-heroes out there. Maybe we needed to see a true “super hero”, someone to use those extraordinary powers to go beyond what we can do, what we deem possible. Maybe we needed to see someone save everyone.
Where The Flying Man really gets me is its portrayal of a superhero in our reality. Would we trust a vigilante who we knew only killed the bad guys, but we also knew he only killed? The fact that the “hero” in Alqueres’ short never speaks also adds to the conundrum. Is there any explanation that would satisfy this action? All I know is that while watching The Flying Man, I was scared for the villains. I don’t know what that means for the hero.