Devin Faraci describes in Birth. Movies. Death., The One Thing That Makes SUPERGIRL Better Than MAN OF STEEL “There’s one thing that Supergirl gets right that Man of Steel completely whiffed, and while it’s a small thing it is, in a very real sense, the only thing that matters. In Supergirl Kara Zor-El wants to be a hero.”
And I agreed, but thinking about it a little more clarified something else for me. First off I didn’t like Man of Steel. Parts were ok but it definitely got Superman wrong and it didn’t need to be dark. The line that clinched it for me was Pa Kent telling Clark that perhaps he should have let a school bus crash (was it over a bridge) and let all of his friends die. Sorry that’s not Superman or Pa Kent.
Usually I hear that the difference between Superman and Batman is that Superman is a “boy scout” and that this is a trait that makes the character boring. I have to agree that there aren’t a lot of great Superman stories, particularly compared to Batman, but it doesn’t have to make the character boring. The 1978 film certainly wasn’t.
But what this article got me to realize is that Superman the character wants to save people. That may be a definition of hero, but it’s a different one from Batman. Batman (certainly recent incarnations of him) wants to stop criminals. Phrased as “saving people” it really describes what’s wrong with Superman in Man of Steel, because he doesn’t do that. He’s dragged into the hero role because of Zod and destroys a city and kills his adversary. None of this was about saving people (or even wanting to stop criminals, rather he was drafted into it).