I originally published this article to coincide with the movie Man Of Steel but considering Batman v. Superman is coming out in 2016 and the first trailer was just released, I figure its a good time to revisit the scenario since the film echoes the theme of how the world reacts to Superman's presence.
We fear what we do not understand
We hate what is different
We destroy what we cannot control
- The nature of man
I was watching Henry Cavill in an interview this morning and he was promoting Man of Steel, he explained the premise of the movie with a what if. He said, what if we discovered that an alien was living among us for 33 years and we couldn't hurt it and it was more powerful than we were, how would we deal with it? How would it deal with us? Over the decades Superman has dealt with many foes and villains, some of them human but I haven't run across a story that was given a more contemporary spin where Kal-El had to deal only with humans. If Superman really existed, would the world really accept him? The one story to come closest that I know of was the 1987 film Superman: Quest For Peace, the suckiest of the Christopher Reeves franchise. QFP touched lightly on the hero directly involving himself in the affairs of man on a global scale by getting rid of all the nuclear missiles every country owned (in the lamest manner possible). But then it stops there and goes into the typical super hero vs super villain trope.
I thought about the scenario of how the world would actually react to a super powered being using both ancient and recent history of how people have usually dealt with an exceptional person in their midst. By the way if you know of any comic book or graphic novel story that actually did a scenario like this please drop the info in the comments section, I'd love to check it out.
We're all familiar with the story of Superman, Krypton destroyed, last surviving child, crash lands on Earth, raised by John and Martha Kent, love affair with Lois Lane, fights for truth and justice. Kal-El was raised as Clark Kent and lucky for us the Kents instilled in him a strong sense of upright morality. But its that upright morality that would put him in direct conflict with his host planet in a real life scenario.
Throughout the decades of the comic its been depicted that Superman has a degree of conflict within himself about his place in world as well as who and what he is. It's the main reason why he built the Fortress of Solitude, the interior of which is a recreation of his home world, so that he can gain some idea of what his people were about and how he's suppose to conduct his life. And after obtaining that knowledge of self, coupled with the foundation of christian/judeo values via the Kents, I would imagine Kal-El coming back to society reinvigorated and excited to share his goodwill and news of justice and fair play.
If that sounds familiar to you its because we've heard this story before. If you believe the Bible it played out some 3000 years ago. A being not of this world was born to an upright family, grew up and after some time isolated away from people came back to tell and demonstrate to all who would listen about a better way of living.
Zack Snyder, David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan may be dipping a bit deeper in the religious parallels of the Superman and Jesus Christ more than any other film director whose tackled the story so far but its really interesting to me how that would play out if that being really existed (I'm talking about Superman). And I imagine it would end in a similar sad way.
THE GOOD NEWS
Imagine a newly inspired Superman going back to society after spending time away in his home away from home in the arctic. He would immediately invest his time in trying to level the playing field and bring a better sense of balance to spheres of control. I would assume he'd have a three part plan of bringing unity to man.
His first duty would be to help those who are in need of it the most so I would imagine that he wouldn't come back to mainland United States but to third world countries in Africa and South America and Asia where people suffer horribly. In fact if he hadn't made his presence broadly known to America as a young adult then his introduction to the world would be through his assistance to other countries. America would see him in another country and assume his loyalties lie with them. If he was known in the U.S. prior to his sabbatical, we would question his loyalty to us seeing how he's spending inordinate amounts of time abroad. This very act alone would put him on enemies lists in the halls of power in the U.S.
And after bringing those third world countries closer to the level of first world industrialized nations, Superman's second grand act would be to insure those countries and peoples have a chance and opportunity to flourish just as other countries have and in order to do that he would pronounce himself the Guarantor of Peace. As such, he would have to insert himself as arbitrator in various countries and people's long standing conflicts. Since he's highly intelligent and not human he can look at an issue from a perspective not tainted with passion and/or skewed by dark ulterior motives and come up with resolutions that would be as close to fair and balanced as possible. Of course neither side would be too happy with the solutions but then again that would probably be the best indicator that it was in fact the best solution. And he would have the power to back it up. As the fastest and strongest being on the planet, no one could defy him and breaking the agreement could result in dire repercussions for the side who reneges. In short Superman would be a walking, talking Mutually Assured Destruction agent.
His third act as Guarantor of Peace would be to push back the military foot print of various nations...including the United States. With his power and ability there would be no need for a country to have troops and bases abroad. Superman's presence means any war would bring him to the battlefield and no human army can oppose him, that alone would tamp down any threats of violence from one country to another. But countries don't have military bases spread abroad just to guard against possible attacks from enemies. A military footprint in a given foreign country is primarily there to protect a country, kingdom or empire's interests first. Generally to protect their stake in whatever resource that foreign country has. But as G.o.P, Superman would take the responsibility of making sure all sides abide by the deals they've struck with each other.
I could even see Big Blue tackling climate change and lending his muscle and intellect to, if not solving it, at the very least reducing man's contribution to it in a much faster more efficient way then we would without his help.
Under these conditions, in this scenario, its imaginable that the inhabitants of Earth would finally achieve that often spoken about dream of unity and peace with prosperity for all. In no small part due to the help of the last son of Krypton literally dragging us to it kicking and screaming all the way. Of course all of this would hinge on people by and large cooperating with him and each other and we know that just wouldn't happen in any scenario you could conjure.
BUT CAN WE TRUST HIM?
Now usually at about this time some kind of super powered villain would appear to try to stop the Blue Boy Scout and failing that then some human evil genius like Lex Luthor would emerge to try take him out. In the last decade or so the comics and cartoons have portrayed Luthor more like a business man heading up multinational conglomerate Lexcorp. He even ran for President and won, so thats closer to my idea of a more realistic take on Superman but there's only one Lex Luthor in the comics. My scenario has no other super powered beings, it's just Superman and us. And a Lex Luthor type would emerge only it would be more like a thousand of him and they would all be leaders of various countries and multinational conglomerates. Instead of Lexcorp it would be Halliburton, Bechtel Group and the Lockheed Corporation.
As I stated earlier, the second Superman started upending the status-quo would be the second he'd become enemy number one all over the world. There are many people who profit very well from human misery and free and cheap labor and woe betide anyone who dares to change that, even the Man of Steel, especially him because he would be the only person who could effect meaningful change. And these leaders method for defeating Superman's efforts would be many and layered.
As we've seen with the last two U.S. Presidential elections one tactic is to play up the "otherness" of the target. In Kal-El's case the drumbeat of his literal alien status would be loud and steady. No matter how many good deeds he did or how nice and courteous his demeanor was the fact that Superman isn't human, he only looks human, would be enough to question his motives. How can we trust him really? That question would be the not so subtle inference on his alienness. That would be enough to sway a good number of people but not most since Superman has never shown any untoward or aggressive behavior to humans. But with that foundation laid the next step would be to show that Kal-El may be picking favorites in who he saves and who gets missed.
Sure Superman is only one person and its a big world but I'm pretty sure some statistician would find that of all the people saved and crisis averted the majority of those may be white since he was raised by Caucasian human parents and he looks Caucasian himself. Or maybe it would be Asian since most of the world's population is Asian. In any case whatever group that gets the larger number of saves from Supes compared to who gets the least would only fuel speculation that maybe the hero isn't the fair playing person we like to think.
Side note: there's always been some sort of alternate/what if version take on Superman and his influence since he was raised as human from infancy. The best known one is Red Son: What if Kal-El's escape pod had landed in the USSR? The consequences of that had a huge effect on the U.S. and the Cold War. But considering the time frame of the story in general (around the 40s) what if the Kents were white supremacists? Pa Kent is the Grand Wizard of his local chapter of the KKK and little Clark grows up in it, imagine the repercussions of that for America.
Going back to the Bible parallel, Christ's ministry put him in direct conflict with the Hebrew elders and powers that be as well as the local government. As a result he was set up, railroaded and executed for nothing more than attempting to affect the status-quo. Superman would have the same experience. After questioning his loyalty to the planet and motives for his actions the next step would be character assassination.
And while he was running around trying to reassure the world that he's not a part of some ancient prophesy to destroy Earth and remake it in his own image, world and business leaders would be creating legislation and laws to limit his positive influence. Their position would be that because Superman isn't human he has no right to impose his will on any country or to even enter their airspace without proper permission regardless of the reason and any act to do so would be proof of his disregard for man's law. They may even create an artificial crisis to goad Superman to cross the line just to prosecute him as an enemy of the state. He would probably allow himself to stand trial and be incarcerated to show contrition and cooperation and following his short stint at some prison, our hero, frustrated to no end, would retreat back to the Fortress of Solitude just to find some. And all of that is before the discovery of his weakness to Kryptonite.
THE KAL-EL PROTOCOL
Before, the plan was to either make him go away or marginalize him as much as possible considering there wasn't anyway to hurt or kill him. But if those factions against Superman were to find out about Kryptonite then the plan changes to kill. Assassination teams would be outfitted with a weapons and ammunition tipped with the special rock and the hunt to murder Superman would commence. I'm aware that various other stories have used this device such as Jonah Hex or in the Smallville series but again its usually one person and used in an extremely limited fashion.
In this scenario whole armies would be outfitted with the advantage. Or at the very least elite teams such as the SEALS or Mosaad would have access to it. With the playing field leveled (or so they'd think) and a media blitz disparaging his image and character, there would be coordinated attacks to draw out Superman and destroy him. Remember that artificial crisis I mentioned? With various military forces armed with Kryptonite that would be the perfect situation to use to destroy him. The battle would rage and Superman would be weakened by the kryptonite bullets and missiles and in that moment he would have to make a decision. Either fight his enemies with all of his might and abilities or leave Earth and man alone once and for all.
One would go against everything he was taught and believes. The other wouldn't change anything for the people who needed it the most and play into hands of his enemy.
Ultimately I think Superman would choose to leave. The reason being man's inhumanity to man is a natural state for humans and at the end of day, Kal-El is not a human. He would have no choice but to allow the affairs of humans to play out on its own but he'd loathe to idly stand in the midst of it and not act. We would ultimately allow the rejection of the presence of a noble being among us. He would pack up the Fortress of Solitude and rebuild it on some far moon around Jupiter or Saturn using Kryptonian tech to create a livable space and watch from afar as the only home he's ever known slowly destroys itself. Which brings us back to the Christ comparison once again. After the persecution and execution, its written that Christ rose again and after promising to return ascended to heaven. The rumors and predictions on his return have been flying ever since. The same thing would happen to Superman in this scenario, rumors and whispers would abound of sightings and predictions on when he would come back. But the real question is, would he want to?