While there is no official leader of the Justice League, the one standing front and center on the cover of most iterations of the DC heroes’ collaborative alliance is Superman. As the definitive example of modern day comic book superhero, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s Man of Steel has always seemed like the natural choice to be referred to as team leader… that was until the dawn of the DCEU.
With all due respect to Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Clark Kent, a leader, he is not. The dark, brooding interpretation of the usually chipper, morally incorruptible Superman as depicted in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice only feels more out of place in 2017’s Justice League (and I am not just talking about his CGI upper lip).
Of course, I should mention that it is never really made clear who is really calling the shots in the DCEU’s Justice League between Superman and Batman, but I do have a clear opinion over who deserves the honor more and it is not the boy in blue. Now, before you threaten me with a Kryptonian neck snap, hear me out.
Superman Is Often Reluctant To Fulfill His Purpose
Early on in 2013’s Man of Steel, we see young Clark Kent going through a bit of an identity crisis. Smallville, Kansas, may be the home he knows, but he is very much aware of his true origins at Krypton and, as hard as they may try, his adoptive parents Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and John Kent (Kevin Costner) can never seem to make him truly feel at home.
His extraterrestrial abilities make him feel like an outcast to his peers, suffering at the hands of bullies and his own fear of exposing his true self to the world, a fear outweighed by his own father. However, his father does offer the encouraging words that the man he decides to become will be the man to change the world, but even that is enough to prevent Clark Kent from spending much of his adult life exiling himself from society before discovering the Kryptonian ship in the Canadian Arctic where he is bestowed the costumed he is destined to defend the world in.
However, Superman still cannot help but question his own worth to the world after taking a lot of heat for the path of destruction he left to defeat General Zod (Michael Shannon) in Man of Steel (more on that later). Much of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sees Clark Kent looking down on himself, despite clearly seeking to assert superiority over Ben Affleck’s Batman, whom he perceives as the more corrupt one with a cape.
Superman can never seem to make up his mind over whether he deserves to be called the Golden Boy of the costumed vigilantes or if he has as much benefit to humanity as, say, Doomsday. Maybe you do, Superman. Maybe you do.
Superman Causes More Destruction Than He Prevents
This has been a bone of contention for many of Man of Steel’s toughest critics. If I may say so myself, I believe the criticism is just.
The climax of Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman revival Man of Steel sees the superhero in a one-on-one, Kryptonian-on-Kryptonian battle against the ruthless General Zod in the heart of Metropolis. In the process of preventing Zod’s Earthly invasion in attempt to convert it into a new Krypton, many buildings crumble to the ground, injuries are sustained, and lives are lost from the alien attacks.
This controversial scene was more deeply explored, and, in a way that essentially sides with the Man of Steel critics, nonetheless, one of the first moments of Batman v Superman: Dawn Justice, as seen through the eyes of Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. The billionaire races through Metropolis in attempt to save his employees, and a helpless little girl seconds from death, while noticing that Superman is in the middle of an airborne fist fight with his fellow Kryptonian, too busy to deal with the dangers that innocent people are facing right below him.
While Batman would eventually come around and realize that Clark Kent wasn’t all bad, thanks to the realization that their mothers have the same name, he had every right to initially suspect Superman as a threat. From the looks of it, he could have easily been the one responsible for for those innocent lives lost.
Not to mention, the preventability of this sort of situation had been demonstrated just a year prior to Man of Steel’s release in The Avengers when Captain America orders the NYPD to set up a perimeter for battle to take place and have civilians evacuate the premises. Chalk up another point to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Does Superman Really Know How To Be A Leader Anyway?
In a pivotal scene of 2017’s Justice League, Bruce Wayne convinces his fellow heroes in his newly formed group of justice seekers that the only way to stop Steppenwolf is with the help of Superman. OK, maybe he outdoes every member of the group in terms of ability, but does Batman, the master of outwitting criminals and developing contingency plans, really believe that the guy he once questioned the fragility of is the secret to saving humanity?
We have already covered Superman’s frequent tendencies for self-doubt (as depicted in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and his unfortunate disregard of innocent bystanders (also depicted in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Taking both of these characteristics into account, it is clear that Superman, while looking the part of a leader, does not really have what it takes.
Can you imagine the DCEU’s Superman trying to give orders to a fellow Justice League member - and I mean any of them, even Ezra Miller’s Flash? He would spend much of the time talking in circles, wrestling with a desire to assert dominance and an inherent need to remain polite, like a recent college grad reluctantly promoted to manager of his father’s company, if you get my drift.
As for combat strategy, I would not look to Superman for that. You can’t really expect strategy coming from a guy whose primary attack and defense methods are not much different than the controls on a Super Nintendo (UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, HEAT VISION).
Far from an authority figure and a bit unpredictable in action, I can imagine the DECU’s Superman being completely in over his head to accept as position as the guy in charge of the Justice League. If anything, he’s the muscle. As for the head honcho, I might have an idea.
Instead of Superman, The Justice League’s Leader Should Be...
Wonder Woman. Yep, that’s right. I do not believe there is a single member of the Justice League, especially Superman, better for the role than Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Diana Prince.
The Amazonian princess of Themyscira is a person of nearly incomparable resiliency, resourceful intellect, and moral incorruptibility. She is basically that Superman lacks when not counting his otherworldly abilities.
While Batman sounds like the best person to manage the Justice League’s various tasks, even his grumpy, ignorant self needs to be put in check, and given that strong women have proven to be an effective weakness for him, it is certain he will listen to Wonder Woman. The rest of the bunch - Flash, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) - are also well aware that there is plenty they could learn from a centuries-old warrior like her.
When not considering his original comic book persona, the animated interpretations, and Christopher Reeve’s performance, and only looking at how the DCEU has portrayed Superman, it looks clear that the Justice League is better off with him as a second-class reporting officer and not a captain. However, perhaps you have your arguments in support of Clark Kent as top banana and, if so, I would love to hear them so feel free to comment below!