The apparent insensitivity of Superman to harm has always tempted creators to lead him to the dark side. Kal El is defined by his compassion, his interest in life, and his tremendous power, and the idea that he could become a “villain” is often too fascinating to resist. Such stories have become more prominent in the last decade as DC continues to darken, giving their flagship character a very disturbing downside. This is a powerful way to convey the degree of moral burden on Superman and help tell more interesting stories about Superman. But it also shows how terrifying a person like him can be.
The Disturbing Downside
The most obvious example is Injustice the video game and the accompanying animation adaptation. This portrays a parallel universe in which Superman is deceived into killing Lois Lane and then becomes the dictator of the murder. Taking the knife in Man of Steel, and various cuts in the Justice League meditate on what could happen if he lost control as well. They all make eerie stories for themselves. But their main inspiration comes from Diniverse and the animated Justice League episodes that helped set the standard. Season 2, Episode 1112, “The Better World,” features Superman, who embraces evil in a particularly disturbing way.
In 2003 the two-part film depicts another universe in which Lex Luthor assassinates the Flash to become President of the United States. Superman confronts Luther and burns him with his ardent eyesight instead of starting a nuclear war. Now that this moral boundary has been crossed, he and other Justice Leagues are taking over their world in an unfair way. They call themselves “Justice Lords”, turning the planet into a fascist dictatorship and finally discovering the “major” duo where the rest of the show takes place.
The plot has its roots in several other DC projects, especially the Crime Syndicate and Authority series released under the Wild Storm imprint. It eventually led to the story of Cadmus in Justice League Unlimited (also inspired by the cartoon), where Amanda Waller and other government forces would predict and prevent a similar Justice League takeover with disastrous consequences. It was made. The concept has power because of its plausibility and showed how a loss of someone like Flash (played as a team prank) can turn someone like Clark into a monster.
It’s shocking because it goes far beyond the sudden violence of Injustice and fear of the soul-seeking Snyder Bar. In these cases, Kal El killed because of sudden provocation, or by putting the lives of millions at stake. The Arkham scene in “A Better World” is much colder and more computational, suggesting the systematic dehumanization of those who oppose it. Even against the worst villains of the DC Universe, this approach is shocking and ultimately increases the cautious self-control of top-notch Superman, but nevertheless moral corruption at the level of Darksied and his ilk. Kal El goes there because no one can stop him, and his better self understands the price, but other versions of the character willingly or carelessly pay for it. In the fight against monsters, Justice Lords Superman becomes himself and has no regrets.