In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as the Man of Steel flies off to decapitate the Dark Knight with his laser eyes, he tells Lois Lane, “No one stays good in this world.”
In Wonder Woman, Ares, the god of war, tells Diana that mankind is inherently evil and doesn’t deserve her protection. What they deserve doesn’t matter, she replies, what matters is what she believes. And what is that? “I believe in love.”
With that line, and with the entire movie preceding it, star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins turned Wonder Woman into the heart and soul of the DC Expanded Universe. They also drew a contrast with Superman’s depiction up to this point in the current cinematic continuity, a contrast so stark that—in my mind, at least—it throws into question Superman’s relevance to the DCEU’s future.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: I’m not an idiot. I know that Henry Cavill’s not going anywhere any time soon. Zack Snyder couldn’t even be bothered to keep Superman dead all the way through the end of BvS, he’s confirmed to appear in November’s Justice League, and at least one more standalone film is likely in the character’s future. But after watching Wonder Woman and seeing the incredible job Gadot and Jenkins did setting Diana up as a beacon of hope, love, and badassery—and given the litany of poor decision-making that’s gone into Superman’s depiction so far—I can’t help but ask: Does the DCEU really need Superman?
To answer that question, we’re first going to have to take a look at how Wonder Woman and Superman relate to each other in the comics, and then swing back around to analyze how they’re currently positioned in the DCEU.
Birds of a Feather Fight Bad Guys (And Make Out) Together
According to William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator, part of the intention behind her inception was “to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman.” True to that sentiment, Wonder Woman and Superman have typically been depicted as being basically equal in strength. Beyond merely their power levels, though, Superman and Wonder Woman have a lot in common. They’re both outsiders, albeit in different ways; they’re both viewed as god-like by the regular citizens of DC’s Earth, in Wonder Woman’s case because she literally is a god these days.
Most importantly, the ideology behind why they do the whole superhero thing is markedly similar. Granted, the ideology behind why most characters become superheroes shares a certain foundational similarity, but with WW and Supes it goes a step beyond that. They both fight out desire to push the world towards a more utopian ideal, and out of a deep love for their adopted human community, although Superman comics don’t really throw the “L” word around a whole lot since dudes don’t talk about their feelings or whatever. The point being, Wonder Woman and Superman have a lot in common, to the point where it’s honestly shocking that it wasn’t until 2012—over seventy years into the characters’ lifespans—that creatives at DC finally had them engage in a canonical romance.
The flip side of this commonality of power and purpose, however, is that when Diana and Clark share the pages of a comic together, one or the other can wind up feeling somewhat superfluous, especially when things devolve—as they always ultimately do with superheroes—into a straightforward punch fest.
A Cinematic Universe Without a Superman
On the surface, then, it might seem like the DCEU has been set up perfectly to have Superman and Wonder Woman on screen together. While Jenkins and Gadot’s interpretation of Diana Prince hews extremely faithfully to the comic book version of Wonder Woman, Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill have taken a radical departure from typical depictions of Superman. A Wonder Woman who’s over a century old, fully assured in her power and place in the world, and a Superman still struggling not to murder Batmen and punch holes in everything, are two very different characters at very different places in their careers as superheroes. The issue of the two characters potentially being too similar and failing carve out their own distinct narrative territory goes away.
The problem with this delineation is that it comes at the expense of Superman as a character. I’m on record as thinking that virtually every choice Snyder and Cavill have made depicting Superman have been completely antithetical to who Superman is supposed to be as a character, and there’s no evidence that that’s going to change any time soon, especially since all indications point to Superman being a Darkseid-mind-controlled bad guy for at least part of Justice League.
It’s a road I’m deeply uninterested in seeing Supes go down, hence my wish that he would’ve just stayed dead after BvS. And Wonder Woman proves that he could have. In his absence, the values of Truth, Justice, and all the other stuff that Superman typically stands for wouldn’t go unrepresented in the DCEU because we have a perfectly realized Wonder Woman to carry the standard instead. And honestly, after being so taken with Wonder Woman and Gadot’s performance, the idea of seeing her dip back into second billing behind Cavill and Ben Affleck—the poster boys for white man-ness—is pretty dissatisfying.
Of course, it’s never too late to turn a character around, and that could very well happen with Superman. He could become the version of the character I’m pining to see, without infringing on Wonder Woman’s turf. But if the past of the DCEU is preface, we probably won’t be so lucky. So while I know it isn’t happening, I can’t help but wish that Superman wasn’t coming back. The DCEU doesn’t need him, and as the new heart of the franchise, it would give Wonder Woman the time in the sun that she deserves.