This week, true to form, I return to the DC side of the fence to talk a conflict that’s been brewing for months. I mean, of course, the conflict between fans of the DCEU and fans of Supergirl over whose Superman is superior.
Fans of Tyler Hoechlin‘s portrayal claim that Hoechlin’s Superman is ‘the right’ one. Meanwhile, Henry Cavill fans claim that Hoechlin just does a Reeve impression instead of bringing anything new to the table.
I get where both sides are coming from.
The DCEU has encountered incredibly virulent negative press. You can’t deny it — the ‘receipts’ would make you look the fool. Whether or not you agree with that press doesn’t matter, because it exists anyway. And its prevalence harms the hardcore fan base that developed almost in response to that press.
Meanwhile, Supergirl doesn’t receive the same level of bad press. However, it acts now as a homing beacon for everyone who hates the DCEU Superman, because Hoechlin is not Cavill. Additionally, with the mixed views and constant scandals and dramas plaguing the CW DC shows and fandom means that the show’s switch to that network doesn’t reflect positively on it to more than a few people. I’ve seen people write off Supergirl not for its actual problems (overwhelming whiteness, sidelining the black love interest’s romance plot for unknown reasons, the lack of disabled or LGBT representation), but for being a show on the CW network, and being part of the Arrowverse. This criticism comes not from critics, in my experience, but from DCEU fans I otherwise deeply respect.
The DC fandom, it seems, runs on spite and being convinced that it knows better than anyone else. Whichever section you favor, you think the other section can’t measure up. Or that the characterization doesn’t make sense. Or that the show or movie just sucks.
So, what of it? Which Superman objectively succeeds?
Both of them do.
Allow me to tell you a tale of two Supermen.
Henry Cavill’s Superman
People rag on Cavill’s Superman more than any other depiction of the character that I’ve ever seen. The major issues people have:
1) He doesn’t smile. Okay, that makes no objective sense. Superman smiling or not smiling doesn’t define the character. What defines Superman is his idealism and his focus on saving people. Superman believes that humanity is capable of beautiful, wonderful things, and wants us to achieve them. To that end, he provides us an example of what we can be: Good, willing to make sacrifices for other people, willing to step in when injustice or danger will hurt people. We want to be like Superman, because he shows us that we can be.
2) He’s ‘mopey’ or ‘grim.’ You try and smile when people are treating you like a god you never claimed to be. You try and smile when other people see your very existence as a threat. You try and smile when the woman you love isn’t sure you can love her and be who you are. The genius of Cavill’s Superman is that he’s Clark Kent first. He grew up on Earth. Everyone he loves is human. The fact of his biology and powers don’t destroy that. He will respond to stress the way he knows how: the way a human would.
The fact that Cavill’s Superman continues to do what he does, and that then proceeds to sacrifice himself to save humanity, speaks more to his belief in us than anything else. That belief, which helps Batman turn the corner back toward righteousness.
I personally feel that Cavill’s Superman is one of my Supermen. The other is Tom Welling. You don’t have to love him, but it hurts to see people hate him as much as they do.
Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman
With the Superman arc on Supergirl, I feel I can appropriately critique — and fangirl over — Hoechlin’s Superman.
This might come as a surprise to people aware of my long-running distaste for the Donner/Reeve Supes, but I love a fun, light-hearted Superman story. So Hoechlin’s Superman speaks to that enjoyment.
I’m not a huge fan of the way the show really slipped focus to Superman — especially in the promo materials — in the episodes he featured in. But I love the way the writers handled the character, and the way Tyler Hoechlin handled playing him.
Tyler Hoechlin plays a Superman who suits the tone of Supergirl. That’s to say that he carries himself with less heaviness than Cavill’s Superman, and makes jokes and quips. He winks and smiles at people when he saves them.
But, unlike the Reeve Superman, Hoechlin brings what feels like a real humanity to the role. I can’t imagine Hoechlin’s Superman wiping Lois Lane’s memory with a kiss, or callously murdering depowered Kryptonians, for example.
Hoechlin’s Superman, also, can have conflicts with people who are not immediately demonized as The Bad Guys — case in point, Martian Manhunter. Both J’onn and Clark have good reasons to take the positions they do on Kryptonite, and who should control it.
Overall, while I prefer Cavill’s Superman, I really, really liked Hoechlin’s as well.
Respect, or: Why the Fanwank is Pointless
As someone who loves both current portrayals of Superman, it deeply frustrates me to see fans of each seemingly dead-set against each other.
I know how it felt when I first found my Superman. I know how I feel about him. And I know, most of all, that other people feel that way about their Superman. Superman gave me a whole new world to dive into, new characters to explore, and ways to verbalize things I couldn’t before.
You’ll believe a man can fly. And I do. In so doing, for just a minute, I can believe that I can fly too, despite everything I might be going through.
I can’t stand the idea of trying to ruin that feeling for anybody else. People love different versions of Superman. I’ll criticize shoddy writing when I see it (see: Reeve era), but I recognize that, for a lot of people, Reeve’s Supes gave them what Cavill’s and Welling’s Supes gave me.
And you know what? That’s awesome.
Now, we’re going to see people finding their Superman in Hoechlin, and that is just as wonderful.