In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a half-dozen characters all donned versions of Spider-Man's costume and teamed up to prove that "anyone can wear the mask."
This week, Reign of the Supermen is released digitally, in which that message is turned on its head -- and both movies are well-done films with a strong case for their themes.
Shortly after the four would-be Supermen debut in Reign of the Supermen, they all four end up in the same place at the same time, and a melee ensues. It is not long before one character identifies himself as Superman, only to be corrected by another that there is only one Superman.
While the character is suggesting that he is the sole heir to the Superman name -- something that is not true -- the basic message that there is only one Superman is actually a major theme in the comics on which Reign of the Supermen is based -- and to a lesser extent, the movie as well.
The fact that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Reign of the Supermen have opposing viewpoints on their title heroes might seem like fans would have to choose one school of thought over the other, but in fact, it merely illustrates the differences between the characters.
The old adage, going back decades, is that DC's heroes are the gods on Olympus (heck, look at the "Justice" mural on The CW's The Flash), while Marvel's exist in the "world outside your window." Spider-Man is human, relatable. He has flaws and problems and emotional baggage in a way that "perfect" characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman do not.
Superman is an inspirational figure -- not just to the people of the city (as Spider-Man is), but to the world. Other heroes are at a loss to keep up with everything he did after he dies, and the four new Supermen cannot fill the gap, either. Superman is, after all, one of a kind. Going back to the "gods on Olympus" metaphor, Superman takes the Greek god archetype and imbues it with a more contemporary character, something Christlike -- modest, kind, and with love for all, rather than the fickle and often selfish old gods.
Superman's humanity is what makes him different from The Eradicator or even Superboy. That is why when "Reign of the Supermen" was happening in the comics, John Henry Irons -- a character who never claimed to be Superman, and who had no powers and wore a suit of armor to do his good -- made a compelling argument to be a replacement Superman. Of the four, he was the one who felt the most like Clark Kent.5comments
That humanity is what ties him to characters of the Marvel variety and makes him a more broadly appealing character than his many knockoffs or even many of DC's other heroes -- but at the end of the day, there is no one who can step into the role of Superman. As relatable as Clark Kent is, Superman himself is a shining beacon of hope. He is not a "regular" person in extraordinary circumstances but someone whose very existence is extraordinary as the last son of a dead civlization, raised in ideal conditions that even his own birth parents could not have predicted when they rocketed him to safety. Not everyone can wear the cape -- in fact, there's only one Superman.
Reign of the Supermen is available today on video on demand platforms, and will be released soon on DVD, Blu-ray, and the DC Universe app. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is currently in theaters.