Rambling: How It Could Have Ended

I enjoy How It Should Have Ended. Based on the prominence of Superman (and Batman) at the Super Café, I think their affection for Superman is obvious and I generally take their offerings in the spirit in which I think they were intended: superficial lighthearted jabs at plotting meant to raise an eyebrow and chuckle. HISHE isn’t a serious indictment of or malicious bitterness towards the films (they do take a few more pot-shots at Man of Steel in later clips, but nothing too vitriolic).

I think they tend to humorously raise the questions the general audience might, under the short window of their production schedule (this video was originally published a little over a month after the premiere), but often those questions can be answered by those more invested in the work than general audiences. For example, the issue of the eagles with The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King.

They’re under time pressure to try to find a more seemingly rational course of action (and ending) while hoping that it’s received as funny. Their aim isn’t to test any film’s staunchest apologists. By the same token, the following isn’t meant to impinge on their intelligence, attack their efforts, or criticize their creation (never meant to do much more than make you chuckle) however it does address the questions raised by How It Should Have Ended.

The video basically raises these questions:

  1. Why didn’t Jor-El copy Lara’s consciousness too?
  2. Why didn’t Clark consult with Jor-El in response to Zod’s ultimatum?
  3. Why did Zod give Earth 24 hours to respond?
  4. Why didn’t Superman blitz the Black Zero with his vessel?
  5. Why didn’t Superman just do what everyone was expecting?

The biggest flaw in raising these questions is assuming too much about what characters know or don’t know.  If we don’t make the same assumptions, let’s see how things could have ended!

Why didn’t Jor-El copy Lara’s consciousness too?

HISHE Assumption 1: Jor-El could copy Lara’s consciousness
HISHE Assumption 2: Lara didn’t know what Jor was doing and would disapprove of being omitted

Given that Jor-El copies his own consciousness it’s not unreasonable to wonder why Lara’s couldn’t be copied as well. However, the video itself gives us at least one answer why it wouldn’t be possible: lack of time. This isn’t a terribly radical idea in the Superman mythos. Really nearly anything surrounding the destruction of Krypton has arguable ties to insufficient time… not enough time to convince the Council, not enough time to build an ark or lifeboats for the planet, not enough time to recognize the threat, etc. It doesn’t take much to imagine situations where Jor-El had the time and opportunity to copy his consciousness while Lara didn’t.

Probably the easiest among these is if the technology is novel and only recently perfected. There’s some support for this idea. Jor-El didn’t propose it as an alternative means of saving Krypton. Zod didn’t know whether Jor-El’s AI could feel pain, suggesting that he and all Kryptonians were unfamiliar with the technology and its parameters; likewise the fact that the Black Zero was vulnerable to the AI, albeit only temporarily. However, Zod wasn’t shocked either because their technology level included many mind-machine interfaces like their universal translators, the interrogation machine, somatic reconditioning, etc. So it’s quite possible that Jor-El only managed to perfect the technology just before Kal’s launch without time to copy Lara… something that takes an unknown amount of time.

The film is simply silent on the subject and the video assumes Lara didn’t know and disapproves for the purpose of humor, but both positions are unsubstantiated.  In fact, there’s little support for the idea that Lara wouldn’t be on board with Jor-El’s plan. She’s the one that finds Earth, she’s the one that pushes the launch button, she’s the one that carried and gave birth to the first natural born child in centuries, she’s the one supporting and assisting Jor-El in this incredibly confronting plan of shooting their child into space. It’s really unlikely that Jor hid anything from such a loyal conspirator. Lara had to be completely on board with Jor to get this far, to accept the natural birth, a ship with only room for Kal, etc. The humorous protest raised by HISHE’s Lara doesn’t ring true.

How It Could Have Ended? Lara was entirely aware of Jor’s plan and the limitations of the technology all along and endorsed them, had she tried to have her consciousness copied as well, Kal would not have been able to launch in time.

Why didn’t Clark consult with Jor-El in response to Zod’s ultimatum?

HISHE Assumption: Clark still trusts Jor-El after Zod appears

From Clark’s perspective consider this: Everything he experienced up to this point would still be consistent behavior for a mad apocalyptic prophet or a sinister one working with Zod… especially when the essential truth of Jor-El’s account- that all of Krypton is destroyed- is proven blatantly false when Zod arrives on Earth alive and well.

As the audience, we got to see Jor-El on Krypton and know his intentions are true. However, from Clark’s perspective, he’s only just met Jor-El. The alien who abandoned him to the stars because everyone on their homeworld was dead and who declined to come along because the failings of their world might infect or afflict him. As desperately as Clark wants answers that’s still a hard pill to swallow… and so long as nothing contradicts Jor-El’s story, he’s willing to keep an open mind and heart towards this being that claims to be his father. However, Clark has no real proof of Jor-El’s claims.  Especially, when Zod suspiciously arrives on Earth mere days after Clark meets Jor-El for the first time… the same Jor-El that insisted that Clark’s isolation and difference was completely justified by Krypton’s impending destruction.

At a minimum, Jor-El was wrong… and if he was wrong about this, how much more could he be wrong about? If Jor is a crackpot, how valuable would his information really be? At worst, Jor-El is a villainous liar… someone with a hidden agenda, telling Clark tales and manipulating his feelings, as he summoned Zod in the background to come to Earth.

Now, none of that is an issue if going to see Jor-El is without risk. Clark can ask his questions, allow Jor-El to answer, and decide if what he hears is credible or persuasive.

The issue is that the Scout Ship isn’t without risk. The last time Clark visited the Scout Ship he briefly struggled with a sentry and experienced physical pain. He saw the corpse of one of his own kind. He met an AI, that knows his strengths and the mechanics of his powers. This incorporeal hologram couldn’t be punched and, for all Clark knows, is crazy. He doesn’t know if Jor is working for or with Zod, against Zod but also against humanity, or what. Clark just knows that if he wants Earth to get “credit” for his surrender, he must face Zod according to Zod’s terms.

Even if Clark earnestly believes in Jor-El, he doesn’t exactly know what Jor-El would pick if he had to choose one. Jor-El promises great hope and a bright future of coexistence, but as a seemingly desperate compromise. Clark doesn’t know if Jor-El would command, force, or expect Kal-El to prefer Krypton over humanity. This is reinforced by Clark’s interaction with Zod during the dream machine interrogation and during Superman’s escape from the Black Zero. When Zod says that Earth must become the foundation of New Krypton, he implies that this was Jor-El’s intention all along. This doubt or fear clearly resonates with Clark because the first thing he asks Jor-El is whether Zod’s accusation is true. Jor dispels Kal’s fears by pointing out Lois and reiterating his belief in coexistence with humanity.

However, put Jor-El’s speech in context. If Clark had no doubts about Jor-El and didn’t fear that possibility, why would he need to ask Jor-El if what Zod said was true? Why would Jor-El have to reiterate what he had already told Clark?… that he was meant to embody the best of both worlds? It is precisely because Clark did have reasonable doubts and that’s exactly why Clark didn’t risk consulting with Jor-El in response to Zod’s ultimatum. Clark doesn’t have the benefit of being on Krypton like we, the audience, did and though his experience on the Scout Ship was filled with hope and joy, it also contained literal pain, fear, and death, things he couldn’t afford to risk with all of humanity’s fate in the balance.

The characters in the film don’t have crystal balls or the benefit of hindsight that the audience may unfairly employ. How It Could Have Ended? Clark visits Jor-El only to find out Jor insists on Kal running to another planet as Krypton’s last hope of soul not corrupted like Zod’s… and when Clark declines, Jor-El uses the sentries and weaknesses yet unknown to Clark to force him into a hibernation pod as Zod razes Earth looking for the Codex. Likely outcome? No, but not a possibility that Clark could necessarily exclude.

As an alternative answer, consider the amount of time that Clark has spent with Jor-El. He didn’t just sit on the Scout Ship twiddling his thumbs as Lois Lane did all that research to backtrack everywhere Clark’s been over the past sixteen years. He had “so many questions” and likely asked them all. It’s possible that Clark was already fully briefed on Zod by the time the ultimatum came down. However, similar to Clark’s reasoning for avoiding Martha, Kal also avoided Jor-El, to give himself the emotional and intellectual autonomy to make the right choice, free from the influence of Jor-El irrespective of what his position would be (surrender, flee, fight, cooperate, etc). Going to Jor-El for counsel assumes options beyond those given by Zod. Those options would inevitably be violence or cowardice, neither of which Clark is likely being willing to consider at that point in time… and if Clark viewed his choice simply as compliance or not, Jor-El would have little meaningful input into that decision since it was a moral choice, not a tactical one.

Why did Zod give Earth 24 hours to respond?

HISHE Assumption: Zod knows what Kal-El knows

It’s a little weird this gets raised by the video since their Zod points out that Kal-El shouldn’t know to bring the Codex.  HISHE correctly noted that Zod hadn’t conveyed his desire to Kal, but mistakenly assumed that Zod would know that Jor hadn’t conveyed that information to Kal. For all Zod knows, Jor left Kal with explicit instructions to destroy the Codex if Zod were ever to appear!

The Codex is the one thing Zod desires and his only interest in humanity, possibly leading him to the Codex (or acting as leverage to accomplish the same). If Zod didn’t care about the Codex, he could have (and arguably would have) attacked Earth without provocation or ultimatum. Since that approach risks losing the Codex forever if it was destroyed unintentionally or in retaliation for such attack, Zod didn’t blitz Earth.

Zod’s toolbox is limited. He wasn’t bred as a diplomat or politician. He couldn’t manipulate Krypton’s Council with guile or feign benevolence with Earth. He makes a threat because that’s all his programming allows him to do, the very same programming that Kal’s natural birth was meant to avoid. The most subtlety he can muster is demanding Kal-El (the person most likely to know the whereabouts of the Codex) instead of the Codex. If Zod demands the Codex directly, he reveals a point of leverage and weakness to humanity; allowing Earth to respond by threatening the Codex.  Once Kal was aboard his ship, Zod could use his reliable interrogation technology to sort out exactly what Jor told his son and what Kal knows.

The 24-hour period is enough time to allow Earth to actually comply with his demands without being so unreasonable as to provoke an desperate attempt at attack or enough time to diving Zod’s true motives.

How It Could Have Ended? If Zod gave Earth no time to comply peacefully, Earth relies on its arsenal of nuclear weaponry… the planet and the Codex are inadvertently destroyed.

Why didn’t Superman blitz the Black Zero with his vessel?

HISHE Assumption 1: Only one Phantom Drive needs to be on
HISHE Assumption 2: Jor-El would propose blitzing the Black Zero without discussion

In the video, Superman is able to create a Phantom Zone Singularity by colliding his ship with the the Black Zero. While his ship has an active Phantom Drive, properly perceived by the Black Zero’s sensors, the Black Zero’s Phantom Drive is dormant. It doesn’t get spun up until the World Engine is deployed and in position, with good reason: Phantom Drives provide only a finite amount of energy (a shortage of energy and resources drove Krypton to mine its own core to its demise; if Phantom Drives provided unlimited energy there would be no reason to continue to mine the core). If only one Phantom Drive needs to be active to create a Phantom Zone Singularity, then Dr. Hamilton contributed nothing to the film and Col. Hardy had no reason to hesitate in deploying Kal-El’s vessel before it was activated. Clearly, two, active Phantom Drives are necessary. HISHE’s blitz would have sacrificed Kal’s ship for nothing.

There’s a lot of assumptions involved in getting the vessel into attack position to begin with. Faora was able to bend the hull with her strength. Superman would have to manipulate it carefully to not destroy the vessel during transport, then Superman would have to activate the vessel without being detected and intercepted by the Black Zero which could scramble dropships. In Smallville, Superman was stunned and stopped by a dropship weapon and a similar attack in space might forfeit the vessel, again for nothing. Zod also didn’t scramble or deploy dropships or defenses to protect the World Engine, implying that its own defenses would be sufficient to deal with anything conventional that humanity might throw at it. Under the HISHE scenario, the World Engine is still up there with the Black Zero and so its defenses may be intact and operable (remember that the World Engine predates Jor-El’s Phantom Drive technology by 18,000 years meaning it can operate independently of a Phantom Drive, even if not as quickly). If it is fearless of anything humanity might throw at it on Earth, it might be unafraid of anything Kal might literally throw… imagine the vessel being caught by a cloud of Liquid Geo.

Even assuming this plan would “work” why in the world would Jor-El suggest it?!

Earlier, our emphasis was on how Zod’s arrival proved Jor-El was wrong to Clark. However, consider the impact of Zod’s arrival on AI Jor-El! There are an infinite amount of possibilities to account for Zod’s survival which preclude banishing Zod to the Phantom Zone with nary a word or thought. What if the real Jor-El and Lara are on the Black Zero? What if they are waiting back on an unexploded Krypton or in a floating city of Argo or a bottled city of Kandor? What if Krypton had been evacuated by the Guardians and the Lanterns? What if Zod’s coup had failed, Jor-El saved Krypton, but Zod escaped? What if Zod’s coup succeeded and he convinced Jor-El to join him for the sake of those remaining on Krypton? What if the Black Zero was just the first of several ships? What if Zod endorsed natural birth and there were innocent refugees aboard? What if Zod had been rehabilitated and came in peace? Etc.

Again, the characters don’t have crystal balls, they don’t have our hindsight, and they don’t have the certainty about the situation that can be glibly assumed in a HISHE video geared towards comedy.

How It Could Have Ended? Kal throws his ship at the Black Zero which does nothing but cause a hull breach because the Black Zero’s Phantom Drive isn’t spun up… Superman is horrified when the breach violently vents innocent Kryptonian refugees into the vacuum of space all because he blitzed the Black Zero purely on Zod’s reputation.

Why didn’t Superman just do what everyone was expecting?

HISHE Assumption 1: Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt

The filmmakers picked confrontational and compelling over safe and boring. Irrespective of whether you like this particular portrayal in this specific context or in no context at all, at the very least, Man of Steel has demanded audiences consider and question what they hold dear about Superman, what they consider to be intrinsic to the character, and what he means to them and others. That answer doesn’t have to be the same for everyone or even stay the same for yourself, but the film made more people think about Superman on more than a superficial level than in a long time and that’s a good thing for an icon that risked becoming a parody of itself.

How It Could Have Ended? We wouldn’t be talking about this film over two-years after its release!

BTS ramblings: This was basically an exercise for myself to force myself to write some blog content despite being rusty. If this was meant to be polished, it would be about 1/5th the length and go for brevity and clarity over completeness. If all goes to plan, another episode should go out this weekend, tackling DCCU news from three angles: story speculation, creative commentary, and business sense… then the episode after is going to tackle the suit and flight.  I’ve got some fun stuff about flight but trying to find more audibly interesting stuff for the suit. I remembered at least one theory about why the name “Krypton”… as an homage to John Carter of Mars and “Helium” another periodic element “Krypton” was selected… also the “Man of Steel” is an homage to Doc Savage the “Man of Bronze” and many of its other trappings from Hugo Danner.

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  1. Very good rebuttal. You must be an attorney or a judge since your blog reads like a court opinion. In a future blog post you should address the debate on whether or not the film, “Man of steel was profitable box office wise. Some people are saying it lost money (of course, I say it was profitable).

    • I was talking with him about this as well. He told me that Man of Steel was definitely a success but it could have done better.

    • My actual court filings a way better, haha, but thanks for the feedback.
      I had notes for a section on MOS’s profitability meant for the most recent episode of the podcast, but had to cut it for time. It will either become a blog post or a future episode down the road. In the meantime, I suggest checking out Filmmaker IQ’s most recent episode on Audience Attendance because it gives you an idea of how a film’s box-office is calculated and why MOS is a certain financial success even if some had greater expectations.

      • Doctor A, i’m wondering what Jonathan said that you said it could have done better? can you stretch this one out? thanks!

        • I was replying to DNNO1 saying this is like a court opinion. My actual court opinions (when clerking) and filing (briefs, etc) are much better than this more informal blog. I think Jonathan misquotes me slightly… he’s probably referring to this YouTube response:

          “Thanks for this question and the last, I’ll get into it eventually, but MOS was DEFINITELY a win, even if it didn’t hit its highest aspirations it out-performed 140 wide-release movies, it garnered $160M in product placement, and represented a ROI of ~30%. Not to mention, it was a non-sequel and the START of a franchise (typically your ROI kicks in later). The only 2013 non-sequel with a higher ROI was “Gravity”, which grossed less in absolute terms, and has no merchandising or sequel potential. Any studio would be happy with that and indeed Warner Bros. is, which is why they had the confidence to build a universe on top of it.”

          That means that some people predicted a higher box office (“highest aspirations”) but that doesn’t mean I believed MOS could or should have done better necessarily.

  2. The realistic portrayal in MOS has caused me to become more cynical to new movies. It really bothered me in Avengers AOU when Shield came out of nowhere and magically not a single civilian died. Jurassic World was similar in with jokes during a dinosaur killing spree and(spoiler……………) none of the patrons die in the movie, only employees of the park actually die. Do you think the success of these movies will cause DC/WB to sway from their realistic take going forward? I for one hope they don’t.

    • Thanks for your insight Mitch. I really appreciate how grounded the consequences were in MOS and BvS looks like it will be continuing with the theme of consequences… but from what little we’ve seen it does look at bit more stylized and I think that’s necessary to a degree to justify Batman being in the League. It’s a little ironic that the “most realistic” DC superhero is the one that is going to make the world a little less realistic, but I’m OK with that as long as the follow through the with consequences that really matter.

      If you listen to the interview with CEO Kevin Tsujihara at the end of the last episode, he mentions that they think any world can work as long as you “think through the implications” which suggests to me that they’re going to stay on a more realistic take with BvS at least. With Suicide Squad and on, who knows? We’ll have to see. I can enjoy anything on the spectrum, but my personal preference is for realism because:

      1. We haven’t seen it taken to this degree yet – I already have decades of more cartoony DCU stories to enjoy, I consider this a fresh take
      2. It takes the source material seriously – many will argue realism is “embarrassed” at the source material and I disagree… anyone can do a literal interpretation of a cartoon, it takes real talent to adapt one medium to another while embracing the strengths of both- films are literally photo-realistic, and to bring the story and characters up to that standard and show that they can work on that level is one way to honor them; part of what made Watchmen the greatest-selling graphic novel of all time was that it treated the medium and genre as something with adult sophistication… MOS definitely does that for Superman
      3. We can have more in-depth and concrete discussions about things more based on reality – The further away you get from the logic and consistency of reality, the less we can say about the world on any kind of concrete basis… when the rules are ostensibly ours we can really dig into how the world works using our own as a model, if the world is more cartoonish you can’t rely on reality as an explanation since anything can be hand-waved as fantasy / cartoon. This isn’t to say more fantasy works can’t have deep, thematic / creative meanings… but since those tend not to be entrenched in rules, they’re also incredible subjective and so it’s harder to have a discussion that isn’t just going in circles.

      All that said, a strictly realistic world is very difficult to write (one of the reasons I admire MOS so much!) especially for the entire DCCU and as crazier and crazier concepts and characters are introduced. I’m borderline convinced there’s no way to write a 100% real and consistent Flash that’s anything like the comics (or without telling the story very, very narrowly)… so I think we have to let go of that at some point, but so long as they keep thinking through the implications that matter, I think we’ll be OK.

  3. Great read. Hey, Doc for your next rambling can you talk about the youtube video “Regarding Clark” or “Sam Explains Why Man of Steel Didn’t Work”?

    • Never say never, but… no, that’s unlikely. I’ve said repeatedly I don’t do “hit pieces” to take down other works.

      HISHE is a 3 minute video from amusing people that I’m happy to promote and they raise just five questions which takes me 3000 words to address (and still requiring citation to prior analyses). The videos you mention are three to five times longer tossing out countless questions which would take way too long to address in writing. If I’m going to churning out a document of that length, I better be getting paid to do it! Hah.

      Addressing it orally or with a video could only superficially address the issues. I think I’ve expressed it this way in the past, it takes no effort to say, “The Earth is flat” or “The Sun goes around the Earth.” Yet, for me to meaningfully rebut that takes tons more thoughtfulness, effort, and technical knowledge which may not necessarily translate to someone who just wants to say or agree that the Earth is flat.[fn1] You pick your battles and explain things for people with open minds to an explanation. I’m not going to do a rebuttal of 19,000 word critique or a 14-minute diatribe or even 1 line YouTube “debate” since they’re not my audience.

      The point of the podcast is to extol the strengths of MOS. If you can use that in fights you choose to pick, that’s up to you, but I don’t do hit pieces.

      [fn1] A better example, might be careless statements like, “Superman doesn’t…” or “The structure is bad” or “The characterization is bad”. Each criticism is less than five words but now I have to dig through the whole of Superman history to cite examples of why Superman does [blank] and show why those examples or representative or persuasive? Or explain what structure is, how to measure good or bad structure, and why it falls into it? Etc. It’s a completely lopsided burden of effort which is why I choose to focus on affirmatives rather than rebuttals.

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