With the promotional machine warming up for this fall's Justice League, one character has been conspicuous in his absence so far. Where, exactly, is the Man of Steel in the middle of the next chapter of the DC Extended Universe?
The obvious answer is, of course, dead. At the end of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman sacrificed himself to end the threat of Doomsday; his death was re-emphasized at the start of the next DC movie, Suicide Squad, which showed some of the impact his passing had on the world. So, in light of that, it only makes sense that he wouldn't be in Justice League. Why would a dead man be in a superhero team?
Except, of course, he's not really dead. Even if the final pre-credits scene of BvS hadn't been of vibrating earth on top of his grave - a visual signifier calling back to Superman using his powers in 2013's Man of Steel - comic book fans know that the mythology has it that Superman only seems to be dead after stopping Doomsday. Instead, he comes back, stronger than ever following a period of, essentially, superhibernation to recover from his injuries. Yet look at the latest promotional image (see above) for the movie, released in advance of its first trailer.
Again, where is Superman?
There are multiple possibilities at play to explain his absence to date. Firstly, that Warner Bros. and DC intend to keep him dead throughout the entirety of Justice League, leaving his resurrection until a later date. That's definitely a possibility, if an unlikely one. Actor Henry Cavill has teased his return on social media, plans for Man of Steel 2 are far from being firm at this point, and there doesn't seem to be a more appropriate movie on the announced DC slate to bring him back in; why would he show up in The Flash, for example?
Maybe more likely is that his return is being held back for some reason. Surely audiences are expecting it - BvS all but ended on a shot of the character bursting out of his own coffin, saying, "See ya soon!" But it's possible that there's a twist in the tale about how he'll return. In "mainstream" comic book mythology, the biggest side effect of Superman's "death" was that he returned with a mullet.
But there's another comic book storyline and, indeed, another comic book reality that could factor into cinematic plans.
DC's 2012 series Earth 2 started with a bang. The first issue killed off Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as they dealt with an invasion of their parallel, alternate-universe Earth by Darkseid … the character who's rumored to be the big bad of DC's movie universe. Just over a year later, however, Superman showed up again in the series, seemingly brought back to life, but serving as a brainwashed slave to Darkseid himself. (It would later be revealed that it wasn't actually Superman, but a clone, because comics.) If Darkseid is behind the trouble in Justice League, then it's not impossible that the movie might go the route of bringing Superman back as a mind-controlled evil drone, if only to give the other five heroes a threat worth teaming up against.
Not that audiences should expect any evil Superman to last that long because it's inevitable that he'll end up working with the team, rather than against them, before too long. The giveaway, beyond decades of comic book continuity? The fact that the promotional website for the movie features six slots for logos of team members, with one left noticeably blank for now. A sixth member is due before the end of the movie, and it's hardly likely that Jared Leto's Joker is ready to fit the bill.