For example, I can spot a few:

  • Originally, Lois didn't know who Clark Kent is. In Man of Steel, Lois knows.

  • In the original superman, Superman's main job is to stop petty crimes, like robbery, etc. In Man of Steel, Superman destroys $10 billion dollars worth of federal property (satellites). Also, he had very little concern for petty crimes.

What are the other differences?

  • 3
    Clearly, Man of Steel is the inevitable dark, gritty remake.
    – Dacio
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 6:05
  • 3
    The "original" Superman routinely used lethal force to champion the oppressed. He saves a woman from a wrongful State execution, stops domestic violence, and confronts a lobbyist attempting to entangle the US in World War II. It is fair to say Superman has changed throughout his 75 years and there is no universal portrayal. Additionally, there is a factual mistake in the question: only 1 satellite is downed, it is privately owned (by Wayne), and certainly not $10B. There is a $12M State drone that was downed which you are likely confusing. Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 15:05
  • I thought the use of atmosphere as a weakening agent was new to the film. In canon, it's regarded as Sol's (Earth's sun) yellow rays grant more power to Kryptonians, while the Red sun of Krypton was weaker and did not imbue the same level of power. So, in Superman II, it is surprising when Zod and his cronies "find" their new powers, without any ordeal regarding the atmosphere (just as Kal El didn't nearly die in the original Superman film, as an infant). Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


That is a very difficult question to answer, but I will try.

First off Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 (published April 18, 1938). Back then he couldn't fly and had no heat vision but he had superhuman strength, could run at amazing speeds, leap high into the sky and had an incredibly dense body structure. Often he was portrayed as having a secret identity which only his parents (or a chosen few) knew.

With a character as long-lived as The Last Son of Krypton the details of his origin, the relationships he had as well as his abilities have changed significantly from his inception in what's called the Golden Age of Comic Books.

For instance in the 1980's the publisher of Superman decided that there was never a time when young Clark Kent was Superboy. As a result all of the stories that depended on Clark's having worn the blue, red and gold as a boy could no longer stand. Most notably the popular Legion of Super-Heroes series as they banded together in the 30th Century specifically because of the Legend of Superboy.

What hasn't changed much was the spirit of the Superman Mythos; Clark (Kal-El) Kent has always been an overwhelmingly positive character. He did what he felt was right not for acclaim but because he had the power to do so and he felt it had to be done. He didn't work for himself, to make money or to gain some feeling of acceptance, and all his angst, if he had any, was something he worked through because he had the understanding that he could cause harm to others if he could not control himself.

Smallville, the TV series, for all its faults and the Superman Returns film followed that identity rather well as did many other iterations of the Man of Tomorrow. In my opinion the Superman Animated Series of the 1990's, his subsequent appearances in the sequel programs Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, did him the most justice (no pun intended).

What the new movie portrayed was a departure from the well-known and loved character most comic fans would recognize. He was more like the alternative universe Superman of the 2010 graphic novel, Superman: Earth One written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by Shane Davis.

There are a number of alternative versions of Superman; you can review them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_versions_of_Superman

The largest leaps from the mainstream Superman origin, as you probably have recognized, were the changes in his direction after high school, Lois knowing who he was and his seeming disregard for what his actions wrought. For example in the 1987 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace film he specifically takes his fight with the Nuclear Man into space to save the lives of the innocent. In Man of Steel he demolishes his home town and Metropolis killing millions (except for those lucky reporters from the Daily Planet) before ending his battles.

While it seems that the producers of the movie did not easily equate the more levelheaded and thoughtful Superman to box office success there are still many versions of Superman that keep true to the core of Clark's more popularized identity. I would actually recommend the John Byrne Man of Steel book, which the movie took its name from, if you are looking to glean the most accepted version of Clark/Superman.

  • 3
    "In Man of Steel he demolishes his home town and Metropolis killing millions" This is still unforgivable, for me. I can't fathom how anyone allowed this to enter the script. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 20:34
  • 1
    I strongly disagree with this answer. The Superman in Man of Steel was just as concerned with the effects of his actions as any other iteration. The difference was simply the portrayal of his and his enemy's power levels. In Superman II, Superman battles Zod in Metropolis, and causes significant property damage that endangers civilians. But they're throwing buses and punching each other into billboards. In Man of Steel, they're punching each other through skyscrapers. If Superman could've moved Zod to somewhere else he would have, but Zod was too strong and he had to fight him there.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 18:15
  • 1
    Also, it wasn't like he was just fighting Zod. If he had removed Zod elsewhere, the other kryptonians and the world engine would have still been wrecking the city.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 18:20

Short Answer:

  • Kryptonian Atmosphere weakness in lieu of Kryptonite
  • Lois who is in on Superman's secret identity from the beginning
  • African-American Perry White
  • Jonathan Kent who raises Superman without the benefit of helpful tropes
  • Superman's debut is viewed with fear and skepticism rather than being an unparalleled success and easy success
  • Superman's debut involves several interactions with the U.S. Government
  • Superman's public debut involves fighting Kryptonians rather than a rescue
  • Superman's costumed debut is necessitated by a moral obligation rather than pre-meditated reaction to an arbitrary accident
  • Superman who naturally transitioned from farm work to itinerant positions (while looking for answers)

Long Answer:

To be fair, when looking at a 75 year old icon, there is very little monolithic about his portrayal. Superman only gets held to that standard because he is the first superhero and because DC have been great stewards of the IP such that he maintains his place as a classical standard. That is to say, a standard or classic has no meaning if it is so radically changed at every turn that referring to it means something to different to everyone. If you look at other characters with much shorter histories, few have been as consistent over the years as Superman.

Lois discovering his identity from the outset is an innovation, but not necessarily as far off narratively as some may suggest. In this rendition we don't have the benefit of an on-screen Lana Lang relationship, who in many rendition is aware of Clark's abilities and a confidant early on.

The introduction of the Kryptonian Atmospheric weakness is a new twist, although there have been prior stories that indicated Earth's atmosphere is beneficial to Superman. 2010 Superior by Mark Millar, a comic that mixed Superman tropes, with Captain Marvel (now Shazam), and Millar's flair for deconstruction actually cited Earth's atmosphere as the source of strength for his Superman analog. The benefits of this allowed the filmmakers to forego Kryptonite and to tie Superman's powers to the Earth (mitigating some of the issues with the concept of "yellow sun radiation" some).

It is incorrect to claim that Superman here is uniquely unconcerned about collateral damage. Rather, when he has the opportunity to actually speak and exert his will, he saves people and cautions them to go inside. Everything else is within the heat of the moment and there is NO SUPERMAN who has not caused collateral damage in the heat of the moment. Even the most seasoned Superman is prone to acts of unnecessary destruction, largely because it is part of the power fantasy of the Superman. Few fantasize about endless restraint and monumental responsibility.

Superman does not stay locked in his Fortress of Solitude and mull on the world's problems, curing cancer, etc. but rather employs the physicality of his powers because that is what the audience, the market, tradition, and the diegetic situation all demand. I challenge you to watch any Superman film, TV series, or comic run and find no property damage by the end.

Incidentally, the correct figure is $12 million drone, not a $10 billion Federal satellite. The only satellite destroyed in the film was privately owned and marked Wayne Enterprises. To that end, consider the amount that NBA or NFL players are fined if they get in trouble... then consider the violation of civil rights the government committed against Lois Lane when they disappeared her on the mere suspicion of information (not to mention whatever interrogation tactics they may have used). $12M is a reasonable "stick" to show the government you mean business while rewarding them with the "carrot" of your trust and cooperation.

Man of Steel innovates by having the first African American Perry White. Additionally, it is the first Jonathan Kent who is forced to deal with a world without tropes... rather than rely on platitudes which work only in the comic book world, it presented a Jonathan Kent who hoped for and had faith in a great destiny for his son, but was equally confronted by the threat to Clark- and the world- if his secret were to be revealed too soon. In 1980, Jonathan would not have had the internet. Imagine his panic when the Kansas State metallurgist began to ask him question after question- which may lead to Clark's secret being blown, him being taken away, experimented upon, questioned without being able to provide answers- Jonathan would have grabbed the Key from the scientist, run from that place, trembling at how he nearly risked losing his son, breaking Martha's heart, etc. Man of Steel innovates by showing that Superman can still be relevant and mean something in a world without the tropes to protect his identity, to conveniently save his dad, to ensure the lives of everyone involved without collateral, and even the protection of his own innocence. It shows Superman can still go through all that and be the hero we want him to be.

The Superman who was lost because he wasn't sure if holding back was the right thing with Jonathan, held back nothing during the Black Zero Event... not his secrecy, not his ship, his command key, his people, his freedom, his life, or his innocence... he shed blood, like many servicemen before him, which would leave him marked- certainly- but with the assurance he did the right thing. Reaffirmed everyday that he sees his new city, new girlfriend, new job, new calling that he's waited his whole life to fulfill... every time he sees his mother, alive and well, and uses his powers publicly. The Superman after MOS has every reason to be of a positive disposition. Superman is analogous to emergency services, who can't do their jobs if they're burdened by those they didn't save, rather they move forwards on the basis that they did their best and will continue to do so... which is exactly what Superman did in MOS and why the last three scenes show an unburdened Superman.

Lastly, the film makes many innovations about and on Krypton. Many find their inspiration in prior versions, but the idea that Superman was uniquely gifted with free will and the bearer of all of Krypton's genes is an innovation.

  • 1
    I like this answer because it demonstrates the timely portrayal of Superman, not as a static idiomatic character from the past, but as a realistiuc player in our complex world. Not naive, not constrained, and not holding back. And millions didn't die in Metropolis, @22nd Century Fza, a lower 5 figure number is more likely.
    – Ihor Sypko
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 17:47
  • I actually downvoted after the bulleted list, then decided to read the long answer and ended up upvoting.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 18:19

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