24 References You May Have Missed in Man of Steel
For comic book fans, a favorite past time is digging through superhero films for inevitable easter eggs and references to our favorite source material. Part of it is just that we like to know our source material intimately, but another part of it is that we like to know that the film makers themselves are just as aware of their source material. For many, these little nods are a form of bona fides for the film makers, a ruler by which we measure if they are truly “worthy” of telling the stories of our favorite heroes. With Zack Snyder at the helm and David Goyer on the screenplay, Man of Steel has no shortage of easter eggs to keep eagle-eyed comic fans glued to the background of every scene. Here are the ones that I caught in my three viewings of the movie.
FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET
In the early 40’s, the Superman radio serials and the brilliant Max Fleischer cartoons began using a now all-too-familiar phrase to describe Superman – “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” This catch phrase was alluded to directly in the film, specifically in the Smallville battle. When the A-10 Warthogs show up, the very first thing that Superman does is prove that he is, in fact, faster than a speeding bullet, as he careens off of Main Street to avoid the gunfire. Later, toward the end of the battle, Nam-Ek hurls a locomotive engine across town, smashing Superman through the front of a Sears. Of course, since our hero is, in fact, more powerful than a locomotive, he shrugs off the impact and moves on to fight another day.
ALL STAR SUPERMAN
There are multiple references to Grant Morrison’s wonderful All Star Superman story in Man of Steel. The most obvious reference is a line of dialogue from Jor-El that was pulled almost word for word. The line in the film reads, “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun.” Take a look for yourself at how that stacks up against All Star.
Beyond this dialogue reference, though, is a visual one. When Superman heads off to destroy the World Engine in the Southern Indian Ocean, he makes a soaring pass around the machine, giving us the briefest glimpse of this shot:
Though brief, it’s hard to dismiss this shot as being anything other than an homage to the famous Frank Quitely drawing of Superman from All Star Superman:
Christopher Meloni’s character is introduced to us as Colonel Hardy, but as the conflict between Zod’s loyalists and Kal-El begins, we’re reacquainted to the Colonel as his callsign, Guardian. For those not in the know, The Guardian is one of DC Comics’ oldest heroes, hearkening all the way back to the early 40s. In the comics, Guardian was a powerless police officer turned vigilante, and he even played a role in helping Superman during his mid-90s battle with Doomsday.
At the very outset of the film, we’re introduced to a very technologically advanced Krypton, and part of that advanced technology is a floating teardrop-shaped AI that Jor-El briefly refers to as Kelex. To the uninitiated, it’s a throw-away line, but Superman fans know that in the mid-80s reboot of Superman, Kelex was a Kryptonian AI. Formerly belonging to Jor-El, Kelex helped Kal-El maintain the Fortress of Solitude.
Given that we never saw Kelex after Jor-El’s death (Lara refers to her AI by a different, but similar name, Kelee), and we don’t know the ultimate fate of the Fortress of Solitude Scout Ship, it’s unknown yet whether Kelex will see a revival as Kal’s helping hand in future films, but it would be a nice touch, given that Kal has lost so much of his heritage now.
Alex Ross has long been one of the most celebrated Superman artists around, and with good reason. Even if he’s not drawing your particular flavor of Superman, you can’t deny the iconic nature of his paintings.
Man of Steel gives us our first Superman whose posture and cape truly begin to resemble Alex Ross’ iconic version of the hero.
While there’s a lot I like about Man of Steel, I have often found myself over the last week wishing that instead of borrowing so heavily from Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright that they’d actually just adapted Birthright properly. Regardless, there was a lot of good Birthright material present in the film. For starters, Jonathan Kent’s line about “You’re the answer, son. The answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe?'” is drawn almost directly from Birthright. The big difference is that the line was said by Martha Kent in the comic. Additionally, the version of young adult Clark Kent that Goyer gives us in Man of Steel is also drawn almost exactly from Birthright. While the locations may have changed, the basic idea of a young Clark travelling the world to find his place, all the while using his powers to help people along the way is pulled directly out of Birthright. And finally, when Clark is first learning to use his power of flight, he very briefly makes a quicky pass over what appears to be Africa, soaring over a herd of zebras. The shot was done more dramatically in Birthright:
FLEISCHER’S LASER PUNCH
One of my absolute favorite versions of the Man of Steel is the classic Max Fleischer cartoon serials from the early 40’s. While unfathomably racist at times, they were also at times unbelievably charming in their fantasy. In the opening episode of these serials lies one of my most favorite absurd moments from any Superman thing ever. In the episode, a mad scientist is firing a laser beam at Metropolis and melting the foundations of buildings to send them toppling. At one point, Superman rights a building and then starts punching the laser beam. It makes no sense at all, but it’s amazing, and you can’t make me not love it. Watch the episode here:
If you’ve followed the production hell of Superman films over the last two decades, then the polar bear outside the Fortress of Solitude needs no introduction. Since I was the only person in my theater to chuckle at it, I’m assuming that most people have no idea that this fierce animal predator was a long-running joke to Superman movie fans. Years ago, fanboy favorite writer Kevin Smith had been brought on to write a Superman movie. In the video below, he recounts his insane “True Hollywood Story” about the time he spent on this project, including the incessant meddling of Producer Jon Peters.
The tl;dr version is that Jon Peters, owing to a little too much time spent watching the nature channel, was insistent that Kal should have polar bears guarding the Fortress of Solitude because they were the “fiercest killers in the animal kingdom.” It took 15 years, but Peters finally got his wish.
DONNER’S BABY SHIP
While the film makers repeatedly told us that they pretended that no previous iteration of Superman ever existed on film, that message was either a lie, or the art department didn’t get the memo. During a visually stunning, but highly repetitive sequence in the Fortress of Solitude, Jor-El recounts the events of the film’s intro for the sake of his son, and his words are lavishly illuminated by a sea of t-1000-like liquid metal constructs. For a brief moment in this sequence, Jor-El describes sending his son away in a special ship. The AI running the program was clearly a fan of the Donner films, as the ship that it rendered looked less like Man of Steel’s baby ship and more like the spikey Christmas ornament that was the Donner version of the ship.
While never explicitly focused on, the LexCorp name is everywhere in this film. LexCorp is the Walmart of this world. It’s inescapable. It’s on massive skyscrapers, it’s on construction yard signs, it’s on fuel tanker trucks, and it’s on the semi truck that drops Clark off at his mother’s house after he pays Lois a visit. Metropolis is truly Lex Luthor’s city, and given everything that happened to his city in Man of Steel, it feels impossible to move into a sequel without introducing the character in his more modern corporate, xenophobic visage.
In the fictional DC Universe, there is a comic publishing company called Blaze Comics. There are, in the comics, several Blaze Comics shops throughout Metropolis. Blaze Comics are the publishers of the in-universe Booster Gold comics. And in the brief shot where Zod and Kal clash in front of a Metropolis skyline, Blaze Comics can be seen in the lower corner of the frame.
Much like Blaze Comics, the Metropolis skyline features a sign for Utopia Casino. In the DC Comics universe, Utopia Casino is a location in Metropolis owned by Tony Gallo and featured in the Superman Confidential storyline.
Once again, while the film makers said they were pretending that no previous versions of the character existed on film, they didn’t skimp on the references to previous film and TV versions of the Blue Boyscout. In the aftermath of the Bus Incident™, Pete Ross’s mom mentioned “The Fordham boy.” Fordham is the last name of Whitney Fordham, a jock character introduced to the Superman mythos on the Smallville TV show. Later in the film, we see Clark being picked on by a handful of boys, the ringleader of which it’s safe to assume is Whitney. This all happens in front of a Sullivan Parts building, Sullivan being a nod to Chloe Sullivan, also introduced to the mythos by the Smallville TV Show. [UPDATE: The awesome Craig Byrne from Kryptonsite.com, whose own name could be considered a Superman reference, pointed out to me that Whitney’s last name on Smallville was actually Fordman. I’m keeping the reference in, though, because as Craig said, “I’m sure it was a purposeful nod with a similar name, though. I’m assuming that Whitney Fordman himself is a Smallville-only creation, much like, say, Tempus on Lois & Clark, and therefore unavailable.” Thanks, Craig! – UPDATE 2: Twitter user @IvanMCohen pointed out that Sullivan could also be a reference to Vin Sullivan, the man who originally acquired the Superman rights for DC Comics]
52 All The Things!
During the flashback where Clark is getting picked on in front of Sullivan’s parts store, one of the prominent boys is wearing a Smallville letterman jacket. His team number? 52. The number 52 is an important one for DC, as it represents the 52 universes in the multiverse, and has been a central feature of many events over the last decade, including the year-long “52” event and the recent “New 52” line-wide reboot that brought DC’s number of published books to – you guessed it – 52.
Director Zack Snyder arguably made his first enormous splash on movies with his film adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. Given that the film makers were already throwing in a few dozen references, it seemed only fitting to reference back to Snyders first groundbreaking comic book movie. To do so, Man of Steel treats us to two references. The first comes very early in the film, when Jor-El repeats on of 300’s most famous lines, “This is madness!” I half expected Zod to yell “THIS. IS. KRYPTON!” and kick Jor into a pit straight to the planet’s core, which would of course be the catalyst for the destruction of Krypton. The second nod to 300 comes more subtly later in the film when we see signs around Smallville suggesting that the local high school mascots are the “Spartans.” I bet Kal wishes he’d had a few hundred Spartans handy when things got tight on Main Street.
You pretty much had to be intentionally looking for this one to catch it. In the final throw down between Zod and Kal, they take their battle to lower earth orbit where they encounter a drifting satellite. If you look very closely as Zod first soars past the satellite, you can see a Wayne Enterprises logo on the side of it. Our one and only confirmation that Mr. Wayne does in fact exist in this unified world. But did you ever really doubt that?
WORD OF THE DAY
At one point when General Swanwick is calling in one of his many states of emergency, he picks up a phone and offers the security clearance “The word of the day is Trident.” It could be nothing, merely coincidence, or it could be an allusion to Aquaman. I’m going with the later, because come on. They wasted no opportunity to reference the broader universe in this movie, even when those references didn’t hold direct fictional meaning.
In numerous versions of the Superman comic mythos, the only way into the Fortress of Solitude is to open the door with a key that only Superman can pick up. In years past, this was accomplished by making the key enormous and hiding it at the bottom of the ocean. In All Star Superman, this was accomplished by having a standard sized house key made out of incredibly dense matter, rendering the key so heavy that no human being could lift it from where it sat on the ground, just feet from the Fortress entrance.
To this end, I found it entirely appropriate that while physical access to the Fortress of Solitude in Man of Steel could be granted, access to the Fortresses secrets wasn’t granted without the use of a special House of El key that Superman possessed.
Remember Swanwick’s assistant, the diminutive Captain who thinks that Superman looks kinda hot? Her name is Carrie Farris, an obvious nod to Carol Ferris from the Green Lantern books. That said, I can’t imagine her being the actual Carol character, as her position is a far, far cry from being the CEO of a private aerospace company.
REMAINS OF WEGTHOR
General Zod isn’t the only Kryptonian villain around. Another monstrous villain sent to the Phantom Zone was a Kryptonian named Jax-Ur. While Jax-Ur’s story varies over the decades, one constant is that his actions led to the destruction of Krypton’s moon, Wegthor. For this act, he is sentenced to the Phantom Zone. You know Jax-Ur. He was the bald scientist working with General Zod to locate the Kryptonian Codex. And back when we were on Krypton, we saw evidence of the crime that landed him in the Phantom Zone to begin with.
In modern versions of Jax-Ur’s story, the city of Kandor was located on Wegthor, and where there’s Kandor, there’s Brainiac. Big thanks to Andrew over at the BlueTights Facebook Page for connecting those dots.