This episode of the JLU Podcast focuses on Scene 10 (Greenhorn on the Debbie Sue) of Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder.
- Snyder's commentary on the Krypton prologue
- Escape pod into the Debbie Sue ship at sea
- Clark roaming like Superman: Earth One
- Can you push Superman down?
- Clark's natural instinct to help
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Welcome, fans of Man of Steel, to the Justice League Universe Podcast where we analyze the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers studios. You can follow the show on twitter @JLUPodcast. My name is Alessandro. In this episode, we are focusing on our first look at Clark on Earth, working aboard the Debbie Sue as a fisherman after the quite lengthy 20-minute prologue.
In our last episode, we commented on the prologue overall. And we’re hoping to see something similar to it in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, perhaps as another history lesson involving Darkseid for the opening of the film next year on HBO Max. But for Man of Steel’s prologue, one thing we forgot to mention is just the fact that it sets the tone and audience expectations for the movie. The prologue clearly lets us know that parents are going to be important, and that the child is going to have important choices ahead of him as an agent of free will---yes, he will have super powers, but his most important power will be that power of choice. The prologue also indicates to us that the creators are taking the mythology seriously and are showing great care in rendering a rich world. They are leaning into melodrama and pathos, and avoiding rapid-fire dialogue or cheap thrills, thus setting the film apart from some of the other superhero fare. In this way, before we have even seen Clark Kent or Superman, the creators have used the prologue to set expectations and guidelines for how we should view the remainder of the film.
A few points we learned recently from Zack Snyder himself during the Man of Steel Watch Party are that the original Doomsday was in fact responsible for the destruction of Krypton’s moon, the council’s costumes were partially inspired by the outfits from Planet of the Apes, and that initial plans were to have the Kryptonians speaking Kryptonian with subtitles but they felt it created too much of a disconnect with the audience right off the bat.
But now let’s move into Scene 10 and the Debbie Sue. Sam and others on the internet have a theory that perhaps the name of the vessel is a nod to Deborah Snyder, who Zack has been married to since 2004. She has produced all of his movies since 300, plus she co-produced 300-Rise of an Empire, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman 1984. We haven’t been able to confirm that, however.
This scene being set at sea, and some of the later moments with the oil rig rescue and Clark drifting in the water present an interesting connection to the eventual introduction to Aquaman, especially since we now know Zack Snyder had an entire five-movie arc planned.
We come into this scene by tracing the journey of Kal-El’s escape pod. The camera pans across a planet with rings, which could very likely be Saturn as baby Kal-El was being sent to our solar system. A visual crack in space begins to form and light shines through. It’s an interesting choice to depict this sort of travel via wormholes, though slightly dissonant with the other more scientific-based elements of this universe. It certainly draws your eyes, and the wormhole leaves behind some sort of phantom residue as it closes and dissipates. We quickly get a zoom shot of Kal-El’s pod, a camera effect that is used several times during the film. It not only helps to give an overall contextual view before zooming in on the focus of the shot, but in a way it mimics what might be Superman’s telescopic vision.
The pod flies across the screen to the right toward a yellow star, our sun, and passes by the moon on its way toward Earth. We get a clear shot of the front of the pod with the House of El symbol, acknowledging this is in fact baby Kal-El’s pod while symbolically showing that Hope lives on from the now destroyed Krypton, given that we learn later the symbol means hope. The music helps to emphasize this symbolism with the powerful crescendo of the theme culminating with the crash of the waves when the pod would have crashed onto Earth.
There’s a match cut with the shot changing to the Debbie Sue, a fishing boat off the coast of Alaska, on which Clark is working as a fisherman. After establishing the scene with some shots of the labor, some rope falls to the ground prompting Clark to go pick it up. A man wearing a traditional looking yellow fisherman jacket sees Clark walk under a fishing cage about to fall. As the cage loosens, the man rushes in and pushes Clark out of the way, just avoiding being “squashed”. He then proceeds to call Clark a “dumbass,” telling him to watch it and keep his eyes open. He rhetorically asks, “Where’d they find you, Greenhorn” as he helps him up despite the harsh talking to.
There’s a lot to draw from this short interaction. First, there’s just the ironic humor that where they found him was actually from outer space, but of course the guy doesn’t know that. Second, we already see, albeit in a very minor way, that Clark has an inherent tendency to help out when he sees something. At first, it’s just the instinct to help out when he sees something to pick up. But in a moment, it will also be his instinct to help out as soon as he hears about the men on the oil rig.
Third, there’s the importance of looking out for your fellow man as well as a sense of comradery which will be relevant to a future Superman in so far as he is looking out for all of humanity and will eventually work with a team of heroes. But there’s more to the lesson than just that. The man of course doesn’t know that Clark is super strong and would not be harmed, but he does know that he himself is NOT super strong and would be harmed. So even though there was the potential for harm himself, the man nevertheless raced forward to help Clark. This teaches Clark a little something more about helping others at the cost of your own well-being. Fast forward to Batman v Superman and we see that lesson pay off during Superman’s sacrifice to stop Doomsday.
We also heard the man call Clark “Greenhorn”. It’s a word meaning inexperienced originating from 17th century jewelers who would apply too much heat to animal horns, due to their inexperience, which would turn the horns green instead of the appropriate brown color. This line is actually quite crucial in understanding Clark in the film. Zack Snyder set out to make this film to show Clark becoming Superman, just as he did with Lex Luthor in BvS. In fact, he has even said that was the purpose for calling the film Man of Steel and not Superman. Because this isn’t a film about Superman as much as it is a film about how he becomes Superman. So this line about him being a Greenhorn in this first scene with Clark is meant to lay the foundation for what this film is about. It is about an inexperienced Clark Kent on the path to becoming Superman, and the trials and tribulations, as well as the difficult decisions, that he faces which lead him to become Superman. It validates any and all mistakes Clark makes throughout the film as he is learning how to be this superhero among men.
Moreover, since Clark appears to be new to this fisherman job, we can gather that he probably roams quite a bit, something we’ll see confirmed later on. By traveling the world Clark is able to learn more about humanity, the different experiences we all face, and about the different cultures and societies around the world. This traveling and taking on different jobs to learn more about Earth and its people is right out of Superman: Earth One, as is quite a bit from this film in what appears to be a clear adaptation. We will bring up more elements from the comic as we go along. Zack acknowledged in his commentary that Clark is sort of roaming around trying to find himself and his place in the world.
As a side note, I think the connection to the color green is also interesting in that Kryptonite is green and it makes Superman vulnerable like a human as we see in BvS. From the fisherman’s perspective, Clark is just a vulnerable human exposing himself to danger. And for Superman, being vulnerable like a human is not something he has experience with. So when he is exposed to green Kryptonite, in a way it is turning him into a Greenhorn.
One other clear benefit to this character development that comes from him roaming and trying to find his way is that it connects to the idea that he has to choose his path; it’s not all prescribed for him as it would’ve been on Krypton. Thus, this element of Clark as a young nomad, which is taken from Superman: Earth One, pairs really well with the Kryptonian culture that Goyer and Snyder set up in this film. It also gives Clark some perspective---he experiences first hand what it’s like to be an average Joe and he sees various parts of the world and the human experience. Our collaborator, Nick, also points out that it’s important that he’s not locked away in some private school commuting between a mansion and a high-rise: he lives, eats, works and sleeps with normal, everyday people. It says something very relatable to millennials that the world’s most powerful man can’t seem to find a purpose in life, a way to express himself, to use his powers. The best he seems to be able to do is lie on job applications and skip town every time he makes a mistake or does something that exposes himself. That may not be a familiar life to everyone, but for some people, I think Clark’s life story is extremely relevant and offers a bit of actual hope for the future.
A final comment on the man pushing Clark aside---some people might think that Clark would be immovable in a situation like this. He’s so strong that no regular person would be able to tackle him to the side. But I think this is a bit of a nitpick. Being super strong is not the same as being incredibly heavy. Especially since Superman’s powers are indicated as being like solar batteries in his cells, not from huge muscle mass, there’s nothing technically contradictory about him being bulletproof and super strong but also being able to stumble or be pushed to the side. There’s the matter of footing and balance to consider.
Moving on in the scene, we hear about the distress call coming from an oil rig due West. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, although that was of course down in the Gulf of Mexico. This connection to a real-world tragedy in the opening sequences of Man of Steel sort of parallels the fact that the opening sequence from Bruce Wayne’s perspective in Batman v Superman is reminiscent of the September 11th attack on New York City. Those are some of the ways that the films are striving to bring the characters into modern day relevance.
Clark, aka Greenhorn, hears about the distress call and also hears them talking about the men left inside. One person says, “Forget ‘em, they’re dead.” But of course Clark, which is heroic tendencies, cannot just forget them. This is the first of many times when he can’t resist but help someone in need. It especially reminds us of the Dias de la Muerta fire in Batman v Superman. And here in Man of Steel, in his quiet, subtle way, Clark has left the ship to go to the rescue.
End of Episode:
That’s our analysis of Scene 10 of Man of Steel. Next we have the oil rig rescue. Thank you for listening. You can find bonus content and you can also support the show at patreon.com/JLUPodcast.