Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League‘s latest story trailer offered an intriguing look at Rocksteady’s upcoming game, brought up a few questions that still need to be answered, and, maybe most importantly, strongly suggested that its portrayal of “evil” Superman might just be the best video game version of Superman yet.
I couldn’t even start to argue that I’m the biggest Superman fan in the world, but generally speaking, I tend not to be a fan of “evil” or even “dark” portrayals of Superman. I absolutely love stories like Superman: Red Son that find compelling new ways to present that basic concept, but, as we’ve recently argued on this site, there’s just something so wonderful (if sometimes creatively elusive) about the idea that Superman is this shining example of “truth, justice, and a better tomorrow.” In my heart of hearts, I want Superman to be the hero.
When it comes to video games, though, I have to admit that it’s been historically difficult to present Superman as a playable hero. Actually, if we’re being very honest, some of the worst superhero games ever made have starred Superman as a playable hero.
Much has been said about why Superman games have historically been quite bad, but somewhere near the heart of the problem is the fact that Superman is a tough sell as a videogame protagonist. In video game terms, he’s basically a cheat code or the character you get at the end of an RPG. You just lose a key part of the gameplay process when you start off that strong, and the few ways that you could compensate for playing as a character that is that powerful out of the gate (such as widespread environmental destruction opportunities or incredibly tough enemies) tends to complicate other aspects of the Superman mythos.
I’ll never give up on the idea that someone can find a way to get Superman truly right as the playable hero of a video game, but after seeing a little more of Superman in Kill the Justice League, I’m increasingly convinced that Rocksteady may be well on-track to giving us the most compelling video game version of Superman that we’ve seen yet.
To be clear, this is hardly the first time that we’ve seen a darker or “evil” version of Superman in a video game. In fact, I recently praised the Injustice games for their portrayal of a similar version of the classic character, and I wouldn’t try to gaslight anyone into thinking that Kill the Justice League is breaking new narrative ground, in games or elsewhere, so far as that basic idea goes.
However, the version of Superman we’ve seen so far in Kill the Justice League is simply compelling. This is a version of Superman who has seemingly been taken over by Brainiac and turned into the most dangerous weapon imaginable. He looks like an absolute wrecking ball who may be mostly humorless but strangely contributes to the dark humor of the game through the simple, hilarious notion that you’re somehow expected to stop him.
In fact, if I had to summarize what could potentially make this version of Superman so special in just a couple of words, it would have to be this simple term: “Final Boss.”
Superman as a playable protagonist in a video game has historically been a tough sell because we’re supposed to believe that there are a sufficient number of threats in the world that could possibly beat him. If you program a game where Superman can even be knocked down by anything less than a universe-ending threat (or something with unusual access to a large amount of kryptonite), you’ve made a questionable game. You can’t just have the player take their hands off the controller and watch as Superman’s health bar is slowly drained by a level one goon.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, Kill the Justice League brilliantly plays with that dynamic by casting you in the role of the level one goon who is somehow supposed to even slow down Superman. Yes, the game’s latest trailer suggests that characters like Wonder Woman may be around to help in some capacity, but unlike Injustice where you can pick another incredibly powerful hero to go toe-to-toe against Superman with, Kill the Justice League leaves us to wonder how even the most powerful Suicide Squad member is supposed to be more than an annoyance to Superman.
Much like how it was a dark pleasure to feel that rush of terror that overwhelms you when you encounter Mr. X or the Nemesis in a Resident Evil game, I’m simultaneously terrified and intrigued by the prospect of existing in a video game world where Superman wants to kill me. I don’t know exactly how Rocksteady will pull that off (or if they will pull it off), but the fact that they seemed to have found a way to put Superman in a video game that makes me feel genuinely excited rather than simply worried is enough to make me think that they could be on to something special.