Adapting anything for the screen is fraught with challenge and, when you have an icon with 75 years of history, it becomes almost impossible. Whatever your opinion of Man Of Steel , and the ending in particular, the film’s a stunning technical accomplishment and that’s what this book celebrates.
It’s interesting to see how the book mirrors the film. Man Of Steel was criticised by some for being a little too sombre and that’s reflected in a very dark background colour scheme. The tone is also felt in the interviews with the cast and crew, all of whom felt the weight of expectation very much on their shoulders. Interestingly, the film’s handheld, realistic style seems to be a response to this. The idea to present the fantastic in as grounded and realistic a way as possible pays dividends, especially in the Krypton scenes and the background work we see here is beautiful. There was incredible detail encoded into Krypton at every level and that sheer density of information actually becomes a character beat. The idea that the Kryptonians are an old civilisation who are calcified with ritual is reflected in their intricate armour and technology as much as their intricate traditions. Similarly, the Black Zero is as cramped and claustrophobic as it is because of the sheer amount of power needed to keep the ship in the Phantom Zone. Everything is the engine, which only emphasizes the tragic nature of Zod’s insurgents. They couldn’t save their world and the sliver of Krypton they carry with them is their world at its least elegant and most mechanical.
Insights like this are very welcome extra perspective. Unfortunately, they also make the book a little front heavy, with smaller amounts of space devoted to the Metropolis sequences. That’s a real shame as, for all the controversy surrounding the ending, the thinking behind it and the technical challenges of the sequence would have made for interesting reading. As it stands, film and book production deadlines were presumably too far apart for it to work. What we have here is good, make no mistake, but it’s a shame the focus couldn’t have been widened a little more.
A book like this lives and dies on the quality of its art and the concept sketches and paintings here are truly beautiful. Particular standouts include the Kryptonian characters and their design process, especially Lara and Jor-El. My favourite, though, is a shot of Superman standing on the side of a crashed train which is embedded in a skyscraper. It’s a deeply surreal, horrible, weirdly peaceful image and it sums up a lot of the film’s central themes; incredible power and limitless potential for both destruction and hope, all resting on Clark’s shoulders.