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But after saving a bus full of schoolmates from drowning, a traumatised teenage Clark confronts his stepfather, who is worried he has revealed his true nature. "What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?" Clark asks. His father replies: "Maybe."
It is a shocking piece of moral ambiguity in the Superman universe, where what is right and wrong have traditionally been clear. Along with a mournful soundtrack and arty shots, it is the strongest hint yet that the Superman of 2013, played by British actor Henry Cavill, is going to be rather different.
Since his first appearance in Action Comics in 1938, Superman has adapted to changing times. After the second world war broke out, he changed his slogan from fighting for "truth and justice" to fighting for "truth, justice and the American way". That continued during the 1950s, when he became a symbol of muscular American patriotism which could do no wrong.
But as the nation grappled with the turmoil of the 1970s and embraced a more diverse culture, Christopher Reeve gave Superman more human qualities. In Richard Donner's 1978 film version of the comic book saga, self-sacrifice suddenly became part of Superman's appeal.
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