WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Shazam! #15, by Jeff Loveness, Brandon Peterson, Mike Atiyeh and Rob Leigh, on sale now.
One of the greatest stories directly inspired by Superman and the world of DC Comics is the widely acclaimed animated film The Iron Giant, directed by Brad Bird. The 1999 film had a young boy in the 1950s befriend a robot of extraterrestrial origin who arrives on Earth. Learning about Earth’s culture from the boy and Superman comic books, the Giant overcomes its programming to prevent the small town from being bombed by the American military over fears of his destructive potential. And while the Giant itself may not be part of the DC Universe, Shazam confirms that the animated movie does.
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Billy Batson finds himself in Japan, saving a city from a rampaging giant robot, however, as he abruptly arrives on the scene, he is unsure of the true nature of his hulking opponent. Rather than engage the robot directly from the outset, Shazam asks the robot if he’s a friendly robot like the eponymous Iron Giant only to be swatted aside by the attacker like a fly. With the local populace assuring him that the robot is indeed a villainous, destructive presence not interested in the moral lessons learned by its cinematic counterpart, Shazam flies into the fray and singlehandedly dismantles the robot, saving Japan from its latest kaiju-sized threat.
As Shazam leaves the scene to return to Tokyo, he muses if Superman has seen The Iron Giant. Realizing the subject matter — including the heroic robot taking direct inspiration from the Man of Steel to sacrifice its life to save the day — would likely be too depressing for the superhero to enjoy, Billy notes that his Kryptonian counterpart has probably avoided it. Little does the Earth’s Mightiest Mortal know, the Man of Tomorrow did indeed have a team-up of sorts with the Iron Giant, albeit one that takes place outside of main DCU continuity.
First published in 2014 as chapters 43-45 of the non-canonical web-comic series Adventures of Superman, by Ron Marz, Evan “Doc” Shaner and Matthew Wilson, Superman meets a large robot similar to the Iron Giant. Discovered to be Kryptonian in origin, the robot reveals it was designed by Jor-El to scout planets ahead of Krypton’s imminent destruction to search for worlds that could potentially serve as a new home for the Kryptonian race. Captured by an alien species known as the Vendal, the robot was reprogrammed to conquer worlds on their behalf before arriving on Earth and being restored by Superman. As Superman and the robot repel an invasion attempt by the Vendal, the invading aliens trigger a self-destruct function which causes the robot to blow. After writing a column for The Daily Planet praising the robot’s role in saving the Earth, Superman places the remains of the robot inside the Fortress of Solitude.
As extraterrestrial beings capable of great, destructive power but instilled with moral values from small-town America, Superman and the Iron Giant have much in common, with the latter taking heavy inspiration from the former. And the love for the classic animated film is clearly mutual, with the movie now confirmed to exist within the DC Universe and its connection to the Man of Steel evidently intact. That said, the visible influences and heartbreaking finale may be too much even for the Man of Tomorrow to withstand, with Shazam serving as more of a perfect superhero audience for the movie.
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