Superman arrived in Fortnite this week, becoming the latest in a steady stream of high-profile licensed characters from across the corporate multiverse. And in my first match following Superman’s debut as a playable character, he killed me with a sniper rifle. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t mean the part where I lose. I lose in Fortnite all the time. 99v1 battle royales are largely experiences in losing for most of us. It’s just strange to me that it was Superman who pulled the trigger.
When I started playing Fortnite back in what’s retroactively referred to as Chapter One, the first licensed character I saw added to the game was John Wick. I loved this crossover because I thought it made perfect sense. Wick uses guns. He’s not some invulnerable superhero. And he lives in a zany alternate reality involving a network of assassins so vast that the woman playing violin in the subway station or the guy eating his dinner on a park bench could be killers in waiting. It seemed a natural fit for the gleeful absurdity of Fortnite.
But in Fortnite’s current phase, Chapter Two, the Ready Player One-ification of the game has ramped up immensely. It now feels like an indiscriminate gaping maw, absorbing every pop culture icon it can, with no regard for how they mesh with Fortnite’s tone or its battle royale format. By so strongly defining itself with external media crossovers, the game has lost much of its own distinctive identity, and started to feel more like a platform than a game.
Sometimes, the results of this shift are wonderful. The Ariana Grande concert last weekend reminded me why I fell in love with Fortnite in the first place. It emphasized how good it feels just to move and to dance in the game, how Fortnite is much more about fun and play than it is about winning. At its core, Fortnite is just a big party. We jump, we land, maybe we hijack a flying saucer or complete a time trial in a Ferrari, we engage in some silliness, have some fun, and sooner or later, most of us lose. But hey, it’s no big deal. It’s all part of the game. Don’t sweat it. Everyone loses sometimes. Just get back on the bus and jump again.
So hey, I get it. It’s not just a party, it’s a costume party. We’re not actually playing as the Predator, or Chun-Li, or Kylo Ren. We don’t have any of their special abilities. We’re just cosplaying as them. Wearing skins. I feel the game buckling under the weight of all this corporate IP, becoming a bland grab bag of pop culture properties, but I rarely find any one character’s presence bothersome. It’s the trend that bothers me, not the presence of Star Lord or Lara Croft in particular.
And yet, getting sniped by Superman just...feels different. The American pie wholesomeness and decency I associate with him (thanks primarily to the Christopher Reeve movies I grew up with) just doesn’t mesh with the thought of Supes shooting people in the face with a tactical shotgun. Even if we view Fortnite as primarily a big goofy cosplay get-together, it’s a cosplay get-together with guns.
Sure, even Superman has wielded guns in a few obscure comic arcs. But putting Superman in a context where he has to wield guns constantly just intrinsically misunderstands the character’s essence. It’s not a good fit. And as I found out while I was writing this piece, I’m not the first Kotaku staffer to feel like some of the characters who get pulled into Fortnite’s vortex don’t quite belong. It’s outta control!
Maybe this devouring and regurgitating of so much IP is just a phase for Fortnite, and eventually it will re-establish its own identity, rely more heavily on original characters again, and aim for crossovers that make more thematic sense. Or maybe the powers that be at Epic will not rest until they have every conceivable realm of popular culture in their grasp. If only Superman could help us put a stop to that.