By Anthony Breznican
April 21, 2013 at 07:38 PM EDT

Henry Cavill had nearly 75 years of Superman comics to consider before putting on the red cape, but four books in particular from the character’s recent history helped him shape Man of Steel.

“I read as much as I could, purely because I wanted to get a great reservoir of knowledge from the source material,” Cavill tells EW. “There are so many different representations of the character that it was easy to draw a baseline and pick and choose some flavors. They’re all facets and aspects of the same character, so you’ve just got to combine them and can play around with them and apply it to the script.”

As we await Man of Steel’s arrival on June 14, here are the books Cavill cited as strong influences on his approach to Superman’s psyche:

• The Death of Superman (1992)

• The Return of Superman (1993)

• Superman: Red Son (2003)

• Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite (2008)

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The Death of Superman (1992)

A hero falls.

DC caused an uproar for killing Superman in a battle with the extraterrestrial bruiser Doomsday, in one of the most famous comic book decisions in history. But it came from desperation. They had been considering a wedding instead of a funeral, but the early-’90s Lois & Clark TV show was in the works, and executives at DC didn’t want any new books that focused on the longtime romantic duo’s relationship, for fear of undermining the show.

Instead, the writers ended up taking an even bigger leap: extinguishing the life of the hero.

The decision was also a response to some of the more popular comics of the time, featuring anti-heroes who were violent, bloodthirsty vigilantes, according to editor Mike Carlin in the forward to the omnibus collection of this series: “So we dived into the theme: if you don’t care about an ideal, IS it obsolete … and if so, what happens when it’s taken away?”

Obviously since Man of Steel is a retelling of Superman’s origin story, it doesn’t begin with the death of the character. But David S. Goyer’s script does explore the idea of a world without Superman. Cavill’s Clark Kent is urged from an early age by his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), to hide his abilities, out of fear of what society (or its governments) might attempt do to someone so … alien.

The poignant self-sacrifice of Superman was also something Cavill could integrate into his performance. As we see from the trailer, all young Clark longs to be is a regular human boy, and once he reveals his true abilities he inevitably becomes a target for many other powerful forces who would like to destroy him.

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The Return of Superman (1993)

After The Death of Superman, DC let several months pass as characters in their comics universe grieved a world without the hero. Fans were left in the lurch, too, wondering if there ever would be a resurrection.

Then DC began this series in which four bizarre figures claim to be the reincarnated hero:

• Man of Steel (later known only as Steel): This was a human weapons designer, John Henry Irons, who crafts a suit of armor and tries to take up the legacy of the deceased Superman. Frankly, it’s a character who is awfully similar to Marvel’s Iron Man, and it resulted in the 1997 movie Steel, starring Shaquille O’Neal, which was just plain awful.

Man of Tomorrow: Think of him as Superman crossed with the Terminator. He looked a lot like the Clark Kent alter-ego, except for the partially exposed metal skeleton. He claimed to actually be the resurrected Superman, brought back to life with cyborg technology. He was also terrifying.

The Metropolis Kid: This young iteration of Superman was supposedly crafted as a clone of character. Superboy was not his favorite nickname. He was kind of a wild one, right down to the leather jacket. Despite having Superman’s powers, he was reckless and occasionally could make a crisis worse.

The Last Son of Krypton: This seemed to be the most likely of the new Supermen to be the authentic one. Apart from a modern redesign of the costume that added Bono-style wrap-around sunglasses, this looked and sounded like the real guy. He even had Superman’s memories, though he was a colder personality.

Each had some of Superman’s qualities, but DC drew out the mystery: Which, if any, was really him?

While The Death of Superman and The Return of Superman each deal as much with Superman’s weaknesses as his strengths, Cavill told EW: “It wasn’t consciously the weaknesses that I picked out, it was more so the different facets of his character and how actually some character traits continued across no matter what.”

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Superman: Red Son (2003)

This stand-alone graphic novel asks: What if Superman had landed in the U.S.S.R. instead of the U.S.A.?

Written by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Wanted), Red Son was not only a surprising twist on the hero who once stood for “truth, justice, and the America way,” it raised questions of predestination and nature versus nurture. After growing up on a Ukrainian farm instead of the Kansas homestead of the Kents’, an adult Superman emerges as the hero of the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s. Alternate universe versions of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Batman also turn up in the story, each one a recognizable but skewed version of the heroes that comic-book fans know so well.

Cavill said he was drawn to this story because it showed innate beliefs and character traits that are separate from however the adopted Kal-El might have been raised. “He’s still doing the right thing it’s just he happens to be somewhere else,” Cavill said.

He still believes he is doing good, although now he’s fighting the Cold War for the Communists.

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Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite (2008)

Superman faces his limitations — and gets by with a little help from his pal Batman as they race to clean up planetwide fallout from a Kryptonite meteor, which has made Supe’s only weakness plentiful for any would-be villains to begin weaponizing against him.

In Man of Steel, Cavill’s Superman doesn’t have to face this particular menace. Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) has said they decided not to use Kryptonite in the movie because it has become a storytelling crutch as the hero’s only known weakness.

Still, Cavill cited this book as one he found useful in his preparation. One theme this book and the movie share is Superman’s need for help: he may be strong, but he’s not invincible. And for all his great powers, he’s wistful for companionship, to share the world he is protecting with someone like himself.

Even more, this is a story in which Superman doesn’t wait around for villains to take action before stepping in to stop them. He practices a kind of preemptive crime-fighting as he seeks out the remnants of Kryptonite they are gathering. He’s scared, and angry — two emotion that go hand in hand.

And Cavill’s character in Man of Steel is a passionate, angry, and somewhat haunted take on Superman.

“He’s inherently good, he’s raised by very good people, but it doesn’t mean he’s not going to have an emotional reaction to something,” Cavill said. “He has great willpower — incredible willpower — but sometimes your emotions get the better of you.”

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Read More:

‘Man of Steel’ trailer: Five mysteries from the new footage explained

Warner Bros to use ‘Man of Steel’ to pry open door for more DC Comics superhero movies

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