One of the main, and most intriguing, aspects of Marvel's Phase 4 is the existence and exploration of the Multiverse.
If Loki on Disney+ was a fan primer for the various universes and timelines that exist within the MCU, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness look to be the plunge.
However, while Marvel's most recent film Eternals steered clear of this Phase 4 plot point, the movie did a little franchise crossing of its own. That came with confirmation that the DCU exists within the MCU after Phastos' son Jack mistook Ikaris for Superman.
Surprisingly, the parallels between the two comic book characters are something Eternals director Chloe Zhao wasn't just aware of but actually inspired.
Richard Madden's Ikaris Inspired by Henry Cavill's Man of Steel
In an interview with Purebreak, which has been translated into English, Eternals director Chloé Zhao commented on DC's Superman being mentioned in Eternals and just who the character is within the MCU, saying, "He's whatever you want him to be."
"He's whatever you want him to be. In this sequence, he seems to exist in pop culture. But we never know. We take away that Ikaris could have been the inspiration for the creation of Superman in the comic books . You say it, not me! Superman is the Übermensch, the ultimate man, the superman, a concept that exists in all cultures."
In Eternals, it's implied that the various Eternals inspired many of humanity's myths and legends, such as Angelina Jolie's Thena was the source material for the goddess Athena.
The film also established that Sprite created many of mankind's most famous tales using her Eternals family as inspiration. For instance, Sprite created the Greek myth of Icharus based on Richard Madden's character of Ikaris, and he was also her source of inspiration for Peter Pan while she was Tinker Bell.
In previous interviews, Chloe Zhao claimed responsibility for referencing Superman in Eternals since the iconic hero, as well as the comic book genre, are real-world modern reinterpretations of mythology. And, while Ikaris may have inspired the character of Superman within the world of the film, the MCU was inspired by DC's latest version of Superman, played by Henry Cavill.
When creating the character of Ikaris for Eternals, Zhao admitted that Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel inspired me the most:"
"Of all modern interpretations of Superman, this is Zack Snyder's with Man Of Steel which inspired me the most because he approached this myth in an authentic and very real way. I remember thinking it was Superman by Terrence Malick when I saw the trailer. This film left a strong impression on me. But Ikaris is of course our own take on Superman."
Will DC Reference the MCU in 2022?
Superman is far from the first pop culture reference in an MCU film. Through the years, Marvel characters have referenced Star Wars, Back to the Future, Aliens, Point Break, and even Hot Tub Time Machine.
However, since DC and Marvel are competing comic book franchises, the Superman name drop just hits differently, especially since some fans - and Marvel directors - have hopes for a DC and Marvel crossover event in the future.
While Batman and Superman appearing alongside Thor or Spidey may sound far-fetched, technically it has already happened in the comics beginning with 1976's "Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man."
As both DC and the MCU tackle their respective multiverses, anything could happen or be explained. In the meantime, however, comic book film fans can appreciate Marvel paying tribute to heroes outside of their own roster; and, who knows, maybe DC will return the favor in 2022 with The Batman or The Flash.
Marvel's Eternals is now playing in theaters.