More so than it has in quite some time, the film side of the DC Universe is gaining positive momentum. Fresh off the news that James Gunn and Peter Safran have been named the co-CEOs of the new DC Studios, fans are buzzing about the future. This positive step comes after the electrifying news that Henry Cavill is indeed back as Superman. Combined, these moves signify a substantial shift in the DCU, and no one can exactly predict how it will all play out at this stage.
However, with Cavill’s return, “The Last Son of Krypton” is seemingly set to regain his rightful place at the forefront of DC’s film slate. It’s hard to believe, but while Cavill has played the hero for nearly a decade, he hasn’t been substantially involved with a new project featuring the character since Justice League came out in 2017. (Zack Snyder’s Justice League doesn’t really count.) With that in mind, there’s so much untapped potential for Superman in the DCU.
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Even when one factors in the quartet of movies where Christopher Reeves delivered his iconic portrayal and Brandon Routh’s memorable turn in Superman Returns, these films barely scratched the surface. A number of classic comic stories could serve as excellent source material for Cavill’s Superman project(s), and taking a look at just three of them offers a glimpse of this rich well of possibilities.
Perhaps the best bet would be to go back to the basics. The Superman fans have seen since Man of Steel has been criticized for being too dark and violent. Borrowing from one of the most beloved Superman stories of all time could help get the character back on track and remind fans why he’s such a legendary hero. Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is centered around his dying days; after he’s overexposed to solar radiation, he is left with a year to live. From there, the story plays all the hits, from Superman revealing his secret identity to Lois Lane to teaming up with her to fight a huge monster.
The story also features plenty of heart, as Kal-El speaks with his father and has a climactic showdown with his nemesis, Lex Luthor, which includes the villain weeping after he sees Superman’s vision for Earth. There’s no happy ending here; Superman dies, so an adaptation would likely have to make plenty of changes in order to leave room for future films. However, borrowing from All-Star Superman could be a fitting way to showcase the main elements of the hero and his supporting cast while also re-establishing the bright tone he’s known for.
A new Superman movie is an appropriate time to start fresh, so it might be better if it avoids going back to the same well of villains fans have seen before. General Zod and Lex Luther have been featured before, but “The Man of Steel” has plenty of captivating antagonists to choose from. In the modern world, Brainiac could be the most compelling option. A cross between a brilliant alien and a cold, unfeeling machine, Brainiac has changed a lot over the years, so there are multiple versions of the character to choose from. In a nutshell, he’s typically a highly advanced supercomputer who, at times, has ambitions of universal conquest. He also seeks universal knowledge despite his characterization as a super-genius that easily outranks even the smartest humans on the planet.
As one of Superman’s classic villains, he has battled the hero many times, but Superman: Brainiac certainly packs a punch. Kal-El learns that Brainiac shrank a Kryptonian city and was at fault for the deaths of numerous Kryptonians. Of course, Brainiac targets Earth, and it’s up to Superman and Supergirl to stop him. Despite being a standard hero vs. alien story, this one carries plenty of weight, and it could also be a logical way to bring Supergirl into the DCU.
Superman: President Luthor
As mentioned, Luthor has been featured in multiple movies, as Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey, and Jesse Eisenberg have played him over the years, not to mention Michael Rosenbaum’s televised portrayal on Smallville. But there’s a reason the villain has so much staying power; he’s the perfect foil to Superman. The motives behind his hatred of the hero have varied over the years, but more often than not, it boils down to a battle of good and evil.
This struggle can be magnified if the next Superman movie borrows from the “President Luthor” storyline. As the name suggests, Luthor becomes the president of the United States and uses his power to make Superman’s life a living hell. He also learns of Kal-El’s human identity and uses it against him while also attempting to leverage an alien invasion into an attempt to make himself look like an almighty leader. There are plenty of options with this story alone; the DCU could keep it somewhat grounded and focus on President Luthor’s misdeeds at the national level, or it could go as far as the aforementioned fight with aliens. Either way, leaning on “President Luthor” would be a dynamic path forward that could cement Luthor as a heinous villain and shine a light on Superman’s patriotism.
These are just a few examples, and there are countless other Superman stories that could serve as great foundations for the hero’s return to the DCU. Whether it’s playing the hits, spotlighting a new villain, or revisiting Superman’s nemesis, the possibilities are endless, and there’s good reason to think that any number of them could help turn “The Man of Steel” back into a beloved character.
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