Excitement for Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel, continues to grow – even after our readers dubbed it their Most-Anticipated Summer 2013 Film. Despite a massive opening weekend box office for Iron Man 3, the film resulted in a mixed response from comic book die-hards who asserted that it “wasn’t an Iron Man movie” – leaving the door wide open for Superman to make a big splash. Seven years back, a similar complaint was leveled at Warner Bros. for Superman Returns – with many fans and casual moviegoers maintaining that Bryan Singer’s spiritual successor to Superman II didn’t “feel” like a Superman movie. If the positive word-of-mouth for Man of Steel is to be believed, director Zack Snyder must have learned from Superman Returns‘ backlash, successfully positioning his Superman reboot as both grounded and true to the nature of the Kryptonian character – and a fitting start for a DC Comics shared movie universe.

Over the last few years, we’ve heard various rumors about what other DC heroes and villains might appear (or at the very least be referenced) in the Man of Steel story – everyone from fan-favorite antagonist Lex Luthor to Justice League staple Wonder Woman. Now, a new (albeit very thin) rumor suggests that not only will Batman be mentioned in Man of Steel, the film will also make it clear which version of the caped crusader (Christian Bale or reboot) is part of Warner Bros.’ forthcoming plans.

Before we dig into the rumor itself, it goes without saying that unconfirmed word-of-mouth reports from untested “sources” creates a very slippery slope – a lesson that should be familiar to anyone already following the back and forth “scoops” about Christian Bale’s future Batman prospects. For that reason, take the following speculation with a bag of salt. The only reason we’re reporting on the rumor is to discuss the question: should Batman be referenced in Man of Steel?

The original report surfaced over at Comic Book Therapy who claim they’ve been told that “Wayne Enterprises will be mentioned” in Man of Steel and that there will be “a direct reference to the Batman character” as well. The site did not know how either element will (allegedly) be addressed – and did not specify where their information came from. Additionally, the report suggest that aforementioned Batman is not the same version of the character portrayed by Christian Bale. This means, assuming the rumor is true (NOTE: don’t hold your breath), Warner Bros. either intends to entirely reboot Batman for their shared Justice League movieverse (likely) or that they will continue the “John Blake” spin-off story established in The Dark Knight Rises (less likely).

Given that the LexCorp skyscraper clearly appeared in the final Man of Steel trailer, it’s possible that a Wayne Enterprises building could show up amidst the Metropolis skyline. However, a direct reference to Batman is a bit harder to believe – especially one that would outright dash the possibility of seeing Henry Cavill and Christian Bale on screen together in the Justice League.

Regardless of how an individual moviegoer might feel about Bale’s version of Batman (responsible for nearly $2.5 billion in total box office dollars across three films), priority number one for Man of Steel is to reestablish Superman as a must-see superhero movie series – especially since a sequel is already in the works. Keep in mind, forced “Shared Universe” story arcs were notorious for muddling Jon Favreau’s original vision for Iron Man 2 – bogging the plot down with characters and comic book references that served The Avengers buildup but not the core Iron Man series story. As a result, adding nods to the larger DC Comics universe would need to be handled very carefully. It’s doable but there’s risk in even mentioning a character as iconic as Batman – which could easily distract from the emotional Superman-centric story of Man of Steel.

After all, Warner Bros. has a lot riding on Man of Steel – given that Superman is a highly-profitable brand and has the potential to be an enormous moneymaker for the studio. Even though fans often refer to Singer’s Superman Returns as a failure, the film was a financial success – even on $270 million budget. For that reason, Warner Bros. knows that there are plenty of box office dollars (and merchandise money) to be made with a Superman movie that fans are much more enthusiastic about – specifically one that can hang with fan-favorites like The Dark Knight and The Avengers.

Positioning the new Superman movie for the best chance of success even led Nolan (who serves as an executive producer) and writer David S. Goyer to omit Superman from the film’s title – a point the screenwriter brought up on a recent Empire podcast:

Marketing began early on in that we decided not to call it Superman, that was very deliberate […] That was Chris [Nolan] and I, [calling it ]Man Of Steel, and Warner Bros. said, “Why?” And we started talking about it, and we said, “We want a line of demarcation in the sand between the old and the new.” We always knew we would be using the Superman glyph or the shield as we call it. But Man Of Steel was also supposed to represent our take, which was he’s a man, but he’s not made of flesh and blood, metaphorically he’s a man of steel. So that was sort of like the whole thing wrapped up in a nutshell.

Considering that “deliberate” approach to Man of Steel marketing, the filmmakers are no doubt aiming to keep their focus on a fully-formed Superman character story with crowd-pleasing action moments – not clutter the film with divisive shared universe “name drops.” Not to mention, as we recently learned with Iron Man 3, audiences may have embraced shared universe stories but they can also get pretty hung-up on film to film logistics.

As we’ve discussed on the Screen Rant Underground podcast, a button scene featuring Christian Bale and Henry Cavill (similar to Nick Fury in Iron Man) would be a great (and accessible) shared universe moment – one that could build huge excitement for an eventual team-up. But the opposite, a Batman reference that also “somehow” informs Man of Steel viewers that a new non-Bale Batman has entered the picture, is likely to be a distracting (if not outright confusing) addition. Tossing-in references to a rebooted Batman that could a) be very disappointing to die-hard fans of the Christian Bale Dark Knight and b) perplex casual moviegoers who didn’t know that a different Batman was even a possibility – doesn’t sound like the approach Warner Bros. would take with their highly-anticipated franchise starter. A Batman reboot could be a good thing down the line but is Man of Steel the right time and place for that announcement?

A passing reference to Bruce Wayne and/or Batman might be fun, but a poorly handled (or overly-complicated) Batman reboot reference in Man of Steel would be a point of fixation that could undermine audience members’ overall enjoyment of this film. If there’s any chance that viewers will leave the theater disappointed by a non-Bale Batman mention, instead of elated at the eye-popping Superman movie they just viewed, it’s hard to imagine that the filmmakers would choose to include such a controversial reference.

Is it a risk that you think Warner Bros. is willing to take with the “granddaddy of all superheroes”?

Let us know what you think by voting in the poll below and continuing the discussion in the comments.

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Man of Steel will hit theaters on June 14, 2013.

Source: Comic Book Therapy [via Digital Spy] & Empire [via CBM]

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on Man of Steel as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.