Superman’s Rebirth – What Does it Mean for ‘Man of Steel’?

Published 4 years ago by , Updated June 17th, 2012 at 3:30 pm,

superman action jeans Supermans Rebirth   What Does it Mean for Man of Steel?

This past Saturday night at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, we were made aware of a very startling reality — for the first time in 73 years, Superman will wear his trunks on the inside of his pants.

In all seriousness, as we have discussed, the DC Universe is set to reboot (in a manner) with the launch of 52 number one issues (to be released in print and as a digital downloads simultaneously), beginning this September with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s origin story for the Justice League.

Johns and Lee were on hand to discuss the relaunch at the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival day 3 (a salute to Superman). Famed comic book writer Grant Morrison also made an appearance (via a pre-taped video) to discuss the release of Action Comics issue number one, which will coincide with the relaunch of the rest of the DC Universe.

The event featured a word from Mike Mignola on his return to Hellboy, a double feature screening of Richard Donner’s Superman 1 and 2, a conversation between the LA Times’ own Geoff Boucher and Donner (and the aforementioned DC team) with updates on, well, the updates.

The bulk of the dialog centered on amusing anecdotes about Geoff Johns’ time as an intern, and then assistant, for Donner and the inspiration for and creation of the first two Superman films. However, that talk eventually wove into a discussion on the rebirth of the DC characters and (as his was the character we were there to honor) Superman in particular.

dc universe reboot all new justice league Supermans Rebirth   What Does it Mean for Man of Steel?

The rebooted Justice League, coming this fall.

When Geoff Johns introduced his old mentor and friend Richard Donner, he recalled seeing a sign in the director’s office that simply read “verisimilitude.” When Johns asked why the sign was up, Donner told him a story about an early draft of Superman in which the Man of Steel was searching for Lex Luthor and swept down to a busy street to grab a bald man, only to discover that it was Telly Savalas. Donner felt that the gag  (like much of the original script) was campy and unrealistic, he wanted to make sure to ground his Superman, to make the character and the story relatable. In other words, to work toward to goal of verisimilitude, or “having the quality of realism.”

Donner confessed that (aside from the – at that time – shockingly high one million dollar salary) the reason that he ultimately agreed to direct Superman was because he grew up with the character and knew that, “It was going to be destroyed by the Hungarians.” The Hungarians in question were producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind who sought Donner out to direct Superman after seeing The Omen. As Donner tells it, the initial script was, “Ridiculous. It was a parody of a parody. It was being made by Hungarians with Costa Rican diplomatic passports (who had never been to Costa Rica) and was being directed by an Englishmen (at the time) who had never seen any Superman or read any comics and it was going to be shot in Italy. And it was like, ‘Hey, this is apple pie man, you’re destroying it.’ So I called them and said, ‘I’m interested, but the only way I will do it is if I can rewrite it.’” When the producers asked Donner which portions of the script he would want to re-write he replied simply, “Beginning, middle and end.”

Which he did, with a commitment to create believable characters and circumstances.

christopher reeve superman Supermans Rebirth   What Does it Mean for Man of Steel?

Christopher Reeve as Donner's Superman

Some would contend that Donner ushered in the formula for a successful modern Superhero movie. His Superman movie depicted  a world that stays true to the essence of the character and yet has a quality of timeliness and relatability for the audience it is being created for. He also was savvy about how to cast the film. Geoff Boucher recalled that Christopher Nolan credited Superman for creating a template for how he would cast his comic-book movies, noting that having well-established actors (such as Terence Stamp and Marlon Brando) in the supporting roles in Superman “lent a gravity to the epicness” of the tale.

Boucher also acknowledged that there is some concern today about how to stay true to the essence of a character while still adapting to modern trends and cultural mores – especially when it comes to the character of Superman. Many feel that he is in some ways simply too old-fashioned to work today without fundamentally altering the basic nature of the character.

Some theorize that this conundrum accounts for the failure of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns.

Boucher posed the following question to Donner:

“Today there are so many Superhero films (there are four this summer) and watching a movie like “X-Men” we see characters like Wolverine — anti-heros. Magneto is an antihero in this film and you look at “The Dark Knight” films and they’re very, very dark. Superman is inherently different. He’s a daytime character, Batman is a nighttime character. Some people think that that presents a problem moving forward. Everyone knows that Warner Bros. is about to do another “Superman” film — do you think that Superman is a 20th century hero, or do you think that he’s also a 21st century hero?”

Donner said he felt he was a 21st century hero, that the film has a great director, and a good group behind it and he was sure they will “come up with the right way — whether it is dark, or middle of the road.” Boucher followed up by asking what Donner felt the was one thing they should not do with the character to which Donner replied, “I don’t give advice, I take it.”

Given the revised look of Superman in the upcoming Action Comics reboot (as seen below) and what we know of Henry Cavill’s intense physical training for his role in Man of Steel (from both Cavill himself as well as director Zack Snyder) we can surmise that there are clearly some changes in store for the character in both the comics and the films.

crop superman action jeans Supermans Rebirth   What Does it Mean for Man of Steel?

A Rebooted Superman

How these changes will be implemented beyond the physical plane remains to be seen. The language that Geoff Johns and Jim Lee and Grant Morrison were using at the event did feel like an attempt to educate and prepare the audience for a rather large scale paradigm shift for the DC Universe characters, Superman in particular.

As the Chief Creative Officer for DC Entertainment, Johns has the overview of the entire DC franchise (film, television, animation, interactive…) in mind when he is making decisions, and we can only imagine that his ultimate goal is to make a shift that re-energizes established fans as well as drawing in a new generation of comic-book readers and moviegoers.

As Lee said, it is about “re-imagining a lot of the things that established these characters and their backstories.” He continued by saying that there really had not yet been an origin story for the Justice League, which makes it a “prime example of something where we can go in and maybe add something to the lore, and add a really kick-ass contemporary story that feels modern and really shows why these characters really need to be together.”

Superman by John Byrne Supermans Rebirth   What Does it Mean for Man of Steel?

John Byrne's Superman

He continued by saying that the goal is to go through the entire DC Universe and make it “more contemporary and modern” to create space for new readers to come in. Lee fondly recalled the relaunch of Superman # 1 “Back in the days of John Byrne,” which he cited as a time that re-established his interest in the character, saying, “it felt like my own version.”

Lee emphasizes that, “these iconic characters are never set in stone,” and reminded the audience that Batman was at one time a more “whimsical character” who in the sixties became darker and grittier.

The question becomes: What is to become of Superman now? What is this generation’s version of the character? Does his essential nature shift? If the creators acknowledge that his manner may be disconnected from the sensibilities of contemporary audiences, do they try to change the character to fit the times, or try to remind audiences of the ideals he stands for? These are certainly hard questions facing the creators at DC Comics.

Grant Morrison stressed that in the world of Action Comics they are going to, “recreate the first superhero ever (Superman) for the 21st century and to do something new, take a new look at something that people have preconceptions about and to change some of the basics.” He continued by saying that they wanted to do a, “take on Superman that is so different that no one can expect what may happen next.”

superman 1 New Costume Supermans Rebirth   What Does it Mean for Man of Steel?

Superman's new costume/armor.

He indicated that Action Comics #1 would also be an origin tale when he said that:

“One of the things we are going to do in this book is to show you how Superman is who he is, why he ended up wearing the costume that he wears and to show a different side to the character than we’ve ever seen before.” He went on to say, “We want to approach this as the title suggests as a big action comic, to try and create a new language for comics, a new velocity, a new propulsive story — things only comics can do and movies can’t even catch up with.”

So they will (essentially) highlight the action in Action Comics, which may indicate a physically intense, combat heavy, classical action-hero version of Big Blue — exactly the sort of Superman who shows up onscreen in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, when it debuts in theaters in December 2012.

How do you feel – does the character of Superman need to be changed? Or does the public need to be reminded of the ideals he stands for? Would you be open to a “new interpretation” of the character showing up in Man of Steel?

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  1. Did anyone else notice that the Green Lantern’s ring is on his left hand instead of his right? weird, lol just a little observation.

  2. So to show a different side of superman, why he wears the suit, and how he became he is today. Hmmmmm sounds like this has been done before, maybe because it has in the form of Smallville!!!! Ever heard of it DC? Honestly if they just take the approach to the character like they did in Smallville it should be alright ,but i don’t think they should go all out with this like they are. Because when Marvel created the Ultimate series, they still created story lines for the other versions of the heroes not just the Ultimates.

  3. The quality of a hero is determined by the quality of his antagonist. Supes is fine just as he is, just stop making Luthor a clown and play him straight, like they did in Smallville.

    Luthor needs to be a brooding and cerebral man of science who bears Superman no ill will personally, but sees in his Kryptonian blood and potential hybrid progeny the eventual downfall and enslavement of humanity.

    Even Superman himself has doubts as to whether, absent the values of his own Midwestern upbringing, his descendants won’t become a greater threat to Mankind than he was ever a hero.

    This explains both his reluctance to finish off Luthor once and for all (those of you who say Supes has never killed haven’t done their homework.) and also his hesitation to consumate his love for Lois Lane.

    That’s Superman in a nutshell. Why is it so hard for those creative geniuses in H-wood to figure that out?

    • That would be quite a good approach to the story.

    • Hear, hear :)!!

  4. All this recreation crap is directly related to the Siegel/Shuster lawsuit. DC and Warner Brothers do not want to treat these families with the respect they deserve. so they are recreating Superman in comics and in movies.They will claim that their Superman is not the one that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created. It is pathetic and shamefull that Dc and Warner Brothers would go to these lengths instead of just sitting down with these families and working out a deal.Changing Superman’s origin,back story and costume is stupid to say the least and pure arrogance on the part of Dc and Warners.

    Also think of how many times we have read about Nolan claiming he had this great new story for Superman. It was all B.S. Warner Brothers came to him and told him their plan to recreate Superman and asked him to oversee the movie production. I say ,if you can’t write a great Superman story, knowing his origin and history, you need to get a new job!

    • Very good point. This is essentially propaganda to put a positive spin on their attempt to outwit the original creators lawsuit.
      But on the creator side it does give them an opportunity to do something interesting and new.

  5. Please don’t mess Superman up. He is who he is. Don’t make him into someone that we cannot recognize and do not care for.

  6. I don’t think Superman needs to change, the universe around him needs to. Imagine Superman in today’s world. Where people can’t even agree about what “truth, justice and the American way” even means anymore. You ask a thousand people and can get a thousand totally different answers which was not the case even 20 years ago.

    Imagine Superman in today’s world. His belief system challenging not only criminals, but almost every facet of the world we live in. And well he’s Superman…who’s gonna stop him? Superman was always supposed to be the best possible reflection of “Americanism” and in a very real way humanity. What would the “boyscout” do when the very belief system he lives with is under assault? THAT would be one heck of a story to tell; and for the first time in a long time a relate-able one when it comes to Superman.

    • Hear, hear!!

  7. WHY WHY WHY do writers insist on changing that which should never be changed?!?!

  8. I’ve been reading Action Comics and Superman since I was a little boy, after inheriting my first comic book collection from my uncle (almost three decades ago). Superman was always the charcter that seemed to set the standard for what the comic book superhero should be and was so interesting and dynamic a character for the simplicity and strength of his morality and virtues, given him by his parents having been raised in the heartland of the United States. I’ve continued reading because he’s been the immovable standard proving that his character is what’s needed in comics as well as in the world. I know he’s just an imaginary character. I know that what takes place in comics is basically impossible. But Superman represents a goodness in my childhood that I’ll never forget and will always cherish, as he does for millions of other fans, child and adult. It is THAT Superman that I’m a fan of, not some modernized version of the icon. My feelings or psyche won’t be hurt by any means, but as a fan, if they alter the essential aspects of the mythos, I am done as a purchaser of Actions Comics. It makes no sense to change a character that has become the most recognizable and truly timeless fictional character on earth.

    • Hi Gary
      I use to share your sentiment and values, up until a few weeks ago.

      But i realize the new generations need more from Superheros, sure you and I can reminisce about how Superman was our child hood hero, but we didn’t have movies like transformers, iron man, gijoe and green lantern. Technology has come along way and kids theses days, or the new gens as such, simply wont be impressed with what once blew our minds.

      A modernized version of an Icon is exactly what Superman needs to stay alive, if you really care about our grand children and their children loving Supes the same way you and I do, then change is essential. Otherwise his legend dies here with you, myself and Bryan Singer.

      Times have changed, don’t let age and memories prevent the future for others :)

  9. If you reaqlly, really wanted to revamp hjiom, approach him from the initial 1938 Superman version. Supes was abit of an arrogant guy, who would thtrerow wife betaqres around and changed national regimes by threatening their ledaers. Cops used to used to chase him. The concept would beaily amlified yo governements chasing him. However, he does infinite good in that arrogance. As he gets to know his fellow earthlings, he develops humanity and understanding that the Kents tried to instill in him, but that he many have misrepresented. Loiss would have to earn the respect of Superman. which oddly enough would only happen if she liked the no so super, not so Godly Clark kewnt. His influece on the world craetes more supers like himself. Luthor could be a corrupt corporate magnate once again only hje is plaid by the goveremenrt to develop weapons to kill this guy off. Ahh, the intrigue, ahh, the adventure. As his humility and super powers develop much like DC’s takeover of the character,a metaphor for what DC comics did to him, good and/or bad. so does his real respect for people, and less acting with conceit. All the while, he basically kicks ass until he meets his first super-foe who could be an updated Atom Man with super strength and Kryptonite powers. Sounds like a darn fun book to me, and one with continual growth of the character. Batman could be the first costumed hero to try and tae him down because of his arrogance, but ultimately they would become allies. The 1930s Siegl/Shuster comics, 1940 cartoons and radio shows really defined that tough as nails character, He could have molded Wolverine into ribbons, and believably fight the Hulk to a standstill.

  10. Sorry, this smacks of Marvel’s “Heroes Reborn” snafu of the 90′s. Not interested, I will pass on this, as I have with Marvel’s uninteresting comics of the past dozen years or so.