Superman's Rebirth - What Does it Mean for Man of Steel?

Superman Action Comics Reboot

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 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee; All New Justice League

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 as 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.

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

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's new costume from superman #1

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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