San Diego Comic-Con 2017 was massive for the DCEU, but one major player was missing: Superman. The weekend started early for DC, with the announcement that Shazam! was going to be the next movie in development after Aquaman, with David F. Sandberg calling the shots. Saturday Hall H panel brought with it so, so much more: eight movies were confirmed, including first outings like Justice League Dark and Flashpoint as well as sequels Wonder Woman 2 and Suicide Squad 2; an Aquaman sizzle reel played; the Justice League cast - Jason Momoa, Gal Gador, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller and Ben Affleck - took to the stage to shoot down rumors of Affleck's departure and hype up the film; and a gigantic four-minute trailer was unveiled that showed Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg all in action.
That's an impressive slate, but you don't need to be a die-hard DC fan to notice someone big is missing. And it's not Green Lantern (while he's absent from Justice League and yet to be cast, he does have a team-up film Green Lantern Corps. on the way). Fans have been asking it since he was missing from the first Justice League teaser but now it goes beyond just this one movie: where is Superman?
Superman needs no introduction. He's the first superhero, a groundbreaker and an icon so powerful he's deemed "boring" mainly because of his ubiquity. He started the DCEU with Man of Steel and showed down against the only hero of comparable stature within the franchise in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but since has been quietly avoided; he was there on the DC Films logo, but so was Hal Jordan who's yet to fully form. Yes, obviously part of this is because he died at the end of Dawn of Justice and is set to make a return in Justice League that Warner Bros. are clearly wanting to tease out over the marketing campaign. But then how do you account for everything else?
How The DCEU Is Sidelining Superman
Last year there was no coyness about Superman leading the Justice League. The SDCC 2016 image put the Last Son of Krypton front and center and Henry Cavill gamely turned up to the panel. After all, it's obvious Superman is coming back from the end of Dawn of Justice, so treating his return a surprise is similar to J.J. Abrams with John Harrison. However, that was a year ago and it would appear the approach has changed.
Shazam! is quite possibly the biggest sign of this. Here we have a character so alike to Superman - they're both Golden Age bastions of justice with immense power sets - that when Shazam! (real name originally Captain Marvel, which obviously led to its own issues) became bigger than Clark Kent, National Comics (a precursor to DC) sued Fawcett Comics (the creators of Shazam!), leading to the cancellation of the run. Complex legal history aside, out of the DC pantheon he's the one most likely to get lumbered as a Superman copy; the big distinction is that Shazam is a kid who grows when uttering the eponymous phrase.
Why are DC having their seventh film be a character with such strong similarities to their icon? Yes, there are many practical reasons - script development pace, the fact Marvel is also releasing Captain Marvel (a character born out of attempts to reclaim Shazam's name) in 2019 - but it certainly feels like they're bringing in the hero to serve as a new Supes. Or, really, Superman full stop: throughout the Justice League trailer, various characters talk about the hope that he instilled, missing that he's been a vilified figure of questionable moral teachings for the majority of two movies. The DCEU hasn't been able to present a true distillation of Superman worthy of subversion, which has been a big part of the series' backlash. Shazam! feels like a pointed move to replace him.
That film's already replaced Kal-El in one way. While the Hall H panel brought with it confirmation of eight films, it was conspicuous that Man of Steel 2 wasn't there. Both the other solo films - Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad - got follow-ups, while Batman, Aquaman and Flash all have their own adventures too (with Cyborg expected to appear in the latter), making Superman truly the odd one out. There have been Man of Steel 2 rumors and it sounds like there is actually a script floating around, but there's also a trepidation of acting on it. Even if DC jump up to three movies a year, their current plans still take them through to 2021.
Beyond explicit Superman sidelining, we're seeing a general shift in the DCEU's approach. Wonder Woman seems to be taking the focal point once occupied by Supes; she gets prominent positioning in the Justice League trailer ahead of Batman and with Geoff Johns working on the script her sequel is a clear priority. As she embodies a lot of what is conventionally attributed to Superman, along with Shazam we're seeing a nullifying of the need for Clark.
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019