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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

10 Questions for Man of Steel 2

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Edited by Robert Beach

In the wake of Suicide Squad’s monster success at the August box office, Warner Bros. has officially announced a sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel. The sequel makes a certain amount of sense with the WB’s current approach to their superhero fare.  Pretty much from the word go WB has taken a very laissez-faire approach to their films, letting directorial demands fall as they are. And, at this point, accepting box office success as the only measure of quality they care about. 

After three high-profile culture flops, films that failed to make it into the collective psyche of pop culture, I’d be one to count my money as a victory too. I also speculated that this announcement might be more than just capitalizing on Suicide Squad’s moment, but actively trying to pivot from the general disinterest in their Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.  We may never know for certain, but for now, here’s ten questions and speculations about Man of Steel 2.

Even though WB has made a big show of announcing their plans for a Man of Steel sequel, such things won’t go into any meaningful production for some time. A big part of this is that WB’s schedule is pretty full up for at least the next two years.  

Wonder Woman and Justice League are in post-production now while Flash and Aquaman start filming next year, which would make finding a spot for Man of Steel 2 a pretty daunting task. What’s more, there’s the issue of when the film would come out, regardless of filming year.  

Currently, WB has two unfilled slots in its schedule in October of 2018 and November of 2019. I’m not sure they’ll slot Superman into those spots. What strikes me as more likely is that they’ll bump the Shazam movie from April of 2019 to a later date, given the lack of information: no director, no writer, no star. Nothing.  

That would place the movie up against Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 while also setting up the events of Justice League 2 later in the year. That last bit strikes me as the most important part of when the Man of Steel sequel will happen as it brings up the next big looming question about the film.

This is the big question looming over Man of Steel 2 given Dawn of Justice seems to have gone out of its way to put Superman in the ground. That movie was just 2 and ½ hours of setting up Superman getting murdered so that WB could shelve his franchise for a few years because they were too intimidated to do anything with it. Immediately undoing his death, the same year it happened, is a pretty massive 180. I can’t say it’s one I dislike given I want to see more good Superman films happen, and this is the (hopeful) path to that outcome. 

While I totally believe Superman CAN come back from death, the hows of that procedure are what I’m interested in. In the original Death of Superman comics, he returned via an incredibly dumb and convoluted plotline about rebirth chambers and clones that I honestly hope the films stay far away from.  More recent retellings have had it be that even in death, Superman’s cells can be recharged by solar energy, we even saw that in Batman v. Superman when the nuclear explosion killed Superman only for the sun to bring him back.

Personally, I feel like what’s more likely is that Superman will come back first as a villain. I think we’ll see him as the bad guy of one of the two Justice League movies.  That will probably determine when Man of Steel 2 comes out more than anything else, especially how much DC seems dedicated to giving us the Darth Maul/Venom version of Superman.  

If you’re not familiar with this pop culture trope, it’s where a studio produces a dark, edgy, and amoral version of a character typically light and defined by their ethicality as a way to interest disaffected fans who like the character’s powers but not their obligations.  Given that, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the big twist of Justice League is that Darkseid is going to resurrect Superman to use as a weapon against Earth only for the League to eventually restore him to normal. 

This is one question I think a lot of folks haven’t considered with Man of Steel. So far, everyone seems to be assuming Zack Snyder will be back for a 4th DC Universe outing. At this point, I have to wonder if WB is going to give him a chance. Despite whatever talents he might have, Snyder has shown a deep-seeded resentment for the Superman mythos and concept. He has done his damnedest to drive the franchise right into the ground. 

I mean, let’s be real here, the fact that Superman, the most popular figure in the most popular genre of the moment, is struggling for relevancy and audience cache right now is a herculean feat of incompetence. Snyder will be no doubt busy with the Justice League films; it might behoove DC/WB to drop him from this franchise and give it over to a director that’s inspired by the material, or someone who’s able to hide their disdain for it.

If you’re not that familiar with comics, let me take you back to the 1990s here. During that ill-regarded decade, DC decided to launch the ultimate event comic with the Death of Superman. Obviously, nobody thought Superman was going to stay dead. These are comic books; people die and return all the time. And yet, the question about Superman’s return became exacerbated and drawn out when DC decided that, rather than simply resurrect Superman, they launched four new heroes in each of the Superman books.  

There was Steel, an inventor named John Henry who wears Superman-themed power armor like Iron Man. The Metropolis Kid (later Superboy), a younger clone of Superman and totally obnoxious ‘90s punk who’s honestly lovable in a charmingly precocious way now. The Eradicator, a more alien Superman who was willing to kill and had energy powers. And Cyborg Superman, who was Superman with robot bits. 

While none of them turned out to be the real Superman, they’ve all stuck around as part of the mythos. I could easily see WB slipping one or all of these folks into a Man of Steel sequel, especially how the Reign of the Supermen comic is still a very successful one for WB. What’s more, both Eradicator and Cyborg Superman fit well into the “amoral version of the kid’s hero” archetype WB is so keen on pushing these days. There is one other part of the Reign of the Supermen arc that we could see repurposed as well into this set-up.

In the comics, Mongul was an established space tyrant and Superman foe who ended up roped into the Reign of the Supermen stuff for reasons never made clear. Despite that, he’s honestly one of the cooler post-Silver Age Superman foes. This giant, lemon yellow space dude dresses in blue and purple and has a planet-sized battle station called Warworld. 

He’s also got a major thing for gladiator battles. That's not all. He also has an orchard of killer plants called Black Mercies that attach to your chest and kill you while showing you your heart’s desire, and he’s led the Sinestro Corp (evil Green Lanterns) on at least two occasions.  The dude is a consistently interesting and fun bad guy who’d be a great foe if WB wanted to shoot Superman into space for his next outing.

It’s the space setting that makes Mongul seem believable as a choice to me as it’s the only option left after surviving death and wrecking Metropolis twice. So much of the DC universe has become shaped by a response to criticism that launching Superman into space avoids ANY discussion of collateral damage or the like. It would probably be the decision DC would make.  There are plenty of other cool things for Superman to encounter from DC’s cosmic stable, and I bet WB would want to hedge their bets when it comes to that arena given Green Lantern’s track record.   

As far as ways to get Superman off of Earth go, this is probably DC’s best conceivable bet. In the comics, the Legion of Superheroes were introduced through the Superboy comic which explored Superman’s early career in Kansas. The idea was that they were a team of teen superheroes from the 31st century inspired by the spirit of heroism and cooperation Superman embodied. The team proved wildly successful. They were the X-Men before the X-Men with a great emphasis on optimism and utopia rather than discrimination and social allegory.  

WB has been jonesing to get the Legion into the popular consciousness for awhile now, premiering them throughout several Superman eras such as the animated series, Smallville, and even giving them their animated show for a time. More so, WB already talked up making a Legion movie in the wake of Guardians of the Galaxy’s monster success. If they wanted a backdoor way to keep Superman’s existence from derailing the tension of other people’s movies, throwing him into the far future to hang out with space X-Men could be a good call. 

In this case, I’m referring specifically to the additional empty pod inside Superman’s ship in Man of Steel. We’ve all collectively agreed to forget about this particular detail, but at the time, that empty pod was a huge easter egg. Tons of fans speculated it was setting up Supergirl for the sequel. 

Wild speculation aside, bringing Supergirl into the Superman franchise would be a great idea and one that WB/DC probably really does want to do. A little bit of history here: at the time of her inception, Supergirl was one of the several characters spinning out of the main Superman comics to form the so-called “Superman Family” of comic titles along with Lois Lane and Superboy.  

The thing is, these spin-off books ended up becoming wildly popular in their right as their characters were free from the rigid morality that defined Superman. As such, Supergirl has always been a major character for DC that they’ve wanted to get more into the mainstream.  

They tried in 1984 with a solo film meant to set-up Superman 3 (it was spectacularly awful), and she’s shown up in a ton of cartoons. All that said, but she never broke through till last year when Supergirl on CBS became the breakout superhero show of the era. With that level of success under their belt and the Supergirl finally a household term, it’d be foolish of WB to ignore the possibilities that open for their films. It’s not like she’d be the first character to double up between the movies and TV. 

Aside from Supergirl, the other big parts of Krypton and key Superman stories that most folks feel the need to tell revolve around Brainiac and the Bottle City of Kandor. Brainiac’s a solid Superman foe for space or on Earth as his computer control would allow him to mobilize Earth’s military forces and force Superman into a position of solving disasters rather than just punching something till it stops moving. Granted, the current structure and point of Superman in the DCEU is all about having him punch stuff till it stops movie. At least Brainiac would give them the option to go another route, and his shrinking technology would, at the very least, make sure we don’t have to sit through another mass destruction of Metropolis/Gotham. 

Conversely, the Bottle City of Kandor, though strange, offers a ton of opportunities for cool stories. The old Silver Age comics made great use of setting stories entirely inside the Kandor. Introducing it would go a long way towards setting up Superman’s fortress of solitude as a familiar part of the mythos. Additionally, Kandor opens the door for a New Krypton-style arc. Given that story's success in the comics, I feel like adapting it would be a smart call. 

If WB/DC does decide to keep Superman on Earth, thEn the Superman Revenge Squad seems like the only reasonable way to create a challenge for this version of Superman.  That’s the inherent problem with Superman as a cinematic force: he’s always been so incredibly powerful. Finding suitable villains to last an entire movie is really difficult.  

Luthor’s a good stand-in, but there are only so many Kryptonite schemes he can pull. Metallo is good for a throwdown, though he’s such a simplistic villain he can’t sustain the scale of a modern blockbuster. Bizarro lacks the personal agency it takes to drive a three-act structure, and Parasite has always been too shortsighted to reach the necessary scope for a sci-fi action blockbuster. However, if But, if you were to put all those characters together (three of them acting as experiments created by Luthor like in the animated series), that would work for a film.   

The great thing about bringing in the Superman Revenge Squad is that it would pretty much give the filmmaker's carte blanche to swap out villain members and maybe even make them the main characters.  People tend to write them off, but Superman has a lot of interesting villains worth developing like Live Wire, Toy Man, Reactron, Kryptonite Man, Magog, and Mr. Myxztplk.  Framing the Superman franchise regarding his relationship to his foes or supporting characters would be a stroke of genius given how often that conceit has worked in the comics.

All right, there’s no conceivable way I could cover the entire insanity of this concept in one component of a larger post. Very quickly, here we go. In the mid-to-late ‘90s, DC was doing anything and everything it could to shake-up the status quo as that had proved financially viable, and they were desperate to stay solvent after Marvel’s bankruptcy in ’96. 

A big part of this was a series of huge, universe-wide event comics that would carry over into the individual comics with weird, temporary shifts in the status quo. One such event was Final Night, in which the Earth’s sun was extinguished for a time; that shift depowered Superman. So much so, he had to seek a new source of power and so became Superman Red/Superman Blue, an electromagnetically powered revamp of himself and a reference to a 1960s one-off of the same name. 

Though brief, this was the era of Superman Red/Superman Blue, or more accurately just Superman Blue as the Red version of the character disappeared pretty quickly.  Superman Blue had all of Superman’s standard powers with the added ability to manipulate and absorb energy. If you thought Superman was powerful before, guess again. While I’m sure DC would never adapt this weirdness to the big screen, it is exactly the ‘90s weirdness I treasure. and if they’re going to stay stuck in that decade, they may as well take a whack at the good stuff. 

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