Comics / Cult Favorite

Why the World Doesn't Need Superman


By Philip Schweier
August 30, 2012 - 07:53

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Peculiar title for a column from a long-time Superman fan like myself, but it will be made clear in a moment, as well as why it was taken directly from Lois Lane’s Pulitzer-Prize winning article in Superman Returns (2006).

Y’see, I was discussing movie re-boots with someone who is a casual super-hero fan, which makes their opinions less biased and in many regards more legitimate, from a layman’s point of view.

In the course of conversation, it was agreed that from a filmmaking standpoint, it serves little purpose to simply retell the same origin story. This seems to be the pit-fall of many filmmakers tasked with re-launching a film franchise (cough*AmazingSpider-Man*cough).

Which begs the question: does a new Superman film need to be made in the first place? Warner Bros, parent company of DC Entertainment, might argue yes, because it is perhaps the company’s best-known character and thereby richest property for commercial exploitation. And certainly fans would like to dilute the memory of the lackluster Superman Returns.

But if there is no new ground to cover, what's the point?

During the years prior to Superman Returns, as one filmmaker after another – Kevin Smith, Tim Burton, et al – tried to get the Superman movie franchise resurrected, it was said by more than one comic book or film pundit, “You have to tell his origin.”

No. You don’t.

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Director Richard Donner (l) with Superman star Christopher Reeve (r)
For the simple reason that it was covered rather extensively in Superman: The Movie (1979), starring Christopher Reeve.

I’m hopeful that when Man of Steel is released next year, director Chistopher Nolan will not cover the same territory explored by Richard Donner in Superman: The Movie. At least not in the same way.

In Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), Bruce Wayne’s one-man war on crime was easily explained without getting in the way of the overall story.

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Michael Keaton as Batman (1989)
When Batman Begins (2005) was released, director Christopher Nolan told a story significantly different from any previous film version of Batman. He addressed such questions as: Why does he dress up like a bat, and where did he get his training?

One of the better decisions director Bryan Singer made when directing Superman Returns was he intended the movie to be a direct sequel to the Christopher Reeve films. He built upon a history already established and was able to avoid rehashing a lot of material already presented elsewhere.

Which brings me back to my original thought as to why the world doesn’t need Superman. Instead, I feel that Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment would be better served in adapting some of the lesser-known characters of the DC Universe for film or television.

However, in order for DC Comics to maintain its momentum in screen adaptations of its properties, the characters may have to undergo serious retooling to make them appeal to a broader audience. But most comic book fans will no doubt resent a movie or TV production tinkering with their favorite heroes. After all, if you’re not going to respect the source material, you’re only going to alienate your core audience.
 
Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman represent the top rung in the pantheon of DC heroes. However, in 2011, a proposed Wonder Woman pilot failed to sell. Other Justice League members might be ripe for adaptation, but their individual track records are mediocre at best.

While Green Lantern (2011) box office earnings totaled more than $219 million, according to imdb.com, it wasn’t really embraced by comic book fans or mainstream movie audiences. The Flash (1990) lasted 22 episodes, and a proposed Aquaman pilot in 2006 failed to sell.

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Second Chances: Rick Springfield (l) starred as Christopher Chance in the 1992 version of The Human Target. Mark Valley (r) assumed the role in 2010.
Moving down the ladder to lesser-known characters, success has been minimal. Birds of Prey in 2002, but only lasted 13 episodes. The Human Target (2010) ran for two seasons; an earlier version of the same character lasted seven episodes in 1992.

Thanks to an established track record as part of the long-running Smallville’s supporting cast, a show based on Green Arrow is set to debut this fall on CW. But will audiences see more than just “Bruce Wayne with arrows?” And will fans who embraced the character as presented on Smallville appreciate this revised version? We’ll find out this fall, Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

If the show proves successful, it may open the door for lesser-known comic book properties to be adapted for film or television. Who among us wouldn’t love to see the success of Smallville or The Dark Knight overshadowed by a bit player from left field.

Angel & the Ape, maybe...

Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? E-mail me at philip@comicbookbin.com


Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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