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Black Superman: I'm Supposed to be Excited....But I'm Not

A major opportunity squandered by shady business

By Omari RichardsPublished 3 years ago 10 min read
Top Story - February 2021
Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth23 His apprehension matches my own

It was officially announced that WB will be rebooting Superman yet again. This time with J.J. Abrams in the producer chair and acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates helming the story. As a Black male comic-book fan, huge Superman nerd, fan of all of Coates's work especially his run on Black Panther, this should be the holy grail.

But honestly I feel rather....Disappointed? Apprehensive? Frustrated? Either way not really something I expected to be feeling for something I thought I've wanted for a while. Maybe it has less to do with the creative talent and more the company that's keeping them.

Warner Brothers had not been kind to the DC characters on the big screen, Superman especially. Outside of Batman, their attempts to creative a cohesive movie series that enthralls critics, general audience, and hardcore fans alike have been met with mixed success at best. Wonder Woman was fantastic, but Wonder Woman 1984 was a huge step backwards. Aquaman and SHAZAM were fun movies with great casts, but their stories were so by the numbers that I as a fan of both characters, actually felt bored watching at times.

Much of it just comes from WB Executive's short-sightedness, reactionary moves, and overall inability to just trust in the characters they own, and the talent that they themselves hired. And I fear this new reboot is just yet another example of that.

Perhaps I wouldn't feel this way if this reboot did not mean gutting the Superman they already have and further ignoring the vast array of compelling Black heroes in the DC Comic catalog who are long overdue to have their stories told on the big screen.

Man of Steel was a very divisive film. However, I fall firmly in the camp that it was a fantastic retelling of Superman's origin. It borrows from Golden Age Superman of the 1930's who was more heavy-handed in his heroics, New 52 Superman who was more apprehensive about his role as a hero, and aspects of Post-Crisis 1980s Superman, to create something new, grounded in realistic consequences, and provide an epic scale that so far has yet to be matched by the other films in the DCEU. By the end of the movie, I was gnawing at the bit for more. More of Henry Cavill's interpretation of the character. More of how this more grounded more suspicious world would react to this aloof but benevolent Superman and vice versa. I wanted the direct sequel right then and there.

WB seemed to have a different view. Despite Man of Steel grossing 668 million dollars worldwide on a budget of 225 million dollars, despite this being the highest box office gross of any Superman film in the past decade, despite Man of Steel out-earning golden boy Batman on his first go around with Nolan, this still wasn't enough for WB Executives. They wanted a billion dollar windfall to match their profits from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. And to of course compete with long-time rival Marvel, who by this point had completed their Phase One series of films that all together brought in the billions for the Disney owned company.

However, the executives seemed blind to the fact that the first entry of any tentpole movie franchise almost never reaches the billon dollar level, and with its return of 668 million dollars, Henry Cavill, Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and David Goyer more than delivered in bringing Superman to a new audience. But it wasn't enough. So the executives did what they always do and threw Batman at the "problem" in the hopes of surging the numbers further.

The result of that decision was the theatrical release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice a film where despite his name being in the title, Superman was little more than a passive supporting character with hardly an arc and barely any lines. Wonder Woman who was in the film for only ten minutes all together, left more of an impact than ol' Supes. An aspect that wouldn't be fixed until the release of the Ultimate Edition where 30 crucial minutes, cut at the behest of the "all-knowing executives", are restored along with Superman's character arc, but by then the damage had been done.

Dark, incohesive, boring, self-indulgent, and long were the key words in even the least negative reviews of the film. To their credit WB still moved forward with Snyder's Justice League but with babysitters in the form of Geoff Johns and Jon Berg to "mediate" between Snyder and the studio.

"It was really tricky and not a position that I loved, to be honest,” Berg says in the Vanity Fair article: Justice League: The Shocking, Exhilarating, Heartbreaking True Story of #TheSnyderCut . "I tried to be forthright about what I thought creatively. My job was to try to mediate between a creator whose vision is instinctually dark and a studio that perceived, rightly or wrong, that the fans wanted something lighter."

The saga of 2017's Justice League is long, fraught with passions, loss, greed, misfortune, and cooperate incompetence that really ought to be a movie in and of itself, but the results were.... 2017's Justice League. A movie so derided, so far from the original vision, and does such a disservice to the characters, creators, and actors that even the studio executives knew that they f*cked up.

"When we got to see what Joss [Wheedon] actually did, it was stupefying," a studio executive said in the same Vanity Fair article on the condition of anonymity. "The robber on the rooftop—so goofy and awful. The Russian family—so useless and pointless. Everyone knew it. It was so awkward because nobody wanted to admit what a piece of shit it was.”

In the end no one left 2017's Justice League unscathed.

Ben Affleck, who was once seen as Batman's future, left the role and surrendered his promised solo movie.

Henry Cavill, a Superman loved by a significant portion of the fandom despite the more darker take on the optimistic hero, was left in the cold with no word about another suit up for at least two to three years, despite his own searing passion to stay in the role. The only word about his future were unconfirmed rumors of cameos, reboots, contract issues and so on. As of this writing there has been absolutely no word about Cavill's future as Superman.

Ray Fisher has been outspoken about his own glum experience during the filming and now has sworn to never work with WB again. The feeling is apparently mutual due to Cyborg being cut out of the long discussed Flashpoint film entirely.

Joss Wheedon became a short-hand among the fandom for ruin.

Zack Snyder parted ways with WB confident that his cut of the Justice League would only be left on his laptop as a final memento that he would show to friends one day.

Four years later, after much demand from fans via the "#ReleasetheSnyderCut" movement, COVID-19 limiting filming of new content, the need for a big enough draw for streaming service HBOMAX, and some outspoken actors loyal to Snyder and his vision, ATT&T overruled WB Executives and permitted the Snyder Cut to be released.

The full official trailer of this redo hit Youtube Valentines Day 2021, and hit over 15 million views within the first 24-hours and at the time of this writing, continues to grow. Fans were elated that finally they would see the original vision and perhaps this meant a restoration of Snyder and his actors to their roles. Rumors again began to circulate of Cavill's return to the cape. Fan faith and goodwill towards DC and WB were at an all time high.

Then WB Executives struck again, calling the Snyder Cut and the opportunity it presented to be a "creative cul-de-sac" in the New York Times article: Managing Movie Superheroes Is About to Get a Lot More Complicated. Effectively saying that this was a one-time thing and they had no plans to move forward with Snyder again.

Which finally, more or less, brings us to this recent news.

To put it simply and bluntly, this reboot, regardless of whether Superman will be Black or not, it is just another lazy and short-sighted effort of WB Executives to cash in on a trend. Eight years ago they wanted to cash in on the shared universe idea executed to perfection by Marvel. The results were bringing in a director with whom they knew held a more darker take of characters, excelled in epic long form action, and stunning visual effects. When his DCEU films were filled with darker characters, epic long form action, and stunning visual effects, the studio panicked and tried to alter course by throwing out every plan they had in store.

This time it's diversity and inclusion. A buzz word among the entertainment industry that is seeking to insert as much POC-related current events into their content, no matter how ham-fisted, poorly executed, shallow, and devoid of higher meaning outside of ticking off the BLM box on their PR to-do list, it is.

Their creative choices for this reboot again reveal how little the WB execs have learned from the past eight years.

J.J. Abrams is a capable director and influential producer. However his reputation among certain fandoms is rather....dubious to put it mildly. His handling of the Star Trek reboots has earned him infamy status with Trekkers. To this day the future of Star Trek on film remains a huge question mark. But Trekkers know for sure they do not want J.J. Abrams in charge of another one.

His time at Star Wars yielded The Force Awakens, a film that is so obsessed with gaining back fans of the Original Trilogy that it serves more as a mad-lib for A New Hope rather than creating something new. (Ironically this is exactly what hindered Superman Returns when Bryan Singer was brought on to reboot). And the Rise of Skywalker, a movie so obsessed with undoing the damage of the Last Jedi that absolutely nothing makes sense, the story carries no weight, and entire character arcs are thrown out in favor of shallow fan service.

Their main writer is Ta-Nehisi Coates, a capable, forceful, and passionate writer who does not hold back in his works. His blunt realism in regards to race relations, politics, and more is what makes him compelling. There is a rawness in body of work that cannot and should not be hindered if it to shine. Unfortunately, hindering creative visions due to short-sighted, reactionary plans seems to be the only thing WB executives excel at.

I fear the results of this reboot will be a muzzled Ta-Nehisi Coates so exhausted by the constant fighting with the studios about vision and direction, that his passion for the job will dwindle which will force Abrams to jump in to create yet another safe, by-the-numbers retelling of Superman that audiences will either grow tired of or just disregard entirely. The studios will take the lesson that "Black heroes don't sell" yet again and shelve whatever meager plan they had and then we will be back to reboot territory again. Or just shelving Superman for another five to ten years and flooding the market with more Batman content.

All the while characters like Green Lantern John Stewart, Vixen, Icon, Rocket, Steel, Static Shock, Black Lightning, Nubia, Hardware, and other potentially iconic Black heroes continue to remain mostly in the shadows and unknown to the general audience outside of the animated adaptations, and fair to mediocre live-action television in Black Lightning's case.

If WB were smart and forthright, they would release a statement saying that the Abrams-Coates reboot will take place on its own Earth with its own continuity similar to Joaquin Phoenix's Joker movie. They would use this as an opportunity to really lean into the "Infinite Earths" idea as introduced in the Arrow-Verse and state that there will be multiple Supermen, Batmen, and more operating for years to come, while immediately announcing that Henry Cavill is still Superman and will return to his suit in the long awaited solo sequel.

But.... when has smart and forthright ever properly described the executives of Warner Brothers?


About the Creator

Omari Richards

I am an aspiring author with a focus mainly on epic high fantasy, mythology, westerns, and action-adventure, with the occasional op-ed. If you're seeking daring adventure, and fun, diverse characters you've come to the right place.

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