Saving The Man of Tomorrow

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My favorite Son of Krypton is back in the news. Henry Cavill has made it clear there’s still things he wants to do with the role, Warners have mumbled something about an important call on the other line and then made vague noises about trying to make Superman more ‘relevant’. This has, understandably, led to the sort of howls of derision normally reserved for Joss Whedon reminding everyone how totes feminist he is. It’s not been a good look.

It’s also not a conversation that’s entirely needed. The truth is, Superman has never been more relevant. He’s an undocumented migrant raised in Kansas who grow up surrounded by the 56.16% of the state’s population that voted in the most violently anti-anyone but him President in modern history. Plus he’s a journalist, the only sub group said President and his supporters hate even more than people who are different colours, religions, or who look ‘funny’. In other words, Clark Kent is an open door to the sort of complex, necessary and difficult conversation pop culture is very good at having with itself. So while it’s good they maybe don’t want him to be an Ayn Randian murderer anymore, Warner Bros really need to buy several clues from the clue store. A clue store that just so happens to have a franchise below!

The Michael B. Jordan Effect
Michael B. Jordan is one of those actors whose work never fails to be good. If you’ve seen Fruitvale Station, you’ll know how good he is at dialling it down. If you’ve seen Black Panther, you’ll know how good he is at turning it up. Fantastic Four, Creed, Farenheit 451, while Jordan hasn’t always done good movies, he’s always been good in the movies he’s done. Word is (Avoid the racist cesspit comments for the love of God), he’s pitched an idea for the character to Warners. On the one hand, great! On the other, he’s busy for the next several years. 

Most importantly, this is a ‘do it right or don’t do it at all’ situation. While rumor is Jordan pitched something based on Calvin Ellis, an alternate Earth Superman who is also the US President, whichever version of the character would have to be informed by cultural elements that white viewers would not find familiar. This is an objectively very, very good thing because diversity and inclusion are how we evolve as a species. But as the always excellent Stitch pointed out a few years ago, the environment this would happen in is the textbook definition of non-permissive. Which isn’t to say it can’t or shouldn’t be done. It can and it should and shows like RedWing demonstrate how. Get the right creatives aboard, trust them, get out of their way and let a unique take on a classic story happen. You want to make the character relevant? Do something daring with him, and hand it over to one of the best actors on the planet.
Halt and Catch Falling Loises

(PLEASE DON’T KILL THESE TWO PERFECT IDIOTS IN CRISIS, THANK YOU BYE)So, much as I love Smallville (SAAAAVE MEEEEEEE!) they’re here not to advocate for a return to the show but as a placemarker. Because if you want to make Clark relevant you don’t do that on the big screen, you do it on the small one. Literally.

Start them as podcasters running a current affairs show. Both gifted, both young, both gloriously, differently stupid and both broke as Hell. Have Pete Ross run it, have the other Planet correspondents cameo as other staffers. They’re all younger, all working their asses off and all broke. as. HELL. They live in the city of tomorrow, they live somewhere that has an actual honest to God superhero and under an administration that has all but declared war on him and they eat noodles three times a week and can barely make rent.

How do they keep the company going? What happens when Lois gets asked to join the Daily Planet? What happens when LexCorp ‘accidentally’ shuts off the power to their building? Or the LexCorp lab at the end of the block blows up and a green rain falls that puts Clark in the hospital? Explore how these people live with and around each other as their own bosses in a city that doesn’t care about them but they care desperately for. They KNOW they’re good enough to change the world if they just got the chance.

And at the end of the first season, you have them faced with a choice. Let the Planet buy them our or let Lex sponsor them for the rest of their lives,. in return for the odd…favor.

It gets that Halt and Catch Fire/Start-Up vibe. It allows you to do old school Superman punching slum landlords stories and social justice exploration through the lens of a city building itself into the future, and the canvas of a superhero learning who he can be.

Super Family Assemble!

Look at these adorable nerds, LOOK AT THEM! Melissa Benoist has been the anchor of what’s comfortable the best DCU TV show there is (Love you, Beebo but even you sit down) for five seasons and the show works precisely because the showrunners get the character. Characters, as Lois and Clark are now semi-regular guests with rumors of their own spin-off in the works.

Put. Them. On.The. Big. Screen like at least two other CW shows should have been years ago.. Like Chris Evans as Captain America, Tyler Hoechlin and Melissa Benoist exude the fundamental goodness and calm of their characters. Better still, they both bring the lightness of touch the characters desperately need and, God love ’em, the Warners movies got for the whole last 10 minutes of Justice League. Clark and Kara are the perfect combination of cornball, goof and golden rertriever. They’re country kids raised with profoundly old fashioned and yet still inclusive values who think people should be nice and help one another. In anyone else’s hands, it would be corny. Here, it plays absolutely real. Plus, as this wonderful sequence, neither one of them are afraid of having a little fun every now and again…

Word is that a Clark and Lois show based pretty closely on the extremely fun SuperSons comic and their current domestic life is in the works and that’s going to make a particular strand of fan (Of which I am one), very happy. But that’s not the point here.
The point is that a systemic failure of imagination has meant that a character who is universally relatable has been a glowering murder pectoral for 1.75 movies. Somehow the idea of someone who is strong, good and kind feels alien to the studio even in the post-Steve Rogers world we live in. That saddens me more than I can say, but the fact that ideas ranging from Jordan’s take to the SuperSons are being considered means there really are grounds for hope. And that, more than anything else, is what Superman excels at. Hope, in the darkest hours and the reassurance not just of his strength, but of our own. That, more than anything else, is what we need in popular culture in Keanu19. Which means, far from him being irrelevant, this truly is the last Son of Krypton’s moment.