Five Comics That Could Influence Gunn’s Superman Movie

a new trade report on James Gunn's Superman movie and it has already been seemingly debunked by the man himself, again.

Hello, one and all, and a very Happy (belated) New Year! I’m Daniel Kisala (maybe known in some extremely small circles as DanielVoicesComics), and I’m excited to be part of the LRM Online team. I teach Ninth Grade English in sunny Orlando, where I reside with my wife and cats (I have a few…cats, not wives…never you mind how many). I have followed this site going way, way back to its Latino Review days, back when I was….well….not old. Heh. Pauses awkwardly. Anyway, if you’re reading this, thanks for bringing me on board, guys! Feels pretty awesome.

So, as we well know, the leadership (or…hierarchy, perhaps…heh heh) of DC Studios has once again undergone something of a not-so-slight….well….overhaul? James Gunn and Peter Safran are the latest among an infinite sea of writers and creatives out there to have been anointed the new co-chair dudes of this multi, multi-tentacled Starroesque beast that just keeps on hitting that dang restart button. This recent turn of events has yielded both a giddy excitement among some of the fanbase as well as a bottomless pit of seething chagrin among the rest. What’s more? Henry Cavill–recently brought back to the DCEU as The Man of Steel–is now decidedly not the DCEU’s Man of Steel after all, rendering his not-so-secret cameo at the end of last year’s Black Adam now pointless.  Speaking of Black Adam, that could well be it for the cinematic “conquest” of Dwayne Johnson’s darkly-clad antihero as well. 

James Gunn will now be penning a brand new big-screen Superman adventure, which is said to feature a younger Clark/Supes, though not a retelling of his origins.  Many are saying that Mr. Gunn does not have what it takes to do the character justice, considering his offbeat, sometimes campy, sometimes pretty dark, and twisted sense of humor that he brought to Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad, and HBO’s Peacemaker.  People think he’s going to irreparably ruin Superman for the big screen. I mean, I disagree, as I believe Gunn to have demonstrated great heart, wit, and sensitivity in the writing of his characters in the past. In fact, based on what I’ve seen of his work in the MCU alone, I really feel very confident that he will know just what to do with our beloved Kal-El.  I mean, it sucks that Cavill won’t be coming back, but the great talent he is (coupled with being easy on the eye) will survive and then some. Dude’s gonna be okay, guys.

Now, with that being said, the show must go on.  And so, for my first piece here at LRM Online, I thought it might be fun to look at five specific Superman comics (in no particular order) that would serve as wonderful sources of inspiration for Gunn’s take on the character.  Essentially, for each comic I discuss, what I have considered above all is: Does this story capture the essence of Clark Kent/Superman? In reading said comic, did I say to myself: “Yes! This is Supes!” So, without further delay, up, up, and away!

1. Superman (1939) Issue #701 

So when I think of Superman, I think of a dude who’s good looking, in exceptional physical condition, and naturally charismatic.  When I look at him, I want to believe I’m looking at a man who can fly. But possibly–possibly–above even all of that, I think of someone who radiates warmth. Compassion. Kindness. Selflessness. What we love about the character of Superman is his genuine, bone deep sense of good, instilled in him by his adoptive Earth parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent.  I mean this is a guy who can break someone as sinister as Lex Luthor in half without even breaking a sweat, but he doesn’t. He will not. Superman is gifted with all the power in the world and he would die before abusing an iota of it, thus beginning an unsavory path to life as a despot.

In Superman #701 we see firsthand just how much the human race needs someone like Superman.  We watch Kal spend all day with a troubled teenage girl who’s out on a ledge somewhere in Metropolis, looking to end it all so, so soon. Suicide is an all too real problem, especially among young people.  As a teacher, I’ve had many kids in pain come into my classroom over the years. And I’ve heard too many heartbreaking stories of those we lost to suicide triggered, no doubt, by unspeakable depression and feelings of hopelessness.   And the writer J. Michael Straczynski crafts the dialogue between this young lady and Superman with such care and beauty. 

Spoiler alert: Superman saves her. How? He listens to the girl. He talks to her. He does not lecture or talk down to her.  Then, without giving too much away, he opens up.  Superman shares his own pain and loss with the young lady, leaving her to make her own choice, promising not to intervene.

This is Superman, you guys.  This is Superman.

2. Batman: Noel

Okay, so this is a Batman story.  Superman makes a brief appearance, but that’s about it.  But what an appearance it is.

For the uninitiated: Lee Bermejo’s brilliant tale retells the beloved story of Ebenezer Scrooge, with Bruce Wayne assuming said role.  In his obsession with taking down The Joker, Batman intends to use the Clown Prince’s hapless employee (who has a young son) as bait.  Batman is letting his war on crime consume his soul as he alienates his family and finds himself getting quite sick, possibly with something as nasty as pneumonia. Self-care is nowhere on the Dark Knight’s priority list.

Superman’s role in all this? He serves as the story’s Ghost of Christmas Present (an inspired choice).  The following exchange shows us that Bermejo does indeed “get” the Man of Steel:

Batman: Isn’t there someone to save somewhere in the world tonight?

Superman: Yeah…you.

Supes has a heart to heart with Batman, reminding him not to forget that the people of Gotham he has sworn to protect are just that: people. People with their own intricate, complex lives full of goals, dreams, desires, and desperation.  Superman quietly implores him to remember that above all, human connection–compassion–is what truly saves us.

This is Superman, you guys.  This is Superman.

ALSO CHECK OUT: New DCU Slate Revealed By James Gunn! Here We Go

3. Superman/Shazam: First Thunder

Here’s another great one.  Judd Winick’s story about the first meeting of Clark Kent and Billy Batson is heartfelt, charming, and personal.  This is a deeply personal story for Superman.

You see, when Clark Kent was growing up, he didn’t have your typical share of dilemmas, like how he was going to pass that math test or whether or not the girl he liked would go to the dance with him.  Well, he did have those kinds of issues, but it didn’t end there.  Not even close.  On top of all the typical emotions and angst that came with adolescence, Clark had to adapt to the fact that he was literally not of this earth and his extraordinary powers, while thrilling to discover, served as reminders that he was not one of the humans he was living among.  These were hard truths the young Man of Steel was faced with.

So, you can see why it hit a major nerve when he finds out that Billy Batson the all powerful superhero is really just a little boy.  And so the typically level headed voice of reason that Superman takes a serious backseat to his righteous anger when he confronts the wizard Shazam over this.  “He’s a child! His life shouldn’t have to be about THIS!” Supes cries.  It is crystal clear that in talking about Billy, he is also talking about himself.  

Superman does come around, though, and serves as a mentor for Billy, but he knows the hardship that comes with bearing the weight of such responsibility at such an early age.  This is an outstanding story that gives Superman the dimension and conflict that so many people think is absent in his character.  James Gunn would do well to consider this one in the crafting of his script.

This is Superman, you guys.  This is Superman.

4. All-Star Superman

Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is considered great for a reason.  It is epic and sweeping in scale.  It has whimsy and heart.  It gives us a Superman facing his own mortality, and it does so without any angst or darkness, but with sheer emotion and imagination.  

The passage featuring his “final dispensation” is particularly moving, and I cannot help but wonder how Richard Donner (and of course Christopher Reeve) might have handled something like that on the big screen.  But with Mr. Gunn, we may well get something pretty darn close.

All-Star Superman serves as a masterclass in epic storytelling and undoubtedly captures the character of Superman, someone always seeking to do good and always questioning whether or not he’s doing enough.  It helped me–a Batman guy–come to appreciate the character a heck of a lot more.

This is Superman, you guys.  This is Superman.

5. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!

Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek serve up the goods big time in this tale that presents Superman and Lex Luthor with similar dilemmas: Supes has lost his powers and Lex is now bankrupt and disgraced.

In this particular Superman outing, it is especially noteworthy just how well they serve one another as foils, Clark the embodiment of hope, courage, and optimism, Lex seething with cynicism and bitterness.  Some of Luthor’s dialogue during his big showdown with Supes in the closing act reminded me of the unsettling rhetoric of some real life folks with too much money and power….and I’ll just leave it at that.

Though Superman and Lex Luthor find themselves in predicaments they are unaccustomed to, Up, Up and Away is actually a wonderful classic story featuring these two great foes pitted against one another.  Whenever a villain helps further enunciate the hero’s best qualities and vice versa, you’ve got a winner on your hands.

This is Superman, you guys.  This is Superman.

There are years worth of Superman comics that I did not mention that certainly belong on this list, and that’s the point. There are just too many to name, and that’s a good thing.  Whatever James Gunn decides will inspire his Superman script, he has an infinite supply to tap into.

Really, as long as James Gunn captures the essence of the character, that is what matters.  Over the years, we’ve seen him craft and tell some pretty wonderful stories with their fair share of larger than life characters.  Stories with heart, which is what Superman needs.  So, yeah, I think he’s in good hands, you guys.  In James Gunn I trust.

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