Superman As A Young Journalist Is Exactly How You Make The Character Relevant Again

It's a question that has dogged the decision-makers in charge of DC films for well over a decade now: How do you make Superman relevant to audiences today?

On one hand, it's apparent why this has provoked so much angst and handwringing throughout the years. Despite a perfectly-cast Henry Cavill (who, as we just learned, will no longer continue on as Superman under the franchise's new direction) and a filmmaker in Zack Snyder who seemed perfectly suited to modernize the boy scout, mainstream audiences never quite warmed up to this specific big-screen portrayal as established in the 2013 reboot "Man of Steel." The somewhat divisive foundation was further compounded by the dark and downright alienating "Batman v Superman," and only belatedly redeemed in "Zack Snyder's Justice League." On the other, well, this task couldn't possibly be as difficult as the previous regime in charge of Warner Bros. made it out to be, right? In the years since, DC's flagship character has been placed on the backburner — a tacit admission from all involved that they couldn't quite figure out the Superman-shaped enigma at the heart of DC films.

Now, however, times are finally a-changin' as new DC Studios co-heads James Gunn and Peter Safran have entered the mix. They've made no secret of their desire to put the world's most famous superhero back in the spotlight, where he belongs. According to Variety, the planned "Superman" feature will take Clark Kent back to his roots as a man making his way through Metropolis as a reporter.

Should this indeed pan out — and it certainly lines up with Gunn describing his new take as "focusing on an earlier part of Superman's life" — then it might very well be the best, most obvious direction to take this new version of Superman.

Back to basics

For an entire generation of younger superhero fans, live-action depictions of Superman on the big screen have hardly ever bothered to tell a simple, straightforward story about the alien from a doomed world who comes to Earth as humanity's greatest hope. Despite all sorts of proven success on television, this hasn't quite translated to the character's cinematic counterpart. "Man of Steel" talks a big game about the hero acting as "an ideal to strive towards," but the mixed results left fans with a well-meaning but oftentimes reckless Superman who could never live up to such a heavy burden. Zack Snyder's deconstructionist approach to the Last Son of Krypton may have satisfied a vocal fanbase still itching for more movies in the same vein as "Watchmen," but what about everyone else left wanting for a Superman who, well, acts like Superman?

Reading the tea leaves, it's hard to imagine that the next reboot won't serve as the exact kind of back-to-basics story that many have clamored for in recent years. There's a certain sense of irony in the idea that Henry Cavill's Superman has perhaps never felt more likable or more recognizably Superman-like than in his heavily-reshot performance in the theatrical cut of "Justice League" (mustache-related shenanigans aside). Even Snyder himself seemed to recognize the need for a course correction in his director's cut of the team-up extravaganza, dropping much of the introspection found in "Batman v Superman" about the moral costs of being an all-powerful superhero and replacing it with a much more traditional plot about how much the world needs the Justice League. Unsurprisingly, audiences appeared to respond to such optimism.

Hopefully, Gunn and whoever directs the next "Superman" film are taking notes. This could be the creative reset the popular character has needed all along.

Potential fulfilled

"Welcome to the Planet."

Remember when "Man of Steel" ended on that amusing double entendre, which seemed to set up Clark Kent in the familiar setting of a reporter at the Daily Planet for an even more lighthearted and much more crowd-pleasing sequel to come? That obviously didn't come to pass once the decision was made to throw Batman into the mix, set up an epic brawl between the two, and stage it all around an utterly morose and oppressive atmosphere where very few heroes even wanted to be heroic in the first place. But for one all-too-brief moment, as noted by some, Gunn's "new" vision for Superman could've potentially been realized years ago.

Now, with Zack Snyder's involvement all but in the rearview mirror, we may finally have a clean slate to see a modern take on Superman that keeps his investigative backstory fully intact — one that will hold new meaning for any movie released in our current political climate.

Long held up as a quintessentially American hero, Superman still wields a tremendous amount of influence to fans all across the globe. Not only does this raise the stakes for the in-development Black-led "Superman" film by Ta-Nehisi Coates, but Gunn — no stranger to exploring material that others wouldn't — could also seize the opportunity to reestablish the hero as one who truly speaks to truth, justice, and all the rest. Should Clark Kent's journalism in this script receive as much of a focus as in previous depictions, the question of keeping the character "relevant" could finally be put to rest and without needing to be bogged down by yet another origin story.

Could we get a Superman who acts as a voice for the little guy, a relentless truth-seeker, and a political force to be reckoned with? For once, I'm feeling hopeful.