Marvel’s ten year experiment with the brighter side of superheroes has ended with the downfall of its first phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the blowout Avengers: Infinity War.
With the recent release of the sequel’s first trailer Avengers: Endgame, is the world ready for the dystopian view of the superheroic themes now on deck, in the hands of one James Gunn, who was involved in a controversy which ended his career in the MCU directing Guardians of the Galaxy III?
Introducing a superhero story whose theme was hinted at in Man of Steel but now being taken to its dark and terrifying conclusion in the metahuman thriller, Brightburn. Be sure to pause the SCIFI.radio music stream using the controller at the top of the page before you hit the play button on the video.
All of Gunn’s controversy aside, the first trailer to his newest project, Brightburn appears to have all the markings of a riff on Superman, with the overtones of the original stories of how Goku came to Earth, not as a strange visitor seeking to survive a catastrophe on his homeworld but as a conquerer sent as a baby to soften up the planet for its eventual invasion.
Brightburn even goes so far as to replicate the mom and pop story of the Kents (portrayed by Elizabeth Banks, Hunger Games) and David Denman (a long time television actor and recently seen in the movie 13 Hours (2016)) as they acquire their young child from the ruins of an alien spacecraft.
Unlike the Kents, though, who raise a happy and well-adjusted child despite his alien origins, in Brightburn the family dynamics only seemed to create a withdrawn and slightly autistic-seeming child. The young alien is portrayed by Jackson A. Dunn, who has trouble making friends and begins to show strange physical and mental tendencies as he approaches his teen years.
Anyone familiar with comics will recognize the subversion of the Superman mythos, and if they have any comics history at all, will recognize this isn’t the first time we have seen a dark Superman. In fact, Superman is often rewritten by other companies in a darker motif showing just how terrifying the Man of Steel could be if he were to turn against humanity. One of the more successful and terrifying stories was told in Marvel’s Supreme Power (2003) when they introduce their rewrite of their Superman-analog, Hyperion.
Hyperion, too crash lands on Earth, but instead of being raised by a warm and loving family, his rescuers are murdered and replaced by a government experiment seeking to harness his metahuman potential for their own sinister purposes.
The story of his early development and the travesty of errors which lead to the eventual escape of Hyperion is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read. Written by J. MIchael Straczynski, Supreme Power is probably one of the finest dark takes on Superman in quite some time.
Only one other, even comes close: Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, a tale of a Superman-esque hero who goes over to the dark side and becomes a threat to a world ill equipped to handle a being of his magnitude. I enjoyed Waid’s depiction of the Plutonian as a being so far removed from Human understanding, we had no more chance against him than a cockroach has against a well-aimed tennis shoe.
I can see Brightburn making the connection between Man of Steel and itself by pointing out the similarities between their character and the alien invader who instead of growing up well adjusted by the concern of his Human parents, appears to slowly transform into the weapon of mass destruction he has the potential to become.
Will this journey to the dark side of superheroes sour our movie-going audiences on the threat of the metahuman menace or will they embrace this terrifying new threat with the same zeal and enthusiasm as they did with the box office explosion, Venom (2018), where Tom Hardy plays an alien menace with a taste for its favorite delicacy, Human flesh.
Like so many, I wonder will these dives into the dark side of metahumanity are a signal that the love affair with superheroes is over, but I prefer to think of it as a more honest discussion of both sides of meta-humanity, which, just like humanity, spans a spectrum of light and darkness.
Brightburn is being produced by James Gunn (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, directed by David Yarovesky, written by Brian and Mark Gunn, stars Elizabeth Banks, Meredith Hagner & David Denman, and is currently scheduled for release by Screen Gems in 2019.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.