Why Superman doesn’t need a new TV series.
In a strange, trans-dimensional courtroom, in a parallel Universe, a trial is being held with Superman as the client. There would be aliens, cameras, probably some Kryptonite, and a panel of executives who would be attempting to make their case for Superman and a television series to happen again.
I would be the expert testimony for the prosecution. Against the Man of Steel. Oh, the humanity.
Prosecution Opening Arguments
“As the prosecution we contend not only does Kal-El, the aforementioned Superman does not need another television series, we contend Superman has saturated the market having been in circulation since the 1940 in the Fleischer Films and most famously depicted on the television screen as the ill-fated George Reeves Superman in the late 1950s.”
“Begin your cross-examination, counselor.”
If only I could be in court right now talking to someone in power about Superman and why we don’t need another series with Kal-El as the star. He is, in almost any way that matters, one of the most over-exposed heroes of the DC Universe.
I’d say something cool like:
“Superman is one of America’s most enduring media icons. Some would contend he is the godfather of modern superheroes and was the basis for many of the genre’s more enduring concepts.
“As mentioned earlier, he had a incredible media explosion in print and was one of the most sold publications in the world during his early debut. He would fly right off the page and onto the animated screen with one of the first images of its type in 1941–1943’s Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios’ Superman theatrical cartoon series of 17 shorts initially starring the voice of Bud Collyer.
“He would then arrive on the television screen in his initially black and white appearance with the actor George Reeves wearing his traditional S shield. The rousing introduction: “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, became forever associated with this iconic being from another planet, with powers and abilities far beyond mortal men. As a fan of the series, Reeves onscreen depiction is still one of the finest, both as Clark Kent and as Superman.
“Since his return in the 1970s as Christopher Reeve’s depiction of the character, his movies have both inspired and traumatized viewers with the highlights being Superman (1978) and the low showing in almost all ways of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). We learned a man could fly, but he could also come crashing to earth pretty well too, in the wrong hands.
Then I suspect I would have gone too far as the room explodes! The judge would slam his warhammer down and silence would immediately ensue.
“Order in the court. There will be order. Don’t make me hold you in contempt, Mister Howze.”
The prosecutor would then say
“Permission to treat him as a hostile witness, your honor.”
“He’s your witness.”
“Are you submitting for approval the idea that Superman, as a movie property was dead?”
I would be forced to double-down…
“I’m suggesting they made the right decision to keep Superman out of the movies for a while. But I think they made just as big a mistake by trying to go back in time to produce the Superboy television series from 1987 to 1992.”
“I never heard of it.”
“Many people didn’t. Those that did, weren’t willing to comment publicly. Meanwhile Superman lay fallow in the movies until Brandon Routh’s ‘Superman Returns’ in 2006, which neither inspired, nor enthralled anyone with his reappearance. Not the worst, but certainly not the best. He was just kinda there. Bland. And for the love of all that’s holy, did we really need Lex Luthor? Again? I don’t care who played him. It was a chance to do something different.
“At least it had a decent score and above average special effects for the time as its saving grace. Routh’s Superman didn’t inspire enough people to part with their hard-earned cash and the entire franchise would be rebooted, one more time in Man of Steel in 2013.”
“Surely Superman’s appearances in the modern era are far superior to his 2006 revival?”
“His recent appearances in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, which were supposed to introduce a more modern Superman with modern sensibilities, gave us a darker, edgier, more disaffected Metropolis Marvel. Gone was the Big Blue Boy Scout and the smiling titan of good who protected us and made us feel safe.
“Now, he was a brooding, dour, demigod whose powers were so terrifying we didn’t know if we should venerate him or fear him. (As was the director’s goal; a morally ambiguous or at least highly-conflicted Superman was the goal.)
“If Man of Steel poisoned the well, Batman v. Superman spread the poison into the rest of the DC Entertainment Universe making the death of Superman in Batman v. Superman as the lynch-pin to bring together their modern version of the Justice League.”
“Martha? Was that the best they could do?”
The court explodes. “Your honor can we have a ten minute recess?”
“Take twenty. Get your witness in line, counselor…”
Defense Cross Examination
“You said it yourself, Superman has been one of the most popular DC Universe characters in their 85 years, revitalizing again and again, the genre on the television and movie screen. How can we take your negative perspective seriously knowing how our client has kept four color heroes in the national discourse for decades?”
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a Superman series, I am pointing out a Superman television show shouldn’t be a priority until the show runners commit to telling stories about the character which have some meaning, some depth and with a character with more charisma than a bar of soap.
“From what I can tell, DC has lost the capacity to figure out what to do with the character in the comics. From the debacle of the New 52 Superman, the Chinese Super Man, the death of the New 52 Superman, the return of the Post-Crisis, Hypertime-aware Superman and the brief childhood of Jon Kent, the new Superboy who is now the Superboy of the 31st Century, DC is trying to do too much, too fast.
“The DC Entertainment Superman has been equally ineffective. I don’t see a television show about Superman, Lois and a new super-infant being all that compelling because the writers haven’t been able to take a stance at a power level, villains and how seriously they plan on taking their story development.”
“These are strong words. But Superman has shown up on television screens since the late eighties. Now with the host of superheroes on television, why shouldn’t Superman be on television?
“Because all of his showings in live action were abysmal even if they managed to run for years. I’ll explain: Superboy: the Adventures of Superman when he was a boy. As a comic, it managed to introduce us to a character’s childhood we up until that time knew nothing. But Superboy had adventures as a boy and they were mildly entertaining, relying on the standards of misunderstandings, secret identity hi-jinks and young romance between Clark and Lana Lang. The television series attempting to capture that story was weak, filled with poor writing and worse characterization. It was absolutely forgettable in every way. Half the fans I have ever spoken to, didn’t even know the show had happened. Yes, it ran for four seasons, but everyone was grateful when it ended.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman: Not the Man of Steel’s worse showing but I wasn’t in love with it. I admit Dean Cain did present a good believable Superman and the scripts weren’t the worse thing on television. It also ran four seasons before grinding to a halt. Fans, at least remember that it happened and Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane was memorable. The show was more about the relationship between Lois and Clark and less about Superman.
Smallville: The show developed a strong following which lasted a decade, the failure to develop the other heroes as well as the decade pretending to one day release Superman but never doing it, left me completely uninterested in this series long term. Bright moments, otherwise completely avoidable by the non-fans.
Krypton: I dislike all prequels because nothing can happen there which can undermine the overall story canon. I could not appreciate the series because of the less than stellar interpretation. I wanted them to do more with Kryptonian culture and the space empires of the time, hoping they would explain why Kryptonians cowered at home rather than conquered the Universe. Never happened. Lasted two seasons.
“Superman’s best showing was Superman: The Animated Series and his starring role in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Like the series which preceded it: Batman the Animated Series, both were equally acclaimed for the thematic complexity, quality animation, writing, faithfulness to the source material, voice acting, maturity and modernization of the title character’s comic-book mythos.”
“Our client has been seen a number of times in the CW show Supergirl and his depiction by Tyler Hoechlin has received favorable press. This seems a logical way to expand the character and put him back into circulation. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“If the writers and producers of all the animated series were put on the payroll and given the latitude to revise the characters along the lines of the Animated Series, we would likely get the best onscreen depiction of Superman since the 1960s George Reeves showing. I don’t see that happening.
“What I see happening is the production of a lukewarm romantic series with moments of light humor around raising a superhuman child in a modern world. Will there be overlap with the other series? Will the Crisis on Infinite Earth make for a more integrated Universe? Will the writing feature a fresh take on a relationship that is at least seventy years old and can somehow make it fresh again? Nothing I’ve seen in Supergirl makes me think they will be any better with Superman than they have been with her. They squandered the Martian Manhunter!
“Let me close with saying: Superman is an institution. The character has been inspiring the genre for decades but modern writers have not been successful in depicting what makes the character work in live action. Whether it’s a matter of ego and wanting to put their own unique spin on the character or a lack of capacity, unable to find a way to integrate more modern themes into this venerable institution, it makes me wonder if modern versions of the character have failed to connect with audiences because writers are unsure of what he should stands for.
“The best depictions of Superman on-screen these days are animated with the shining example of All-Star Superman being the crown jewel of such movies. Why the writers of the live action versions cannot capture the lightning animators have, is a subject for debate.
“I would rather they NEVER put another version of Superman in live action until they reconcile what they want the character to stand for. Superman has come a long way from his violent Golden Age past. Finding writers who understand him should be job one.
“In my opinion, they need to let him be what he has been for decades: An icon representing the very best humanity has to offer, a god who would rather be a man, protecting his adopted planet from a hostile Universe, against enemies foreign and domestic.
“A man having great power but preferring to exercise restraint even against his enemies. Kind, even to his foes, finding ways of resolving problems which doesn’t require him to kill to do it. We need writers who can return him to being an icon who learns from us how to be Human while he teaches us to reach for the stars. We’re done, your honor.”
“You may step down, Mister Howze. Your argument for both sides is persuasive. Perhaps if we’re lucky, someone out there might hear you. I am going to rule against the Client, Kal-El. While historically he has managed to inspire a worldwide fan base, his more recent exploits have left a lot to be desired. The case for better writers and less executive interference can be made in light of Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. It isn’t impossible to write for Superman, the question is: will the CW spring for knowledgeable, capable and who understand the history they will be handling? I declare this case closed.”
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.