DC Studios’ co-head James Gunn has announced that DC Studios’ upcoming Superman movie, which he is currently writing, will focus on a young Clark Kent just starting out, bypassing the origin story. We’re all for this, as between the 1978 Richard Donner movie, Smallville, and Man of Steel, they’ve covered the origin story of Superman pretty thoroughly in media. But doing a story about Kal-El’s early days in Metropolis is not as played out yet.
But where to find inspiration? Often, the best Superman stories actually were about his origins (Birthright, Man of Steel) or his final days (The Death of Superman, All-Star Superman). Or they were way off-brand Elseworlds stories, like Red Son. But there are examples of “early years” Supes stories that would be great for the big screen. Stories where they might incorporate aspects of them into film, if not the whole thing. Here are but a few of our favorites.
Superman and Action Comics by John Byrne (1986-1988)
In 1986, writer/artist John Byrne did the first radical reinvention of Superman’s mythology, largely based on the streamlining done in Superman: The Movie. His mini-series, Man of Steel, retold the origin story. But his next two years on Superman and Action Comics fast-forwarded a bit. They told new stories of a young Clark Kent. Many of those could serve as inspiration for a young Superman film, including tales of his first encounters with kryptonite, and updated versions of classic villains like Brainiac, Metallo, and Bizarro. Many consider these some of the best Superman stories ever. They would serve as an excellent foundation for a new big-screen reinterpretation.
Superman: For All Seasons (1998)
This four-part, 1998 series came to us from writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale, the very same creative team behind the legendary Batman: The Long Halloween. A less grandiose story than that one was, For All Seasons follows a young Clark Kent. However, the four chapters were not told from his POV. Instead, they broke up each chapter into seasons; Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Each one narrated by a different person close to Superman, like his father Jonathan, his enemy Lex Luthor, and his love Lois Lane. It’s not really action-packed enough to make for a big-budget movie. Nevertheless, several elements of it could play into any young Superman story.
“New 52” Action Comics by Grant Morrison (2011-2012)
DC Comics’ New 52 reboot remains controversial to many fans. Still, Grant Morrison’s 18-issue run on Action Comics thrilled most readers. Here, Morrison told a new version of Superman’s earliest days in Metropolis, bringing him back to his roots of 1938 as a champion of the oppressed, and something of a blue-collar hero. His Superman didn’t even start out wearing a costume, he wore a t-shirt with the S-logo and jeans. This was a bold and modern retelling, and largely skipped the Krypton/Smallville stuff. Some stuff wouldn’t translate, but enough would to at least consider it.
Superman: The Animated Series “Stolen Memories” (1996)
Most of the first episodes of Superman: The Animated Series dealt with a young Man of Steel in his early days, and the show remains one of the best examples of the character in any media. But if we were to pick one episode to adapt and expand on, it’s “Stolen Memories.” This episode introduced Brainiac to Superman’s rogues gallery. The series’ version of the evil A.I., which had ties to Krypton and Jor-El, is maybe one of the best versions ever. If I were James Gunn, I would definitely rewatch the whole animated series from start to finish. And I’d pay special attention to this chapter.
Superman: Peace on Earth (1998)
Writer Paul Dini, together with Kingdom Come artist Alex Ross, created a timeless story that got to the core of Kal-El’s character with Peace on Earth. The one-shot story focused on Superman wanting to do more than just punch villains and stop disasters on Christmas. He proposed the United Nations help to end world hunger by spending a day delivering as much food as he can to those that need it anywhere in the world. Of course, some greeted with resistance even that kind gesture. It’s not a very action heavy story, but certain elements of it may inspire a new live-action portrayal of Superman.
Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (2009)
One aspect of Superman’s lore they have never explored in live-action (except in one episode of Smallville) was Clark Kent’s connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes. His time as a young man with the super team of the far future was formative in helping him become the hero he is. In Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s story, Clark’s childhood friends come back for him. They take him to the 31st century, when a new xenophobic movement has risen on Earth. They need the future to remember that its greatest hero was actually an alien immigrant himself. This one might be a bit too “out there” for some. But we also think James Gunn would knock the future stuff out of the park.