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Stories that could inspire James Gunn’s Young Superman movie

by Stewart Cole

DC Studios co-head James Gunn has announced that DC Studios’ upcoming Superman film, who is currently writing, will focus on a young Clark Kent just starting out, bypassing the origin story. We’re all for it, as between Richard Donner’s 1978 film, Smallvilleand Man of Steel, have covered Superman’s origin story pretty thoroughly in the media. But doing a story about Kal-El’s early days in Metropolis still isn’t the same.

DC Comics

But where to find inspiration? Often, the best Superman stories were actually about his origins (Birthright, Man of Steel) or his last days (The Death of Superman, All-Star Superman). Or it was a lot stories outside the Elseworlds brandlike Red Son. But there are examples of Supes “early years” stories that would be great for the big screen. Stories where they might incorporate aspects of them into the movie, if not the whole thing. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Superhuman and Action comics by John Byrne (1986-1988)

Superman art from the 1980s by John Byrne.
DC Comics

In 1986, writer/artist John Byrne did the first radical reinvention of the Superman mythology, based largely on streamlining was done in Superman: The Movie. His miniseries, Man of Steel, retold the origin story. But the next two years Superhuman and Action comics advance a little. They told new stories of a young Clark Kent. Much of this could serve as inspiration for a young Superman movie, including stories about his first encounters with kryptonite and updated versions of classic villains like Brainiac, Metallo and Bizarro. Many consider these to be some of the best Superman stories ever. They would serve as an excellent basis for a new reinterpretation on the big screen.

Superman: For All Seasons (1998)

Superman by Tim Sale, from Superman For All Seasons
DC Comics

This 1998 four-part series comes to us from writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale, the same creative team behind the legendary Batman: The Long Halloween. A less grand story than this, For all seasons follows a young Clark Kent. However, the four chapters were not told from his POV. Instead, they divided each chapter into seasons. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each is narrated by a different person close to Superman, such as Jonathan’s father, Lex Luthor’s nemesis, and the love of Lois Lane. It’s not really action packed enough to be a big budget movie. Still, many elements of him could play into any young Superman story.

“New 52” Action comics by Grant Morrison (2011-2012)

New 52 Superman by Rags Morales
DC Comics

DC Comics’ New 52 reboot remains controversial for many fans. Still, Grant Morrison’s 18 issues continue Action comics excited most readers. Here, Morrison told a new version of Superman’s early days in Metropolis, bringing him back to his roots in 1938 as a champion of the downtrodden, and something of a blue-collar hero. His Superman didn’t even start out in a suit, he wore an S logo t-shirt and jeans. This was a bold and modern narrative, and we were largely skipping the Krypton/Smallville stuff. Some things wouldn’t translate, but it would be enough to at least think about.

Superman: The Animated Series “Stolen Memories” (1996)

Superman meets Brainiac in Superman: The Animated Series.
Animation by Warner Bros

Most of his early episodes Superman: The Animated Series dealt with a young man of steel in his early years, and the show remains one of the best examples of character in any medium. But if we were to pick one episode to adapt and expand on, it’s “Stolen Memories.” This episode introduced Brainiac in superman’s rogues gallery. The series version of the evil AI, which had ties to Krypton and Jor-El, is probably one of the best versions of all time. If I were James Gunn, I would definitely rewatch the entire animated series from start to finish. And I would pay special attention to this chapter.

Superman: Peace on Earth (1998)

Alex Ross art from Superman: Peace on Earth.
DC Comics

Author Paul Dini, with me kingdom come artist Alex Rosscreated a timeless story that got to the core of Kal-El’s character with Peace on earth. The one-shot story focused on Superman who wants to do more than beat up bad guys and stop disasters at Christmas. He suggested that the United Nations help end world hunger by spending a day delivering as much food as it can to those who need it anywhere in the world. Of course, some greeted even this kind gesture with resistance. It’s not a very action-heavy story, but some elements of it might inspire a new live-action portrayal of Superman.

Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (2009)

Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, art by Gary Frank.
DC Comics

An aspect of Superman’s history that has never been explored in live action (aside from one episode of Smallville) was Clark Kent’s connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes. His time as a youth with the super team of the far future helped him become the hero he is. In Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s story, Clark’s childhood friends come back for him. He is transported to the 31st century, when a new xenophobic movement has emerged on Earth. They need the future to remember that its greatest hero was actually an alien immigrant. This may be a little too “out there” for some. But we also think James Gunn would knock the future stuff out of the park.

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