It's no secret that Superman, the most famous and arguably most powerful superhero in common media, will be returning to the DCEU despite his untimely demise in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Since the film hit theaters nearly a year and a half ago, fans have speculated how Superman will return in Justice League, and one of the most popular fan theories is that Superman will don a black costume and become a darker version of himself – an event that famously occurred after Death of Superman in 1992. This would hypothetically fit right into director Zack Snyder's aesthetic, which has made his three previous DC films uniquely dark in nature.
Recent toys and posters seem to debunk these speculations, but there are still a handful of fans who want to see a black-suited Superman. The question is, is a dark Superman what the DC Extended Universe needs, or is there a better option?
The DCEU's Current State
It should go without saying that there's critical doubt surrounding the DC Extended Universe. This summer's Wonder Woman may have provided hope for the DCEU, but memories of critical failures such as Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice continue to give cause for concern about Justice League and the future of the franchise.
One of the major complaints is that the series is just too dark. Critics have speculated that the gloomy aesthetic of the DCEU was originally inspired by the success of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, but many believe DC has taken this desaturated approach too far.
Another major complaint about Man of Steel, however, was that even the characters were darker in spirit. Traditionally, Superman is a bright and uplifting superhero, but the Superman in Man of Steel didn't deliver on that promise. Instead, the new Superman has been described as mopey and depressing, which doesn't honor the character's source material. This complaint continued in Batman v. Superman, where Batman and Superman both appeared to be equally "mopey."
The Solution: A Return To Former Glory
The potential solution to this issue is for Superman to return as his bright and good-willed self in Justice League. This would justify Superman's characteristics in the DCEU so far, as he was still a new superhero trying to figure out how to be himself.
That's not to say Henry Cavill's Superman needs to be a cheesy reinvention of Christopher Reeve's Superman. Instead, the resurrected Superman should come off as more benign when he returns from the grave, perhaps finally understanding his purpose on this planet.
To get a deeper insight on this topic, from a storytelling perspective, I spoke with screenwriting professor Joshua Courtade at Compass College of Cinematic Arts, who spoke about his thoughts on how Superman's legacy should influence the DCEU iteration of the character:
Superman never should have been mopey in the first place. Superman, at the core of the character and what we've seen in various incarnations over – you know, the more than 75 years since he was created – is that Superman has an inherent goodness. And it's not just about right and wrong or moral justice, he's a decent character... To me what's always defined Superman is the fact that he legitimately cares about people.
Courtade went on to discuss a specific example that shows the difference between the DCEU and previous versions of the Man of Steel.
Specifically, in 'Batman v. Superman,' the scene where there's the flooding going on and the family on the house, up on the roof, and Superman comes floating down in a Crucifix position all god-like, and it's like, no. Get in there, check on them, ask how they're doing. You know, that's what the Christopher Reeve version of Superman would've done, that's what the George Reeves version would've done, heck, that's what the Dean Cain version would've done, and that's what the comic-book Superman would've done. He would check on the people first, and then get them out of there, not float down down slowly, not wasting precious seconds where he could be off saving more people.
And so, if they're looking for a time to reboot Superman and make him more like the character we want him to be, now is the perfect time to do it. And I think they should, and clearly there are a lot of people who are so dissatisfied by Snyder's take on the character, or even just by the DC universe in general that there's good reason to do it, both artistically and from an audience standpoint.
Bringing back a bright and classic Superman would also be able to provide quite a bit of contrast to the rest of the DC Extended Universe. This was actually something I was hoping to see in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, with Batman and Superman juxtaposing each other as the DCEU's symbols for light and dark. Unfortunately, as we now know, this was not the case, and almost the entire movie was dark and murky.
Making Superman a brighter figure from this point on could provide a greater contrast within the DCEU, significantly widening the color palette of the franchise and the variety of characters. Furthermore, it could help add to Henry Cavill's character, ensuring that his uplifting scenes provide a beacon of hope in this aesthetically dark Universe.
Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen, but Superman's return in his traditionally colorful suit is certainly a step in the right direction. Transforming Cavill's Superman into the classic, wholesome Man of Steel from here on out would likely improve the DCEU and justify the decisions made in the series thus far. It would show that Superman was still an up-and-rising superhero, with his death and resurrection being the necessary transition into his true self – a symbol of hope.