Call me a masochist, but barely a week after Suicide Squad hit theaters, my hype for Zack Snyder's Justice League is already beginning to stir. This weekend, Henry Cavill posted a teaser shot of an all-new, all-black Superman suit immediately reminiscent of one iconic Superman costume from DC Comics lore — the black suit worn in The Return of Superman from the classic Death of Superman arc.
Could it be coincidence? Perhaps — we all know Snyder has beef with color. Even Wonder Woman's costume in Batman v Superman was coated in grime, just in case it should catch the light. Personally, I prefer the theory that the black costume is a hint that Justice League may channel the final act of The Death of Superman.
What Happened In 'The Death of Superman'?
In 1992, DC Comics writer Mike Carlin decided that "the world was taking Superman for granted." The solution? Put the Man of Steel in the ground. In Carlin's own words, "let's show what the world would be like without Superman."
The saga is split into three arcs, the first being Doomsday!, in which a lab-birthed Kryptonian beast with powers equal to those of Superman embarks on an epic rampage throughout Metropolis and its neighboring cities. The arc concludes with the apparent death of Superman in Lois Lane's arms. If that sounds suspiciously similar to the finale of Batman v Superman, it's probably fair to say that this story was the biggest influence on Dawn of Justice, even if it's not a straight adaptation.
In the second arc, a number of heroes attempt to fill the void left by Superman (as well as wearing a black armband adorned with an "S" in a show of solidarity), but predictably it proves impossible and crime rates in Metropolis go skyward.
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In the third and final arc, the Eradicator — an alien from Krypton and former nemesis of Superman — places Superman's corpse in the Fortress of Solitude's regeneration matrix on a mountain outside Metropolis, ultimately reviving Superman. (During his time in the matrix, Superman's hair grows to a kind of shoulder-length mullet, a highly questionable look which would go on to define the character throughout the '90s.) This story arc was later given the name The Return of Superman, and the evidence would seem to suggest this could be the overarching plot of Snyder's Justice League.
Considering Dawn of Justice essentially adapted Superman's death, it's not much of a stretch to imagine that Justice League will play with his reincarnation — and the suit (which looks utterly incredible) feels like confirmation.
A Familiar Enemy?
But with the threat of Steppenwolf or Darkseid looming, we probably won't see Superman's corpse placed in the regeneration matrix. That seems a little too super-science-y for the DCEU. After all, we didn't even get to see Doomsday's epic origin story play out properly Lex Luthor basically just took Zod's corpse, stirred in some of his own DNA and — boom — the beast was created. I've had more difficulty making milkshakes.
While the idea of Superman coming back in black and gradually returning to full strength seems pretty straightforward, Justice League could also borrow from various other story arcs including the New 52's Earth-Two. Although set on Earth-2 and therefore entirely separate from the Superman of Prime-Earth, the possibility of Darkseid creating a Superman clone to fight the Justice League while the real Superman is six feet under is pretty delicious.
Whatever the circumstances, the dark suit clearly suggests Superman's persona will be altered in some way. That would make more sense if Superman was in fact Bizarro than if the real Man of Steel reawakened, put on a black suit and joined the Justice League. Given what we know about Snyder's Justice League apparently having more humor than Batman v Superman (as seen in the trailer), it would be weird if Superman came back even darker (literally) than before, while Bruce is cracking jokes about Aquaman talking to fish.
Alternatively, it could be that our Superman only returns at the moment when the Justice League are in extreme peril, the black symbolic of his ability to dispel the threat of Steppenwolf. Justice League is still a long way off — but whether he comes back with altered powers, a darker personality or in the form of Bizarro, the black suit can only be a sign that this Man of Steel is as new as he is familiar. After Batman v Superman, that feels like exactly what the character, and the world, needs.
Justice League is released November 17, 2017.