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How a Black Superman can finally make him The Man of Tomorrow

Action Comics #9 variant cover
(Image credit: Rags Morales (DC))

In a move that could change the course of pop culture's mighty rivers, Warner Bros. is reportedly developing a new Superman film written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, with a Black actor being cast in the lead role as the last son of Krypton, and a Black director to spearhead the story's vision.

(Image credit: Gene Ha (DC))

The response from the general public and the fan community has been as polarized as Superman's adopted home nation on matters of racial equality, and as ironic as the idea of cultural ownership regarding a fictional character who is an immigrant from another planet.

To be fair, Superman is a character of schisms regarding identity. The hero, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, has been perceived as both a Christ-like figure sent from above to lead humanity toward its best destiny through proper American values, and as a sun god, reinforced by the solar-based nature of his powers and the name of his homeworld's god Rao being similar to Ra, the sun deity of Egyptian mythology.

Superman is seen as both the representation of Absolute Good through a combination of idealism, humility, compassion, kindness, morality, and ethics, while also viewed as the flawed hero capable of taking one life to save billions of lives, as portrayed in the film Man of Steel helmed by filmmaker Zack Snyder. He is seen as both perfect and imperfect in a world split between generations of people who want different qualities from their heroes.

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

He is one of those characters for which there is rarely a middle ground, and we are separated by a hard line between emotional connection and disinterest. Either we feel entitled to define Superman or he provides no connection to our aspirations, which begs the question of whether or not the character has any agency in today's world.

Is Superman an anachronism?

Warner Bros. has given itself the Herculean task of overcoming past and highly criticized efforts to reintroduce and invigorate Superman with a considerably more controversial version, to make the most idealistic superhero work in our cynical world.

Their Venn diagram of Batman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn represents the apparent tip of the DC Universe's spear, across publishing and media ranging from comic books and graphic novels to video games, television, and film. The upcoming film The Batman starring Robert Pattinson, the blockbuster critical darling Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix, and the newest take on The Suicide Squad starring Margot Robbie are a few examples, as well as the top-selling, high production value Batman family of comic books being published by DC.

(Image credit: Gene Ha/Art Lyon/Pat Brousseau (DC))

Batman and his strangely alluring, perilous world reflect today's cynical complexities.

Superman's world is the beacon, the light shining from the destination of a future many people consider an impossibility.

That is exactly why Warner Bros. is in a unique position to challenge our society by making Superman something more. More than prejudices. More than xenophobia.

More than a single interpretation, visualization, or cultural point of reference. 

A Black Superman is not the issue.

We are.

(Image credit: Gene Ha/Art Lyon/Pat Brousseau (DC))

Our projection of issues with a Black Superman is at the center of a long-overdue reckoning of our world with the failures of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Failures which have traumatized us with the impact frequency of a jackhammer, and empowered others to victimize people on intimate and large scales without proportionate consequence.

The American Way, viewed through the prism of Superman, is not limited by the crimes of yesterday, the bigotry of today, and the legacy of lies throughout the centuries. It is not shackled by a history of heinous crimes and historical systems set up to segregate, infiltrate, and destroy communities based on differences.

It is the north star for tomorrow's truth, tomorrow's justice, and tomorrow will not be the sole dominion of any one people, gender group, or racial community.

The hero of tomorrow must be an agent of change, and Warner Bros. knows this. It recognizes the power of Superman as the pebble in the pond, resulting in ripple effects that continue to flow outward in popular culture. From iconic characters who represent milestones in cultural fiction to bronze-skinned marvels in blue garb who fly through a fantastic world outside our windows, new Narcissistic heroes embodying a sensationalistic homeland perspective and mythical defenders of utopian ideas, the archetype of Superman is profoundly influential. The name and trademark, embedded in our global psyche, known by pop culture aficionados and newcomers alike.

(Image credit: Gene Ha/Art Lyon/Pat Brousseau (DC))

Warner Bros. knows their participation in a worldwide pivot toward values of equality required actions of great promise, backed by extraordinary gestures. Delivered on the grand, operatic stage of film as opposed to the relatively untrodden landscape of Superman's source material.

The new Superman will be the daring truth, that the story of a Black man from another land, disconnected from his true heritage, landing in America outside of his control, and using his extraordinary fortitude to be a symbol of unbelievable possibility and humility in a world of malice, greed, and apathy is particularly relevant, and a character called 'Superman' should no longer be defined in mass media through the singular veneer of Whiteness.

(Image credit: Gene Ha/Art Lyon (DC))

He will be the unwavering and defiant citizen of America who will not be slowly choked to death, quickly shot to death, sprayed with pepper gas, or intimidated away from achieving a measure of justice. 

He will not be the American way of today or yesteryear. The new Superman signals the way to what America must become, which is better than its lies to itself, better than its criminal supremacies, and better than the offspring of false historical integrity.

He will challenge our perceptions and doubts, our apathy, and our preconceived notions.

The new Superman will render the arguments against his existence obsolete, and truly be a Man of Tomorrow.

Read on about DC's chief Black Superman in comics, Calvin Ellis - President Superman.

Joseph Illidge is the Executive Editor for Heavy Metal magazine. Previously, he served as an  Editor on the Batman line of comics for DC Entertainment, Executive Editor for Valiant Entertainment, and Senior Editor for Hair Love producers Lion Forge on their superhero imprint, Catalyst Prime.