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Justice League: Where’s Superman, And Who’s the Film’s Seventh Hero?

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Justice League: Where’s Superman, And Who’s the Film’s Seventh Hero?

While the first proper “Justice League” trailer had its share of satisfying moments, it still hasn’t filled a Kryptonian-sized hole. We might chalk this up to the filmmakers being coy, since the odds are good that Henry Cavill’s Superman — having died (ish) in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice” — will return in November’s super-team blockbuster. As far as the mechanics are concerned, though, the movie’s got some options.

RELATED: With Justice League, Has Warner Bros. Learned a Lesson From Marvel?

Indeed, Superman may not be the only Leaguer the trailer omits. While early marketing materials for “Justice League” invited fans to #UniteTheSeven, alert viewers will notice that the trailer includes only five Leaguers: Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg. If Superman makes six, that still leaves one slot open. Thus, today we’ll look also at potential candidates for Leaguer Number Seven.

FOUR WAYS TO A SUPER-REVIVAL

Withered Superman recovers

Superman recovers from a nuclear blast, from “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley

Last June, we concluded that “Justice League” might not spend too much time depicting Superman’s inevitable return. Now, however, we’re starting to rethink that. Consider four basic possibilities: A) he just gets better, B) he gets better with help, C) his revival takes a dark turn and D) he never died in the first place.

Option A is pretty self-explanatory, since “Batman v. Superman’s” ending doesn’t suggest that “Justice League” needs to overthink the process. Those little dirt particles floating above Superman’s casket may well indicate that the Man of Steel was only mostly dead, and just needed some time for his Kryptonian cells to repair themselves. (“BVS” also arguably foreshadows this with its “Dark Knight Returns”-style solar-regeneration scene.) Maybe he revives early in the film and spends most of it in hiding, reluctant to re-emerge after the beating his image took in “BVS.” Alternatively, maybe it takes him most of the movie to get better, such that he charges out of the grave in time to join the Justice League at a dramatically-effective moment.

Now, if it’s a big deal for him to die, it’s gotta be a big deal for him to come back, right? This leads us into Option B’s “gets better with help,” which already has comics and movie precedents. In 1993, following the previous fall’s “Death of Superman” storyline, the Superman comics’ various creative teams crafted a solution which was both once-in-a-lifetime and rooted extensively in continuity. We won’t recount the mechanics; but needless to say, it’s probably beyond the scope of “Justice League” to adapt such a Rube Goldbergian sequence of events. The closest the movie might come is having S.T.A.R. Labs or Project Cadmus try to revive Supes with the technology from that Kryptonian scout ship. Problem is, it sounds just like how Lex Luthor made Doomsday in “BVS.” Even so, we could see the Leaguers, the U.S. government, or some combination thereof asking Luthor politely but firmly to help raise Superman from the dead — and if it’s not too much trouble, to do it without creating another giant CGI rage-monster. Perhaps one of those Mother Boxes might help; or perhaps it will take a combination of Kryptonian, Amazonian, Atlantean, and Fourth World science.

And speaking of the Fourth World, here’s Option C: Superman returns under less-than-ideal circumstances. Darkseid’s lackey Steppenwolf will be “Justice League’s” main baddie, having skulked around the Kryptonian scoutship while Luthor was experimenting on General Zod in a “BVS” deleted scene. Accordingly, Steppenwolf and/or Luthor reviving Superman as an evil puppet would tie into “BVS’s” “Knightmare” sequence. It would also recall both the Elseworlds miniseries “Superman: The Dark Side” and a subplot from the New 52’s “Earth 2” series, where Steppenwolf controlled a clone of the apparently-dead Earth-2 Superman.

"Earth 2's" evil Superman

The New 52’s evil Earth-2 Superman by Ethan Van Sciver, from “Earth 2” #18

Finally, Option D requires a little setup. Stick with us here, because it gets complicated.

In “BVS,” Superman kills Doomsday by impaling him with Batman’s Kryptonite-tipped spear. Doomsday then kills the weakened Superman by stabbing him with a bone-spike. (In the comics, the two killed each other with mutually fatal super-punches.) Supes actually gets the spear from Lois Lane, who had to retrieve it from the site of the World’s Finest throwdown, almost drowning in the process. We think this last bit ties into the time-traveling Flash’s warning about Lois being the key to preventing the Knightmare scenario; but we’ll come back to that. Anyway, once Supes has the spear, he flies off to where Wonder Woman has been fighting Doomsday, and meets his destiny. (No “spear of destiny” pun intended.)

With all that in mind, we’ve been wondering why Supes didn’t just give the spear to Wonder Woman and ask her to stab Doomsday with it. Certainly Wonder Woman seems to know more about ancient weaponry than a guy from Kansas who spent his 20s growing facial hair and hitchhiking from one anonymous job to another. Also, there’s the whole thing about Kryptonite radiation not being that harmful to Amazons. I suppose Supes figures that, after “BVS’s” messes in Africa and Washington, D.C. he needs to feel successful at something; and that’s why he takes this one for the (not-yet-formed) team.

Still, what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if the Flash’s warning turned out to be crucial for avoiding not just “Knightmare,” but Superman’s death as well?

The “Justice League” trailer seems to confirm that while things are relatively calm, Batman and Wonder Woman spend the movie’s first act recruiting Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash. For most of the second act we presume they fight Parademons, and may then realize they’re not going to win without more help. Clearly, preventing the Knightmare scenario means that the stakes are high. The Leaguers can’t call on anybody else (as far as we or they know — but see below); and of course Superman isn’t really available.

Why isn’t he? Again, under Option A the timing isn’t right (dramatically speaking); and Option B isn’t as foolproof as we’d hope. Option C is clearly the worst-case scenario, and the Leaguers know it. Perhaps they’re reluctant to raise Superman because he might become another Doomsday or (as in the Knightmare) he might turn on them. The choice could even be out of their hands if Steppenwolf has already revived and corrupted him. Maybe Lois is dead by this time, maybe she’s not. In any event Bad Superman and the Apokoliptians — which, of course, sounds like a decent speed-metal band — would crush even the Justice League.

That brings us to Option D, wherein Batman remembers that Flash can time-travel, and sends the speedster back on a mission to stop Superman from dying in the first place. Flash might do this by alerting everyone’s past selves, so that all of the future Leaguers are present for the Doomsday fight. (He could also trot over to a parallel Earth and bring back a Superman who was a more well-adjusted husband and dad and maybe had died and come back already — but who’d buy that?) Maybe Cyborg stops the nuclear missile while Aquaman and the Flash work together to save Lois and then get the spear to Wonder Woman. Superman doesn’t die, the League gets more time to prepare for the invasion and with 20 good minutes left in the movie, our heroes are more than ready to send Steppenwolf and friends running back across the Boom Tube.

"Batman v. Superman's" Flash

The Flash (Ezra Miller) in “Batman v. Superman”

Still, it’s very unlikely “Justice League” would go there. By showing the consequences of the Zod/Superman fight, “BVS” tried to address one of “Man of Steel’s” major criticisms, so doing something similar with “JL” seems like tempting fate. Put another way, pushing a reset button on the Superman/Doomsday battle would basically undo “BVS’s” last act, while leaving in place all the craziness upon which it was built. Time travel is tricky enough as it is. Why not send the Flash back even further, to warn the proto-League about Zod so they could at least try to stop him first? If Zod doesn’t die, Luthor can’t create Doomsday from his corpse, right? Moreover, stopping an evil Superman might be too much of an echo (or an amplification) of “BVS.” Nevertheless, the Justice League is supposed to face threats too powerful for any one hero, even Superman; so it would be appropriate for them to band together to help Supes in his hour of ultimate need.

(At this point I’m reminded of “Justice League of America: The Nail,” Alan Davis and Mark Farmer’s excellent Elseworlds miniseries about a world where Superman never existed. “The Nail” argued that not only was the JLA less powerful without Superman, it was also less trusted. Certainly “BVS” has taken a different approach, at least with regard to the latter.)

Therefore, we think “Justice League” will go either with Option A (he just gets better) or Option C (he comes back evil). We’re not sure Zack Snyder and company can resist the prospect of Bad Superman fighting the Justice League, despite it being deliberately reminiscent of “BVS” on a couple of levels. However, in terms of storytelling economy, we like Option A. It would be more in character for this version of Superman to revive early in the movie and spend most of it on the sidelines, finally joining the League at the most dramatic moment. We’re not discounting the possibilities of Option B (Supes is revived by super-science) or Option D (the Flash changes history); but Option A may make the most sense.

LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN

2011's cinematic Green Lantern Corps

2011’s cinematic Green Lantern Corps

As mentioned above, one reason “Justice League” can’t dwell on Superman is its need to introduce the three new Leaguers. Certainly we suspect a fourth will also make it into the movie before the credits roll, but it can’t be just anyone. “Justice League’s” team already includes a highly-trained human, a super-powered Amazon, the King of Atlantis, a biomechanical marvel, a super-speedster, and a multi-powered Kryptonian. As with their Marvel Studios counterparts, there’s not much overlap in personality or power set among those characters. Thus, the seventh Leaguer must be similarly distinct from his or her teammates.

Adding a Green Lantern would fulfill that requirement, since GL’s ring and background provide unique powers and perspective. The current crop of Lanterns also gives the “JL” filmmakers a diverse range of characters from which to choose, including Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Simon Baz or Jessica Cruz. While Hal and John are most familiar, Guy might be the most entertaining. As less-experienced heroes, Kyle, Simon and/or Jessica would pair well with fellow rookie Cyborg.

What about other Leaguers? Ironically, members audiences might recognize from the CW shows could be tricker to bring to the big screen. Whether by coincidence or design, most of the rest of the “Satellite Era” League have television counterparts, including Green Arrow, the Atom, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, Red Tornado and Firestorm. So far the Elongated Man and Zatanna haven’t shown up on The CW, but who knows what could happen between now and November? This doesn’t mean any or all of them are off-limits, but “Justice League” is going to be busy enough making Ezra Miller’s Flash different from Grant Gustin’s. It probably won’t want to do the same for movie versions of Green Arrow, the Atom or Martian Manhunter.

If that’s not a significant concern, in terms of filling niches we think Hawkgirl, Black Canary or Zatanna would be good additions to the movie League. Besides the “counterpart issue,” Green Arrow is too much like Batman, Martian Manhunter is too much like Superman, Hawkman isn’t diverse enough, and the others — to put it bluntly — might not look that impressive on a movie poster. The League could use more than one female member, Hawkgirl and Black Canary are strong fighters with different power sets from either Wonder Woman or Batman, and Zatanna would bring an entirely new dimension (as it were) to the team.

Of course, the movie League isn’t limited to a traditional comics lineup. The last Leaguer might even be in the trailer, in the form of Aquaman’s wife Mera. Although she never officially joined the League in the main-line comics, she was a part of “Justice League of America” during Aquaman’s days with the Detroit-based team. She also worked with the ad hoc “pre-‘Flashpoint'” League which was put together during “Convergence.” Regardless, although tradition shouldn’t keep Mera out of any Justice League, more practical concerns might. Depending on her powers, she might be seen as redundant next to Aquaman; and it seems like she’s in the movie mainly to help set up the “Aquaman” solo film.

Big Barda, by Jack Kirby

Big Barda by Jack Kirby, from “Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe”

Conversely, it could be more practical to have the seventh Leaguer hail from Apokolips itself. Orion and Big Barda have each worked with the League, in both the Justice League International and Grant Morrison “pantheon” eras. Cyborg will probably be the key to defeating the evil hordes, but it sure couldn’t hurt to have the help of fighters as formidable as Orion and/or Barda. If Darkseid doesn’t appear in “Justice League,” Orion would foreshadow his arrival; and Barda’s journey from faithful Female Fury to loyal Leaguer might be a compelling subplot. (We’re holding off on Barda’s significant other Mister Miracle because he’d have to compete with Batman for plot points.) Personality-wise, though, Orion and Barda would have to distinguish themselves from the movie versions of Aquaman and Wonder Woman. That’s not impossible, but we’re not sure “Justice League” will have time for character nuances.

Captain Atom, by Pat Broderick

“Captain Atom” #1, by Pat Broderick

If the League gets no help from the New Gods, it might come from the United States government. Depending on what the Army learned about Wonder Woman in World War I, it could have been inspired by her to create its own superhero — and if it did, that gives “Justice League” the chance to bring in Captain Atom. In his revised 1986 origin, Cap was an Air Force officer framed for treason in 1968 and sentenced to participate in an ultra-top-secret military experiment. Basically the Air Force put him inside an egg made of alien material and detonated a nuclear weapon under him. He popped out decades later covered in said metal and wielding the energy of the quantum field. As a shiny guy with red gloves and blue boots, he’s inexpensive in terms of CGI; and he’s got that military-industrial complex justification for being a superhero. Also, it gives the movie a chance to riff on a certain other publisher/studio’s patriotic super-person.

Of course, as far as we can tell this isn’t strictly the Justice League “of America.” If the movie League wants a more international flair, it could go with Vixen, who’s a nice complement to Aquaman without duplicating his power set. Japan’s Doctor Light might also fill an energy-projector role if Green Lantern or Captain Atom isn’t available. Like The CW’s Atom, Rocket Red might get dinged unfairly with Iron Man comparisons; and Crimson Fox is already busy in “Powerless’s” Charm City.

Finally, to tie this fantasy draft back into our previous topic, we wonder if “Justice League” will break all the rules we’ve established so far and just draft Supergirl. Such a scenario would probably depend on Superman returning as an Apokoliptian pawn, with Supergirl arriving on Earth in time to help the League against Steppenwolf. Honestly, we think this is even less likely than the Captain Atom scenario, because it involves a character with a very visible TV counterpart who definitely duplicates Superman’s power set. Still, it would add another female Leaguer and it would give the team a much-needed boost if they did have to fight Bad Superman.

Thus, having gone through these prospective candidates, it seems easiest for the seventh Leaguer to be a Green Lantern. Whomever the filmmakers pick, though, we’re hoping for the best. If “Justice League” is good enough to compete with the Avengers for moviegoers’ hearts and wallets, it should step up everyone’s game.

How do you think Superman will return, and who should join him in the Justice League? Let us know in the comments!

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