Does the world need Superman? He's probably the most iconic comic book hero ever created, but it seems his invulnerability has a cost. There is buzz about another attempt at rebooting the franchise, but is there any point?
As America continues aging, we find ourselves in a world where Batman receives Oscars and Spider-Man is offered multiple cinematic sequels; Even the once minor Iron Man now has shoes filled by a Golden Globe winning actor. Is it strange that the only time you see Superman in today's world is a feigning shadow of a prime-time soap (Smallville) and his immortal "S" symbol adorning only the t-shirts owned by men that cannot fit into button down shirts? For an icon that once held the moniker "Man of Tomorrow," Superman has had little life in this, the first decade of the 21st century.
In 1941 Max Fleischer Studios, the fine people that gave us the erotic styling of Betty Boop, spent an unheard of amount of money ($100,000 per short) creating Superman cartoons that ran before movies. They were as popular as Looney Toons and Mickey Mouse. The only place you can find them now is buried inside a crate marked "bargain" at your local all-needs superstore. They feature a world liken to a combination of the deco style of Lang's Metropolis and hand drawn technique of Disney's Snow White, but to find someone who cares in today's world is a nearly impossible task.
By the 1950s Superman had made his move to television. The character's popularity was reaching impressive heights as a favorite comic, radio program, newspaper strip, breakfast cereal, and lunchbox illustration. Superman wasn't a superhero, he was the superhero.
Then came the 1960s, a time of great change in America, but the only change Superman made as far as the small screen was concerned was a move from live action back to animation. His popularity continued to soar as artists like Andy Warhol placed him on a pedestal, welcoming him to the world of high art. It seemed the Superman truly was indestructible.
By the 1970s Superman was met with some competition. As his own cartoon lost popularity, Superfriends took off on ABC's Saturday Morning lineup. While Superman was still getting top billing, the world was becoming less impressed with the superhero, and their interest was being doled out to more modern comic characters like The X-Men and Spider-Man. It looked like the hero was weakening just before the 1980s hit. It was in this moment that the franchise scored the biggest goal it ever has. In 1978 Superman hit the big screen as a feature length Warner Brothers film.
The 1980s brought what we'd think of today as a "reboot" for Superman. Because his comic had been around so long there had been many nonsensical storylines in the comic book plotlines. As the film series starring Christopher Reeve replaced any and all former incarnations of The Last Son of Krypton, so too did the comic book wipe out all former Superman stories with The Man of Steel mini-series by John Byrne. Before Superman had lost all of his media power, he was rejuvenated, and his second wind lasted for quite a while...
But nothing lasts forever. In the 1990s the Superman films had lost all of their steam, and those that held tightly to the rights to the character were running out of new ideas. From 1993 to 1997, Lois and Clark was able to turn the storyline into a prime-time drama that focused less on Superman fighting for justice, and more on the romantic relationship. These were the first steps toward, and pardon my French here, the 'pussification' of Superman. While the comic book industry was pushing their epic "Death of Superman" storyline, a group of misinformed media moguls were destroying his television marketability for years to come.
Then came the last decade, from 2000 to 2010 it seems like almost every concept already tried was re-exauhsted: a cartoon show meant to emulate the successful run Batman: The Dark Knight had on FOX, a revamp of Superfriends called Justice League in which Superman shares even more of his spotlight, an animated film that went straight to DVD, a semi-successful soap that's even more effete than Lois and Clark was, and the biggest bomb of all — a huge budget stinker declaring itself a follow-up to the Superman movies that made such an impact 20 years before. What the hell happened? Why was nothing working, somebody at Warner Brothers is willing to pay you a lot of money if you have a legitimate answer to that question.
Superman may have life in him yet. Word on the street is Batman director Christopher Nolan is mentoring another studio attempt at a Superman reprisal. Too bad the most likely scenario places this project into it's very own fortress of solitude.