Earlier this week, the Man of Steel soared back onto television on Superman & Lois — the first “tights and flights” live-action Superman series since Lois & Clark hit the airwaves in 1993. Now, Warner Bros. is charting the character’s flight path back to movie theaters. In news that sped around the internet faster than a speeding bullet, acclaimed author and noted comic book fan Ta-Nehisi Coates has been hired to pen the screenplay for an all-new Superman feature produced by J.J. Abrams, that may introduce the first big-screen Black Superman. “To be invited into the DC Extended Universe by Warner Bros., DC Films and Bad Robot is an honor,” Coates remarked in an exclusive statement provided to the website Shadow and Act. “I look forward to meaningfully adding to the legacy of America’s most iconic mythic hero.”
“There is a new, powerful and moving Superman story yet to be told,” Abrams said in a separate statement. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with the brilliant Mr. Coates to help bring that story to the big screen, and we’re beyond thankful to the team at Warner Bros. for the opportunity.” In addition to being Coates’s first superhero screenplay, this is also the first time he’s written a DC character. He previously made his comic book debut at Marvel, spearheading a hugely successful relaunch of Black Panther in 2016, followed by a run on Captain America from 2018 to 2020.
The film represents a homecoming of sorts for Abrams, who signed a mega-deal with WarnerMedia in 2019. Back in 2002, the studio nearly gave the green light to his screenplay Superman: Flyby, a ground-up franchise reboot that famously took the Superman mythos in controversial directions. Brett Ratner was hired to direct the film, and Brendan Fraser was among the actors considered to inherent Christopher Reeve’s mantle as Clark Kent and Superman.
“The script was printed on crimson paper with black ink so it couldn’t be photocopied,” the actor told Yahoo Entertainment in 2019. “I was allowed to sit in an office and read it for an hour. It was like a covert operation.” But he did live out the lifetime dream of putting on the super-suit. “You feel kind of invincible, [like] ‘I can fly.’ The cape actually makes you think you have the power of flight even though you know you don’t.”
Ultimately, Flyby failed to soar, and Warner Bros. eventually moved on to Bryan Singer’s 2006 one-and-done effort, Superman Returns. Abrams’s script joined the long list of never-made Superman movies that included Tim Burton’s notorious mid-’90s version, Superman Lives, starring Nicolas Cage and co-written by Kevin Smith. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in 2017, Cage talked wistfully of the film he and Burton had in mind. “It would have been beautiful. Tim and I were about to get up to something really relevant. Tim can make worlds. I wanted to see his Krypton.”
Since the DCEU began with 2013’s Man of Steel, Henry Cavill has been its resident Superman, reprising the role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as Justice League — both Joss Whedon’s 2017 theatrical version and Zack Synder’s four-hour cut, set to debut on HBO Max on March 19. After sitting out a surprise cameo in 2019’s Shazam!, Cavill reportedly met with Warner Bros. last year about continuing to play the role, but no deal has been finalized.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Coates’s screenplay will be centered around a Black Superman — an idea previously explored by Black Panther star Michael B. Jordan in 2019, at the same time that Cavill’s future was in doubt. There’s comic book precedent for that: In 2009, writer Grant Morrison introduced Calvin Ellis, aka Kalel, in the pages of Final Crisis. Modeled after Barack Obama, Calvin became the U.S. president on Earth-23, and continued to protect and serve the public as Superman as well. (DC Comics has revealed that the popular character will be part of its Infinite Frontier event, which launches in March.)
Over on Twitter, one of the leading candidates for President Ellis is John Boyega, who has a history with Abrams by way of the Star Wars sequels. Abrams handpicked Boyega to play ex-First Order trooper Finn in 2015’s The Force Awakens and its two sequels, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. Although the British actor expressed disappointment about the way his character was ultimately handled, he’s continued to praise Abrams as a collaborator. “J.J. Abrams is someone who has fought for me for a very, very long time, and has always left the door open for honest conversations, negative or positive,” Boyega told Yahoo Entertainment last year, while discussing his dramatic role in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology.
With the super-team of Abrams, Boyega and Coates attached, we’d be ready to believe a man can fly… all over again.
Superman & Lois is currently airing on The CW.
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