[The Week in Geek is a weekly Tuesday column that plunges headfirst into a deep pool of genre geekiness without ever coming up for air.]
What's so difficult about Superman? The argument always seems to come back to the fact that the guy is so powerful, it's hard to write a decent conflict around him. Okay then, somebody please explain the past 72 years' worth of Superman stories -- thousands of stories about The Last Son of Krypton, in every media imaginable. If you've got the imagination, or if you can get a handle on Superman's humanity, then you can tell a decent Superman story.
J.J. Abrams might have been one of those guys, but we'll probably never know. Right before Bryan Singer turned out 'Superman Returns,' Abrams took a stab at a feature-length Superman screenplay ('Superman: Flyby,' the first part of a proposed trilogy) that turned a lot of the Man of Steel's mythos on its ear, including a gay Jimmy Olson, Lex Luthor as a secret Kryptonian, and no exploding planet Krypton, according to AICN. The project bloomed fast and died just as quickly, joining a growing pile of Superman almost-rans that include Tim Burton's 'Superman Lives' and George Miller's 'Justice League.'
Recently, special effects wizard Steve Johnson revealed some of the radical designs for 'Superman Lives,' which would have seen Nicolas Cage in a skin-tight iridescent "Kryptonian Death Suit." Now, through his Facebook page, he's revealed even more unused Superman designs -- charting the evolution from Abrams' film (which might have been directed by either Brett Ratner or McG, if the stars had aligned just right) to Bryan Singer's eventual take on the classic costume for 'Superman Returns.'
In Abrams' screenplay, the yellow parts of Superman's emblem are Kryptonian glyphs that represent courage, sacrifice, and love. They're passed on from Superman's Father Jor-El to Martha Kent, for the eventual day that Clark Kent becomes the savior of mankind. I assume from these designs that Clark wears the black and red emblem until the big scene where Ma Kent is able to add the glyphs to his costume. All-in-all, I like the designs (with the exception of the gold "belly button"). They're all immediately recognizable as Superman, no matter how different they are from the spot-on costume Christopher Reeve wore through four films.
We'll have a whole new batch of Superman designs to pore through soon enough, when Zack Snyder tries his hand at bringing Superman to the big screen. For now, let's take one last look at a Superman that might have been.