For decades, DC Comics’ foray into gaming has only seen the likes of Batman carve success from the stone of superhero fans worldwide. The Arkham franchise set the bar high, while other endeavours like Gotham Knights have divided players. But forget the Dark Knight. Superman has long remained an impossible character to transpose onto consoles – but is he really that hard to crack? Not at all, and with the aid of James Gunn’s DCU slate, we just need to leave Metropolis behind to realise that.
Superman game. A phrase that could make any fan of the Man of Steel quiver with fear. I’m with you on that one too. Game developers have been trying to bring DC Comics fans a reputable Superman experience for years, with duds like 1999’s Superman N64 and 2002’s Superman: The Man of Steel going out in a blaze brighter than Krypton’s demise. There have been some bright spots, like Shadow of Apokolips and even parts of Superman Returns – but the bar isn’t exactly high. Yet, all these games share one typical outlier: they’re all primarily set on Earth.
Metropolis has had a rough time on consoles. The superb art-deco influence from the animated show and the character’s early years is heavily absent. But implementing that now wouldn’t be enough. We briefly ventured to Warworld in Superman Returns, but we can do better than this in a future Superman game. While I have my issues with James Gunn’s multimedia approach to the DCU, this does present an opportunity to explore other galactic realms that answer the question: How do we make playing as an invincible character fun?
Let’s go to locations like New Genesis or Apokolips where powerful figures such as the New Gods and Darkseid originate from. Let’s take Superman directly to the fight. James Gunn can take us there, provided this hypothetical Superman game was under the Elseworlds banner – meaning this story wouldn’t be within the mainline canon. Superman derives his immense powers from Earth’s yellow sun, an element the Kryptonian species are without in their homeworld, rendering them mere mortals in some comic book depictions.
What about his powers I hear you say? Well, Kryptonians can still harness energy from the light of dwarf stars and other solar forms of energy scattered among the galaxy. It’s a chance to make Superman susceptible to damage and bend the lore enough to make him playable. With enemies like the planet-eating Anti-Monitor at Gunn’s disposal, we could see Kal-El face threats that just aren’t budget friendly in the filmmaking world.
An intergalactic Superman tale has never really unfolded properly outside of the comics. Our beloved Smallville dabbled with the Phantom Zone and alternative futures. The Injustice franchise is the closest we’ve come to a planet-hopping journey. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel gave us a tantalising glimpse into what a planetary excursion could be, with exceptional art design and a majestic Hans Zimmer score to boot.
Though James Gunn has his eyes focused on young Clark Kent earning his stripes at The Daily Planet on the big screen, his work with Peacemaker and The Suicide Squad demonstrates a fondness for the obscurities of DC Comics lore. That much is true of his DC Studios slate, with projects The Authority and Swamp Thing serving as a testament to his intent to explore the furthest depths of DC Comics.
Whoever ends up taking over the mantle of Henry Cavill’s perfect portrayal of Superman will have a huge burden on their shoulders. Utilising the Elseworlds banner to give players a gaming-exclusive version of the character is a way to add new layers to the boy blue scout too. IO Interactive is doing it with James Bond, DC Comics needs to do it here too. Unlike Bond, Superman has a reputation as a ‘boring’ superhero – but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Superman is a representative of aspirational traits that would underscore a playable narrative well. Truth, justice and a better tomorrow. Games like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 will share that emotional resonance, and the ill-fated Marvel’s Avengers did so too. There is hope for DC Comics’ gaming output, as the Wonder Woman game looks to explore Themescaryia in a brand new light. It also appears that Gotham Knights developer WB Games Montréal is back on the scene with another DC outing, but it remains to be seen what IP they’ll be tackling.
One day I hope to look into the vast internet sky and see the emblem of the House of El proudly adorned on a new title. But we might be waiting for a while to see a Superman game take flight.