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Friday, July 31, 2020 

Why is Superman's black suit such a big deal?

Cinema Blend seems to think it is, and wrote a rather sugarcoated history of an outfit that had its roots in the 1990s, and was adapted into the not particularly successful Justice League movie, though footage of it may only be available in Zack Snyder's special edition:
It wasn’t until over 50 years into Superman’s comic book run that the character’s costume received this dramatic shift as a result of the famous Death of Superman storyline in the early ‘90s. In the shocking crossover comic story, Kal-El dies in a battle against Doomsday and is given a funeral attended by a grieving Lois Lane and many prominent DC characters. Death of Superman was told in three parts: Doomsday, Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen! In the final installment, the black suit is introduced when he is resurrected in a regeneration pod inside the Fortress of Solitude.
And that's the whole big deal, apparently. What next, a whole store of costumes in all colors of the rainbow, just like some doughnut brands? What was really shocking - and truly awful - about the period when this overrated story took place, however, was Cat Grant's son being murdered by the Toyman, and 2nd Green Lantern Hal Jordan's hometown Coast City being annihilated by Mongul, all to serve as a lead-in to the terrible Emerald Twilight. Give Supes a black costume, that's one thing, but to sully the proceedings with such alarmingly mean-spirited elements was throughly uncalled for. And speaking of Green Lantern, Superman's black suit turned up in something else where Hal was involved:
Over the years, Superman’s Recovery Suit has made an appearance in other instances where the hero has needed the extra juice or reboot if you will. In the 1996 comic story Final Night, Superman briefly wore the suit again when his adversary was the Sun Eater and his powers were running low. In other later appearances, the black suit has not always been straightforward to its origins from Death of Superman. Even when the same suit isn’t in frame, the color black has been an important color for Superman’s transitional periods.
Ah, and if memory serves, the Final Night was DC editorial's excuse for annihilating a new planet where Starfire's Tamaranian race was trying to settle anew, and the villain serving this purpose was Sun-Eater. They sure knew how to put that black suit to use in the most dismaying of story setups. Which includes this one from an alternate universe type of story published around the same time:
In another ‘90s run of Superman called Kingdom Come, Superman doesn’t turn to the Recovery Suit, but he does add black to his “S” emblem after Lois Lane is killed and he hangs up hero work for an extended period of time. Blackness around his “S” symbolizes him starting to come out of the darkness as the hero is meant to be. And to throw it back to the late '90s/early 2000s series Batman Beyond, an older Superman in the future shows up in a black suit, which different from the Recovery Suit, but certainly symbolizes Kal-El as a hero with powers that are not exactly what they used to be.
Even if Kingdom Come was out of continuity, based on how this kind of premise has been used ad nauseum to "motivate" heroes in modern fiction, that's why in hindsight, the story is beginning to feel tasteless. The premise of killing Lois Lane was even put to use in the Injustice video game nearly a decade ago, in one of the worst examples of Batman's darkness flooding into Superman's world, extending even to multimedia adaptations. And I honestly don't see the logic of putting Supes in a black suit to emerge from darkness. Wouldn't a white suit symbolize brightness better? On which note, the film's costume designer Michael Wilkinson explained why the black costume was originally dropped from the League movie a few years back:
At first it seemed that it might be a logical choice for the look of Superman when he's resurrected. Zack is extremely respectful and passionate about the depiction of Superman in comic books and graphic novels, and traditionally when he is resurrected, he is in the black suit. But as the tone of the film developed and we were in pre-production, the filmmakers felt that the classic red and blue suit seemed more appropriate to our story and our script. It seemed that a more positive, upbeat image of Superman was what was needed -- the idea of hope and that the world could in fact be saved was important, so that's the direction that we went.
Now that's one thing I can agree with them upon - that Superman's brighter colored costume is more inspiring and symbolizes optimism far better. But it sounds absurd to say Snyder's respectful of how Superman's depicted in comicdom when the stories where the Big Blue Boy Scout wore the black suit were some of the most pretentious tales ever written. This is hardly what I'd call judgement on merit. After all, if the electro-suit he wore in 1997 wasn't popular with the audience, why should the black one be considered any better? Some "logical" choice then, huh? And I don't think there were many stories coming after the Death & Return of Superman where he was killed and underwent resurrection, just so the black suit could be put to use yet again, though if Blackest Night were one of those, it was one of the most atrocious company wide crossovers DC ever foisted upon the market when Dan DiDio was DC's editor.

Most importantly though, it's galling if the most overrated stories from the 90s served as a wellspring for filmmakers. What's so wrong with what came before that wasn't so wrong with the output from the past 30 years? And this all demonstrates how comics fell victim to a mindset that believes they should be written to serve almost directly as screenplay fodder, instead of being written for core audiences. The black Super-suit was not a big deal, and seeing it turn up in a film doesn't impress me at all.

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"What next, a whole store of costumes in all colors of the rainbow, just like some doughnut brands?"

Batman already tried that in the 1950s!

But as for "this all demonstrates how comics fell victim to a mindset that believes they should be written to serve almost directly as screenplay fodder, instead of being written for core audiences" - don't it demo the oppo? That is, the film-maker wants to be true to comics stories that were written in the 90s for the core audience, not the other way round.

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