When I saw that Zach Snyder called on Kurt Johnstad to give the script a quick polish, I knew that The Man of Steel would have trouble reaching its December 2012 release date. It looks like I was right.
The Hollywood Reporter states that Warner Brothers has decided to move the release date of the Superman reboot to June 14, 2013. While this gives Warners a little breathing room between this film and their The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, set for a December 14, 2012 release date, it calls into question how this effects the fact that full rights to certain parts of the Superman mythos are set to revert back to the estates of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 2013 as per 1976 Copyright Act.
The scuttlebutt surrounding the fast track this reboot was that Warners wanted a film in theaters before the right reverted back to Siegel and Shuster. Snyder was hired, rumor has it, because he was fast enough to get the film done by end of year 2012. If the film was released in 2012, it and any sequels directly derived from it would be unaffected by the change of rights. Meaning, that Warner Brothers could put out films featuring the Superman we all know and love without impunity.
However, this move by Warners blows that idea out of the water, because the new release date will likely be after the rights are transferred over, meaning if any elements of the Superman mythos that the Siegel and Shuster estates own make it into the film, they can sue.
So, what is going on here? Why has Warners decided they’re safe moving the release date of The Man of Steel? An optimist could hope that some kind of arrangement was made between the Siegel and Shuster estates, Warner Brothers and Warners’ subsidiary DC Comics where the last two bought the rights or a perpetual license to the rights from the estates.
That is unlikely, because the battle between the estates and Warners/DC has been so contentious (Warners/DC has sued the Siegel’s lawyer Marc Toberoff stating he has poisoned the relationship between them and the Siegel family for his own financial gain, and Toberoff has went through the courts to get a definitive list of Superman assets the Siegel’s [and Shuster’s] own) that such an agreement would be bigger news than the release date of the film being moved.
More likely is an idea that Variety proposed in May, that Warners will be building the movie around the aspects of Superman they own, leaving the estates to potentially put out a Superman movie of their own using the aspects they hold.
As it stands now, the courts have dictated that the estates own the contents of Action Comics #1 and #4, along with other early appearances of Superman. DC owns anything that came after. This means the estates own the name Superman, the blue leotard/red cape/red boots uniform, Lois Lane, the Kents, the “rocketed from an exploding planet” aspect of the character’s origin and his ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. DC owns pretty much all of Superman’s rogues gallery including Lex Luthor, it owns Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, the Daily Planet, Flight, X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, Kryptonite and the name of his home planet being Krypton, amongst others.
Another thing adding a log to this conspiratorial fire is the fact that the rewrite comes so soon after DC announced that it was rebooting its entire line with 52 #1’s. This is allowing the company to revise and reboot some of their properties, including Superman. The scale of the changes will not be known until the new Action Comics #1 and Superman #1 come out in September. But advance solicitations and preview images show extensive changes to the character’s costume, moving to two alternating looks–one a simple T-Shirt and jeans and they other a blue Kryptonian Battle Armor with red accents. Armor, mind you, not a leotard.
Could the new direction in the comics be designed to move away from the elements the estates will take with them? Could the rewrite be necessary to make The Man of Steel more like the new comic’s direction? We should find out some answers in September.