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Move over, Joker - it’s time for the OG Superman

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Editor’s Note: Noah Berlatsky is the author of “Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics.” The views expressed here are solely the author’s. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN —  

Superman was the first superhero ever created, and is still perhaps the best-known. But he isn’t thought of as an especially relevant or timely character these days. He can outrun a speeding bullet, turn back time and come back from the dead. The one thing he can’t do, apparently, is anchor a hit film in the contemporary superhero era.

Noah Berlatsky
Noah Berlatsky
Noah Berlatsky

The time has come for a superhero film steeped in social and political realism, with a hard-hitting, class-conscious hero ready to fight for the little guy.

No, I’m not talking about the populist blockbuster “Joker,” released earlier this year. I’m talking about Superman – the original Superman. Superman as initially conceived in the 1930s was successful in part because he spoke so directly to the social tensions and problems of his day – tensions and problems that aren’t so different from our own: gender inequality, corporate corruption and greed, racism and vulnerability to state power.

Niko Tavernise/Warner Brothers Pictures

“Joker” and “Watchmen” have been praised for the innovative ways in which they use superhero narratives to confront oligarchy and white supremacy. But Superman invented the superhero genre by doing the same thing eight decades ago.

Christopher Reeve’s 1978 “Superman” was a critical and commercial blockbuster, but DC Films and parent studio Warner Bros. has struggled to replicate that success in the 21st century.

The melancholy sequel “Superman Returns” (2006), the downbeat reboot “Man of Steel” (2013) and the light-hearted team film “Justice League” (2017) all underperformed, and the studio reportedly has no idea what to do with the character next. Though there are tentative plans for a new attempt in 2023, the project currently has no director or star attached to it.