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When Zack Snyder's Man of Steel comes out next year, it will represent the second time that Warner Bros. has tried to bring back the most famous comic book character in history. When Bryan Singer directed Superman Returns in 2006 it was meant to spring new life into the franchise that had died when Superman IV: The Quest For Peace came out in 1987. Unfortunately the film was rejected by fans and the studio decided to start again with a new origin story. But what if Snyder's version fails? They can just start again, right? Apparently it's not that simple.
Variety has published an article looking into the rights issues behind Superman and they are more complicated than you could possibly believe. Unless something changes, by 2013 the rights to the earliest parts of Superman lore will revert back to the estates of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the character's creators. But it only gets weirder from there. Should events come to pass, the character would actually be split up in two, with some characteristics belonging to DC Comics and Warner Bros. while Siegel and Shuster get the others. According to the report, the creators would own the look of the costume - blue leotard, red cape and boots - as well as his famed ability to "leap tall buildings in a single bound, while all of the villains, including Lex Luthor, and Supes' ability to fly would stay with DC and the studio.
But what about sequels, then? By 2013 DC and WB should be able to "exploit the Superman projects it's already made," but the company cannot make anything based on material owned by Siegel and Shuster. A way that they could get around this, however, would be to split the character into two distinct generations. The article cites a case between comic book powerhouses Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane where it was deemed legal for Gaiman to publish "Medieval Spawn" comics because the character was different enough from McFarlane's original creation. Splitting the character in this fashion would allow each side to focus on their own version of the character instead of looking over each others' shoulders. The other option is for the two sides to strike up a deal that will allow both sides access to the character, but, obviously, that's not exactly simple given all of the details and conflict.
So what should you take away from all of this? Try your very best to enjoy Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. It could very well be the last time that Superman gets proper treatment on the big screen.