WB studios have declared that they will reboot the Superman movie franchise and darken it, bringing it more in line with Nolan's successful Batman movies.First, I'd like to address the death of Pa Kent. You're right, Vanja, that Morrison used the scene to great effect in All-Star, as the much younger Clark realizes that he can't save everyone -- a scene which takes place within an issue that features the past, present, and future Superman (and the golden Superman from the future did, kind of, save everyone). And I think Johns handled Pa's death in the newest issue of Action Comics well, using Superman's obsession with the rescued Kryptonian cities to contrast with the death of his all-too human father.
Now, the current issue of Action Comics features the death of a member of the supporting cast, that Morrison has too disposed of in his All Star Superman (to much effect, even though it was a point done in Pre-Crisis continuity too).
I want to ask, do you think that this is the direction the eventual Superman movie will follow? Not exactly spotlighting Brainiac per se, and strengthening his bonds as an arch-villain that crossed the line and went personal with Superman (thought that could well be the case, considering the lack of key Batman villains in the Batman Begins film), but the idea of that particular death.
Does that strike you as "dark" and mature enough, to be mirrored in the movie? Has DC found a way to make Superman grim and gritty and still keep their audience engaged on the big screen?
So, even though you're not really asking, I'm going to answer the question about whether or not the death of Pa Kent is a good idea -- does it help tell better Superman stories? I think it does. Since the Byrne reboot, Superman has been the only major superhero to actually have parents who are still alive and still important. I don't know why Byrne decided to keep both Ma and Pa Kent alive in his reboot, but I suspect it was a way to keep Superman a bit emotionally lighter, and to provide a sanctuary he could return to since the Fortress of Solitude was removed from continuity. Having Ma and Pa around could emphasize Superman's Midwestern values, and his simple, humble human origins, at least morally and socially (if not genetically).
But, as I said, no other major superhero has both parents still kicking around, playing such an important role. And there's a probably a reason for that. A deeply-rooted mythical reason having to do with the son replacing the father. Can Superman realize his full potential when the comics are really Superman and his Amazing Parents? Doesn't that diminish the character's scope? I don't know, but maybe it does. Maybe he needs to step up as not just a Super-Son, but as a Super-Man in his own right, and the loss of the father has historically been the most symbolic way to demonstrate the passage into adult responsibility. I'm just throwing these ideas out there, but they seem important.
The death of Pa Kent also adds that kind of tragic undertone that makes Superman realize his tenuous relationship to humanity all the more clearly. If Johns and company use Pa's death just to emphasize the frailty of homo sapiens compared to the Kryptonians who are due to overwhelm the Earth in upcoming DC months, then I think Pa's death would have been an excessive tactic. But if Johns and company build on the emotional cost of Pa's death -- of the loss of that moral beacon in Superman's life -- and actually give Superman the agency to struggle with his own dilemmas without running home for advice all the time (and Ma is still around, of course, but her relationship with Clark is different), then I think that makes Superman a more interesting character.
Basically, Superman can grow up a bit more now, and that's an important step for the character.
Does any of this relate to Warner Brothers' supposed plans for a "darker" Superman movie? I doubt it, and as anyone with a brain knows, a "dark" Superman movie is completely ridiculous. But after The Dark Knight and the inevitable success of Watchmen in theaters next year, I'm sure we'll see a huge push to make all superhero movies "darker" and "grim and gritty." It's like the late 80's, early 90's all over again, but on the big screen.
Yet a Superman movie should have pathos and danger and real emotional stakes. The death of Pa Kent might achieve such an undertone, but without establishing the importance of the character substantially, I don't know that it would translate within a two-hour movie. In Donner's Superman: The Movie, it works, almost, but the emotional stakes and sense of danger is totally shattered by the time-travel ending, which automatically eliminates any meaning to any action within the movie. And, honestly, I thought Singer's Superman Returns was pretty dark already, with the creepy-stalker Superman lurking in the trees, using his x-ray spy-o-vision.
So I hope we don't see a grim The Dark Superman movie anytime soon, but I do think that you can give substance and weight to the character by making things matter. The death of Pa Kent matters, and I know Geoff Johns didn't kill off the character for frivolous reasons.