Should Superman's skin actually be black?
According evolutionary biologist and science journalist J.V. Chamary, it should. Utilizing scientific facts combined with explanations about Superman's sun-powered abilities in 2013’s Man of Steel, Chamary has written an article for Forbes saying the Kryptonian should have dark skin.
That doesn't mean African-American, mind you. On Krypton, there's no "Africa" or "America" anyway. And he isn't talking about race. What Chamary is arguing is that science suggest Superman's skin color would be darker instead of lighter. And if science alone was casting the next Superman film, science would pick someone with darker skin.
Diversity is always a discussion when superhero movies are cast. At the time most popular Marvel and DC superheroes were first invented, the idea of trying to promote diversity wasn't even on creators' radar. But that's different now. And Chamary rightly points out that, if Warner or DC wanted to change Superman to a character with darker skin, they'd have a pretty good argument for doing so by just using science as the explanation.
The basic idea is this: If Superman collects energy into his cells from sunlight, why would his skin be pale? If Krypton had gone through an evolutionary process, and Kryptonians evolved into beings who could absorb yellow light, wouldn't the best pigment color for absorbing solar radiation be black?
Chamary hypothesizes that Superman's cells are similar to the photosynthetic species on Earth. On Earth, cells that collect sunlight for energy do so through photosynthesis — plants and other organisms use light to make carbohydrates from CO2 and water. If Superman's cells utilized a similar process, Chamary says, he probably uses light to synthesize molecules that can store large amounts of energy.
The article points out that when Jor-El sent his son to Earth, he purposely chose a planet that orbited a "main sequence yellow star" — the sequence, Chamary says, that generates massive amounts of light energy.
But on Krypton, the sun was actually red — a relatively inactive star. Chamary cites an article in Scientific American to conclude that a photosynthetic species living on a world orbiting a "red sun" would need dark pigments to harvest light.
Chamary continues this idea by theorizing that superpowers evolved on Krypton through a process of natural selection, but that Superman's ancestors lost their powers when their star turned red. As a result, their Kryptonian bodies just continued absorbing the red sun's light as an energy source for "ordinary metabolism." (Of course, as an aside, couldn't an argument be made for Kryptonian skin continuing to evolve into several different shades when this sun-soaking ability became less necessary for the species' survival?)
The article rightly points out that there is already a black Superman in comic books — highlighting Calvin Ellis of Earth 23 but fails to mention Val-Zod, the Superman currently starring in Earth 2: Society. And Chamary also mentions how the race of Nick Fury was changed, and how ethnicity is sometimes altered when comic book companies relaunch their continuity.
So next time Warner Bros. decides to reboot Superman for the big screen (after the current slate of films starring Henry Cavill) Chamary is hoping they’ll make the “brave” decision to make him black, to be more scientifically realistic.