We’ve seen it. Man Of Steel. Producer said the film was to focus on the ‘Man’, rather than the ‘Super’. It was statements like this that made me cringe a little as a DC fan. The ‘super’ is Superman’s birthright, and the morality taught by his adopted parents is what makes him human, and vulnerable. The ‘Man’ was never separate or an undercurrent in the ‘Superman’. So to say you are going to focus on the ‘Man’ suggests that one’s understanding of the mythos of Superman is still influenced by the POW! FWAP! I’ll save you! paradigm.
But that wasn’t enough. Watchmen and Man Of Steel weren’t enough. So Zack Snyder and his team have been taking to the internet and conventions teasing us with images of Batman’s new look in Superman V. Batman (surely to come from under Nolan’s visual representation of the Caped Crusader on screen). And after the nerds hyperventilated upon hearing Ben Affleck was to play Batsy (queue Daredevil ‘seesaw fight scene’), we started to feel somewhat at ease seeing Affleck in uniform. God bless Ben Affleck’s square, geometrically-angular man-chin.
And maybe that’s the point, bringing the classic look back to the crusader. Not so much gadgets but an intimidating, hard-jawed presence on screen. But with Zach Snyder’s big screen adaptations, for many fans it’s not the visuals that concern them, but rather the narrative and character motivations. Oh, those pesky character motivations.
So we have the graphic novel line-up that we hope Snyder has used for inspiration. Because when these two titans meet on screen, Bats and Supes’ presence and stature should mirror their individual characteristics:
Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller is surely a guy who has no problems telling it as he sees it. But if one can be said, DKR is the quintessentially definitive piece of literature that explores the mythos of Batman and Superman. The boy scout and the vigilante. A alien grounded by a indoctrinated morality versus a man who is no stranger to morality’s grey areas. Matter of fact, you could say Batman thrives here. How could it not come to blows? What I love about this epic face-off is Batman is well up in age. The political tensions illustrated at the time in DKR created the perfect, rare opportunity for Batman to have the fairest possible face-off against Superman (aka Ronald Reagan’s lackey). Miller was very keen to show how their individual characters adhered nicely to their appointed roles in DKR; Superman was a boy scout, following orders, an indestructible gambit used in America’s war. Batman, being a loner, grows old, embittered, filled with anger and hate and reemerges as the vigilante to save Gotham from chaos, an act that is affront to the Reagan Administration and, by extension, his Super lackey. These various strands of narrative culminate in a final stand-off that proves Frank Miller is the best at what he does, when he’s not ranting.
Alan Moore’s Kingdom Come
Moore’s portrayal of The Last Son of Krypton is the Superman we all want to see. A god amongst men. In Kingdom Come, a newer, upstart generation of Meta-Humans go amuck and the world steady plunges into chaos and fear. So, it is only right that Superman would become a despot to bring a draconian rule and order to the world, with Revelatory consequences. And good intentions of course. This Superman is the type of anti-hero that still plays to the moral, ‘do-the-right-thing’ guy who made a few bad decisions along the way. The ‘tragic hero’ is what we as consumers of narrative like to see. It is why Batman is such a successful franchise. The flawed human. Somebody we can all relate to. But for a guy that shoots eye laser beams, never seems to do wrong, ice breath, indestructible skin, x-ray vision (and he’s never taken a look into a girl’s locker room), we need, even for a moment, to have an ugly human trait show up. Or knock him down a peg, soil that big S of his. Test his true mettle. And no, a green mineral from outer space won’t cut it. We’re going to need the Batman.
JLA: Tower of Babel
And finally, Batman has had it rough. Dead parents, learning secret ninja stuff in the far east yadda-yadda. So you can imagine how such a life of solitude and loss could leave one a bit… untrusting. Batman needs a hug? Nope, just a quick little brainstorm of how to dismantle and pacify all his fellow members of the Justice League through various strategies, manipulations and targeting each of their weaknesses. And that’s just over tea. This speaks to the strategist Batman. Considering all possibilities, hoping for the best, planning for the worst. You know it’s serious when Batman calls the League into order while simultaneously planning ways on neutralising them.
In any case, it will be interesting to see how Snyder takes on this awesome responsibility of portraying DC’s mightiest heroes. Giving them the right balance on screen will be a task and a half, but as long as there is no corny dialogue or rubber nipples, anything else will be an improvement. Narrative and character motivation however will be key.