So Superman and Batman are going to team up for the big screen? As we wait for the will-it-ever-happen Justice League movie, it was obvious that some attempt to prepare audiences for Warner Brothers’ wannabe Avengers Assemble would come to light at SDCC, but is the pairing of Metropolis’ squeaky clean mister indestructible and Gotham’s favorite psychopathic vigilante really the combination of flavors we would wish for? Whereas fans of WB’s excellent animated series of films are already familiar with the combination of heroes, live action cinema audiences know only of the failed Green Lantern film, an aborted Wonder Woman television pilot (plus the old campy Linda Carter series), and no idea whatsoever who The Flash is. Martian Manhunter? Was he in John Carter?
Marvel have always been one step ahead in terms of alternate universes and hero team-ups, but Warners’ decision to team Superman and Batman could not come at a worse time in terms of the cinematic representations of the two heroes’ mythology. The last we saw of Batman was his retirement and faked death in The Dark Knight Rises. Superman’s origin has just been rebooted in Man of Steel. Will the proposed team up simply be a pre-Justice League case of “We worked really well together, we should set up a team?” In which case, subtlety won’t be the order of the day. Marvel built up the individual members of the Avengers (apart from the Hulk films, which nobody seems to be able to figure out how to make work – suggestion: Doc Samson?) and the neat post-credit teasers moved us forward to the inevitable creation of the team. But WB seems to be playing catch up and rushing to get the JL printing dollars on a global scale. Superman and Batman are sweet and sour. I admit I’ve always been a bigger fan of the damaged billionaire mourning the deaths of his parents and dealing with a multitude of mental case criminals than the Kryptonian son who has one girlfriend, basically one nemesis, and a klutzy alter ego.
In The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller brilliantly presents Batman and Superman in their most logical conclusions: the outsider and the stooge. The man who refuses to accept the politically enforced rules of society versus the man who always does what the leaders tell him to do. The caped crusader was right when he said that the most interesting thing Superman ever did was to die (and he didn’t even stay dead!). Batman was presented as the villain in the establishment’s eyes, with Superman the ever-reliable protector. Miller understood only too well the juxtaposition of the characters and why, in real terms, their worlds don’t mix with any positive conclusion. Batman is a creature of the night and Superman lives by day. How many Superman stories happen after dark? Not that many. Batman at his most extreme would surely laugh Superman out of town. Kal-El is a hero who is only at his best when the antagonist is more powerful than our clean-cut child of Krypton. The tragedy is that there aren’t enough antagonists that fulfill that criteria.
If a Superman/Batman team up is to work on the big screen, then surely the key conflict should be between the two heroes themselves? I’ll be honest, if I was teamed up with somebody that was indestructible, I’d let him do all of the work. You’re bulletproof? Check. You can fly? Check. You’ve got x-ray vision? Check. You can fire lasers from your eyes and move faster than a speeding bullet? Great. I’ll chill in the Bat cave and you can go catch the villain! In fact I’ll let The Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman know that they’re not needed either! Warner Brothers face a serious challenge in bringing two such heavyweight characters together in one outing. Why do they need each other in terms of story? (We know why in terms of box office business and the build up to JL, but why in fiction terms do they need each other now?). If you’ve seen the excellent Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, you’ll have seen the dark alternate future origins presented for Batman and Superman. Can a proposed team up of Wayne and Kent beat that? As a suggested scene, I’d like to propose the following as an example of the differences between the two men:
Batman: My parents are dead.
Superman: So are mine.
Batman: So why don’t you seem like you care?
The film will happen, it’ll make a fortune, it’ll clumsily set up the Justice League movie. It’ll reduce the mythology of Batman and reveal how uninteresting Superman can be. And it’ll probably all happen despite the best efforts to get things right. If gossip is to be believed, Warners have spent over $200m developing the Justice League live action movie and the script results haven’t met with studio approval. The Superman and Batman project better get the script right or they’ll not only offend two sets of fans, but also kill the possible Golden Goose of the Justice League.
Somewhere in the world, Tony Stark is pouring himself another drink and watching it all with great amusement.