Friday, 27 September 2013

Superman vs. Batman

It won’t, I can promise you, be based on Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’.

Forget the rumours and ignore the direct quote from the comic that was used to announce the film.

“I want you to remember Clark, in all the years to come. In all your private moments. In all the years to come, my hand at your throat. I want you to remember, the one man who beat you.”

Or rather, see the quote for what it is – a sensational bit of flavouring lifted from the very hearts and souls of the fans.

A mission statement, a tantalising glimpse of the film’s objective, not a sign-post to the narrative that will appear on screen.

In TDKR the two heroes have a long-standing relationship and deep familiarity with each other that in the final battle leads to Superman’s trademark overconfidence and Batman’s trademark resourcefulness, and that’s why Batman wins. Not because he can breath in space.

Because he plans things waaaay in advance and is superhumanly thorough. He blows a fortune, years of research, has to tap into a whole city’s power grid, and even then he ‘dies’ doing it. His plan works because it hinges on Superman’s weaknesses, including his expectations, and he uses them against him the way an intelligent martial artist like Bruce Wayne would take on someone of superior strength.

The word (not quite officially) is that this will effectively be a sequel to Man of Steel, which means Superman is the new kid on the block and as yet unfamiliar with the Dark Knight’s MO.

Man of Steel ends with widespread destruction, so Supes will be in a similar position in the popularity stakes to Spiderman after J. Jonah Jameson has given him a good going over in The Bugle. He’ll be in for a ton of flack from politicians and public figures looking for a platform to make names for themselves. This is the perfect springboard for Lex Luthor to start his campaign to rid the planet of what he sees as a dangerous alien and a living WMD.

Luthor is a billionaire industrialist, as is Bruce Wayne, so the two undoubtedly know each other. Bruce/Batman is no fool and I can’t see him teaming up with Luthor as some have suggested. He’ll know that behind the respectable front Luthor is a villain, a corrupt reflection of his own arrangements. Both men are hiding in plain sight.

This doesn’t mean the film script won’t pair them up of course. It just means they ought not to, unless they can find a good reason for Luthor not to be on Batman’s grudge list already. Hard to imagine.

John Byrne’s 1986 run of Superman comics, called The Man of Steel, is a closer match to the rebooted movie franchise. It recast Lex Luthor from mad scientist to businessman and changed the dynamic of the relationship between the invulnerable man and the ordinary mortals around him, shrewdly evoking a sense of unease akin to the threat of nuclear war that was still very much on people’s minds at that time (as seen in Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ and ‘V For Vendetta’ of the same period). Superman earned the trust of the people by saving them and catching criminals, he didn’t start out at the top of the popularity list. The series also re-imagined his first meeting with Batman, pitting them against each other in a way never seen before. DC had perpetuated a BFF relationship since the 1940s, set in stone by ‘World’s Finest’ and repeated throughout the Silver Age, despite the many differences between them.

Best buds

and fun times

(OK, that second one’s not genuine)

Byrne put their differences in the spotlight and redefined the relationship; Superman seeing a masked vigilante as just another criminal, Batman outwitting an immensely strong threat by exploiting Superman’s good nature. Batman threatens to kill an innocent citizen with a signal that will set off a bomb if Superman comes too close to him. He’s not bluffing. Only later does he reveal the citizen is himself.

Byrne’s series is less iconic than Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, but it had a far greater impact on DC Universe mythology, becoming accepted canon post ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ until as recently as 2009’s ‘Superman: Secret Origin’. TDKR, meanwhile, is set in an alternate ‘future’ where superheroes are banned, imprisoned or working undercover for the corrupt government, with Bruce Wayne at an advanced age and grey-haired. If they make TDKR one day it will stand alone from the rest of the DC movie franchise. That is absolutely the opposite of what appears to be their current goal of following Marvel’s lead and galvanising the mythology into a single movie continuity. The aim is surely now to breed a cash cow in the shape of a big screen Justice League series, and that will require a reconciliation between Batman and Superman at some point, presumably by the end of the film.


It would make a good Justice League lead-in to have the two biggest names in DC at odds while the world is in danger; perhaps requiring Wonder Woman, the third hero in the mighty triumvirate, to get them to work together.

That would be, though I do say so myself, a very good story and a nice way to introduce Wonder Woman. She already walks the middle ground between the two, possesses better diplomatic skills and despite being as brawny as Superman often uses other skills to solve problems yet isn’t shy when it’s time to wade in and kick backsides.

But somehow I doubt they’ll leave the antagonism unresolved for a whole film. They’ll most likely want the classic ‘mismatched buddy’ film, another reason why this won’t be based on TDKR. At the end of that story the two are anything but friends.

What I predict we’ll see is a version of Byrne’s story and a reconciliation by the end of the film, a strong focus on the different approaches to crime-fighting and a very large amount of fisticuffs. Luthor is the obvious choice for villain, working on many levels and being a person of interest for both heroes and a good way to make their paths cross.

Will it work? Impossible to say. Zack Snyder loves the subject matter and that makes a big difference. I’m quietly confident.

The biggest question for many is will Ben Affleck be any good as Batman? I prefer to stay out of that argument. Argo may be a highpoint in his acting career. He may have matured into the kind of actor that can wear the cowl convincingly. We can only wait and see. With Star Wars VII in the same year, 2015 is going to be exciting.

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