Tag Archives: DC

My Superman vs Batman film

So I recently launched a bit of a rant on my Twitter and Facebook about the new Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice trailer.

I had a few problems with it, specifically:

I was grumpy

I am not the only one who has had a problem with this trailer, and I didn’t even pick up on my first viewing that Batman has a gun in his hands. A gun. Batman.
Now these represent a kind of frivolous ranting, I understand that. A friend tweeted me a rejoinder from Purple Hippo against which I offer no defence.
Hippo Tweet

Another friend, an unabashed DC fan, challenged me to be more positive about it, and this challenge did strike a chord. It is easy, after all, to be critical from behind a keyboard and launch barbs against the creative endeavors of others. Too easy perhaps, such that one falls into the role of the vandal too easily, tearing viciously at art they do not appreciate. I haven’t even seen the film (obviously), and no doubt my general distaste for Zac Snyder’s films and my bitter disappointment at the last half of the previous Superman tainted any objectivity I may have had. That said, the previous (shorter) Dawn of Justice trailer actually had me pretty hopeful for what this film could be. This most recent one burned that hope to ashes.

Superman is a difficult character to write into a compelling story because so much of narrative depends on conflict and stakes. For Superman, there can be no meaningful external conflict. He can defeat any enemy at will and is impervious to any attack. What threats can he be made to face? And what can be at stake? Not his own life, so must it be those he cares about, must we perpetually have Lois Lane endangered to give Superman a reason to act?

The response to this has either been even more incredibly super-powered enemies (a narrative arms race which quickly succumbs to absurdity), or weakening Superman with kryptonite. This latter approach is the better, but fraught, because if the enemies use of kryptonite becomes inevitable in every Superman tale, it moves from his one vulnerability to a hackneyed deus ex machina.

An alternative approach is to focus less of Superman’s external conflicts, and more on the internal. This is the truly fascinating question of Superman, for me. ‘If I had unlimited power, how would I use that?’ Superman should lead us to ask how we could decide when to act, and in whose interests. We should questions how we would manage the competing urges to altruism and self? He should be forced to choose, for instance, whether to save Lois Lane (a single life he cares greatly for) or the passenger jet about to crash (hundreds of strangers). He should have to agonise over which disasters he prevents, and which he allows. How, after all, could he justify intervening in a bank robbery in Metropolis if he could instead prevent an African warlord from slaughtering a village, or a drone strike destroying a hospital, or a suicide bomber in a football stadium, or a gunman in woman’s health clinic, or a drug cartel kidnapping the wife and child of a good cop?

The best story of Superman, would be one of these moral conflicts. Red Son exploited this by having Superman raised in Stalin’s Russia, and asking how we would feel about his powers if they were in service to that ideology.

Snyder seemed ready to offer us this film in ‘Man of Steel’ (such as when Kevin Costner questioned whether it was a good thing for young Clark to have saved the bus), but then reverted to Supes punching people through buildings for 30 minutes.

So in the interests of positivity, here’s my attempt. I have assumed a few elements as required. The central trio of Bats, Supes and Wonder Woman. That Lex and Doomsday appear as villains. That this follows on from ‘Man of Steel’ so that the events of that film are present as background to this, the characters in this must act consistently with a world post-‘Man of Steel’, a world in which Kryptonians have fought their way through Metropolis, and in which Superman broke Zod’s neck. I think the casting of the film is pretty good, I have no particular problem with Batfleck, Cavill is a good Supes, Gadot perfect for WW, Adams as Lane, Eisenberg should be a good Lex, for all he annoyed me in the trailer. If I needed to cast Catwoman, Emily Blunt would be amazing. I have added a few elements, and considered how this would set up subsequent films on a trajectory toward Justice League.

Lois Lane and Clark Kent have come to Gotham to attend a journalist award ceremony. She is being recognised for her work on an investigative feature for the Daily Planet exploring issues arising from the revelations of extraterrestrial life life, particularly Kryptonian. She will later speak at the UN about the issue.
At the award ceremony she and Kent meet Bruce Wayne, who is a corporate sponsor of the event. Wayne Enterprises owns the hotel they’re staying in.
When they return to their (separate but adjoining) rooms they find they have been ransacked. It soon becomes clear that this is true of several attendees to the award ceremony. Lane reports the theft. Wayne excuses himself, deferring Lane to Lucius Fox, who promise that action will be taken. Wayne, as Batman, follows a trail of clues from the building across Gotham’s rooftops. Kent, as Superman, is unseen above. He follows Batman, suspecting that he is the thief. He closes the distance, but Batman senses him and escapes. Supes returns to the hotel, and as Kent begins his investigation into the Gotham vigilante.

Batman returns to the batcave, his pursuit of the thief interrupted by Superman. He begins his own inquiries into the Kryptonian, which lead him to Lexcorp, a private contractor for space-faring tech which has been brought in on a private consultancy with US govt on the matter of Zod. He knows Lex Luthor’s reputation in corporate circles: a young entrepreneur with an air of the eccentric genius. He shares with Alfred his concern at seeing the Kryptonian in Gotham’s skies, and decides to prepare a defence. But first he returns his attention to the theft from his hotel. He has a suspect. On the screen we see a shot of Selena Kyle.

Lex is still in Metropolis. We see him reporting to government agents on what he has learnt from his study of Zod’s corpse. He has become fascinated with Krypton, and has been searching everywhere for more signs of their presence. He reveals that he has detected an asteroid with traces of Krypton, likely a fragment of that planet, having traveled through space since the planet’s destruction. But when he plotted its trajectory, he saw that its approach to Earth is too perfect to be chance. He plans to intercept it as it approaches Earth’s atmosphere.

At the UN Lois Lane gives her speech to the assembled world leaders. Among them is Diana Prince, an employee of the UN. She requests a private audience with Lane, and there asks how Lane knows Kryptonians can be trusted. Lois tells her tale, and Diana tells her about the asteroid Lex is tracking. She is worried that the US gov’t, and that a private company in Lexcorp, will keep the study of the asteroid from the rest of humanity. She’s concerned that it may be weaponised, either by the US, or by Lex. Lane sees a story in it and decides it’s worth investigating.

Batman has tracked the theft back to Selena, and he confronts her. She tells him that she has sold what she stole on to Gotham underworld. Batman is about to let her go, on the promise that she will leave town, but Superman descends from above and insists that she face justice. Batman challenges Superman’s idea of justice. He accuses him of being a tyrant. Calls him an executioner for breaking Zod’s neck, blames him for the damage to Metropolis from the fight. Superman calls Bats a vigilante, accuses him of disregard for the rule of law. Batman argues that he does so to ensure order, that law is not always the moral good. Superman says that people as powerful as he and Bats can’t afford to think that way, that they become tyrants if they consider themselves above the law. They fight: Superman alone vs Bats and Catwoman as a team. Bats pulls a trick, escapes with Selena.

Superman briefly pursues, but allows them to escape because Batman’s criticisms have touched him and he decides that he doesn’t want another fight, as with Zod. Instead he decides to use more official channels. He has, through his super senses, established that Bats=Wayne. He goes to the DA, Harvey Dent, and together they hatch a plan to bring Bats in legally. He doesn’t reveal Bats’ secret identity, because he doesn’t want to prejudice Dent’s investigation.

Later, Lois tells Kent of Diana’s fears about Lexcorp. He is supposed to be meeting soon with Dent to enact their plan to catch the Bat, but he decides that it is more important for him to stop this fragment of Krypton falling into Lex’s hands. Once away from Lois, he becomes Supes and flies into low-orbit to interfere with Lex’s plans. As a result, he’s not present when Dent needs him.

Dent follows through with the plan he had to catch Bats, but without Superman’s assistance, it back-fires disastrously. He is badly wounded in an explosion. Batman saves Dent’s life, and takes him to hospital. He makes his way to the roof, worried that his efforts to do good in Gotham have inadvertently hurt one of the city’s good guys. He sees shooting stars above.

In the upper atmosphere Supes is trying to stop Lex from getting to the meteor. He gets caught in a dogfight with Lex’s aircraft and with US Air Force fighters. He defeats them, breaking away in one instance to save a pilot whose ejector seat fails. When he gets close to the meteor, in his attempt to deflect it back into space, the Kryptonite it contains robs him of his powers. He falls, with it, but away from it, and as he falls farther from it his powers regain, so that he survives his landing in a Gotham park. Some blocks away, the meteor has also landed. It is a capsule, the same sort as the one by which he, as Kal-El, escaped Krypton. Doomsday steps out.

Superman is still weak, and is weakened as he gets closer to the capsule, but he still tries to fight Doomsday. As it seems that he has been overwhelmed, Batman (in his anti-Supes suit) comes to his aid. When Doomsday gets the better of Batman, WW arrives as well and joins the fight. Between the three of them they subdue Doomsday.

Afterwards, Lex reveals to the media that Superman actively prevented him from intercepting Doomsday’s pod in orbit. Lex blames Supes for Doomsday reaching Earth and for all the damage done, first to Metropolis, now to Gotham. Public backlash against Supes increases. Lois Lane is an increasingly isolated voice in a media calling for increased accountability and regulation of Superman’s actions. 

Batman returns to the batcave, badly beaten and facing a crisis of confidence. He tells Alfred that he must upgrade his defences. He needs Kryptonite, because of what might yet come down from space, and because he needs to be prepared in case the Kryptonian already on Earth turns bad. He knows now that there are greater threats in the world than Gotham’s criminals.

Dent awakes, as Two-Face, blaming Batman and Superman for the injuries he sustained. He swears revenge on both.

A scene with Selena and Diana reveals that she was the recipient of the info Catwoman stole from Lane. She returns to Themyscira, knowing more now about the Kryptonians, and determined to prepare her people against them.

The final image is of Doomsday in restraints being delivered to Lex, who has been working with the Kryptonite salvaged from Doomsday’s pod. He slots one of the green crystals into his mech suit, climbs in, and lifts Doomsdsy easily.

So there it is. My attempt in the space of a few hours of my spare time to outdo the combined efforts of several professional script-writers and film-makers who have been at work for months on a multi-million dollar budget. What ridiculous hubris I have.
Please feel free to endorse my vision, or to feed me a taste of my own medicine by way of scathing comments below.


My musings on increased diversity in comics

So Thor is to be a woman, Captain America is to be African-American, Spiderman Hispanic, Ms Marvel Pakistani (I prefer the ungendered ‘Captain Marvel’ title to ‘Ms Marvel’, but we shall press on), and other similar flippings and re-imaginings are bringing a new sense of diversity to familiar comic heroes. And to my own surprise, I am conflicted. I should be all for this… but.

CaptainAmerica

Photo Credit: Marvel Entertainment

Let me say from the outset, I want comics to diversify and tell the stories of people who are not straight, white guys. I want more stories with protagonists of colour. I want my sons to see superheroes that reflect the world they live in, populated as it is by shades of brown, by more women than men, by the rich traditions of cultures from around the globe. I’ve written here about diversity in storytelling before.

I love the idea of a female superhero flying in, swinging a hammer, sending lightning to strike her foes, in a superheroic role that don’t require skin-tight black leather, cleavage-bearing cut-outs or bikini line waxing. I was raised by Buffy. On top of this, Falcon is the obvious candidate to take-up the star-spangled shield if Steve Rogers’ serum were to fail him, and an African-American Captain America should be unremarkable in an America where Obama is president, for readers who have grown-up admiring athletes like Jordan, Shaq and LeBron.

And yet I am conflicted by these changes. For all those reasons I have to support them, something grates. I worried initially that this was some vestigial cultural rejection, that some part of me was stamping its feet and saying ‘Thor is a man because he just is dammit!’ But I don’t think that’s what this is. After all, much has been of Thor’s time as a frog, for a time Captain America was a Skrull, Superman has been a gorilla, etc. These passed unremarked, as they should have, and perhaps as these changes should too.

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I think instead that my conflict comes from concern that these well-intentioned changes don’t actually achieve the message they intend. These changes are not tokenism – as Chuck Wendig’s excellent post points out – and I don’t argue that they are. Yet it is not a true increase in diversity either. It is a veneer of diversity. I find that it disappoints me, particularly in the case of Thor, that these new heroes are presented to us only after they come to inhabit some other, established, identity – a white man’s identity.

Commercially, bringing these protagonists into the role of existing, established characters (with an existing, established readership) makes sense. Comic book superheroes are not rare. It’s a crowded space into which a new addition may make barely a ripple, but change an existing member of its pantheon, and people notice. Geekdoms landslide with approbation or applause, likely both. Either way you get noticed. You get into mainstream media. And that’s good business and I absolutely understand that.

In the case of Spiderman, and Captain America, and many others, I can see how the passing of the identity works. It has been long established. Many characters have taken on an heroic role: Azrael becomes Batman after the breaking of Bruce Wayne; the many iterations of The Flash (Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen and beyond). I can imagine someone taking up the bow and purple cowl of Hawkeye, because Hawkeye is not restricted to Clint Barton (and Barton has played other roles than Hawkeye). When Pym retired as Ant-Man others used the technology to take on the role.

Thor is different, as are Superman and The Hulk. Behind Batman’s cowl anyone can dispense vigilante justice, that’s the nature of the cowl and of the secret identity of its wearer, but as Tarantino’s Bill pointed out, Superman is not a costume. Kal-El dresses up as Clark Kent, but Superman is inextricably Kal-el. Likewise, Hulk is inextricably Banner, Thor is inextricably the son of Odin. ‘Thor’ is not a title to be passed on.

God of Thunder is a role. Wielder of Mjölnir is a role.  These are roles that could be given to someone other than Thor Odinson, and at times they have, and yet when Captain America (or Storm, or Beta Ray Bill) did wield the hammer, they did not become Thor. They were able to play the same role, but not to inhabit the same identity.

Previous attempts – admirable in themselves – at gender diversity were similarly flawed or fraught: female superheroes were defined by connections with, or as counter-points to, male heroes. Batman/Batgirl; Superman/Supergirl; Hulk/She-Hulk; Thor/Thor-girl, etc. (Ms. Marvel becoming Capt. Marvel being an exception here). Marvel seems keen to head-off this criticism. Their announcement of the female Thor was couched in language as much about what she was not, as about what she was. Jason Aaron has said that “this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”… “This is not She-Thor, This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is Thor.”

So she has become that identity entire. And this is precisely where she sends the opposite message to the one I believe was intended. Can a female superhero not exist in her own identity, as herself? Must she inhabit the identity of a white guy before she’s gifted legitimacy? Can a woman only be heroic by taking on a male role – not just the characteristics of a male hero, but the very identity? Because if the answer to those questions is a yes, that’s a crap message.

Having Sam Wilson trade in his wings for a shield doesn’t actually add diversity to Marvel, it’s just reshuffling their deck. Wilson was ground-breaking as a black superhero in 1969, and he breaks some ground now as Captain America, but it’s not added diversity. He’s not new, he’s just rebranded. Nor is he the first black man to take on the uniform. More than 10 years ago Marvel had a black Captain America in Isaiah Bradley.

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The criticisms levelled at that 2003 series ring eerily familiar this week:

“…outright racists who just don’t like the idea of a black man in the Cap uniform.”
(http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,390672,00.html)

“When we posted our first image of Isaiah Bradley – the silhouette of an African American man in a Captain America costume – the media latched onto it as a story of interest, but a lot of internet folks lined up against it, assuming, for whatever reason, that it would disparage the legacy of Steve Rogers.”
(http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=34680)

Despite Aaron’s insistence, both the ‘black Captain America’ and the ‘female Thor’ are absolutely being positioned as temporary inhabitants of these roles. Thor Odinson can reclaim Mjölnir when he is again worthy. Steve Rodgers remains in many ways the ‘real’ Captain America, training Sam Wilson in how to throw the shield and wear the stars, running the missions from Avengers mansion. An unkind reading would have this as a white master sending out his black errand boy. Both of these characters are replacements, and as such any identity they form will be in the shadows of their (white, male) predecessors, never an independently their own.

To bring them in in this way is to ensure that they are less prominent even in their role because they will always be viewed through a comparative lens. Rather than having Falcon brought to prominence in his own right (perhaps as the lead in a Falcon film where Captain America plays his second fiddle), Marvel has merely swapped the colour palate for the Captain America inking. Rather than bring Lady Sif to prominence in her own right, Marvel has merely altered Thor, making a pointier breastplate prominent. I’m sure they will do more with the characters that that, they have talented writers on hand, but the criticism is there to be made.

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And I do support that these stories are being told. I do support greater genuine diversity of the people represented as heroes. There’s better ways to achieve this. You want an African-American hero? DC could do well to leave the Ryan Reynolds disaster behind and cast a Green Lantern based on John Stewart in an upcoming Justice League film (and let The Rock play him!). What better opportunity than having a woman and an African American (I know The Rock is a Pacific Islander, stick with me here) stand alongside the Kryptonian and the Gothamite? It was a noted strength of the Winter Soldier film that when Captain America (Rodgers) needed allies he turned to two black men and a woman.

John_Stewart_Earth-16

Diversify The Avengers? Bring Falcon onto the team. Bring Rhodey on as War Machine and give Downey Jnr a rest.  Introduce Black Panther (and give him a movie of his own). Where’s Luke Cage? He has worked with Spider Man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Hulk and could appear in any number of franchises? (The Rock again? Or Idris Elba? Just don’t cast Nicholas Cage to play the Harlem-raised African-American).

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Would these suffer from the accusations or the reality of ‘side-kick spin-off’ syndrome? Perhaps. So take a character who’s no one’s side-kick.

You want a female superhero throwing lightning around and kicking arse? Storm! She’s established and portrayed in film by an Oscar winner. She’s a female of colour. She has worked with The Avengers before. If Wolverine can have an origin, why not Storm? Want a woman hitting hard with a divine hammer? Have Ms Marvel take up Mjölnir, or Brunnhilde the Valkyrie. Have Jane Foster pick up the hammer when Thor’s knocked down. Who wouldn’t want to see Natalie Portman with Mjölnir in hand? Have a new female character (Asgardian or otherwise) wield it. There’s no shortage of Norse myth to plunder.

Have Frigg and her attendants as a team of female heroes.

Gender-swap Vidar and have a Goddess who can stand beside Thor with the strength to rip Fenris’s jaw asunder with her bare hands.

Have Tyr become a one-handed Goddess of single combat.

Imagine if Nanna swore revenge instead of pining her way to an early death in grief at Loki’s murder of her husband. Powered by her need to avenge Baldr the (now former?) Goddess of Peace could oppose Loki, could ignore Thor’s calls for restraint or mercy, could be a narrative grenade tossed into the halls of Asgard and the world of men. She could renounce her reign of peace and unleash violence of divine proportions. She links to existing canon in that she is fighting an existing antagonist. She could draw on the tradition of moon goddesses, a new Diana hunting through the Marvel universe. Thor could cameo to plead with her for his brother’s safety, and she could shrug him off as a weak-willed and overly sympathetic fool. She could take Mjölnir from him, not received as a gift, but taken as her right, and in a rage she could wield it against her foes.

That’s a kick-arse female hero I want to read more about.