Dear Reader #18: On Batman Vs. Superman

Dear Reader,

I went to see Zootopia the other day. I know, that isn’t reading—blasphemy!—but I’d heard rumors that movies sometimes contain legible words, and wanted to investigate for myself.

But when it was time to get some tasty treats in the lobby, I noticed something with my crappy phone camera. All the upcoming posters seemed to be organized into two categories: ‘Furry,’

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And ‘Red vs. Blue.’

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On the left we have what looks like a the manliest paintball game ever. On the right we have “Totally A Captain America Sequel and Not An Avengers Sequel At All”. And wait, what’s that in the center there?

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There’s a Batman vs. Superman movie coming out?! Who could have guessed!?

Now amid all the worry about casting Ben Affleck as Batman, the puzzlement at the strange religious tone Superman seems to be carrying around, and everyone jumping all over Jason Mamoa as Aquaman (who I’m betting is going to be in this movie as much as Samuel L. Jackson was in the first Iron Man), one question I haven’t seen the speculation engine churn through yet is ‘What comics, specifically, is this drawing inspiration from?’ And perhaps ‘What guesses can we make from that about where the plot will go?’

Batman and Superman have been intermittently trading blows ever since the Silver Age, though those were often less ‘blows’ as ‘quasi-science fueled tomfoolery that nowadays would look too silly for an episode of Venture Brothers.’ But there wasn’t really a knock-down, drag-out, let’s-really-settle-the-who-would-win-once-and-for-all until Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

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This is where we got the ‘Batman electrocutes Superman with the output of the entire Metropolis power grid,’ that would show up again in Hush, ‘Batman uses a secret kryptonite stash that he has in case of Rogue Superman,’ that keeps coming up as a plot point in crossovers, and that’s arguably the origin of the idea that Batman can defeat absolutely anyone or anything if he has prep time.

Here’s why that doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

Frank Miller has an only barely concealed distaste for Superman as a character. The version of him we see Batman defeat is a blackmailed stooge for a corrupt government, and Batman’s internal monologue is hardly complimentary. I wouldn’t call the story itself bad. It’s an interesting dystopia based on the silver-age “What-If-Superman-and-Batman-Weren’t-Bestest-Friends-Ever” premise that presents a neat out-of-continuity look at a different take on the characters.

But to work it needs that regular continuity to contrast against.

DC seems to be staking their movie hopes on Zack Snyder, who has experience both with Frank Miller and with Dark Subversions of Superhero Tropes. But judging by Man of Steel and the so-far-seen trailers for Batman vs. Superman, he doesn’t seem to get that what made Watchmen work was the fact that it was a subversion, or that what made Dark Knight Strikes Again work is that it was an alternate take. Dawn of Justice says it right in the subtitle: Dawn of Justice, i.e. “This is the foundation on which we are going to build the Justice League.”

You can’t take something whose whole premise is ‘what if Batman and Superman were really grim and depressing’ and lose the ‘what if’ and expect to get the same result. Conditional Operators matter.

Parodies work because they reference something you’re familiar with, and a Grim and Gritty version is just as much a parody as a Stupid and Funny one, it just takes the subversion in a different direction for different reasons. If you try to take the parody as being the same thing as the source material, then not only will you lose what made the source material successful enough to parody, you won’t be able to get what made the parody work either. Or as any comics artist will tell you, black works best when you put it next to white.

It’s possible my fears are unfounded. I’ve only seen trailers so far, which means I see as through a layer of marketing darkly, so the finished film may still come out just fine. All I’m saying is I wouldn’t pin any hopes for a good definitive DC continuity on it (mostly cause I already pinned all of those on a Young Justice revival).

As for plot predictions, I’m gonna bet that Superman will be saying things about how he “doesn’t want to hurt you,” and how Batman is “just as bad as the people you’re fighting!” While Batman will be saying things like “You don’t have what it takes to get the job done.” Batman will use a massive electric shock at some point. Superman will conveniently forget he has super speed. We’ll make a point of being surprised that Batman can sneak up on a guy with X-ray vision and Super Hearing.

Because that’s how these fights always go.

I Did Enjoy Zootopia By The Way,

-The Guy Who Wrote This.

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