DR #24: DC and the Definitive Batman

Dear Reader,

I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a little hard on DC. The second to admit it would be anyone who’s ever had to live with me.

But I can admit that they do have one handicap in the current comics climate. They’re not only trying to produce and promote new versions of some of the most iconic characters to ever exist, they are finding that they must use definitive versions of those characters. That one adjective changes everything.

Sherlock Holmes DowneyConsider with me: if you were a Hollywoodman, and you wanted to make a movie about Sherlock Holmes, then you probably could do it without any more fuss than would be usual for any Hollywoodman making any Hollywoodmovie.

Sure, if you get some details wrong, or didn’t hit the right tone, then maybe an English professor somewhere would notice and be upset, but so what? Even to the people who care what that professor has to say, there’s no shortage of different versions of Sherlock Holmes. You can’t throw a Watson without hitting a Holmes, and usually one that doesn’t match the Watson you threw.

Because Sherlock Holmes is a public domain character, anybody can trot out their own version of him—which means that people who need a Sherlock Holmes can pick whichever one they prefer. You don’t like Benedict ‘Secretly a Were-Otter’ Cumberbatch? Well, here’s Robert Downey Junior. Don’t care for Robert ‘Not Secretly an Iron Man’ Downey Junior? Have a talking mouse. Talking animals make you feel uncomfortable? Have like fifty million different movie versions from the forties and fifties.Bvs SFR Pic 2

You can’t do that with Batman or Superman. They are not public domain (try about as far from public domain as you can get), so the only movies that can be made about them have to be made with the implied stamp of officialdom. No Batman movie is ever “just a Batman movie”—each one has to try to be THE Batman movie.

That’s not to say that DC doesn’t have multiple versions of its characters floating around; but each one comes with the implicit imperative to invest in THIS version and forget the others. Each Batman is presented as the REAL Batman and each Superman claims to be the REAL Superman, simply because they were made by DC. Anyone who makes a Batman movie finds themselves in the position of being basically the Pope of Batman-related matters.

Suicide Squad Pic 1

Oh hai, this pic again.

There’s nobody who could be called the Pope of Sherlock Holmes. That’s what being in the public domain means.

So work through this equation with me, Reader: multiple versions of a character, plus a deeply invested and vocal fan base, plus a single entity that has the power to make one of the versions ‘official’, MINUS the ability to NOT use that power. No matter which version gets the ‘official’ stamp, some portion of the fan base necessarily feels cheated.

Sure, Marvel is in the same boat—even more so, given Disney’s facebook-stalker-ex-like relationship with copyright law. But Marvel hasn’t (yet) put out existentially incompatible versions of their characters. Within living memory, they’ve put one Captain America on the movie screen. They’ve screened only a single Thor. They’ve put up different Hulks, yes, but they exploited the minimal impact of the first two movies to basically get everyone behind a split-the-difference version in time for Avengers. This is where movie rights to the X-men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four being tied up in legal purgatory is possibly working in Marvel’s favor. If Marvel could put up a rival Wolverine to challenge Hugh Jackman, they would maybe (probably) feel like they had to. But because their hands are tied, they have an excuse for not getting into a fight where nobody wins.Quicksilver Pic 1

Hell, that could be one reason they killed Quicksilver (though of course the main reason is that Joss Whedon needs your tears to fuel his dark powers of Shakespeare Adaptation). But it doesn’t hurt that there’s now no competing version of him, or indeed of any characters from Fox’s X-men franchise.

Whatever else was wrong with Batman v. Superman: Dong of Justice—it was handicapped by the inevitable comparison to Christopher Nolan’s bat-trilogy, to the Richard Donner Superman films, and even to the Bruce Timm animated universe. I was right there, making the comparisons myself.

Maybe that’s why DC is rolling out a Suicide Squad movie. After all, there’s never been a Suicide Squad movie before. Deadshot and Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang aren’t going to invite the same kind of comparison that Batman would. And it’s not like there’s anybody prominently featured in that who would be a new version of a beloved—

Joker Pic 1

Oh.

 

At Least The Trailer Looks Well Made,

-The Guy Who Wrote This

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