Batman v. Superman won’t make a billion

Because DC Entertainment doesn’t trust their comic history to do the heavy lifting.

Someone asked me today to explain why Batman v. Superman wasn’t doing better than it is. He wanted me to keep it simple enough he could understand it but not be versed in the character lore.

He went on to ask: “Doesn’t it have three of DC’s heaviest hitters on both TV, animation, and the movie screen? What was the problem? I remember these guys from the Superfriends cartoon?”

This is how basic his knowledge was— he knew the Superfriends existed but didn’t know about Batman & Superman’s Animated Adventures, saw one episode of the Justice League Cartoon the day we talked. He was completely out of the loop but had a decent comic experience growing up in the 70s and the 80s. (I don’t expect to see him anytime soon since he immediately went out to buy as much of the Animated DC Universe as they will let him leave the store with.)

Lastly, he says: “This was DC’s Holy Trinity: They couldn’t manage to work up on the Nostalgia train on characters that have been around since the 40s?”

Here are my answers:

Batman v. Superman is the sequel to Man of Steel.

But Batman shouldn’t be in this movie at all except in a cool closing cameo clip at the end of a Superman movie where Superman does super stuff, looks amazing doing it, he smiles, a lot, we cheer him, he reminds us to be good and maybe he has an ethical dilemma or two along the way which makes us go, hmm. And makes a certain Dark Knight nervous. (God, I know it seems so simple but really, if you can do this, you can make Superman great again.)

Cue Wavy Lines. Here’s my closing to Man of Steel II:

EXTERIOR NIGHT SHOT, ROOFTOP : Batman stands on a rooftop with the Batsignal turned on. Batfleck looks puffy and menacing. Superman lands in the classic three point, I-am-going-to-knock-your-dishes-off-the-table BOOM.

SUPERMAN: The Bat is dead. Tonight. The next time I see you in that suit, I going to rip it off of you.

Batman walks up to Superman getting nose to nose. He hits a switch and his eyeholes glow bright kryptonite green.

BATMAN: I’ll be watching you, Clark.

As Batman turns to leap off the roof, another switch turns on Kryptonite emitters on the rooftop staged all round it centering on where Superman landed. Each is tiny but together, the Man of Steel crumbles.

BATMAN VOICE-OVER for Superman’s superhearing: Don’t try to follow me. Otherwise, one of us is going to get — hurt.

As the Batjet fades in the distance, the tiny kryptonite lights blow out, one after another allowing the Batjet to get far, far away…

FADE TO BLACK.

I bet the Fans would have lined up around the block for just this threatening shadow of Batman secure in his knowledge of everything Superman could do, because he had watching whatever battles had taken place and now had prepared for the potential eventuality of their confrontation. But this could have been anything. It could have been a threatening setup for the next movie. It could have been the beginning of a tense relationship built out of respect for each others abilities (as has happened time and time again in the mainstream DC Universe).

As it happens, Superman and Batman have met for the first time under many less auspicious conditions. This unnecessary battle — this performance for the sake of fan-battle pandering was a damn shame.

World’s Finest #94 (Not technically the first time the two heroes meet, but since there was no continuity back then, it was considered one of their first meetings.)

Instead of something more meaningful we got this:

  • A Script of Questionable Quality: Even if we assume much of the good dialogue was lost on the cutting room floor, what survived was lackluster, barely-delivered for the most part and barely worthy of attention, if you had any left.
  • Lex Luthor got on everyone’s nerves. Even if we assume he is under alien mind control, it still felt wrong for it to be an actor who just lacked the composure to be Lex Luthor and make me believe it.
  • Cavill who looks the part of Superman to me, mostly stood around looking pained throughout the movie. He wasn’t allowed even one time to smile and look happy.
  • Superman is happy, Snyder. He likes his job. He is one of the few beings on Earth who got to say that.

An eclectic director: sometimes successful, sometimes not, personal vision independent of anyone else’s perspective.

  • Snyder’s movies have only two groups of viewers. They love his work or they hate it. Few are ambivalent. His movies make money and he was persuasive in convincing Warner to give him the job, to take a risk on his vision. Hate him or not, he appears to be what’s on the menu for the foreseeable future.
  • Snyder may think he is the man for this job but lots of people questioned it after Man of Steel. Even more people should question whether Snyder should continue. I like to err on the side of stupidity, myself. What is the worst decision that could be made? That’s the one the studio will make.
  • Creating Killer Kal (putting him in a position where he was forced to kill Zod) was a bit more than most people could tolerate. Jonathan Kent was another sore point. Let a bus full of kids die? Never gonna happen. Jonathan would have told him:
“You save those kids and make it look like a miracle. But if you can’t do that, save them anyway. That is why you have this gift, Clark; to save people.”
  • While I have many friends who say Snyder’s Superman is one spanning the entire life of the hero including his early days when he dispensed harsh justice and wasn’t above killing, most people don’t know that squinty-eyed fellow. The Golden Age Superman responsible for this kind of swift justice was a long time ago.
From Superman #4. Superman catches a bomb dropped and promptly returns to sender. Kidnappers fly off a cliff and are not saved by Superman who instead saves their innocent victim, Lois Lane.

Most of what’s wrong with Batman v. Superman boils down to this:

  • Executive meddling: Likely they didn’t understand Snyder’s vision, such as it was, and added their own selective cuts, their “secret sauce” as it were. They believed their executive decisions only improved the movie. Wrong again.
  • Lack of overall awareness of the source material and the unwillingness to trust that material to draw in the viewers. They feel the only way DC can compete with Marvel is wallowing in the gutter with them. Getting more grit, er, mud on them than Marvel does.
  • In the superhero business, what keeps the fan’s attention is the attempt to bring them into the movie with the characters (a popular version would be best) that they know and love and make that moment something that lingers once the movie ends.
  • Deadpool made a mint on this idea. But if Marvel had chosen to try and elevate the conversation and had Deadpool sitting in a library, in an ascot drinking tea and describing the mayhem in the third person, it wouldn’t have worked. (Maybe it would have, the one thing fans have come to expect from Deadpool is the unexpected…)
  • Deadpool aced the characterization from the comics and even if the story around him were a ripe as week-old fish, DEADPOOL outshined everything else. Even Colossus’ T-Rex, thigh-ceps arms which felt strangely out of proportion… DEADPOOL’s back on camera, Deadpool for president.

People come to the comic-themed movies to see THEIR heroes. Whichever version of their favorite heroes can be as closely, stylistically, and creatively adapted for the big screen. Heroes who deviate strongly get no love.

Fans are willing to allow a bit of fudging and creative license, since we have seen Batman from Silly to Serious to Dead Serious and most people won’t balk; they may flinch but will accept any Batman that retains the integrity of the character they are most familiar with.

Though I think Batman Branding Irons was a bit over the top…

Something else I thought about while I was answering this question:

I finally figured out what was bothering me about Batman v. Superman.

Woven into its terrible tapestry is the underlying story of The Dark Knight Returns, a tale of totalitarian terror and Superman. Superman works for a corrupt government as their deterrent to freedom. Batman works for the common man in an attempt to free them from the complete domination of Superman. With the help of a ragged tagged group of heroes, they take on the Man of Steel and help him develop…clarity.

But there was another story there. I hear stories like you hear music. When I watch or listen to a story, I can hear the themes underlying the tale, each with its particular vibration. In Batman v. Superman, I could feel the Batman v. Superman thread. But there was another. A main thread on its own frequency but overshadowed by the Knightmare scenarios Batman experiences. The key tone underlying the behavior of Lex Luthor and the whole Batman v. Superman storyline.

There was a comic drawn by John Byrne (written by Len Wein and John Ostrander) in the late 80s, called Legends. Given the writers and artists assembled, it was a big deal. One of the first epics after Crisis on Infinite Earths.

“Legends” was a comic book crossover story line that ran through a six-issue, self-titled limited series and various other titles published by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987. Each of the individual crossover/tie-in issues had a Legends Chapter # header added to their trade dress. The series was plotted by John Ostrander, scripted by Len Wein, pencilled by John Byrne, and inked by Karl Kesel.

In it, one of Darkseid’s lesser known (much less-known) minions named Glorious Godfry uses his powers of super-charisma (a form of mind control which he could use over any kind of communication technology including radio or television) to convince regular people to turn against their super-powered protectors which would then open the doors to Darkseid and his legions attacking the Earth.

Glorious Godfrey from Forever People #7, 1972

This discordant note was realized during the machinations of blowing up the Capitol building and the burning of Superman in effigy. This would jibe with Luthor’s insane behavior, Batman weird Knightmare premonitions (likely planted directly into his mind or his mind struggling to resist the attempts at control) — remember, in the dream he is part of a resistance cell trying to fight against the Supertroopers and Parademons who were already clearly entrenched on a burning Earth, complete with active firepits. Firepits are made only when a planet is under Darkseid’s complete control. Whoever was crafting this dream already believed it was a done deal and was attempting to convince Batman of the same thing.

Now mash that up with Superman and Batman fighting from the Dark Knight but lacking the totalitarian theme and requisite bad behavior on the part of the Man of Steel and you see the writers had to do something to justify Batman attacking Superman, so they dredged Legends and its underlying mind-control plot up since it could include the eventual arrival of Darkseid, who is the cross-dimensional brother of Thanos and thus a jab at Marvel and the House of Mouse, shoehorned into the Death and Return of Superman story (Doomsday) and the Dark Knight Returns and Goes Insane story.

What does this bode for the new Man of Steel a.k.a. Killer Kal?

More killing, probably. No one is surprised, right?

Killing for Darkseid. Yep. Killer Kal at your service.

If there was ever a characterization you had to get right, Superman was it. From the Kents being more selfish than we have ever seen them, to Kal-El being strangely distant from the world he called his own, even after traipsing all over it doing every kind of work imaginable, he still seemed a man apart. No previous characterization has ever depicted him OUT of LOVE with Humanity. Except this one.

Zack Snyder is hell bent on breaking Superman. At the rate he’s going, he will be re-enacting the Superman as a flunky of Darkseid storyline, in the Elseworld story, Superman: The Dark Side.

Instead of landing on Earth, Superman is raised as the son of Darkseid, his fiercest and most loyal lieutenant.

He also shows up in a slightly different form in the Superman Animated Adventure: Legacy. Legacy is the fifty-third and fifty-fourth episode of Superman: The Animated Series and the final episode of the series. It depicts Darkseid brainwashing Superman into thinking that he was brought up in Apokolips instead of Earth, turning him into a tool to conquer the universe.

From “Legacy” Superman and his Parademon shock-troops reduce humanity’s mightiest armies to scrap. Killer Kal strikes again.

It appears Synder wants to break Superman for the viewing audience. Breaking him down to his core essence, psychologically rewriting him after his death/brainwashing and then somehow restarting him as a new and moral being, right after he is a cruel and amoral being who will fight against the entire Justice League and then some humbug will break his resolve and he will turn on Darkseid and fight for Earth instead.

Whatever.

Killer Kal gets new duds to rescue the Earth from the oppression of Darkseid. Presumably this is where Zack Snyder wants to take Superman.

In the end:

Most of the people coming to the movies these days know the Big Blue Boy Scout who always found a way to save a life, protect the weak, right the wrongs and battle against the forces of evil, everywhere, without descending to the depths of the people he fought against.

Like it or not Snyder, you screwed up making your modern Superman less than the ideal Superman.

That ideal is why people come to the movies, like it or not. I suspect you are trying to create a vision which will cement you in the halls of cinematic history as you attempt to rewrite the greatest hero of all times by piecing together better stories than the one’s you are bringing to the screen.

Superman has floundered in recent decades, due to bad characterizations, lazy writing, lackluster marketing and strange decisions on the part of executives (doesn’t this sound familiar)…

Superman is such an icon, such a fundamental part of the comic landscape, he is grandfather to EVERY caped modern superhero who exists today. You better know what you’re doing Zack Snyder or instead of this being your magnum opus, it will be the end of your career in the superhero business.

Just a reminder, Mr. Synder: Superman isn’t about you. Superman belongs to everyone. In case you need a visual aid, I have one for you:

Okay, Batman v. Superman might make a billion dollars, but not much more than that; no where near what was hoped for in the larcenous hearts of every Warner executive. We know they will go ahead with their DC movie projects and their Justice League confident of cash flow. They just hoped for more. Do it right, make people believe again, become the House of Imagination and we may once again believe a man could fly…

Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. Since they insist on constant entertainment and can’t subscribe to cable, Thaddeus writes a variety of forms of speculative fiction to appease their hunger for new entertainment.

Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies:Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short (2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (UK, 2012), and Possibilities (2012).

He has written two books: a collection called Hayward’s Reach (2011) and an e-book novella called Broken Glass (2013) featuring Clifford Engram, Paranormal Investigator.


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