First, some of you may note I changed my WordPress theme. I did this because the old theme was no longer supported and because I realized the “normal” font was really too small. So I hope you all like the new theme because I can’t go back to the old one. Okay, to the topic at hand…
This is actually the third musing sparked by the over-saturation of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailers. I’m posting this now because the movie isn’t out quite yet (although reviews are generally not promising).
Why the [expletive] hell is Batman carrying a gun in the second trailer? I didn’t even notice that at the time. Good grief does the film making team misunderstand Batman’s character as badly as it does Superman’s?
For Those Who Came in Late –
Batman and Superman have long histories in the comics. I mean, loooooong. We’re talking 75 years long here. There is no way any serial character is going to be absolutely consistent across that kind of timespan. Comics are in some ways folklore, the modern American equivalent to the old epic stories like “Beowulf.” Times change, writers change, mythology adapts. If I tried to claim that Batman and Superman never killed anyone in the mainstream comic universe, I would be wrong, and I would also be dogpiled by thousands of nerds whose fanatic sense would go off and cause them to hunt down my little corner of the interwebs and set me straight, by Krypton! Batman was once changed into a baby in canon as well. Due to the amalgam effect, individual deviations from the main theme (as perceived by the individual reader) can be ignored. In the modern consciousness (well, prior to the New 52) in the main continuity, Batman and Superman were fighting for justice, albeit in different ways, and one commonality was that they did not kill.
Movie Sign –
Unfortunately, film makers don’t seem to know or care about that. As much as I love the 1989 Batman, I am really bothered by Batman’s causal dispatch of the Joker’s mooks and the Joker himself. Batman Returns has even more bat-murder, and a glaring instance of Batman utterly failing to save a civilian when there was ample time to do so. While Batman Forever and Batman and Robin were bad movies, at least Batman didn’t commit any bat-murder (as I recall; mostly Batman and Robin is just a mess of bad puns and stupid props in my memory). Blockbuster conventions declare the villain must die or the movie doesn’t feel complete. Nolan’s reboot wasn’t much better. It could be argued Batman didn’t directly kill anyone, but leaving R’as al-Ghul on the train to die when he could have saved his life amounts to the same thing. True, he did let Joker live in The Dark Knight, but Catwoman rightly pointed out in The Dark Knight Rises that it was pretty hypocritical of Batman to tell her not to kill anyone when his bat-cycle was outfitted with obviously lethal bat-mounted machine guns.
While I don’t recall Superman killing anyone in the original 1978 movie, he did de-power the Kryptonians in the second movie and punch them down convenient bottomless pits in the Fortress of Solitude (although I’m led to understand in the original director’s cut, there was going to be a scene of the three being taken to jail as they now had no powers). Superman III, oh, lordy, my brain won’t even recall that one, but in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superman doesn’t seem to have any issues with killing Nuclear Man (then again, that move was possibly the least of the movie’s issues…). Superman Returns was much better about reflecting Superman’s character and Lex survived the movie (at least for a little while…). And then there was Man of Steel…
I’m not letting Marvel Studios off the hook either; however, the MCU is so successful the studio has less to lose by continuing to up the kill count. I was pretty upset when Iron Man just straight up murdered those terrorists and just walked away like killing those people was no big deal and pulled Pepper Potts into a conspiracy to commit the murder of Obidiah Stain. There was no reason for that since Stain was just a dude in a suit that could eventually be turned off or would power down. That’s really not what a hero like that should be about, and it’s another reason I’m not looking forward to “Civil War” (because he hypocritically probably won’t consider himself one of the dangerous ones).
Death in comic book visual adaptations comes down to context, and unfortunately the big blockbusters by and large lack the appropriate context. Batman and Superman are characters who have made a principled stand not to kill (bad writing excepted). Iron Man is kind of a jerk but he shouldn’t kill people either. Spider-man shouldn’t kill (although Raimi skated just by that when the mugger tripped and fell and Spider-man [with spider-sense and super-fast reflexes] failed to catch him in time). Wolverine? Well, yeah, it’s Wolverine. He’s an assassin, after all (and a pretty lousy hero, but a decent anti-hero). Context is everything and in some ways a two-hour movie should have an easier time presenting that context than the comics because the movie is its own thing. Context is established on-screen (as the MCU is so successfully proving). And yet both studios (one far more than the other) fall prey to the action movie blockbuster convention that the hero hasn’t won until the villain is dead.
New Coke –
Once upon a time, the Coca-Cola Company decided to tinker with a formula that had worked for them for decades and introduced New Coke. Oh, how they hyped it up as the soft drink for a new generation (without using those words; that was a later Pepsi catchphrase). People did try it, and they didn’t like it. And the Coca-Cola Company lost a whole lot of money. Like, a LOT. So in order to save face and brand loyalty, the company immediately re-introduced the original formula and promised never ever to mess with it again. I read an interesting article that discussed the way WB/DC has changed the Superman brand (DC Comics division actually did this with the New 52). Comics don’t make the money they used to and movies can be worth billions. Does it make sense for the studios to put the most recognized version of their characters on the big screen? Even non-fans know about Superman and Batman. Why re-brand Superman as angsty, moody, and kind of a jerk? Why have Batman clearly carrying a very large gun? Why mess with a formula that works?
Set Right What Once Went Wrong –
The MCU has a great deal of goodwill built up from their movies. WB/DC desperately needs some goodwill if there’s any chance its expanded universe will go anywhere at all. The MCU can course-correct from some of these lethal mis-characterizations and make up for its own sins and quit having its heroes kill off villains (this would incidentally make for more compelling villains in sequels). WB/DC only seems to be doubling-down on the worst missteps of the blockbuster convention – dark, gritty, hero kills villain.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The movies can be better than they have been. The studios have the technology. They have the money. Just make it right.