Round 1: Can’t Fight This Feeling
This is the second topic numerous repeated viewings of the latest Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailers sparked in my fevered hamster brain. I am apparently very strange (shocking, I know) in that I really don’t understand the appeal of heroes fighting heroes.
Okay, that’s not quite true. Most nerds I know have endless debates about who could kick whom’s ass in a fight. That’s fine. Everyone has their favorites and of course these results of such theoretical fights depend on the specific powers at a given point in time. It’s just one of those discussions people have which I rather assume is like sports fans putting together their fantasy teams. It is just fantasy, of course, although sometimes the two big comic companies have indulged that fantasy with the amalgam comics (although I suppose that’s unlikely to happen again, which is a pity, because I’d like to see Wonder Woman take on Thor). A bit of indulgence every now and then is not a big deal.
Round 2: Fight it Out
However, I do not generally like to watch heroes fight. A good-natured brawl between heroes or a rare once-off chance for crossovers are fine as long as they are rare. I really don’t like to see heroes facing off in a fight that will have a winner and a loser. One of the primary conventions of the superhero genre is that good-aligned heroes fight (and defeat) evil-aligned villains. Breaking genre convention once in a while isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I understand that a fight between heroes can be dramatic and if such a plot is used sparingly, and in a way that makes sense in context (therefore avoiding the appearance of contrivance), I have no objection. For instance, the “Trial of Magneto” storyline featured the X-men’s New Mutants fighting the Avengers. Magneto was currently a good guy and headmaster of the school. The New Mutants had never known him as anything but that. The Avengers were sent to arrest him for crimes against humanity which was totally fair. But the New Mutants reacted as well as one might expect a bunch of teenagers to react and thus a fight ensued. Or if, for example, a being like Mephisto was manipulating the heroes into fighting each other, that would be acceptable (and end properly with the heroes teaming up to fight the villain).
Round 3: Fight Fire with Fire
But, and this is a big but, it seems to me that heroes fighting has turned into the second default scenario (the first being heroes becoming evil) when the comic companies launch yet another event that will “change everything” in order to drum up sales. It’s tiresome and the more the companies fall into that scenario the less sense it makes (like the whole “A vs. X” storyline) and the more obviously contrived the stories become. I guess heroes fighting must sell (as does heroes becoming evil) or the companies wouldn’t keep repurposing that tired plot for revenue. As I said, breaking genre convention every now and then is fine, but when the two companies keep breaking genre convention (and in only one of two ways, it seems), I begin to doubt the people running the companies even understand the genre they’re supposed to be writing!
This isn’t about my personal opinion (not entirely, anyway). I’ve written before about how genres have certain narrative conventions that they adhere to. In the horror genre, for example, the antagonist wins (or at least comes back at the end) and the protagonists are generally dispatched in messy, messy ways. Let’s assume noted horror writer “Clive Loveking” wrote a book in which the attractive, young bunch of stereotypical co-eds are trapped with a monster in the woods and every single one of them survive completely unscathed. That could be a brilliant subversion of the horror genre. But if every other book Clive Loveking wrote featured the protagonist/s defeating the monster and escaping unscathed, well, it wouldn’t seem Clive’s writing much in the horror genre, would it? This is kind of what I feel the big two comic companies are doing with the superhero genre.
Round 4: Fight from the Inside
Hell, at the time of the writing of this entry, Marvel Comics is dipping into that same well yet again for “Civil War II.” And based on the synopsis I’ve read, this storyline makes no more sense than the original (the future can be predicted, so some people want to prevent crime before it happens and others are for free will [yes, like Minority Report]), and the division of heroes makes even less sense. I mean, really, Captain America is all for arresting people before they commit a crime? And She-Hulk, whose alter ego is a defense attorney!? And of course the catalyst for this is that a person with accurate precognition powers predicts that in 72 hours a hero will be responsible for a horrible disaster and the only way to prevent that disaster is to kill that hero, which is done by a hero.
And herein lies one of my many, many issues with heroes fighting heroes like this – chomper logic (in fact, chomper logic is really hard to avoid when breaking genre convention, so that’s another reason not to do it too often). I can see several ways this could be resolved without any fighting at all and it would make more sense because presumably heroes (being heroes) don’t want to want to kill people they’ve fought alongside. These people are at least superheroes-in-arms and usually actually friends. And yet the simplest solution is ignored by the writers.
** Find said hero who’s going to commit the crime and talk to him/her about what’s going on!!**
Seriously, this whole event can be called off just like that. Even if Hero claims s/he would never cause such a tragedy, s/he should agree to not be around the site of the tragedy at the predicted time just in case (i.e., don’t be in the castle the day the curse hits). To prevent betrayal (unlikely because Hero is a hero) or external control, there are several options.
a) Hero hangs out with buddies at home to watch him/her.
b) Hero hangs out at a high-security prison.
c) Hero is put into stasis.
d) Hero hangs out in another dimension.
Basically the whole Civil War II (just like Civil War I) runs on contrivance. This one is actually worse in many ways because so many of the characters have experience with messing with time (one of the Avengers’ archenemies is Kang the Conqueror, who is a time-traveler!). So yeah, still not renewing my subscription any time soon…
Round 5: Spoilin’ for a Fight
The movies have generally avoided the tired plot of heroes fighting in favor of world-building. Unfortunately for me, the two big superhero movies coming out this year are both about heroes fighting each other. My problem with the WB/DC offering is that the premise doesn’t make any sense with the characters (the friggin’ Batmobile bounces off of Superman in the third trailer, which really illustrates how pointless a fight between the two main characters really is), and my problem with the Marvel offering is I don’t see how this fits in with the upcoming Infinity War. And again, while the premise makes some sense, both movies are running off of paper-thin contrivances. Even if I enjoyed watching my favorite good guys beat each other up, the writing gymnastics required to get them to that point bother the hell out of me (as seen in the rant above about Civil War II).
So could someone please explain the appeal to me? I am apparently in a minority when it comes to enjoying this storyline. For example, I hated Justice League: War. It was little more than action schlock that largely didn’t bother with character development of any kind nor did the characters really come together as a team. It was a terrible Justice League movie and a bad superhero movie and just a bad movie with a generic premise and a contrived (there’s that word again!) mechanism to get the team together. And yet this thing has a rating of 4 out of 5 stars on Netflix, a 7.2 out of 10 on IMDb, and an audience score of 80% liking it on Rotten Tomatoes. The conclusion I reach is that the general audience actually enjoyed this.
Round 6: Fight the Good Fight
What the hell am I missing? Seriously, I would like to know. Maybe if I understand why so many people like something like JL:W (and I’m very much afraid from the trailers and reviews BvS is basically JL:W but live-action) maybe I can find a way to like this because it sure seems damn popular (BvS made a ton of money opening weekend even though it was widely panned by critics). And if it’s popular, it means there’s going to more stuff like this made, so either I learn to like it, or I don’t go see my beloved superhero movies or ever pick up a comic book subscription again.