PURE GOLDER Superman Vs Batman Can There Be Justice?

I rarely feel smug. It’s not a look that suits me (I come across like a constipated rodent of unusual size). But today, in the wake of a certain Comic-Con revelation, I could feel slightly smug, and yet… I still have a nagging worry.

A few months back I wrote soapbox for the main mag, about how I didn’t relish the idea of a Justice League movie:

“I wish DC stood for ‘Don’t copy’. Just because Marvel had a success with The Avengers , DC shouldn’t be in an indecent haste to create a Justice League movie. To the vast majority of non-comic-reading cinema-goers it’ll just look like a feeble attempt to cash in.

“I’d prefer for Warners to get a few more decent films based on individual DC characters under its belt first before planning the big one. Experiment. See what works. And then, instead of copying Marvel’s Avengers, why not try something different, like the big screen equivalent of a comic team-up? A Superman/Wonder Woman film. Or a Green Lantern/Martian Manhunter film.

“But a Justice League film? Nah. Not necessary. It just smacks of bandwagon jumping.”

And what do you know? Warners announced at the weekend that the sequel to Man Of Steel will feature Batman in story that owes a lot to Frank Miller’s legendary The Dark Knight Returns. Hurrah! Snyder, Goyer and co have gone for the team-up approach. They clearly read my column and regard me as some kind of guru.

Or maybe not.

Chances are, this team was the plan all along if Man Of Steel succeeded at the box office. Which it did. Further proof of that this interview we posted a while back with Henry Cavill in which he teasingly admitted he’d love to see a Batman/Superman team-up on the big screen: “I think it would be really interesting with the age-old Batman/Superman conflict… Who knows? I’m sure there’s all sorts of ideas being thrown around at Warner Bros right now.” Little did we know! Nice scoop, Nick.

So yeah, I should be happy that Warners is taking the team-up route. Which I am, to en extent. But I still worry specifically about a Batman/Superman crossover. They seem to me be at stylistically poles apart, at least in this post Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns world. Admittedly Man Of Steel tried to make Superman a little grittier but we were hardly in Nolan-powered Dark Knight territory, let’s be honest. Bale’s Batman looked like he should be rubbing shoulders with Craig’s Bond; but Cavill’s Superman could happily be sharing Martinis with the Brosnan Bond (whereas Reeve’s Superman was clearly from the same universe as Moore’s Bond and Brandon Routh is, unfortunately, the Lazenby of the Superstory).

The problem is, you can have a grimly realistic Batman, but it’s difficult to take Superman too far down that route.

Okay, Miller pulls it off in The Dark Knight Returns , but he does that by subtly caricaturing Superman to fit in with world vision of the graphic novel. It is almost an anti-grotesque version of Superman seen from the point of view of a jealous and bitter Batman; a Superman who’s a government puppet, who sees things in too simplistic terms. Even Miller once admitted in an interview, “The most questionable thing I did was make Superman a government agent. If this had been a Superman story, I'd never have done that – and I know that, because I have a Superman story I want to tell someday. In this story, Batman was the hero, so the world was built around him.”

That’s not to say Miller’s Superman shouldn’t be regarded as canon; that he’s some kind of alien (ahem) imposter. Try to look past the Batman-created-fugue which seeps through every panel, and the Superman we know and love is still there (he’s just a little warped), but Miller’s point is crucial; he had to change Superman to make him work in a Batman story.

Something similar will have to happen for the film (in which, if the ending of Man Of Steel is anything to go by, Superman will be anything but a Government patsy). And my guess is that Superman isn't going to get any grittier, so Batman is going to have become a little fluffier, a little more primary coloured. Let’s hope they can pull it off, because convincing audiences that Batman doesn’t have to be Mr Permascowl is going to be a tough job to pull off so soon after the brilliance of The Dark Knight trilogy.

Still, it will nice if they cast a Batman I can understand without the help of subtitles…

Dave Golder