Let me bat-splain this for you

First thing’s First: I think that Batman vs Superman trailer is killer.

Now, I’m fully aware that the Internet is confused about how it is supposed to react to all this, but I’m not. I was so skeptical when they first announced this thing. Sooooooo skeptical. First there was the fact that this was happening at all and then there was the whole Batffleck freakout. I just assumed that WB was getting into an arms race with Marvel Studios (which it clearly is) which would push them to try and lighten things up. Add some sassy banter, make a movie about how Bruce and Clark are buds but their alter-egos just argue too much or something. Maybe even Thor would show up, I don’t know.

That’s clearly not what’s going on. DC is running in the other direction. The opposite direction, really. Don’t get me wrong, this is still just a grab at trying to keep up with Marvel, but the fact that they’re willing to go this dark is pretty exciting. It’s not going to work, financially that is. At least I assume it won’t. The Avengers was such a big hit because it was the kind of movie anyone could go see. Your grandmother, nieces and nephews, teenage cousins, whatever. They all liked that movie.

That probably isn’t going to happen with BvS. Remember how Batman Returns made people cry and caused McDonalds to freak out over merchandizing? We could be looking at 2.0.

“But JJ, people loved Batman Returns! It’s a fanboy favorite that critics adored because everyone loves a dark Batman!” That, my dear friend, is revisionist history. People hated that movie — even many fans, because it deviates a lot from the comic and is really really strange. Now it’s basically a cult classic among Batman fans (a cult classic that made $250 million at the box office).

This is where the excitement comes in, and some fanboy obnoxiousness on my end. If the stars align just right, we might have another crazy cult film on our hands. If Snyder really lets loose — releases the darkness, if you will — and if there are enough think pieces about how it’s time to lighten up Batman (more on that later) this could be a really great thing for Batman fans. Batman’s more fun when his grimness is alienating.

This is all such a pleasant surprise. I was so so so so so skeptical. But when Zack Snyder tweeted out the Batsuit, stuff started shifting around in my mind. Because that Batsuit looks Amazing.

Batman-vs-Superman-Ben-Affleck-Costume

Where does this one measure up? I’d put it either first or second (understand, this ranking could certainly be influenced by the simple newness of the whole thing. Either way, it’s an amazing suit).

For suits, I’d say it probably goes:

Batffleck (see above)

89

batman-1989-batman-enters

Begins

BATMAN BEGINS

Returns

Batman-Returns-batman-8741202-852-480

Forever

16817056-16817058-large

TDK/TDKR

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B&R.

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I know what you’re thinking. The thing is, The Dark Knight is most definitely the best Batman movie (in terms of quality) but the suit is so functional that it really loses the iconography. In some scenes, he just looks like he’s wearing an outfit for motorcycle racing but with a cape.

So there’s that. That’s what began the warm up. Then there was the batmobile reveal. This one looks pretty great, but I like The Tumbler, 89 and possibly even BF more (but we’ll have to see it in action to really know).

So there were these little bursts of buzz here and there, set pics, whatever. But now we have the first trailer. A lot happens in the 2 minute video. Voice overs and stuff (here’s a good breakdown)  but I just want to focus on the Bat-stuff I’m excited about.

First off, you had me at “dark urban nightmare”:

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This is apparently a rebuilt Metropolis, and it looks gorgeous. The whole movie looks dark and gorgeous. One reason I love this is because it reminds me of this:

Gotham1989mattPainting

And this:

blade-soul-the-los-angeles-skyline-sets-dystopian-mood-for-film-405677

I don’t know if Gotham is in this movie at all, but the trailer implies that this is Metropolis at night time. I love that. So much do I love that. I love that so much. Batman movies should be at night. The City As Hell is a strong recurring theme in Batman books, and it’s something that I’m excited to see again. Nolan’s Gotham was wonderful, but it was real. It was basically Chicago. I miss Anton Furst’s bleak fantasy land.

And this apparent plot line (at least from what we know of it), that there are many people afraid of what Superman’s power could mean, is wonderful to me. Music to my ears. Delightsome.

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This is so DC. Superhero movies, The Dark Knight included, are typically concerned with exploring the nature of heroism. But in the 1980s, Alan Moore started to examine in wonderful ways the limits of power, and it helped set the tone for how DC would tackle their heroes in the comics for years. Hallmark stories like Kingdom Come, Tower of Babel, The Dark Knight Returns and John Byrne’s Man of Steel all break down what it means to have all that power. The most important example, of course, is Moore’s own Watchmen.

14348_comics_watchmen

While the X-Men films have dabbled in it — the fantastic Days of Future Past dove in head first — other comic book movies have shied away from tackling the darker elements of what it would mean to have such powerful men and women roaming the earth. Stan Lee’s approach to comics in the 1960s was to create heroes we could all relate to. DC in the 80s decided to embrace super heroes as our Greek gods, with all the potentially nasty implications that come with it.

Aaaaaannnnnd here’s Bruce brooding while staring at his suit, which to me means he’s probably considering coming out of retirement (CAN I GET A DKR?!?!).

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 1.19.28 AM

But lets get one major big time thing strait: This is clearly not an actual adaptation of TDKR. It just has some glorious references. In that story, Superman is revered by the people. Batman fights him because he’s become the tool of an ignorant and dangerous government. In this film, it appears Batman faces off with Supes because he thinks he’s a danger to society.

In The Dark Knight Returns Batman and Superman have a long history together. When they meet up to fight each other, there’s a lot of baggage that comes with it. In BvS, it’s clear that the tension comes from the fact that they don’t know each other yet. It’s basically an inversion of Miller’s comic.

Also, lets get another thing strait: Despite emerging popular opinion, Frank Miller’s Batman hasn’t actually been explored that much on film.

In a piece for Vulture last year, Abraham Riesman tossed out this idea, claiming that

Every single Batman movie director has paid fealty to Miller’s ’80s tales. His grim and gritty take on ol’ Batsy has crowded out all other cinematic approaches to the character.

While his main beef seems to be that he doesn’t like Batman to be dark (more on that later) he also thinks Miller’s work has overshadowed everyone else who has ever worked on the comic. This is an absurd statement, but one that apparently has plenty of supporters.

There are really only two Bat-movies that draw directly from Miller in any substantive way: Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. Begins draws heavily from Miller’s Batman: Year One in it’s action and characterization of Jim Gordon. But even with Begins, Batman himself is not Miller’s Batman. He’s Denny O’Neil’s Batman. He’s a Batman with a very level head. One’s that’s emotionally raw and vulnerable. That is not Miller’s Batman, who is basically a moral tyrant.

In short, Begins was (like all of Nolan’s bat-films) a mishmash of a bunch of different Bat-stories. In fact, Nolan cited The Man Who Falls and The Long Halloween as often as he did Year One (The Dark Knight  was so heavily influenced by The Long Halloween you could basically call it an adaptation). The ones from Year One stick out the most, because Year One is one of the most famous Batman books of all time. So if that’s the only one you are familiar with, you might be tricked into thinking that it “crowded out all other cinematic approaches” to the character.

The same goes for The Dark Knight Rises. There are certain references to The Dark Knight Returns that no fan could miss (primarily, just the whole idea that Bats had been retired, and “you’re in for a show, kid”) but there are a lot more references to Batman: Cult, No Man’s Land, Knightfall, Batman: Legacy and a bunch of others.

And lets not forget the elephants in the room: The movies from the 90s. References to Miller’s work are few and far between in those films. And in fact, Riesman’s argument is essentially “the guys who made the movies in the 90s said they read Miller’s stuff and liked it.” Batman ’89 has one little Easter egg (Corto Maltese!) and it’s dark so I guess that counts. Batman Returns is the closest thing we’ll ever have to a Doug Moench/Kelley Jones inspired film, and has nothing in common with any of Miller’s stories. If you can find the hard evidence that Forever and B&R were Miller-esque, please convince me (reminder: The Dark Knight Strikes Again came out after Schumacher’s run).

So what I’m saying is, fanboys like me are kind of freaking out that the most celebrated (and most effectively bizarre) Bat-book of all time is actually getting some direct love on the big screen. The Miller-esque batsuit looks amazing (there’s also a little Time Sale in it, I think). And this Batman promises to be that tortured moral fascist.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 1.22.37 AM

This, right here, is just strait from DKR:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 1.24.24 AM

IMG_2741

And then, there is of course this. Which people are calling Lego Batman because that’s actually pretty funny, and because apparently a lot fewer people have actually read DKR than I previously assumed.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 1.33.01 AM

 

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But, of course, the Lego Batman will stick. Because the Internet.

Also, I seriously hope it rains through the whole movie.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 1.39.31 AM

Now, I didn’t really get into how I feel about the Superman stuff in this movie, and that’s mostly because I feel like I’ve run out of things to say about this version of Superman. I like him a lot. I think Man of Steel was an exceptional super hero movie. People don’t like it and I still can’t figure out why, but I guess I’ll just have to live with that.

*******

Now some more comments on tone: There’s a cycle to all this, which I’ll get into in a minute. But We’re at that point where people are arguing again about how dark super heroes should be. Personally, I like them dark. The darker the better. And if not dark, at least have atmosphere. Give these guys some feet of clay, for heaven’s sake. My favorite Batman is either the noirish brute who only sees life in black and white (which seems to be what they’re going for here), the Nosferatu gargoyle (from Burton’s films and Kelley Jones’ stuff) and then the classic Denny O’Neil incarnation, who is a true hero. That’s what Nolan created onscreen.

Everything else is just whatever to me. Make hime dark. Make him complicated. Make him tortured about the death of his parents and the depravity of his city. that’s my guilty pleasure. Dark, brooding, obsessed Batman.

This is the very first Batman comic I ever read:

IMG_2763

It opens with Killer Croc, mumbling in the sewers of Gotham City. He bites the head off a rat, and then reminds himself that he lives in hell on earth.

IMG_2765

Then Bane beats him up and it ends. That pretty much set the standard for what I expect to get out Batman, as far as tone is concerned. The first movie I ever Remember seeing is Batman ’89. That’s a bleak movie, and I gobbled it up.

michael-keaton-batmanjpg-a400a271723eeceb

 

The first movie I ever remember seeing in a movie theater (well, it was drive-in) is Batman Returns. Which is an insane movie.

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So excuse me if I’m indifferent to your arguments that Batman just needs to lighten up.

********

Now for my explanation as to why the Internet is so confused about this little trailer.

There was a time, not too long ago, when people couldn’t really see how a Batman movie could possibly be any good. Batman & Robin was terrible, and it basically spoiled it for everyone.

But in those days (I’m talking like 2002-ish) most people I knew, and most stuff I read on the Internet, didn’t really blame Joel Shumacher. They just thought Batman was dumb (it was a very different story for comic fans). Pretty much every conversation I had about comic books with people who didn’t actually read comics books always came around to “he’s not even a super hero. He doesn’t have any powers. That’s dumb.”

There was a pretty understandable reason for all this. Not only had Shumacher muddied the waters, but Sam Raimi was already well into his work on Spider-Man. I remember seeing the first Spider-Man in theaters with a big group of friends on opening day (at least I think it was opening day). This was not the first movie in the Great Comic Book Film Revival of the early aughts, but it was the one that got people who otherwise had no interest in comics really interested their film adaptations.

The first two Spider-Man movies were great, the last two Batman films were not. So for a spell there no one besides the die hard Batman fans cared much, if at all, about the prospects of a new Batman film.

Back then, I used to frequent this website called Batman-On-Film (it’s still around, but Internet gossip has become so much more accessible that I don’t visit as often as I used to). When we got Internet in our house, the first thing I ever remember using it for was surfing around looking for rumors on the next Batman movie, and BoF was my site of choice. For the first little while, it was mostly just updates on whether or not Batman Triumphant would ever actually happen, the dish on that crazy Darren Aronofsky Batman: Year One adaption, some swirling rumors about Clint Eastwood doing The Dark Knight Returns and, of course, stuff about that Wolfgang Petersen directed Batman vs Superman (yes, Warner Bros. has been obsessed with doing that for a very very long time.)

But in 2003 it was announced that the dude that did Momento would be heading up the next Batman movie. Those were exciting times for Batman fans, but no one else really seemed to care. Because Batman was dumb.

People forget that Batman Begins was not a mega smash hit that critics adored. It had its champions, and a pretty solid critical response, but there were still plenty of people who were indifferent to the whole ordeal. Even fans were pretty skeptical at first. I remember reading an article in Entertainment Weekly (I still have the issue somewhere) where Kevin Smith — the Old Faithful of being absurdly wrong about pretty much everything  — said he had a friend who was working on the colorization of the film and he was skeptical about what he heard. Then he went on to talk about how he had seen a prescreening of Revenge of Sith and it was the best movie ever and any fanboy who doesn’t agree is lying and he cried because it was so great or whatever.

When they released the first images of Bale in the Batsuit online, a lot of people didn’t know how to feel (including me). The first pictures looked cool but strange. Really understated.

Anyway, I’m saying all this because these things go in cycles. Everyone knows the history now. The Dark Knight came out in 2008 and the rest is history. Batman was once again a cultural phenomenon. People who didn’t read comic books or particularly care about the 90s movies or cartoons (but maybe the 60s TV Show) were suddenly significantly more interested in Batman. That’s just how these things go. The same thing happened with Spider-Man, X-Men, The Avengers. Everything. It’s what the studio wants, to drum up interest.

But that interest always has a life span and it’s usually pretty short. And within that lifespan there are usually subcategories. I think the most prominent one is “how serious should comic books be?” Because it always goes through spells, especially with Batman. If Batman comics or movies have been dark and serious for too long, people really start getting antsy. It happened in the 90s. After Burton did Batman Returns, people kind of freaked and said it was too dark. So Batman became lighter. After Batman & Robin, people freaked out and said Batman had no business being campy.

Well, we’ve gone full cycle once again. My biggest beef with Warner Bros. doing another incarnation of Batman is that people are tired of Batman. I’m not tired of Batman (I don’t even know what that could possibly feel like) but pretty much everyone else who isn’t a big bat-fan is definitely tired of Batman.

You know what else they’re tired of? Comic book movies that take themselves too seriously. Christopher Nolan made three like that and apparently that was enough. I had my hopes that maybe everyone’s learned their lesson because of how embarrassing The Amazing Spider Man 2 was, but nope. People still toss around “c’mon, it was fun!” because that’s just where we are. The next Avengers looks “dark” with super air quotes around it because you know there’s gonna be plenty of ScarJo camera mugging and a delightful Shawarma after credits scene.

So what I’m saying is, Batman vs Superman couldn’t have come at a worse time. Which makes it kinda fun. There is a select few who have interest in seeing a dark pessimistic version of Batman, or Superman for that matter. I could go the whole rest of my life without seeing some lighter version of the character put on screen. But it will happen eventually. Jeet Heer will tweet about the aesthetic virtues of camp or whatever and it will ignite a revolution and Joss Whedon will finally be able to exhale and say “’bout time we’re done with the postmodern stuff” and then Warner Bros. will produce Batman and Son starring Will Ferrell and Jonah Hill voicing a CGI 12-year old and people will think it’s great because the very notion of a grown man dressing up like a bat is ridiculous in the first place, right?

So the issue here isn’t so much that Batman vs Superman will actually be a disappointment, it’s just that it’s off cycle. That’s on you, Warner Bros.

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Published by

JJ Feinauer

JJ writes stuff occasionally.

One thought on “Let me bat-splain this for you”

  1. You probably shouldn’t have put that “Batman and Son” concept on the ‘net. When it shows up on Netflix the blame will be squarely on your shoulders.

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