*also called “Panicking is not a good way to start a movie franchise”
It’s interesting how timing affects an article; this article started with San Diego Comic Con, the universally agreed upon place to announce anything of significance for fandom. This article was written in response to the announcement after the initial fangasm of DC’s announcement of a Batman/Superman movie. Then, like all things timing related it went…askew. Simply put I didn’t want my article doing battle with a thousand other bat-related articles that have Affleck and Damon as the dynamic duo (no matter how funny I found those images) out there nor did I want it viewed as just another means to fan the flames of the fan backlash over the announcement. Its why for the rest of this article the Bat-fleck fiasco will not be mentioned although that announcement and other revelations certainly support my concerns.
Companies large and small go to San Diego Comic Con to market and present products and generate a buzz for them. Some products are big, some are small; all products try to place their best foot forward for SDCC. In return, fans and the geek faithful everywhere get the news for the latest fan-related media and, if the marketing groups are somewhat competent, cool swag to impress those poor schulbs that are on the outside trying a beg a ticket off of someone leaving the con area for a cheeseburger*. That being said, major announcements are part and parcel of the process, usually with loads of info-dumps, swag, and brass fanfare, as well as a sign that major media forces look to our culture as a vital part of its industry, even if they don’t understand it. Marketers know money and buying power when they smell it and any group willing to collectively spend dick-load of cash on a steampunk Iron Man cosplay design makes most of marketing execs quote Walter Bishop and say, “I just got an erection”. Even in a project’s most formative stage, major groups go through great lengths to impress and create a buzz at SDCC and Warner Brothers was announcing the geek equivalent of a Holy Grail by announcing that the sequel to The Man of Steel will feature some version of the “Worlds Finest”, meaning Superman and Batman would both appear in some shape or form.
This is not the first time that we have seen this pair up; some of the greatest projects produced by DC have featured these characters interacting on some level. Part of Batman’s reputation as “bat-god” is built off the idea that he is one of the few characters that is within Supes’ weight class. Paul Dini gave us an animated team up of Superman and Batman that arguably kicked off the golden age of the animated Dini-verse that culminated in Cartoon Network’s Justice League with the aptly titled “World’s Finest”. Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns culminates in the iconic fight between the heroes and its outcome off of which Batman’s reputation is initially based. By every definition it is a good pairing: it humanizes Superman and raises the mere mortal Batman into the upper echelons inhabited by Sea Kings, Amazons, Martians, and physical gods. The idea has also been rumored since Tim Burton’s Batman and even hinted at in I Am Legend as a gigantic billboard in Times Square. Having Superman and Batman in a movie together is something that been looked forward to longer and more fervently than any Avengers, or X-men movie, let alone any individual superhero movie. So its announcement at SDCC, while not surprising, was strange, because well… that was it. DC and Warner Brothers announced that the sequel to Man of Steel will be a movie called (quite originally) Batman vs. Superman, everyone in Hall H heard the announcement, witnessed the two crests being merged, aaaaannndddd then…nothing. No official promotional pieces, not even placards of the merged crests. It was an odd move, lean on its details considering the audience. This is especially true when I compared it to Marvel’s Guardians of The Galaxy which had only had fourteen days of shooting and still presented its audience with a trailer let alone The Avengers sequel’s announcement of Ultron as the next opponent for the superteam. It was when I looked at DC’s announcement in the context of each company’s cinematic endeavors that a chill ran down my spine and it prompted me to beg DC and Warner Brothers in this article to say simply, “DC, Please, Please do not make the movie like this.”
Let me preface this with one thing: I am not the type of fan that immediately hates something because it is not strictly like the source material. However, look at the position that DC is in and the stand point of where it is coming from becomes clear. Marvel has been able to take characters that were far less in the minds of the general public like Iron Man, Thor, and The Black Widow and has placed them firmly in the public consciousness. Ten years ago if you had asked your average run of the mill non-fan to name a superhero you probably would have gotten Batman, Superman, and possibly a Spider-man thrown in for good measure. DC’s staple of characters was firmly more prominent in the non-fan consciousness. Even with Marvel breaking the movie curse with its successful Spider-man and X-Men franchises, DC still had the upper hand with Dini’s Animated Universe in full swing culminating in a successful Justice League series (two of them technically) and the upcoming Batman reboot (which started the entire concept of a reboot).
Going into the announcement of Batman vs. Superman, DC had seen the successful end of its latest iteration of Batman, but that was it, and even the vaulted Nolan trilogy was seen (fairly or unfairly) as limping to its conclusion. Green Lantern and Jonah Hex were utter flops. Its animated stable was effectively dead with the cancellation of fan favorite Young Justice and its replacement with the much reviled, ritalin-addled Teen Titans, GO! The Wonder Woman series planned was laughed off the air before it even was watched by the public. DC has spent years developing Batman (and to a lesser extent Superman) in the public eye at the expense of all of their other properties. Arrow (aka we swear that we are not trying to do a Batman Begins/Gillian’s Isle mash-up) is stuck in CW hell with a decidedly limited demographic. Finally, it attempted to re-launch its Superman franchise with Man of Steel with a moderate box office success, little reaction in the general movie watching populace and a negative one in the fan base.
Compare this with Marvel: they spent SDCC promoting the second phase of its movie universe that has introduced serialization back into the movie viewing dialogue. Even more so it has done it with characters that were not in the non-fan memory and has done so by cleverly co-opting the fanbase. The average guy watching Iron Man kick ass on screen may not have even waited until the end of credits for the now famous easter egg. Even if he did, his knowledge of the one-eyed back man was probably sketchy at best. However, every geek would take time out of his geeky day to tell that average Joe all about Nick Fury. This has gone so far that Marvel has a TV tie-in with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and considering its demographic victories a rather successful one) that provides additional windows into its cinematic universe. Just to add fuel to that fire Marvel has signed a deal with Netflix providing almost a half a dozen new shows that will also add to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Trade magazines are busy discussing the upcoming Marvel/Fox superhero war between the Marvel-verse movies and Fox’s X-men Franchise which- either way- are Marvel properties with nary a mention of DC or Warner Brothers. When looking at it from this point its clear why DC and Warner Brothers are breaking out this concept- they are desperate for a solid hit and hopefully a franchise.
It is also why DC and Warner Brothers making such a movie from such a standpoint will inevitably be bad for DC, Warner Brothers and the loyal fanbase that wants good movies. Sweaty palms and bean counters a good super-hero movie does not make; in fact, it seems that DC is hell bent on doubling down on the mistakes it made with Man of Steel. With Man of Steel executives seemed hell bent on trying to do a “grim and gritty” take on Superman and thus take the audience into a “modern age of the character” rather than actually making a good movie. Frankly in watching that movie I could see almost where the executive mandates came down:
“People really like Batman Begins with the flash backs so do those, even if they don’t make sense in the context of the film,”
“We need a high octane plot complete with shaky cam! So no actual Superman being, well, moral; in fact, don’t call him Superman!”
Man of Steel was a bland and frankly useless waste of a movie specifically because it was a movie made from fear about the character and concept. Rather than push the concept of Superman as a symbol of hope in contrast to the cynicism of humanity, the executives pretty blatantly decided to just push for an action piece. At every opportunity the executives of WB ran away from the concept of Superman in a bit for a hope that a grimmer, grittier hero would be a better sell, ignoring that the fans are the core of the audience that will propel a movie into the mainstream.
Marvel for all of its careful planning in rolling out Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America was almost fearless in their execution. Jon Favreau hired as Iron Man‘s star a man that was almost persona non-grata but was a wink and a nod to fans considering Tony Stark’s substance abuse problems in comics. Captain America featured a director most known for a flop period piece superhero movie in the 90′s and turned it to an advantage both directorially and in marketing. In fact, Captain America‘s origins and “white bread” status are played with both in his movie as well as The Avengers and looks to be expanded upon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier all for the sake of good story and drama.
Rather than exploiting fandom by directly referencing Superman’s representation of hope in the movie and trailer (and embracing the idea that man can fly) they need to focus on the ideas their characters represent and give creators free reign to build on those tropes (much like what they did with Batman Begins), Instead, Warner Brothers and DC have failed to learn the lesson that before making a superhero movie or an action movie or a science movie their first thing to do is to make a good movie. Until that happens Batman vs Superman can only be a disappointment /waste of good potential at best or a genre-ending fiasco at worst. Thus, rather than damaging the genre with a Batman and Robin-esque fiasco, please don’t do this movie until you have it right. Fandom will wait for a good movie but is running thin on patience for bad ones, especially considering the options that we are not presented with. Take your time and do it right, for both the fans as well as the moviegoing public.
* Not that I cast dispersions on such people, there’s been more than one time that I have been that poor schlub