With the trailer for the Justice League movie having recently been bestowed upon us by the gods among us at DC, some are commenting that there seems to be a bit of Marvel levity injected into the DC movieverse. When it comes to the Marvel vs DC debate, there have always been strong arguments amongst fans of either company. “Batman is a better superhero because he does it all with no powers!” “Professor X is way more powerful than Brainwave!” “Nothing will ever compare to Killing Joke” For years, fans of either Marvel or DC could slog it out in comic shops or online with a fairly hefty arsenal of opinions and witty retorts, regardless of what side they fell on.
Then Marvel started making movies. Good movies. DC had a pretty good run with the Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy but ultimately, Marvel has been pulling ahead in public opinion. Most fans of Marvel and DC can agree, these days DC movies just aren’t holding up.
Now I’m certainly no expert when it comes to DC. I didn’t collect comics as a kid, so my knowledge of DC comes mostly from what we’ve gotten in the past 10 years. I keep mostly up to date on the DC tv series like Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. I’ve read some of the comic storylines and am trying to catch up to Re-birth. I’ve even watched most of the animated shows. Point is, I know enough about DC to get a grasp on the main characters and their motivations and what they are supposed to represent.
All that to say that when I watch a DC movie like Batman Vs Superman, I can see why it’s not well received. It’s not that two characters having their mothers share a name is a bad reason for a team-up (though it is). It’s not that dark and gritty doesn’t really work in a world with flying aliens and men dressed in bat costumes (because I think it can).
For me, the reason these DC movies are failing on the whole is because they aren’t portraying their characters true to form. Take Superman as a prime example of this. Superman is supposed to be a beacon of hope and light in a world of despair and dark. He is not one of us but he is supposed to be the best of us. He contrasts so well against Batman in comics because batman inspires fear, whereas Superman inspires hope.
In the recent Superman movies, Superman is defined by fear. He grows up fearing that people will find out about his powers. He leaves home fearing that he’ll never know where he came from and that he’s a danger to others. When he finally does reveal himself, it’s to a world that fears and misunderstands him. All of this is part of who Superman is, but what the movies don’t show us is the hope that is born out of that fear. Superman is supposed to hope that he can help people with his powers. He hopes that he can be an example for the world, despite that fear.
It’s not that we haven’t seen a darker side of Superman in comics before. We’ve seen worse. But the comics have taken the time to define what Superman is supposed to be and can play fast and loose with his character now and then. The Man of Steel movies never establish that character. It’s something he’s growing into, but he doesn’t make it to the Superman we know and love before the end of the movie.
Now bring Batman into that mix, a superhero that uses fear to his advantage, and you're met with the darkest, grittiest version of Metropolis and Gotham that you can get, short of Injustice.
How much more compelling would the story of Batman in the BvS movie have been if we had been shown a different story. One in which Batman has been working in Gotham for years, fighting against villains that are becoming more and more twisted, ever stronger. A Batman that is losing the war, despite winning most battles. Despite working outside the law. Despite giving everything he has. Then one day he sees a man fly through the skies above his city. A man with seemingly unlimited power. And he sees this man save the city not only from supervillains but from petty criminals as well. A man police respect because he works in the daylight. Because despite his powers, he holds himself to the same laws as everyone else. A man that inspires hope doing the same thing Batman’s done for years. This Batman resents Superman because he’s accomplishing everything he has hoped for for so long BUT he also sees the potential threat Superman poses to the world, should he lose control of his powers, or decide to use them for evil.
There you have a believable (in my mind) reason for a confrontation between two characters that stays true to both their characters. When Doomsday finally shows up and the two decide to work together, it is out of necessity that will eventually bloom into a mutual respect and friendship. Superman shows Batman through his actions that hope is a better way than fear. And when other people with powers show up all around the world, there is a basis for them believing that they are stronger working together than apart.
Of course those aren’t the movies we’re presented with. I don’t think we need to “Marvel” up our DC movies. DC has established a dark and gritty universe for their characters to live in. Now they just have to let their characters be true to themselves. With Geoff Johns, DC’s Chief Creative officer, on the team we might see a truer portrayal of these characters and with them, better movies. I, for one, still hope for a better Superman.