It was certainly one of the more exciting moments of this year’s Comic-Con: Director Zack Snyder takes the stage during Warner Bros. Saturday (July 20) panel to reveal plans for the 2015 follow-up to this year’s “Man of Steel.” An excerpt from “The Dark Knight Returns” is read, referencing Batman and Superman’s showdown. An image appears with the Superman logo superimposed over the Batman logo. Boom. The room goes wild.
So, there it is. The “Man of Steel” sequel will be some sort of Batman vs. Superman scenario. At first blush, it certainly sounds exciting — two of the greatest comic book heroes ever created, facing off. It’s the thing that summer blockbusters are made of. But now that the dust has settled and the initial high has worn off, it must be asked: Is this thing such a good idea?
Warning: From here on out, there are spoilers aplenty for both a wide range of old comic books and this summer’s “Man of Steel.” Read on at your own discretion.
Certainly there’s precedent for it. The aforementioned “Dark Knight Returns,” which, for the uninitiated, was a limited series of comic books written by Frank Miller and originally published in 1986. In the books, an older Bruce Wayne returns from retirement to fight crime in a dystopian Gotham City. Superman, at this point, is working for the U.S. government and is ordered to stop Batman. After a series of showdowns, Wayne fakes his death and goes underground with his supporters to assemble an army to return order to the world.
In Miller’s 2001 sequel, “The Dark Knight Strikes Again,” Wayne returns with an army of soldiers and superheroes, while Superman is being coerced to work for the government still, with his loved ones being held hostage. Superman is ordered by the “President (who is actually a computer-generated front for Lex Luthor and Brainiac) to stop Batman. Eventually, the two superheroes come together, with Superman finally breaking his vow to never kill.
You see, throughout the series, that’s the main philosophical schism between Batman and Superman — the choice to kill. The adversarial nature that Miller created in this version of the DC multiverse is based on a difference of politics, essentially. Superman finds a way to save the day without taking lives, while Batman doesn’t mind so much.
However, the ending of “Man of Steel” undid all of this. In Snyder’s film, written by David Goyer, the final confrontation between Henry Cavill‘s Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) finds Supes make the decision to take Zod’s life. He snaps his neck. And poof, just like that, this origin story originates a Superman we’ve never known.
Now, it’s true that Snyder admitted during the panel that the sequel would not be a direct adaptation of “TDKR,” but rather that it would help inform the story they want to tell in the new film. But how? How with what he and Goyer have already done to warp the character?
There seems little philosophical conflict to draw from should these two men meet directly after the events of “Man of Steel,” but that’s hardly the only issue with the sequel. Another looming problem is the casting of a new Batman.
With the conclusion of Christopher Nolan‘s “Dark Knight” trilogy, Christian Bale made it abundantly clear that he was finished the character, so it’s more than safe to include him out, which means the hunt for a new Bruce Wayne is on. There’s an inherent danger, however, in trying to recreate a character with a new actor so soon after such an indelible performance was just given in one of the most critically well-regarded comic-book trilogies in recent film history. It’s probably not entirely fair, but it’s a reality that whoever lands the role of Batman will be relentlessly compared to Bale’s portrayal of the iconic character.
Mostly, though, the problem with the film is that it’s a baldly transparent stepping stone towards Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ ultimate goal: A Justice League movie.
It’s obvious that the two companies have been paying close attention to Marvel Studios’ great success at introducing a handful of characters before launching its wildly successful “Avengers” series and now they, too, want in on the fun.
But this film reeks of a waste of time. Batman and Superman can not defeat one another. There’s no way Warner Bros. would allow one of their two most revered characters to be tarnished in that way. So, without a doubt, a Superman vs. Batman film will end with the two of them realizing they need to team up for the greater good and, bam, Justice League. There — I just saved the studio millions of dollars and all of us two-and-a-half hours of our time.
Might this Superman vs. Batman storyline be better served as the first act of the proposed Justice League movie? Yes, it might. But as a film on its own, it only screams of time-wasting. Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent aren’t unknown character that the audience needs introducing to before they can be trusted to carry a Justice League film. Warner Bros. and DC ought to be thinking about ushering in this era’s introduction to some of their universe’s lesser-known superheroes.
Another thing they ought to be thinking about? Whether Snyder and Goyer are the best team to be leading them into a Justice League franchise. After the way they irreparably altered Superman’s philosophy in “Man of Steel,” can they truly be trusted with any of these other beloved characters?
What do you think about the upcoming Superman/Batman showdown? Do you think it’s a good idea?