As a kid, I grew up with DC Comics heroes. They were all over television with the Super Friends on Saturday mornings and reruns of the 60’s Batman TV show as well as Wonder Woman. Christopher Reeve was by far the only actor I knew by name because he so gracefully breathed life into Superman on the silver screen. My knowledge of Marvel Comics existence was limited to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends as well as the Incredible Hulk TV show and cartoon on Saturday mornings. I thought the Hulk was cool because he was strong and could throw stuff and Spidey has always been a favorite. Yet, The Super Friends seemed so much cooler because they had more recognizable names and far more heroes and colorful villains. It was a blitz of awareness made greater by the old Super Powers Collection action figures.
All of my friends wanted them and this was right before Transformers got huge, so there was nothing bigger. I wasn’t reading comics much back then, but my older brother was, so I heard about the biggest story in comics at the time, the Crisis on Infinite Earths. The biggest competing thing going on at that time from Marvel was the Secret War. DC owned my heart however, so I never really paid Secret War much attention to it (other than I thought seeing Storm rockin that mohawk was kind of cool and Spider-Man’s new black suit was awesome). As we all know this reign continued quite strongly until the 90’s. DC’s reboot revitalized the heroes for a new generation, but got rid of the campy tales of the Silver Age and brought on stories with real dramatic heft and darkness. They stopped being about funny stuff and started getting serious. It may be there where they really started to go wrong.
The Rise Of The Batman
While Superman was a major motion picture star, he was the unquestioned face of DC Comics. The Big Blue Boy Scout stood for all those seemingly hokey American values: Truth, Justice and The American Way (whatever THAT means nowadays) He could defy gravity and seemed unstoppable despite Kryptonite and Lex Luthor’s machinations. He always rose above, and always did the right thing, and did so with an incredibly charismatic smile. Waiting in the wings has been his best friend, and frequent crime-fighting partner, Batman.
In the 80’s, Batman was still synonymous with Adam West’s take on the character. He had the cool gadgets and the car with the “Holy” epithet spewing sidekick, and was also voiced by Adam West in the Super Friends cartoon. However, even with the BAM, BIFF, POW-ing of the bad guys, Batman was firmly in the light, often fighting crime whenever it happened and not just in the evening as “a duly deputized member of the law”, circumventing that pesky vigilante thing. The shift back to the shadows happened in the 70’s after the Adam West’s show had ended and DC Comics editors made a concerted effort to return Batman to his roots. In the general public however, the Super Friends and Adam West versions were still resonating strongly: until the Crisis happened.
Next you know, Batman is a larger than life urban legend. A millionaire industrialist, who trained his body as a living weapon, using his family’s fortune and company to wage an unforgiving war on crime in Gotham. Batman was once again a creature of the night, refusing to operate during the daytime and instilling fear in those who preyed on the innocent. The character’s rise is synonymous with Superman’s decline in popularity with the masses. Batman was undeniably cool, even back in the 60’s Adam West days. Now, he was a no-nonsense ninja on top of all the aforementioned stuff, and he did it without a smile. He was all business. Then BOOM, here comes 1989’s Batman directed by Tim Burton and the character’s popularity skyrocketed to heights never before seen. Batman ruled. Seemingly everything and everyone in his path. Losing 2 Robin’s within a decade (Dick Grayson became Nightwing in 1984, and Jason Todd was memorably beaten to death by the Joker in 1989) only pushed the character to darker areas and heightened his popularity. The movies begat the legendary Batman: The Animated Series and spawned what is affectionately referred to as the DC Animated Universe or DCAU. DC thrived off the popularity of Batman and vice versa. While Marvel Comics suffered through a bankruptcy and selling off of rights to their characters to motion picture companies. They had hit rock bottom. One movie seemed to turn all of those fortunes completely around.
And The Vampire Hunter Shall Lead Them
Try as they might, Marvel just couldn’t catch DC in anything. The comics sales and stories sucked. Talent left in droves to either DC or to start their own company (Image). Spider-Man got a new TV show and so did the X-Men, but they were a distant second in quality to Batman and later Superman and Justice League. Their Avengers cartoon was a travesty as well as their Iron Man and Fantastic Four endeavors. The Hulk cartoon was pretty good, but it suffered from many of the same flaws as all the others. They had to try something new. So they did.
Blade premiered in 1998 and took everyone by surprise. A black, half-breed vampire who waged a war on the undead that spawned him. It was a hit, mostly because Wesley Snipes played the role of a lifetime and the martial arts action was some of the best in American Cinema at the time. Blade played a more pivotal role however: a bankable Marvel movie character. Blade was D-list at best in the Marvel stable, but this movie proved that the Marvel brand might have some legs in cinema and catapult the company back into relevancy. Next up, was Spider-Man and it was a smash hit everywhere, but the rights to the Web Slinger were owned by Sony Corporation, a marginal benefit for Marvel Comics. The Ang Lee Hulk was a misfire but didn’t hurt Marvel too bad. Other productions by similar companies (Fox’s X-Men franchise, Daredevil and Fantastic Four to be specific) got Marvel out there, but didn’t pack the punch the House of Ideas was looking for. The time had come to create something Hollywood wasn’t quite ready for: A Studio made solely for the creation of Comic Book movies.
By the time Iron Man debuted 10 years after Blade, DC properties were on a downward slide. The DCAU had come to a successful close with the end of Justice League Unlimited. The Batman movie franchise was just coming back to life after 2 terrible movies helmed by Joel Schumacher. Batman Begins was well received and it’s sequel, The Dark Knight was due out 2 months later. DC’s parent company Warner Bros. was far more interested in churning out yearly sequels to Harry Potter than developing anything else fantasy related. Robert Downey Jr. OWNED the role of Tony Stark, making the character and Iron Man a household name, singlehandedly catapulting the fledgling Marvel Studios from pretender to player in the Hollywood scene. 9 words in a special after credits cameo changed the game forever “You Think You’re the Only Superhero in the World?”. The Incredible Hulk came out 2 months later and only cemented the possibility that a larger world was coming. The Avengers were coming. Hollywood was forever changed. The Dark Knight proved to be an incredible blockbuster film, but the buzz started by a superhero team movie was unstoppable.
When Keeping It ‘Real’ Goes Wrong
The Christopher Nolan Batman films were lauded for their complexity and staunch adherence to overall realism. Similarly, outside of Superman Returns, no other DC property had ever seen a theatrical release. DC started to suffer not only from their reliance on Batman, but their inability to develop anyone outside of Superman and Batman. Green Lantern was their first attempt to break that mold, and it failed miserably. The movie held so much promise, and had the input of the man who made Green Lantern popular again, Geoff Johns. As it has happens quite often with WB-owned DC Comics, the suits got in the way and had more than small hand in ruining the direction of the film. DC had become so adherent to ‘realism’ that they lost sight that their characters were never truly intended to exist in a real world. They are otherworldly, and somewhat god-like in many aspects. They eschew this simple fact, where Marvel wholly embraces it. The characters like Superman and even Batman were never intended to exist within the boundaries of a “real” world setting. Their very nature defies that logic. What exactly is so “real” about a man who can fly at supersonic speeds and shoot fire from his eyes? Why keep up the charade?
The direction being taken by Zack Snyder is following the same vein. David Goyer, the screenwriter behind those Nolan Batman films, told Empire magazine this very fact:
While he may be right that today’s audience may not resonate well with the idealistic quality that Superman is so often characterized with, it’s something that is sorely needed today. In a world where kids kill each other with shootouts in school, along with the often disturbing lack of compassion people seem to have for their fellow man, Superman’s nobility and honor has been an inspiration for everyone to be better versions of themselves. Yet in Man of Steel, it’s been remarked many times, such as little trailer at Comic-Con, while cool, did nothing to dissuade those fears.
This is a Job for Superman
When I saw that trailer at Comic-Con, and how they were seemingly depicting Superman, my fears only grew. Why would Superman waltz into Gotham with a tone of aggression at any point? Eye burning with heat vision, glaring at Batman? This is a Superman that’s supposed to inspire greatness in people? Sounds more like the one that Lex Luthor had feared all along. Also, with the inclusion of Batman the focus will quite possibly be square on Batman once again for the majority of the story. DC needs Superman. Needs the character to help shed their staunch hold on “realism” and instill a sense of wonder in kids all over the world once again. Many of the kids nowadays are more interested in what’s going on with Marvel movies and their heroes than even bothering to be impressed with DC heroes. Why? Because Marvel is cool. Marvel is fun. Marvel is bright, with lots of colors and inspirational figures who actually stand for something. What does Superman stand for? I thought that was what Man of Steel was supposed to answer for us. Leading into Batman v Superman, I’m not real certain of what Superman stands for, outside of punch first and worry about the damage later. Sure, the movie will make Warner Bros. and DC a bajillion dollars at the box office, but if they aren’t winning the hearts of the fans over Marvel’s Avengers, then what’s the point?
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you all think below please. Thanks for reading!