I was talking today with a friend who went to see the midnight showing of Man of Steel. Now I am not a Superman fan, in fact, I’m not a big fan of any of the major DC superheroes, I have a fundamental problem with the way that DC handles their characters. DC, at least traditionally, is more concerned with having costumes than characters. They always want a Superman. They always want a Batman. They always want a Wonder Woman. If anything happens to their characters, say… Doomsday comes along and “kills” Superman (we know nobody ever dies in a comic book), they find someone else to get into the costume, or at the very least, someone with very similar powers to put on a very similar costume so that the fung shui of the DC universe is not damaged.
Now it’s been decades since I first made that observation and I will admit that Marvel has tended to do the same thing for it’s big properties, although at the time they didn’t. There is only one Wolverine. If Logan goes down, they don’t find someone else to don his duds. I can only think of a handful of times where someone jumped into another man’s outfit in the Marvel Universe, Captain America and Winter Soldier comes to mind, it’s just not the way they do business.
Anyhow, this isn’t about costumes and it isn’t about Superman. I told him I’m not a big DC guy and he asked if there were any recent DC superhero movies that I liked and… nope, not really. Didn’t care for the previous Superman outing, Superman Returns. Didn’t like Green Lantern. Didn’t care for Watchmen, which isn’t really a DC universe movie, but still. In fact, to get back to some DC movies I liked, you’d have to go back to the Burton Batman in 1989 or the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies. But what about the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy? Nope, not my thing, and in fact, my least favorite of them was The Dark Knight. I hated Heath Ledger’s version of Joker, but then again, I hate Joker. Worse than Joker, I hate the whole Batman menagerie of villains and how they are handled in the DC universe.
Now I understand that everything I’m about to talk about is a marketing and merchandising decision, but I don’t buy into the idea that marketing and merchandising ought to fundamentally affect the way you tell stories, even if, in the real world, they often do. See, I think Batman should have killed Joker a long time ago. Yes, I understand Batman’s “code against killing”, but the fact is that Batman doesn’t kill Joker because Joker is a valued licensed character (see the aforementioned marketing and merchandising). However, in the context of the Batman storyline, it makes no sense that he, or someone else, shouldn’t have offed the majority of the Batman rogues gallery long ago. Now depending on what version of Joker you’re going with, he may have been the guy who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. He’s certainly the madman who has killed thousands of innocent civilians, who crippled Batgirl (in the pre-New 52 continuity), who killed (with the help of fans) Jason Todd, and of course the whole “Death of the Family” thing, when does there come a point in time where enough is enough? It’s not just Batman’s family that has suffered greatly from this madman, but all of Gotham (and the entire universe if you read the Emperor Joker stuff). When does it end?
And even if it isn’t Batman that takes him out, I have a hard time believing nobody else would. Why, in all this time, hasn’t a guard at Arkham Asylum pulled his sidearm (or any weapon for the matter), stuck it in Joker’s mouth and pulled the trigger? But let’s talk about Arkham for a moment, it’s just a giant revolving door for psychos. Why is it still open with as many escapes as crazies have made from there over the years? Batman drops someone off at the front door and it’s about 30 seconds later that they’re running out the back door. What gives? The whole criminal justice system of the DC universe is absurdly flawed. It’s not just Joker that should have been offed years ago, it’s the majority of Batman baddies. Penguin? >BLAM!< Clayface (any version)? >SQUISH!< Killer Croc? Poison Ivy? Mr. Freeze? >KA-BOOM!< Give me one rational, legitimate, comic-world reason any of them should be kept around. It’s clear that none of them can ever be rehabilitated, it’s clear they’re going to escape from Arkham over and over again. Why hasn’t there been a public uprising demanding the heads of these villains? Makes no sense to me.
Now outside of the mainline DC universe, people like Frank Miller have turned Batman into the semi-badass that he should be, in fact it was Frank Miller who came up with the Dark Knight concept, but he’s still not open to really protecting society and getting things done regardless of the circumstances. I always thought that Batman should be DC’s version of Punisher, without the insanity and without the utter bloodlust, someone who was willing to do the job that needed doing. If Batman was introduced today, without the 70 years of history and backstory, maybe that would be possible. Now, though, rebranding Batman as anything other than a non-killing hero is virtually impossible.
Now I know I’m railing against the Warner Brothers marketing department, nothing really bad will ever happen to any of these villains, or to any of these heroes. As I said before, nobody ever dies in comics because they’re too busy milking their properties for money, both in comics, and now in the movies. That’s why the Arrow TV series is such an anomaly, it doesn’t follow the “code against killing” schtick from the comics, the Hood kills a dozen bad guys an episode. Yes, they are faceless minions, by and large, but big-name baddies always get away, but it’s a show where people die and I suspect, nobody besides Oliver Queen is really truly safe from the writer’s hatchet. That’s the way I’d like to feel about comics and about comic movies. The story is the thing and anyone who gets in the way of the story is expendable.
I know that’s too much to ask from Hollywood, or from the comic producers. I guess that’s why I pay so little attention to what they produce these days. Oh sure, I’ll buy Man of Steel when it comes out in DVD, just like I did with the Batman trilogy and Green Lantern, but I suspect it’ll get the same kind of negative reviews from me that the others did. I don’t expect absolute realism from a comic book movie, after all, we’re talking about people flying around in spandex fighting crime, but I do expect some human reactions and some human behavior, something that we largely don’t get from these movies. That’s why so many of them are so utterly forgettable and that’s a shame.