Considering DC Superheroes

BatmanComic5I 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.

comic_06Now 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.

8 thoughts on “Considering DC Superheroes

  1. Me and an old roommate used to have conversations along the lines quite often. (He was a huge comic book guy and the source of virtually all of my comic book knowledge). I was pretty much arguing your point, that Batman should just kill his villians, in particular the Joker, and it's just marketing bullshit that keeps them alive. He argued that the marketing bullshit is that the prison is a revolving door, but it's reasonable for Batman to not be a killer. There's some logic to that, but then I said given the world where the prison's can't keep someone locked up for a long weekend Batman just needs to fucking kill him. He didn't have an answer for that one. He did tell me of a particular book where Robin comes back (from the dead, or a coma or something) and basically yelled at batman for not killing the Joker. Basically it was "look batman, I get your no killing creed, but for this guy, break your creed and kill him".

    As to comic book movies, as I was watching man of steel I was trying to think of the last one I didn't hate. I think it was Iron man 1. I usually just find them boring at this point, long extended fight scene between characters that both seem invulnerable *yawn*, skyscrapers getting smashed, whatever.

    I am curious though, why are you going to buy the DVD? If you think you won't like it, why not just rent it, you can see it once and that will be it.

    My recent post You Are Being Dishonest

    1. But honestly, it isn't reasonable for Batman not to be a killer in this particular situation. Joker is Batman's responsibility. Batman has captured Joker so many times and put him in prison so many times and he's escaped so many times and wreaked havoc so many times, there really isn't any reason Batman shouldn't just off him, especially considering how much direct damage Joker has done to Batman's friends and family. Nobody would ever bat an eye if Batman put a batarang through Joker's head. I think most of the rational comic-reading world is wondering the same thing we are, what conceivable reason could Batman have for not killing Joker? Hell, why hasn't Gotham City implemented the death penalty, just for Joker? It gets to the point where Joker continuing to be alive is more jarring than someone taking him out.

      As for the DVD, it's more of a completist thing. I have all of the other comic book movies, it'll be more of an empty hole in my collection that will bug me than wasting $20 on it. Hell, I bought all of the Transformers movies, if that tells you anything. :)

      1. Yeah, I'm totally in agreement about the Joker. And honestly, I have a feeling my buddy was in agreement as well but was just having fun trying to argue the other side of things.

        Ahh yes, the completionist thing. It also reminds me of my old roommate. He would complain every week when he got his comics that they all suck now. I asked him why he kept buying them and it was the same reason. It took a while, but I ultimately convinced him to stop buying most of his titles. I think it initially bummed him out, but then he felt better about not wasting the money.

        My recent post You Are Being Dishonest

  2. I used to sell comics and run conventions back in the late 80’s to early 90’s and got out of it for good when it stopped being fun. When 9 year old kids are checking the spines of brand new issues and plan to keep them bagged and boarded until they decide to resell, there’s something seriously wrong with the hobby. Endless variant covers, killed off (and then reborn) heroes, cynical, greedy children, distributors and publishers fucking over and gouging dealers…I had had enough. The comic book industry died in 1994 or so, as far as I’m concerned. Marvel isn’t immune to what you call out DC for. In fact, now that it’s owned by Disney, it’s only going to get worse. Also, don’t forget about Doctor Octavius, a.k.a. Dr. Octopus becoming the new Spidey in January.

    1. For the sake of honesty, I edited your comment, you had submitted two almost identical comments, one under your IntenseDebate ID and one not. I moved the last 2 sentences from your non-ID comment, which was the only difference between the two, and deleted the duplicate comment. Hope that's okay.

      Anyhow, I agree that the comic industry has been a disaster for many years, it was the multiple-gimmick-cover and catering to investors and not collectors that put Marvel into bankruptcy back in the 90s. I agree that Marvel is not immune, I said so in the post. However, I think that DC has always been about costumes and Marvel, while not perfect, has been much more about characters. Both suffer from the problem that nobody ever dies.

      Oh, and you're about a year too late, Doc Ock has been Spider-Man in Superior Spider-Man for 11 months now.

      1. That reminds me, when I was a teenager one of my friends got me a pack of comic books for my birthday. I think it was batman, but I'm not sure. Anyway, it was a 4 part series and the pack had 4 issues in it. I was like, "this is awesome, I haven't read comics in a few years" and I quickly ripped open the package, to my friends horror. I quickly discovered that the pack was not meant to be opened, and it contained the 4 cover variants of issue 2. I was very confused, it could have been a complete story, but for that I would have to buy 3 more packs. So stupid.
        My recent post You Are Being Dishonest

  3. I'm pretty sure Superior Spider-Man debuted in January of this year…
    Yeah, I submitted two comments accidentally and no it's not an issue with me.
    As far as Marvel being more about characters, I'd have to agree that this was definitely the case from the 60's through the early 80's, but eventually they got caught up in the same mind-set that DC did, albeit to a lesser degree.
    I was always a fan of The Batman and it really had little to do with the old tv show or even the comics. They provided the imagery and a basic framework, but I filled in the blanks myself. If you read Millers introduction to Batman: Year One, that pretty much sums up how I viewed Batman. Cool, dark and more than a little scary.
    I enjoyed the 1989 Batman movie, but it was obvious that Burton knew little to nothing about the character and he even admitted as much. The storyline strayed far enough from the generally accepted Batman mythology that it was somewhat problematic for me and Sam Hamm is a just an okay writer. His screenplay played second fiddle to Anton Furst's out of this world production/set designs. Too bad he offed himself, he'd have made an excellent production/set designer for the latest set of Batman films. That alone might have been enough for me to rank them as high as the Burton film as I am a very visual person.
    While the recent Batman trilogy came closer to my idea of what and who Batman is, the films still fell short. Heath Ledger was good as The Joker, but they could have and should have done more to have his character interact with the Dark Knight. Something along the lines of "The Killing Joke" would have been nice.
    Two-Face is such a fantastic and tragic character and they completely messed that one up. A waste of a great villain.
    After seeing the 1989 film, I was able to walk away satisfied, even if I wasn't crazy about the overall execution of the film. The newer trilogy left me feeling as if I had sat down to a wonderful feast, but for reasons unknown, walked away just as hungry as I was before. Empty calories. Also, the new Batmobile and Batplane (the "Tumbler" and "Bat") sucked.
    A lot.

    1. Yes, it did premiere last January, I thought you were saying that it was going to be coming out next January. Maybe I misread that. I don't really care about the movies vs. the comics, I view them both as existing in separate continuities, although if there are massive differences and they get major things entirely wrong, that's probably going to kill my enjoyment of the movie. I'm a big fan of the '89 Batman, it was just a fun movie that didn't take itself all that seriously. I've never been a big fan of the hyper-dark Batman, although there are some things I enjoyed about the Miller-era, I didn't think it translated all that well into a theatrical setting. If you're going to be that dark, you really can't maintain the Boy scout "I don't kill" thing The problem with the Ledger Joker is that I didn't buy it for a second. They wanted him to be crazy, but it's clear from the things he did in the film that he wasn't crazy. Nicholson's Joker was a lot closer to a crazy villain than Ledger's. I agree with you about the Tumbler, it was stupid. The most iconic theatrical shot of the Batplane will always be the one silhouetted against the moon from the '89 film. It's 2 seconds of cinematic history that always makes me go "YES!" That movie makes me walk away satisfied, unlike the new ones that make me shake my head and say "that was dumb".

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