The Tragedy Of Cyclops: Why Fox Is Trying To Take The Easy Way Out With Characterization

Scott Summers: boring, rule following, dedicated. Sure, sometimes that gets flanderized in fanon, and he isn’t canonically nearly as much the naïve goody two shoes to Wolverine’s experienced bad boy that so many people consider him – and certainly not the jerk other people portray him as – but it’s an important part of his character to start off as the responsible one who controls his temper, who works hard to protect humankind as well as mutantsbecause he believes that’s his responsibility.

Apocalypse Scott wasn’t any of that. He was kind of generic, and a jerk to everyone, including Jean before he saw her and realized she was pretty. Comics Scott was always a good character, but he became great once he decided, hey, I’m done with this. I’m going to keep believing what I’ve always believed, but I’m going to actually take steps to prevent my species from going extinct. That felt like the payoff from the years of worse and worse things happening to him while he kept doing what he was doing. Apocalypse Scott seemed to me like an attempt to get to Scott’s later characterization without putting in the work to develop the character to the point where it felt earned and heartbreaking. But that doesn’t work. You can’t skip ahead to the end. You can’t get to Cyclops-the-mutant-revolutionary by trying to make the teenage version of him a “rebellious bad boy”. Or, rather, you can…but it won’t be nearly as compelling a story.

look at this loser.png


What makes Scott’s story so devastating, is that it’s slow. Sure, there are plenty of bad writers and what not, and many of them try to make it seem like he’s the villain of the piece and everything that’s ever happened is his fault, but his general character arc is going from a kid that thinks, yeah, if we show that we don’t mean any harm, they’ll eventually accept us to a grown adult that’s learned that that’s not true at all.

We first meet Scott as a kid that wants to do what’s right. He wants to be good and do good, in a world that’s never been great to him. He’s lost his family, spent time on the streets, been abused and manipulated by Mr. Sinister, but still, as an adult, he’s an awkward dork that deeply, fundamentally believes in Xavier’s dream of carving a future where mutants are accepted, of building a better world. And what does the existing world do? It beats the hell out of him. It hurts and kills the people he loves again and again.

He swore to protect a world that hates and fears him, because he believed in a world where all of Earth’s children, both mutant and baseline human, might live together in peace. But you know what happened instead?

Where Were You When Our Babies were Burning.jpg

No matter how many times he saved the world, people were still afraid of them. The government tried to pass registration laws. They were experimented on, tortured, killed. Genosha died, and where were the Avengers when mutant babies were burning? Scarlet Witch depowered nearly all the world’s mutants, and when a bunch of depowered kids were packed onto a bus to go home where it was safer, it got blown up by Purifiers. Where were the Avengers at all the funerals? X-Men without the Avengers is still scary and heartbreaking, but that’s infinitely better than when they exist together. In a world with the Avengers, they might be the nightmares and horror stories told by mutant children, because the Avengers aren’t heroes to the mutants. They’re the bogeymen in the closet.

Now, I don’t buy into the idea that you have to show all the past to tell a story. I don’t think you necessarily need a Batman origin to tell a Batman story, or a Nightwing story, or a Batgirl story. But if you want to get to a point where Scott is a mutant revolutionary, you have to, because he’s not Magneto or Wolverine, he’s Cyclops. He’s not any of the angry or cynical characters, he’s the character that loses faith. He’s the character that questions why he keeps asking his oppressors nicely to stop killing mutants. He’s the character that ends up sick and tired of being pushed around, of watching his people be discriminated against. So what does he do? He becomes willing to do morally grey things because nothing else works. He turns around to stand his ground and draws a line in the sand: stop hunting us or we’ll give you a reason to be afraid. And it’s important to depict how he got to that point.

What Apocalypse did was strip him of all his backstory. No plane crash. No manipulation by Sinister. Grew up with his parents and brother, who’s older than him now. Not the first X-Man by a long shot – First Class took place two decades beforehand. No context for why he can’t control his powers, they’re just like that. He wasn’t even the leader of the X-Men, because someone decided Mystique had to lead and train them. You know what that is? That’s a Batman story without his parents getting murdered and with him deciding he needs to become Batman for an entirely different reason, if someone else started fighting crime in Gotham first, with an additional let’s have him learn to fight from the Riddler just for spite. At that point, it’s not Bruce, it’s just a character with his name, just like Apocalypse Scott isn’t really recognizable.

I’m not saying that a movie has to show all of everyone’s backstory. X-Men (2000) has aged surprisingly well, and I think one of the reasons why is that it wasn’t an origin story. We got to know Scott not by seeing his past, but by watching him in the present. How he interacted with his students, with Xavier, with Jean. He didn’t get nearly as much screentime as I would have liked, but he was depicted as a responsible adult that cared about his students and doing the right thing, with a lot of bad things happening to mutants. A scene even included Jean trying to explain to Congress that mutants mean no harm to anyone. The movie was a good set up for a future one that revolved around Scott –  obviously, we never got that, but it could have worked. What Apocalypse did doesn’t.

Scott's Utopia Speech

If, in a future movie based in this timeline with this cast, Scott founds Utopia, becomes one of the hosts of the Phoenix Force, forms X-Force, kills Xavier…it won’t have the same emotional impact as it did in the comics, because it won’t be the story of a good, honest man that’s always tried to do the right thing and help people forced, over the years, to become a brutally pragmatic chessmaster that manipulates friends, allies, and enemies alike to keep his people alive. It’ll be a guy that was pretty obnoxious stepping up to the plate and becoming a more responsible person that does what he has to do to protect mutants. That’s not a bad premise for a story. But it’s not Scott Summers.


Canon Foreigners in Comics Adaptations

There are plenty of reasons to create a new character in a comic book related work – to add diversity, to tell a story set in the universe but separated from the main characters, to flesh out the cast, to make a distant prequel or sequel, and so on. But opinion on these original characters tends to be polarized. While there are plenty of people that like them without hesitation – usually non-comics fans – there are many that cling to their source material so much that they hate them for existing.

We need new characters, but therein lies the rub – oftentimes, the audience doesn’t like said new characters. And they continue to dislike said characters for not being canonical. With time, these characters could get redeemed in the eyes of the audience, especially if they were introduced into the comics and became a canon immigrant, but why introduce a character in the comics when they weren’t liked? We need new characters to appear in comics and their adaptations, because how boring would it be if the only characters we ever encountered were the original casts? Without new characters in adaptations, we wouldn’t have Harley Quinn. We wouldn’t have X-23. We wouldn’t have Kaldur’ahm. Hell, we wouldn’t even have Jimmy Olsen or Barbara Gordon. Not all new characters are as immediately liked like these were. But they can be redeemed, and it’s better to have the conviction to try to make that happen than to just cram already canon characters in roles they don’t fit.


Sometimes, writing a new character is just easier. That’s not bad. It just is. In The Dark Knight trilogy, Bruce’s love interest for the first two movies was an original character. Rachel Dawes. She was okay. I personally found her a little bland and forgettable, as well as being bothered that her primary role was to die, but that’s fine. My opinion. What I found more interesting than her as a character, though, is that she existed at all.

rachel dawes

Batman’s iconic love interest is Catwoman. She’s the one most people think of when asked to name Bruce Wayne’s love interest. She appears consistently throughout Batman related media, because like Superman and Lois Lane, there’s Batman and Catwoman. And yet she doesn’t appear until the third film in the trilogy. Rachel was introduced because the writers wanted a romantic subplot in the first two movies, but didn’t want the complications that would arise as a result of using Selina or Talia or any of Bruce’s canonical love interests. She was new and therefore malleable. She could be anything. She could be anyone.

I fully support the creation of new characters. Comics and their adaptations are a unique medium/form of storytelling. It’s just as valid to introduce a new character in an adaptation as it is to do so in a comic. Comics aren’t static, and new characters and new interpretations of old ones are how they evolve. It even makes sense to do it for a specific purpose. Marcos Diaz from The Gifted; Laura Kinney from X-Men: Evolution; Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series; everyone from Powerless, that gorgeous comedy that was cancelled far too soon. All likeable original characters, created to serve a purpose in the plot, but more than just plot devices.

But when the creation of new characters is handled poorly, you get Sara Lance, who could be a good character, except for how much she embodies white feminism. I want to like Sara much more than I do, to the point where she pushed me away from a show I used to enjoy. You get Felicity Smoak, who started off well and with potential, but then had everything good and interesting stripped away from her when the writers turned her into a love interest at the expense of her character. While I can’t say Felicity is the reason I stopped watching Arrow, she was definitely one of them. You get characters that are boring and forgettable – like the previously mentioned Rachel Dawes, more plot device than person.

What I hate more than the creation of new characters, though, is when an already canonical character is completely changed in a new medium. I take issue with the changing of random aspects of a character to fit them into a premade box. Call me crazy, but Arrow turning Dinah Lance into a lawyer felt like a terrible move to me. It was fine when we were just talking about her working for a nonprofit. That was fine. That was good. We were talking about a woman using the legal system to fight for the marginalized. But then she became a prosecutor, and while she was a prosecutor, she was also breaking the law through the pursuit of vigilante justice. I didn’t like that change. I could accept it, though, because her personality was identifiable as Black Canary.

There are changes that I get and accept, even if I don’t necessarily like them – take Laurel instead of Dinah. Yes, it’s weird to have a name change for such an iconic character. But it also makes some amount of sense. Dinah is quite an old fashioned name, Laurel is a gorgeous one, and you’re much more likely to encounter a Laurel today than a Dinah. But Arrow‘s version of Oliver Queen shares a name with his comics self and little else. Zari Tomaz from Legends of Tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with her comics counterpart. Scott Summers from Apocalypse has none of comic Scott’s backstory or personality. It’s lazy. It’s a clear sign that someone isn’t actually interested in writing the character they were given. If that’s what a writer does, it seems like they want to have it both ways – they want the freedom to write a character however they feel like doing it, but they want to take the already paved road to get there by using one that’s already canon and thus has a fanbase/name recognition.

New characters aren’t fundamentally good or bad, they just are. But they’re much easier to accept in original properties than adaptations, where viewers go in with a set of preexisting expectations and opinions. And the visceral dislike for them that so many people have results in writers altering canon characters to avoid it, which may end up being even worse. I’ll admit that I’m not always quick to embrace the original characters myself. But I think we all need to work on getting better at it, because I’d rather see any number of poorly written new characters that could get better eventually than an already established character twisted beyond recognition to fit a role that they shouldn’t be in.

‘The Bold Type’, Also Known as the Better Version of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’

The Bold Type is a dramedy revolving around women working at a popular magazine. Not something that’s immediately intriguing to me. But it’s awesome.

The premise is pretty similar to the movie The Devil Wears Prada, but while that involves an entire workplace filled with people that don’t like each other, a terrible boss, and a whole host of sexist tropes, in The Bold Type, women actually support each other instead of competing. The characters don’t all have the same goals or interests, but they support each other and learn from each other.

Jane Sloan is kind of everything to me, because she neither belittles the so-called “feminine interests” like fashion and makeup nor considers caring about those things an inherently empowering, feminist choice. She doesn’t believe ignoring politics is an option. She’s far from perfect – she has internalized misogyny to work through. She can be judgmental and insensitive. There are times when she behaves in a manner that, if she had a less understanding boss, could get her fired. But she gets called out when she makes errors. She was pointed out as being in the wrong for her behaviour in the entire debacle with Morgan Stanley, the stripper that used to work in finance, and she recognized that. She tries to not be a White Feminist™. She tries to listen.

There’s no Hollywood Homely nonsense here. She’s acknowledged as pretty without any comments of her not dressing well or being boring/ugly because she’s smart. This is the quintessential “chick flick” except it’s not a romantic comedy, it’s a workplace comedy that’s primarily about friendship. Even when part of Jane’s storyline involves sex, it has much more to do with who she is and exploring her character than it does with any guy. Pinstripe could be literally anyone, and it wouldn’t matter. She loves where she works, and is hugely grateful for the job and what she learned, but has bigger goals than writing about butt facials. That’s okay – more than okay, that’s great.

Sutton and Kat are also individual characters beyond just there to support Jane, the lead. Sutton is terrified of failure and not having a safety net. She went to business school, even though she didn’t love it, because it’s practical and pays the bills. But she could only do that for so long before realizing, no, she doesn’t want to keep doing that for the rest of her life. Kat has massive amounts of confidence when it comes to work, but is very confused and uncertain about her sexuality, as well as unsure whether or not she’s ready to make any kind of big decision in regards to her personal life.

If the most important relationship in the show is between the Jane, Kat, and Sutton, and the second is the one between Jane and Jacqueline, the third – and first romantic – has to be Kat and Adena’s. Pinstripe guy isn’t really a character in his own right so much as a plot device to develop Jane’s. As refreshing as that is in a world where so many female characters are used like that, it doesn’t do much for building a relationship that’s actually a pillar of the show. The same holds true for Richard – he’s slightly more developed as a character than Jane’s love interest, who I’ve been referring to as Pinstripe guy not just because that’s his in-show nickname but because I honestly don’t remember his name, but not that much.

Adena is an actual character, with her own goals, flaws, and life, which results in the most important important romantic relationship being between two women of colour. As much as I enjoy depictions of fictional interracial relationships with no white people, I often worry that they exist for the sake of a token minority couple. Not the case here at all.

I’ve heard some complaints about the show not handling race well, because while characters of colour exist, there’s never any disconnect between said characters and their white friends/coworkers or exploration of the impact of race on job opportunities and pay. While that’s a fair criticism, I don’t personally agree, because I like escapist works. I don’t want everything involving people of colour to be grounded in reality. I want escapism and lighthearted fun to not be limited to white people.

The Bold Type is fun. It’s a comforting, low-stress, low-stakes show that you can enjoy with no worries. I don’t like the phrase “chick flick”. It’s largely synonymous with “romantic comedy”, or “about women” and while I don’t really have anything against romcoms, and I love shows about women, I think it’s gross to try to define one genre as the interests of an entire gender. It’s nondescriptive nonsense, but The Bold Type would certainly be considered one, and that does a disservice to the show.

The label “chick flick” often turns people away from a work, even if it’s something they would enjoy, and that’s because of the generic romcom in the US: white, straight, predictable, and, to varying degrees, sexist. But there are other chick flicks that are pretty great – Legally Blonde, Miss Congeniality, Bend It Like Beckham, Thelma and Louise, this. Movies and shows about women that, regardless of whether or not they also include a romantic subplot, focus heavily on the lead character’s friendships with other women.

The main characters on The Bold Type are almost exclusively women. They’re different people without being stereotypes or caricatures, and have complex relationships with each other. It was clearly written for women in mind – and largely by women – and it’s fantastic. Go watch it.

Stanislaw Lem and Science Fiction

My first year of university, I took a course on Russian and Eastern European sci-fi. This was, of course, to fill a gen-ed requirement, and the only time I actually use anything I learned in it is to explain why Animorphs is an excellent series that should go down in the ranks of classic sci-fi stories. I figured this is as good a time as any to try something else: let’s talk about Stanislaw Lem.

Lem was a pioneer of Eastern European science fiction despite not even liking the genre and considering most works in it terrible – the exception being Philip K Dick, who did not return his respect (though probably not due to any extreme feelings about Lem’s work, just his own paranoia and belief that Lem wasn’t a real person.)

His most famous work is Solaris,  which is okay. I don’t love it, but it was readable. For me, it, like most of Lem’s work, is more memorable for its impact on science fiction than its own merits. It has had two film adaptations that Lem disliked, including one that I find ridiculous because it somehow managed to fade into obscurity despite being directed by Steven Soderbergh, produced by James Cameron, and  starring George Clooney, Viola Davis, Natascha McElhone, and John Cho (though granted, before the last three of the aforementioned actors were well known). It’s had multiple theatre adaptations, and apparently even an opera.

Lem’s work, even beyond Solaris, has been highly acclaimed. I don’t get it. I’m all for themes and philosophical questions and moral quandaries in books, but in order to address those things, the book has got to be entertaining, first. Most of what I’ve read from Lem is just boring, and almost painfully pretentious, with the one exception being The Star Diaries.

It’s possible that part of the reason it stands out to me as so much better is that it had a better translation. Maybe if I knew Polish, I’d find that Solaris, too, was filled with a mildly snarky narration. But I don’t. So Solaris seems to me like two hundred odd pages of dry nothingness. The Star Diaries, on the other hand, is hilarious. It’s largely a parody of common science fiction tropes, and involves aliens horrified by humans as a species; the lead character being hit with a pan being wielded by his future self; and space travel so casual, that the aforementioned lead character turned his ship around and went some huge distance because he’d forgotten something at the spaceport. I’m told there was a German sitcom adaptation, and if anyone knows where I can find that, I will be eternally grateful.

It raises an interesting point about science fiction in general. Fans of the genre, as well as its writers (Lem himself being an obvious example), are often divided on almost every issue. Hard vs soft sci-fi? Do the space opera Star Wars-esque works count?  Hell, I’ve even seen people debate the term sci-fi. One thing that I frequently see is complaints about the lack of appreciation for the genre when it comes to literary communities and awards.

When it comes to film and television science fiction, I’ll admit that they have a point. There aren’t many sci-fi movies or shows that get critical acclaim. But when it comes to literature, I think we need to broaden the question, because there are plenty of authors and works that get heaped with critical praise. Before we talk about if/why science fiction gets looked down upon in the literary community, we need to address how said community judges books. There’s a valid discussion to be had about what we consider a “classic”, or a work of “literary merit”.

I find the whole concept of literary fiction to be a nonsense, made up category. The way I see it, there are four categories a work can fall into:

  1. Entertaining with no deeper themes.
  2. Boring with no deeper themes.
  3. Entertaining with deeper themes.
  4. Boring with deeper themes.

Obviously, the first and second shouldn’t be considered classics. But I’ve found that often, the third is overlooked in favour of the fourth, especially in regards to science fiction. Things that are entertaining and that don’t necessarily delve into the minutia of the science – which is probably a smart choice, given that technology marches on and doing so could leave a work extremely dated in a few decades – are sometimes dismissed as nothing of merit, just popcorn for the masses. Even setting aside for a moment the arrogant pretentiousness of claiming that popular works don’t have merit, that’s a shame.

You can see it in Lem’s work. Solaris as a book bored me, but it was short enough that I could get through it quickly. The movies were worse – we watched them in class, and I fell asleep. In both of them. I recognize that it raised interesting questions, but God, it would have been nice if it had done it in a more entertaining way. The Star Diaries, though? That also raised important philosophical questions, like the nature of humanity, and the consequences of scientific progress. But it did it in a humorous fashion. It never felt like a lecture, or like it was dragging on. But it’s Solaris that’s considered the classic, not The Star Diaries. Works like that being considered representative of the genre instead of the more entertaining and accessible pieces is alienating and contributes to the lack of widespread appreciation.

Stanislaw Lem was himself rather obnoxious and arrogant, dismissing other writers in his genre as ignoring the possibilities in favour of writing nonsense, so perhaps it’s fitting that some of his works are ignored in favour of focusing on others. His work and exploration of sci-fi tropes before their popularization was very valuable to the genre he disliked. But unfortunately, he exhibited the same kind of elitism that prevents excellent works from being acknowledged and alienates readers that could otherwise find a great deal of science fiction enjoyable.

Tatiana Maslany, Canada’s Greatest Export

It’s no secret that I adore Orphan Black. It had so much happening that it got kind of hard to keep track sometimes, but the lead actress was so consistently good, it never mattered. There wasn’t a single scene in which she wasn’t excellent.

Seeing other actors talk about her is incredible:

(Ignore that Patrick J Adams is on that list twice. He’s right.)

Most actors experience a kind of hype backlash. Almost inevitably, there’ll be a small contingent of people that call whichever actor overrated or a bad actor. No actor is universally loved. But Tatiana Maslany’s acting was so spectacular, I’ve never seen anyone claiming she can’t act. (After typing this, I even Googled it to see if I could find someone saying that – no dice.)

She didn’t just provide one Emmy worthy performance – she played multiple vastly different characters, every performance unique and excellent without being caricatures, exaggerated to show off their differences. With Orphan Black, she probably made it impossible to type cast her as anything.

Maslany was the heart and soul of the show. Without her, it would have been a mess. She (and the makeup/costume people) did such a great job differentiating the clones that there were times I forgot they were all played by the same person. There was a running joke in the fandom that when one of the clones wasn’t in an episode, it was because they couldn’t get the actress. There are such clear distinctions between, say, Sarah, Alison, Sarah pretending to be Alison,  and Alison pretending  to be Sarah, that it sometimes seems more likely that they’re just members of a super talented family than it is that just one person is doing it all.

I always struggle with the question “who’s your favourite actress”. It’s a tough question, there are so many good ones. But I might have an easier time with it if I actually remembered that I can answer with Tatiana Maslany.

For some reason, I often forget that Maslany is a potential answer to that question. I don’t know why – maybe it’s just because of Orphan Black‘s relatively small audience, or the fact that I subconsciously think about actors that work primarily in movies when asked that question, but I think there’s a bigger reason. And that’s that I didn’t even think about the huge amount of effort going into filming a scene between multiple clones while watching – I just saw it as a drama. Maslany did such a good job I forgot about the fact she was doing it at all. That’s talent.


Hollywood has a lot of excellent actors from Canada, but the thing with most of these actors is, they’re not heavily associated with Canada, unlike Maslany. Most Canadian actors move south of the border immediately. Until very recently, Maslany was based in Canada and focused on Canadian projects. Most actors need years and a large number of projects to demonstrate that kind of range. Maslany did it in a single episode of Orphan Black.

I’m making the argument right now – Tatiana Maslany is Canada’s best actor because of 1) how convincing she is in every role, 2) the fact that she’s a recognizably Canadian actor, not just an actor that happens to be from Canada, and 3) the way she’s good enough to make the audience forget she’s playing against herself. 1 and 3 may basically be the same point, but it bears repeating – Maslany is the greatest, and I can’t wait to see whatever she’s in next.

5 Shows That Need More Love

1. Better Off Ted

This is just hilarious – a man with a conscience works for a cartoonishly evil corporation. It’s a typical sitcom with a quirky cast, but what’s great is that it recognizes the comedic sociopathy that’s often relied upon in the genre and instead of glossing over how creepy it is, leans into it for comedy.

All the hard work, late nights, and no rest have paid off. We’ve cured sleepessness! And demonstrated irony.

better off ted


2. Orphan Black

orphan black poster

So it had a devoted fanbase that was sufficiently large that it got to complete the narrative arc without getting cancelled. Still doesn’t mean it gets as much love as it should.

Admittedly, part of the reason I love this show is Canadian pride, because it’s my little Canadian sci-fi drama that could. It made no attempts to disguise the fact that it’s Canadian. It’s more than just filmed in Canada – it’s set there. For once, Toronto isn’t the stand in city. Canadian shows usually don’t get much traction in the U.S. This one isn’t really that much of an exception, because viewership was pretty low throughout all five seasons, but it is a head and shoulders above the rest in quality.

It’s one of my favourite shows, but even I won’t argue that its plot or writing alone is worth it. No, what pushes it over the edge to must see territory is the combined work of its absolutely brilliant lead actress, Tatiana Maslany; the excellent costume and makeup departments; and a genius visual effects team that do such a great job, you forget it’s just one actress playing half the lead roles.

3. The Gifted

the gifted poster

Look, I know I talk about how much The Gifted a ridiculous amount – both in regards to what I like about it and what I don’t – and it naturally gets some amount of attention just by virtue of being a superhero property, but its ratings aren’t great, and as such, I think I can stick it on this list.

It’s a lot like Gotham – just as Gotham started off as a Batman show without Batman, The Gifted is an X-Men show without the X-Men. Sure, it’s more grounded than Gotham, and closer to a regular drama than a black comedy, but the principle is the same. People didn’t think Gotham would work, but it did, carving its own place by completely throwing away whichever parts of canon it didn’t feel like using. The Gifted is doing just that, and it’s beautiful to watch.

4. White Teeth

You know those books you read in high school that are good but you somehow don’t much like, probably because you’re reading them in high school? Zadie Smith’s White Teeth was one of those for me. I don’t even remember which year I read it – junior, maybe? The whole book was a blur. I didn’t remember any of it, only being kind of bored while reading, and a little confused because there were a whole lot of characters and it was hard to keep them straight. But I recently found my copy while doing some cleaning, and whoa. A whole lot happened, and it was a way better read than I remembered.

The adaptation was a miniseries, not a full length one, but it was surprisingly excellent. It’s funny and moving in turn, with lots of great performances – and even if it’s not for you, it’s only a four hour commitment.

5. The Good Place

This is my favourite sitcom, bar none. Mike Schur co-created Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and while I like those well enough, The Good Place is in its own league.

the good place

Ethical dilemmas? All kinds of comedy? Characters with a wide range of strengths and flaws? The Good Place has it all! It’s gentle to its characters with next to no mean-spirited  jokes at any single character’s expense; there are times when it’s so well plotted, it feels like a good drama, and not a sitcom; the characters’ struggles, flaws, and insecurities are all taken seriously and it doesn’t make the show any less funny. What’s not to love?


‘The Divine Comedy’, Greek Tragedies, and the Classic Hero’s Journey: The Different Character Arcs in the DCEU

Batman v Superman centres around Clark Kent. Bruce is the deuteragonist of the piece, and while Clark’s arc is primarily about being hated and feared and demonstrating to the world that he’s on humanity’s side, Bruce’s story is one of doing bad things and seeking redemption.

The Divine Comedy tells the story of Dante’s journey through hell, Purgatory, and heaven – the path through sin and redemption. In Greek tragedy, the hero is brought down by his own hamartia – his fatal flaw. Both of these things are hugely relevant to Bruce and his story throughout the movie.

If I remember eleventh grade English correctly, the characteristics of a tragic hero as described by Aristotle are as follows:

  1. They begin the story as a hero of high status.
  2. The story is about their fall from grace.
  3. The fall is an inevitable event, brought about by the hero’s own actions.
  4. The audience must feel a sense of catharsis upon their death.

Bruce embodies all of these attributes, save for one thing: the last half hour of the movie features him realizing just how bad his actions were and wrenching himself back to being a true hero. The movie isn’t actually a tragedy. The ending is bittersweet, but it doesn’t qualify as a tragedy, either in literary terms, as described above, or what we’ve come to interpret tragedy as – a story with a sad ending.

This is a story about redemption.

This brings us back to The Divine Comedy. It’s a fascinating, if hugely xenophobic, read. Ignoring the “this was written in fourteenth century Italy and is therefore hugely racist and homophobic” thing, each of the three parts can be related to Bruce’s character arc.

The first ten minutes of BvS are a quick, efficient explanation of how Bruce came to be in a mental state where he thought murdering an innocent man was justifiable. The death of his parents. The helplessness of standing there in the rubble of a city destroyed by a fight between aliens with superpowers. Those first ten minutes are the most heroic he is in the entire movie until the end, when he throws aside his spear and goes to save Martha Kent. Because he’s not fighting criminals. He’s not in costume. He is running through a disaster zone, straight into the danger, to see who needs help. For the rest of the movie…as the one man said, “there’s a new kind of mean in him”. That’s the path through sin: the Inferno part of The Divine Comedy. Bruce’s paranoia and obsessiveness changed him from the man that comforted a child that just lost her mother to one that terrifies the people he just saved even more than the human traffickers holding them hostage.

Clark is the catalyst for Bruce realizing that he was the villain in this piece. While The Divine Comedy is about finding God, BvS revolves around reiterating that Superman isn’t a god, he’s just a man that chooses to use his power to make a positive impact in the world. Bruce’s story is about believing in Clark as a good man, and coming back to being good himself. While oftentimes, tragic heroes are static and blind to the faults that will cause their own doom, thus ensuring that their fall is unavoidable, Bruce isn’t a static character. He can change, and he does. He goes to save Martha while Clark confronts Lex and fights with Clark and Diana to stop Doomsday – Purgatorio,  the redemption part of the poem. After Clark’s death, he’s inspired to form the Justice League – Paradiso, the final part of the poem, the journey through Heaven.

Like Bruce, Clark also fits several of the characteristics of a tragic hero. He’s a hero of high status because he’s the last son of Krypton. He’s an alien on Earth, othered and revered, and a literal superhero. That makes his metaphorical fall inevitable, because no one can live up to the impossibly high expectations people had of him. But neither his fall from grace nor his death occur because of his own actions or any fatal flaw, they occur because of other people – Bruce and Lex. After his death, he’s recognized by both the world in general and his would-be killer as a good man and a hero that should be accepted, not feared, because BvS is  not a tragedy.

The film begins with Bruce’s “start of darkness”, as it were, and his path of doing worse and worse things. I’ve talked about Nietzsche and how his philosophy applies to BvSbefore. And then again. Now, I’m going to have to do it again, just to bring up the quote that I somehow forgot to mention before and that encapsulates Bruce’s character arc. I’m sorry, I swear this is the last time!

He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

By the time Lois stops Bruce from killing Clark, he has become comparable to the criminals he fought and had alienated the people closest to him. This again ties in to The Divine Comedy – when Dante met his dead lover, she reminded him that he set himself on a self destructive path after her death, despite the good she’d done for him. It’s very reminiscent of Bruce’s loss of Robin, of his parents.

In contrast to the tragic hero, the main stages of the classic hero’s journey (heavily abbreviated) are:

  1. The call to adventure
  2. Refusal of the call
  3. Meeting the mentor
  4. Crossing the threshold
  5. Reward
  6. The road back
  7. Return to ordinary

This doesn’t apply to Bruce in BvS at all, because the story takes place so late in his career as Batman. It can, however, be used to loosely describe Diana’s arc, as well as Clark’s in Man of Steel.

Clark may have never refused the call, but if his call to adventure was the development of his powers, we can argue that his “meeting the mentor” was the holographic Jor-El. He crossed the threshold when Zod came to Earth. And so on. Diana wasn’t in much of BvS, but she arguably fits these stages even better than Clark in MoS. Her call to adventure was seeing the beginnings of the disturbance in Metropolis. She refused the call when she started to leave. She met the “mentor” when she fought Doomsday with Clark and Bruce. She crossed the threshold when Clark died and she agreed to help Bruce assemble the League. The reward and the road back took place during Justice League, culminating in her return to the ordinary when she stepped back into being a public figure.

The members of the Trinity all have different character arcs with a few similar aspects. BvS draws upon every kind of classic literature to craft these arcs and define every character as a unique individual. It’s fascinating, and I love it.

Happy birthday to Zack Snyder, my favourite director around, and happy early birthday to my friend Selene, one of the most awesome people ever.