‘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.


The Need For Nightwing

The theme of parents and their children is the lifeblood of the DC Extended Universe. It’s not only present in every movie, it’s the beating heart of the franchise. I talked about the importance of the mothers in this post, but it extends beyond that. From Jor El and Lara sending Kal away so he could be safe, to Jonathan and Martha adopting and raising Clark, to Bruce’s love and memory of his parents and his grief for Jason. Hippolyta and Diana. Floyd and Zoe Lawton. Lex’s troubled relationship with his father. Even the human trafficker in Batman v Superman that was killed in prison had a baby and was called a good father. If, going forward, the relationship between Batman and Nightwing gets no focus, it would feel like an enormous departure from that.


I thought the Dark Knight trilogy was a well made set of movies, but I didn’t care for its interpretation of Bruce. For me, he always came across as an idea of what Bruce would be without the Robins, and as such, a demonstration of why the Batfamily matters. Dick Grayson is crucial to the Batman mythos. All the members of the Batfamily are, to a certain extent, but none more than Dick. He’s Bruce’s eldest son. He was his first partner and most trusted ally. The fact that he wasn’t considered important enough to include despite the fact he’s existed as a character for longer than Alfred and nearly as long as Bruce himself is why, as well made as the trilogy was, I don’t consider them good Batman movies. I’ll probably always be at least a little bitter at how they pushed the modern idea of Batman as an angsty loner.

Rachel Dawes may have been created for the movie, but she was closer to actually filling the role of Robin than John Blake, the loose approximation that appeared in the final movie, was – she was essentially the movie version of Jason Todd. She may have been a love interest instead of a partner and son, but she was still a confidante whose death Bruce considered his greatest failure and after which he withdrew from the world.  The fact that in Batman v Superman, we saw the vandalized Robin suit, indicating that it was a son and not a girlfriend Bruce was still mourning, only serves to highlight how much more important the familial themes are in this universe.

In his own way, Batman is as much a symbol of hope as Superman is. He’s a lightning rod for the evil in his city. He dedicates his life so that Gothamites can live in a better world. It may not be the inspiration people in Metropolis need, but it is what the citizens of Gotham do. We saw it in BvS, with the woman saying that even though he might have gotten more violent, the only people scared of him are the people that have reason to be. Batman v Superman took the character into a darker place than most incarnations of the character, but it felt earned, because at least part of that stemmed from him having both had and lost his second son.

Nightwing makes him better. As Robin, he was the light to Batman’s dark. He humanized Bruce. There is a reason he’s the obvious choice to take up the cowl when Bruce can’t, and that’s that there is no one in the world Bruce Wayne trusts more than Dick Grayson. While Batman symbolizes hope for Gotham, Dick symbolizes hope for Bruce.

Only Thing Bruce Ever Did Right

Dick Saves Bruce Every Day

My ideal scenario for the Batman solo is a mass Arkham breakout, followed by Bruce and Dick reconciling as they work together to recapture the escapees and a lot of reminiscing, and ending with meeting Tim Drake. Not only would that involve a story that largely centres around one of my favourite relationships in comics, I think it would be an excellent narrative choice:

  1. It would be a good way to introduce a lot of villains.
  2. It could lead to a lot of really cool fight scenes.
  3. Holy character exploration, Batman!
  4. Reuniting and expanding the Batfamily!

The same thing could work for a Nightwing movie. But I don’t so much care what the plot is, so much as whether the films to the characters the appropriate justice, and for me, the absolute best way to develop both Bruce and Dick as characters is to do it together. It’s almost impossible to overstate how important Dick is to Batman, both as a character and as a franchise. When the news broke over a year ago now, I started off both excited and scared about Nightwing getting a movie because he’s my favourite superhero and him getting a live action film is long overdue. But him having a role in the DCEU is about more than just him. It’s about continuing the themes of family and the realistic optimism and hope for a better tomorrow that are the driving force of the universe.

Like how Clark lost Jor El, Lara, and Jonathan, but still has Martha, Bruce may have lost Thomas, Martha, and Jason, but he still has Dick. That matters. And it’d be a damn shame if it wasn’t explored.

‘When We First Met’: A Mediocre Comedy That So Easily Could Have Been Terrible

I wasn’t expecting much when I put on When We First Met the other night. It was on Netflix, and I wasn’t in the mood to commit to watching a full series. It managed to be just good enough that I was both pleasantly surprised at how it averted and deconstructed some of the issues a lot of rom coms face and disappointed at how it reverted to old cliches at the end.

The premise: a magic photo booth takes the lead character back in time to relive the day he met the friend he’s in love with. It’s a skeevy thought – a guy that’s so fixated on this girl that’s never been interested in him feels so  entitled to have her, he’s willing to completely change his life, not because he has regrets that he wants to fix, but because he thinks changing his choices will make the girl fall for him. To the movie’s credit, it didn’t rely on stripping away the girl’s autonomy, nor on vilifying any of the other characters. That wasn’t the happy ending.

The first time he went back, he used his three years of knowledge to say everything he thought she’d want to hear. It was manipulative and creepy and downright invasive, and she rightfully called him out on being a weirdo stalker. Her roommate beat him up with a plant. Her fiancé tackled him. That scene stood out in the movie – it was actually pretty funny. Sadly, he didn’t learn the lesson he should have – that he should stop being an obsessed creep and be thankful for the friendship he wouldn’t have if she knew how much of an obsessed creep he was – and came to the conclusion that the problem wasn’t that he was being creepy, but that he hadn’t been sneaky enough about his creepiness.

At the end, after a few more missteps, he went back one more time to redo the night by doing what he’d done the first time, but there was something that made me uncomfortable about why he did it. It would have been one thing had he done it because he realized that he didn’t have the right to keep screwing with the lives of people that are supposed to be his friends. But he did it because he wanted to do the same thing again, just with a different end goal – this time, he wanted a chance with the roommate.

By the end, it just felt pointless. It wasn’t good, but neither was it particularly bad. It was just an hour and a half of nothingness that I could forget I even watched. It’s not something I have any interesting or intelligent critique to make about why it’s good or bad, because it just was. The director does have the capacity for genuinely funny comedies – he made West Bank Story, which I found hilarious in a crossing the line twice kind of way, even if I felt bad for laughing. Even When We First Met had its moments, what with the using a plant as a weapon thing. But it felt overly long, and the sweet/funny bits were matched by a creepiness that, if much better than it could have been, was definitely present, resulting in my overall impression being: meh.

An Ode To the One Season Wonders, Cut Down Too Soon

Sometimes, we have shows with a planned arc, headed by showrunners that know when to quit, that don’t get cancelled, allowing for a good conclusion, à la Orphan Black. Sometimes, we have shows that overstay their welcome by a bit, but not a horrible amount, in the style of Scrubs. Sometimes, we have shows that drag on way past the point where they should have ended, like Supernatural. And unfortunately, we also have the shows that got cancelled before they could really live.

1. Selfie


Also known as that brief, glorious time when Karen Gillan got to be funny, and #StarringJohnCho was real.

John Cho is great at being the straight man to a more obviously absurd costar – we saw it in the Harold and Kumar movies with Kal Penn, and we see it here, with Karen Gillan. It only made it to six episodes airing before cancellation, but luckily, we got to see the other seven. It involved gently mocking all types of people and relying on characters for humour, rather than jokes – in fact, it reminds me a fair amount of The Good Place, with a leaning more towards the romantic end of the comedy spectrum. After all, a selfish saleswoman learning to be a better, more considerate person from a nerdy man that she occasionally irritates and falls for? Which one are we talking about?

2. Powerless


I was, admittedly, disappointed when I watched the first episode and learned they’d veered away from the idea of being about an insurance company in the world of DC to being a tech company instead. If I recall correctly, the reason given was that it would be beyond skeevy for Bruce Wayne to own and profit from an insurance company. As true as that is, it could have easily been solved by having Bruce not own the company. Nothing else would have even needed to change!

That being said, a show set in the fictional equivalent of Cleveland, where people get annoyed at superheroes and supervillains delaying their morning commute and where dating a henchman is like dating a bass player? Comedy gold.

3. Bunheads


Okay, I know what this looks like, but I swear that I’m not just saying that because it has Emma Dumont in it. Partially, sure. But not entirely.

I could never get into Gilmore Girls. But this, by the same showrunner, is funny, sweet, enjoyable – and actually, probably even better for having one season than it would have been with more. It’s a little specific, revolving around a dance studio, and for me, at least, it’s a bit heavy on things that happen just for the sake of plot convenience, but it’s good enough that I’m willing to forgive it for the stretch of disbelief.

Plus, you know, Emma Dumont.

4. Birds of Prey

birds of prey

Ah, 2002. The days before Batman Begins, Superman Returns, and Iron Man. Hell, this was even before X2 came out. Unlike today, when superhero movies and shows seem to be coming out every few months, in 2002, Smallville was it. Everyone’s superhero needs could only be satisfied with that or good, old fashioned comic books. Which was why I find the fact that this show got cancelled a travesty.

Barbara Gordon as Oracle! Helena Wayne existing at all! Harley Quinn as Helena’s therapist! Birds of Prey did “a Batman show without Batman” over a decade before Gotham did, and while it may have been several steps in the direction of cheesy, it was charmingly so.

This was, unless I’m very much mistaken, the first female led superhero series since Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter. More than that – it wasn’t just the lead character that was a woman, it was other costars and the villain as well, not to mention many of the characters showing up in just a couple of the episodes. Alas, 2002 might have been too soon. The world wasn’t ready for that level of glory.

These four are only a handful of the excellent shows that got one season before cancellation. Goodbye to them, and all the others, including the ones yet to be cancelled. We’ll miss you!

The United States and Mass Shootings

For years now, The Onion has published the same article every single time there’s a mass shooting. The only change they make is the place and time where it happened. Because it’s always the same story. People die, Republican politicians say there’s nothing to do prevent it, we hear that it’s too soon to politicize it! And then the cycle starts again.

Somewhere along the line, we decided that we don’t care. Not about people going to church, not about people that just wanted to enjoy a night out at a club, not about elementary school children. For some people, the ones that aren’t in public office, it’s out of desensitization. That’s understandable. It’s exhausting. After all, how many times can someone scream and yell at a Congress that won’t do anything to act before all the shootings start to blur together? Before the countless deaths turn from tragedies to statistics? But for the politicians that have accepted blood money from the NRA, it’s not because they’re desensitized to anything. It’s because they honestly don’t care about the people they’re supposed to be representing. They’re actually willing to trade the live of children for campaign contributions.

This is a country that banned Kinder Surprises because they have small parts and someone might choke on the small parts. After 9/11, the reaction was to ban liquids and scissors, stop letting people without tickets through to the gate, and check people’s baggage. But shootings? Nah, gun rights are more important than lives. The families can have thoughts and prayers, of course, but concrete action? Anything to stop something like this from happening again? Of course not. The victims aren’t worth that much.

Every time, it gets blamed on mental health, because it’s easy. Because it’s convenient. As if they’ve ever cared about mental health and the lack of access to health care for the mentally ill at any time other than immediately after a shooting. As if the mentally ill aren’t more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators. This country has a gun problem that we refuse to face. This is exhausting. How many more people have to die before Congress decides that enough is enough? How many more tragedies do we have to face? Human life has got to be worth more than money from gun lobbyists.

It brings to mind the old joke about a drowning man that refused all help because he’d prayed to God to save him. Upon drowning, he demanded to know why God hadn’t helped him. God responded by saying that he’d sent him two boats, but he hadn’t gotten in. Actions have power. This country doesn’t need anyone’s thoughts and prayers to solve its gun problem. It needs Congress to actually do something about it.


Deathstroke as a Nightwing Villain

Arrow is often ridiculed – and rightly so – for trying to co-opt the Batman mythos and trying to make it fit with Green Arrow. This includes using characters and concepts primarily associated with Batman, like Helena Bertinelli and the al Ghuls; giving the lead character Bruce’s dark, brooding, obsessive personality that lightens up around his family; and so on.

It doesn’t work. That’s because every comics fan knows that these concepts are tied to Batman and that the show twisted Green Arrow’s characterization beyond recognition because they weren’t actually interested in making a Green Arrow show. But what happens when a villain that debuts as one for the marginally less well known heroes becomes hugely popular?

Deathstroke started off as a Teen Titans villain. More specifically, there was a period of time when he was regarded as the first Robin’s nemesis. I find this fascinating, because of just how great a character he is. Usually, the characters known for being sidekicks don’t get the best villains. They basically get a subset of their mentor’s or, when they eventually strike out on their own, less iconic ones. Dick Grayson is an exception to that.

Dick was the first sidekick, and a trailblazer in terms of the sidekicks getting to graduate and move on to being their own characters. He’s just as central a character to the Batman mythos as Batman himself. He’s led the Justice League. He’s been Batman. He has his own city that he protects. He has his own Rogues Gallery. Despite all of that, though, he’s still perceived as a Batman sidekick, rather than his own character.

Despite the fact that he hasn’t been Robin in the comics since the 80s, both the Teen Titans and Young Justice cartoons depicted him as such, even if season two of Young Justice had him as Nightwing. The upcoming Titans live-action TV show is going to do that as well. He hasn’t been a sidekick in decades to comics fans, but as popular as he is as Nightwing, as much as he can be considered one of the A-List, adaptations keep reverting him to his younger self, the hero primarily known as Batman’s sidekick.

The DC Extended Universe is going to be making a Nightwing movie, which is huge. This is a movie that’s been anticipated by an enormous number of people for years. But it does raise the question of how Deathstroke – a character that’s already been cast and already appeared – will be used.

We don’t know much about the future interpretation of Slade Wilson yet. What we do know is that he’s in contact with Lex Luthor and has been invited to join the Injustice League; he was cast for the Batman solo, a movie for which we know nothing about, back when Ben Affleck was still signed onto directing it and before the Nightwing movie was announced; and he’s played by Joe Manganiello.

All of it suggests to me that the plans are to adapt Deathstroke as a Batman villain, probably without Nightwing costarring, even if he does appear. To an extent, I understand why: Batman has been adapted a lot. He and Superman have had the most adaptations of any comic book characters, and just about all of his best villains have been seen already. Deathstroke hasn’t been. It would be a fresh change. But Arrow used Batman villains because they couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort to building up the Green Arrow mythos and making villains iconic that creators have already done for Batman. They wanted to skip to the end. There’s no need to do that with Batman, because his villains are already iconic. A fresh take on one that’s already been used would be better than taking the lazy route and using someone else’s.

While I certainly think that using Deathstroke could be done well, I’ll be very much disappointed if it occurs without Nightwing. If Slade is the primary villain of the Batsolo, it’ll be insulting to the character’s long history for Nightwing to not be included. For all that Dick is a hugely popular character, he’s not a Batman level cultural icon. Robin is, but not Dick himself. Not to the general public. The DCEU could put him on that level, but that won’t happen unless he actually gets to face off against great villains. A good writer can certainly make a villain like Blockbuster or Tarantula memorable and awesome. But taking Slade off the table for the Nightwing movie while using him for a different movie will be tying one hand behind the writer’s back and making it clear that they’re not the priority – that Batman media will always take precedence over Nightwing, even if it means co-opting his best villains.  If that happens, the people behind the DC movies will be saying clearly that to them, Nightwing is just a second stringer and always will be, and to me, the message behind that will be that they don’t actually care about developing new and interesting films. They’ll be content to make and remake the same Batman stories for an eternity.

The Jubilee Problem in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

It’s been a year and a half, and I’m kind of still bitter of the way Apocalypse handled  Jubilee. Not even because she was basically a glorified extra, but because of the sheer exploitativeness of it all. No one would have had any objections to Jubilee not being in Apocalypse. She was in the original trilogy, however briefly. She’s always been a part of the younger generation. She should be a contemporary of Kitty, not of Scott. She’s one of the older X-Men’s students and future teammate, not their peer. There is plenty of canonical basis for her not being around yet. No one would have expected her or been upset that she wasn’t included. But she was.

She was brought into Apocalypse, which also could have been fine if handled properly. But it wasn’t. They brought in Lana Condor, who was very excited about the role, and advertised the hell out of her to get other people excited, too. To an extent, that’s how the film industry works. But it also felt tasteless to exploit a group’s thirst for representation so blatantly. She didn’t have a big role. She was in the movie for a few minutes before being left behind, without even using her powers once. That didn’t stop the studio from promoting her as if  she were a main character.

There’s a whole page on TV Tropes dedicated to the concept of advertising a character that doesn’t end up appearing much. Most of the time, though, that happens because said character is played by a popular actor, or, in the case of comics/their adaptations, are themselves a popular character. In Apocalypse, it wasn’t either of those. Jubilee was Lana Condor’s first role, and while she’s a well known and reasonably well liked character, she’s not really one of the A-List. In fact, opinions of her tend to be highly polarized. She was essentially the attempt at creating a Kitty Pryde of the 90s, and Kitty Pryde is one of the most popular X-Men. So the advertising in the film? That was pretty clearly an attempt at capitalizing on the lack of and desire for Asian representation.

I personally can’t say I really care about Jubilee one way or the other. For a variety of reasons, she’s never really resonated with me. But she’s an Asian female character in a film universe dominated by white people. She’s a character a lot of people have grown up with. She’s a character that a lot of people were excited to see. The X-Men film franchise has a diversity problem despite being about diversity. The Gifted has handled said issue much more competently, and the contrast is painfully clear. Diversity is more than just black and white. We can’t keep having X-Men movies with an all white cast except for one token black character. It’s time to move past that and actually embrace the spirit of what the X-Men have represented for decades: diversity and civil rights.