Superman and the X-Men: A Sense of Inclusion In Superhero Stories

Just about any good character is relatable in some way to the audience. Superheros are a form of escapism, that much is true, but stories of all kinds matter because they allow us to connect to other people. With Batman, it’s trying to reclaim some sense of control in a world where you feel powerless. With the X-Men, it’s the concept of being hated, not because of anything you’ve done, but what you are. With Superman, it’s the desire to do the right thing, the idea of lost culture, being a good person – it is and always has been an immigrant story. With DCEU Clark specifically, it’s all of that plus that feeling of isolation, of being alone.

The DCEU version of Superman reminds me a great deal of classic X-Men stories. After all, the idea of him being an immigrant is heavily highlighted. The X-Men represent persecuted minorities that do just what Clark did throughout all of Batman v Superman. He saves the world, but gets criticized and berated and treated as the other for it. The motto of the X-Men has always been to protect those that hate and fear them.

I saw a debate on Tumblr recently over the use of the word “uniform” vs “costume” to describe what the X-Men wear. One person took the fact Scott prefers “costume” as classist and lacking respect for blue collar workers that wear uniforms, but several other people pointed out that that’s not it at all, because Scott wasn’t raised at the school. He spent his childhood on the streets and in an orphanage, told no one would care about him. His preference for costume over uniform isn’t that he considers janitors or fast food workers beneath him. It’s ideological. It’s tied with his identity as a mutant. Being an X-Man isn’t a job for him. It’s not a choice. I’d argue that it’s even more than a calling, because Scott can’t stop being a mutant. It’s to be recognized as someone not dangerous, someone that can and will help.

Costuming is an interesting thing to consider. The X-Men movies are the codifier for the Movie Superheroes Wear Black trope, right? And I get why that’s how they were costumed. It served a purpose. The first X-Men movie was a new, darker take on the genre, and they figured that that would be a good way to distinguish them from previous superhero movies. The X-Men are a team, not just a single person, so it made a degree of sense to put them in matching suits that looked like they could offer some amount of protection, like a military unit. But that’s not what the X-Men are. They’re not a military organization. Sure, not everything they do is out in the open. But that’s for the safety of both them and their students. Their primary goal is to help mutants learn to control their powers, not fight anyone. They’re not supposed to scare people, they’re there to help. They’re there to be unashamedly mutants, to show people that the majority of mutants aren’t bad, aren’t there to hurt anyone. They stand as an example and a symbol of hope, to mutants and baselines alike.

From what I understand of a certain Justice League deleted scene, Clark looked past a black suit – pretty similar to what Jor El was wearing under his armour in the Man of Steel opening scene – and chose his traditional blue and red over it because that’s the symbol of hope. That suit and emblem are what people recognize. When he’s flying through the sky, too far for people to tell what he looks like, they first see movement and then they see colour. Zod was wearing black during their fight in Man of Steel. Choosing the blue and red suit gave the humans on the ground – including the ones who’d feared and hated him to the point of waving signs saying he didn’t belong on the planet – a clear way to recognize him and distinguish him from Zod and the other Kryptonians that invaded. Clark cared about the people that hated him enough to reassure them, and on a meta level, the fact that those people were reassured by that choice says a lot about the maliciousness of their attitude towards him in Batman v Superman. Most of them do recognize the difference between him and Zod. They were just being assholes, hating the different.

Bruce uses fear as a tool, unlike Clark or the X-Men. He can do that because he’s human with no special powers. He doesn’t want the innocent to be afraid of him – as the woman Clark spoke to in Batman v Superman said, “the only people scared of him are the people that got reason to be.” But he’s not afraid of being perceived as a soldier rather than a superhero, because a superhero isn’t what Gotham needs. Batman is a crusader in a war against crime. He doesn’t have powers, there are just rumours. He’s a threat to a corrupt institution, but innocents aren’t afraid of him.

Bruce Wayne can be reassuring. He can run through a disaster zone and tell a child he’s going to find her mom. He can act like a harmless rich guy with no day job at a party. But Batman has to be scary because fear helps him keep crime in check. It works because of the kind of place Gotham is – a corrupt cesspool that can’t be fixed with superpowers, because many of its problems are deep rooted, system issues involving people taking advantage of those that can’t protect themselves. Gotham doesn’t trust idealists. It’s a city that at times seems designed to chew people up and spit them back out. As Bruce himself said in Batman v Superman, “Twenty years in Gotham, Alfred; we’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” Good guys die. They get corrupted and become villains. And because of that, the people of Gotham don’t so much want a symbol as they do an example. An example of a good guy that doesn’t give up on them, even when it’s hard and seems like a struggle that never ends. Yes, the bat is a symbol of hope to Gothamites, but what matters is why: Batman is trusted in Gotham because he’s still there. All these years, and he’s still fighting for the people that live there. That can also tie into the X-Men – because even if baseline humans don’t, mutants trust them for continuing to fight for them – even if you can look at it as the opposite of Superman’s  idealism being what people respect and admire.

Xavier had an enormous influence on Scott’s worldview, and Scott was devoted to his dream. Even when everyone accused him of straying away from it, he was still fighting with the same end goal in mind: building a world where mutants can be safe. The X-Men fight to protect those that hate and fear them, both because that’s the right thing to do and because of their goal of peaceful coexistence. In recent years, Scott has become known as a mutant revolutionary. Before his death, he drew a line in the sand and refused to not fight back when humans tried to harm mutant children. But even then, his defence of himself and his people had nothing to do with stopping defending humans. Helping people is not a zero sum game.

Even if Scott’s power was something less destructive, something he could control, he’s still been doing this for so long, it’s not an option for him anymore. He was a child soldier. He became a teacher. Caring for, teaching, and protecting young mutants is what he does. It’s pretty much his entire identity. He’s a crusader, dedicating to protecting mutantkind, because someone has to, and no one else is good at it. He’s lost everything that matters to him because of what it means to be a mutant and what it means to be a mutant leader. Jean, multiple times. Madelyne. His relationship with his friends and family. His life. He keeps at it because he has to. Because he’s a good guy that can’t not help people.

In that regard, Clark is very much like Scott. As Lois said in Man of Steel, not helping just isn’t an option for him. He can’t sit back and not do anything when there are people that need him, when he can see and hear so much that he can prevent. Both Superman and the X-Men are torn between a feeling of responsibility to protect other people and a need to take care of themselves.

Clark blocks out some of the stuff he could hear and see. He has to, because otherwise, he would probably be unable to help anyone. In Man of Steel, we saw a younger version of him in a flashback, overwhelmed by his senses and terrified about the world being too big. What that scene really reminded me of is a scene from X-Men: Evolution, when Rogue was overwhelmed by all the personalities she’d absorbed. Both these scenes are a sobering reminder that saving people isn’t easy. And we don’t have a right to demand it of anyone. It’s easy to say that people who can help others should be obligated to, that we all have responsibility towards our fellow man. And to an extent, it’s true – humans are social creatures, we’re in this together, and we’ve survived this long because we help each other. Doing that is the right thing to do. But in practice, it’s not that easy. It’s one thing to help someone up when they fall or give the homeless guy on the corner a few bucks, but having to constantly be aware of everything, every bit of suffering? That’s a horrifying thought. Even people that work with amazing organizations like Doctors Without Borders can’t spend all their time and energy on other people. It’s unsustainable at best.

Even if Superman dedicated every minute of every day to saving people, he still wouldn’t be able to save everyone. If there were two people drowning on opposite sides of the world, he’d have to pick one. And knowing that would destroy him. He’s just a guy that wants to do the right thing. He’s not a god. He’s not omnipotent. Clark does help people. He’s even glad to. He’s willing to give his life for others, as he demonstrated in Batman v Superman. He’s willing to come testify before Congress to justify his actions even though none of the deaths were his doing. But asking him to give up his relationships with other people, any semblance of a life, his very sanity? That’s asking too much. Of anyone. No one is obligated to set themselves on fire to keep you warm.

There is a scene in, I think, Civil War, where Cyclops confronts Iron Man. Tony tells Scott that the government wants the X-Men registered, and Scott counters by pointing out that being a mutant isn’t what they do or a choice, it’s what they are, and that what he’s asking is for them to register for being born.

Scott and His Armour Piercing Question

He disbands the X-Men, leaving all the former members as just citizens with no secret identity. He limits their ability to help people for the sake of keeping them safe and free. And that’s not a particularly difficult choice for him, because it’s not just about him. He has to make decisions with his entire species in mind. That’s something a member of any minority can understand – we get judged as a group. We’re treated as a monolith, not as individuals.

At the end of Man of Steel, Clark destroys a drone, saying that while he wants to help, it has to be on his own terms. That’s not an option for the X-Men, because they don’t work alone. They do what they do to protect people, yes…but it’s about more than that. It’s about mutant children. It’s an interesting contrast – Clark doesn’t have the same support or sense of security of knowing there are other people like him out there. His abilities isolate him. But to an extent, it’s also freeing. His decisions are simpler than those of the X-Men. He doesn’t have to think what doing one thing could mean for all the people like him around the world. Knowing what the right thing to do is isn’t easy…but it’s easier when you don’t have to consider the political ramifications of it and what acting would mean for your people.

Remember the old joke about the Superman comics and how no one would be surprised if it turned out nobody died on Krypton but Jor El, because of all the Kryptonians that kept showing up alive? Well, seeing as that’s not really the case in the DCEU, Clark being alone is arguably the primary difference between his story and that of the mutants. Kara isn’t around in the DCEU yet – maybe never, what with the whole scout ship thing – and neither is Kon, so Clark doesn’t have to worry about them in the same way the X-Men have to worry about their students. But you know who in the DCEU did have that same worry? Clark’s parents. Jonathan and Martha may be human with no special powers, but they faced the same primary concern Scott and other adult mutants did: fear for their child. Fear of what would happen if people found out about his powers. It was the same fear Lara had before launching baby Kal into space. He’ll be an outcast. A freak. They’ll kill him. The mutants have additional concerns, like registration and having to find children with the X-gene and train them before they can get hurt.

In BvS, Clark is hated for being an alien, for being different, but he’s not the one that brought Doomsday into the world. He’s not the one that wreaked havoc while trying to kill an innocent man. Lex is a human that decided he didn’t like Clark’s power and that he needed to die so that his world would make sense to him again. Bruce is the one who appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner. Clark? He’s just the one that saved people from fires, aliens invaders, oil rig explosions, and more. One of the single most poignant scenes in Batman v Superman was Clark landing in front of the Capitol and turning to see a mob waving signs telling him to go home, despite all he’d done to help people. It reminds me of that one storyline in X-Men: Evolution, where the existence of mutants was revealed to the world. They wound up with the police and the military trying to arrest them. Even after they’d stopped Juggernaut, they were still regarded with suspicion.

Threats don’t come from people that look different. Nightcrawler is blue. He has a tail and fangs. He’s a hero. Mystique can look like anyone under the sun. She’s a villain. The Morlocks are feared and forced to live underground, not because they’ve done anything, or even because they’re powerful mutants, but because people don’t accept them since they look different. Lex and Bruce have no powers whatsoever, but still caused huge amounts of damage in Batman v Superman. The most dangerous people among us are not the ones that look different, that are obviously unlike he supposedly “normal” people. Anyone can be dangerous. It’s not something you can identify from appearance or abilities. It’s actions that matter.

If Clark is analogous to the X-Men, that makes Zod and the like analogous to the Brotherhood. They believe that might makes right. They may have noble goals, but they’ve been twisted and distorted. Zod wanted to rebuild Krypton on Earth and didn’t care how many humans he had to kill to do it. Magneto – sometimes, anyway – wants to protect mutantkind from persecution, but goes so far that he believes baselines should all be wiped out and does more to increase fear of mutants than he does to help them. It’s not a question of appearance. Magneto and Zod look just as human as Clark does. And it’s not a question of abilities. Zod has the same abilities as Clark. Magneto is less powerful than some X-Men, more powerful than others. It’s a matter of what they do with their powers. It’s a choice.

One of the things I have to appreciate about movies based on comic books over the comics themselves is that there can be an end. A happy ending isn’t just until the next terrible thing in the next instalment. Comics can get kind of depressing after a while because of how rarely there are major changes to the status quo. Like, the X-Men have spent the past, what, sixty years fighting oppression? And they never get a victory that lasts because if they ever got to a point where mutants weren’t facing constant existential crises and weren’t feared by a significant chunk of the population, the entire premise of the X-Men comics would have to change. The same holds true for Batman – Gotham City must remain a crime ridden terrible place to live, otherwise Batman no longer needs to exist. But people can change. People can improve. That’s present in both the DCEU and, on a smaller scale, the X-Men comics. Clark inspired Bruce to get back to being a hero in Batman v Superman. In the comics, Senator Kelly eventually started supporting mutant rights after the X-Men saved him a bunch of times, up to the point of seeking legal action against the Sentinel program.

Clark becomes reminiscent of the mutants not because of his powers, and not because of how he’s ostracized because of them – at least, not entirely – but because he’s a good guy. He goes out and saves people, regardless of how they feel about him. He does good and eventually, that inspires other people to do the same, to stop regarding him as a threat. Superman and the X-Men both resonate with minorities because of that sense of ostracization. Superman and the X-Men are two sides of the same coin and demonstrate different aspects of being a minority. As we saw from the reaction to DCEU Clark, this may make their stories seem “gloomy” or “no fun” to a lot of people, but to a lot of immigrants and  other minorities, it’s instead instantly recognizable and beautifully relatable.

Superman and Achilles

One of the many pieces of symbolism that’s everywhere in Batman v Superman is the horse. It serves as a clear symbol of death. This includes the metaphorical horse – Wallace Keefe, used as a Trojan horse to smuggle a bomb into the Capitol. And that Trojan horse reminded me of another aspect of The Trojan Cycle: the story of Achilles (Ha! I promised I’d stop talking about Christianity and classic Christian literature as it pertains to Batman v Superman, but I never said anything about Greek mythology and the associated epic poems!).

To today’s audience, Achilles is pretty unlikable. At the best of times, he was kind of a sociopathic nightmare. Personality wise, not at all like Clark Kent. But they were both invulnerable, with one physical weakness – for Achilles, his heel; for Clark, kryptonite. That weakness was exploited by a weaker character. In Achilles’s case, that was Paris, making an impossible shot through godly intervention. For Clark, that was Bruce, forging a weapon from a material Lex had found and proven to be dangerous to Kryptonians. Both were separated from humanity in some way, Achilles because of his divine parentage and Clark because of his alien birth and role as Superman. They both could be hurt by someone hurting a loved one – Patroclus, for Achilles, and Lois, for Clark.

As much as Clark is a much better person than Achilles, his behaviour in the Knightmare sequence was highly reminiscent of Achilles after Patroclus’s death. The loss of Patroclus left Achilles devastated and furious. Losing Lois did the same to Clark. Achilles went to fight everyone he deemed responsible, ultimately killing Hector, who’d killed Patroclus. Clark became a full on tyrant, claiming Bruce took his world away from him, then killed him. A similar concept applies to Clark’s trip to the Arctic. Achilles spent however long sitting in his tent and refusing to fight because of his argument with Agamemnon (an incredibly horrifying argument over ownership of a sex slave. Christ, I hate everyone involved in this stupid poem). Clark walked away for a much more heroic reason – horror at being unable to stop the carnage that was the Capitol bombing and fear that it was his fault for not looking, not facing the person whose life was forever changed by his actions – but as a plot device, it mostly amounts to the same thing: he was gone, and while he was, Lex could kidnap Lois and Martha. Achilles being gone allowed for Hector to kill Patroclus. But whereas Achilles and Knightmare Superman’s arcs revolved around not being able to save someone they cared about, the real, present day Clark came back from his self imposed exile in time to catch her when Lex shoved her off the roof.

Clark falls far more into our modern perception of a hero than Achilles because beyond being the protagonist, he’s a genuinely good person. That being said, it’s fascinating to compare him, as written in Batman v Superman, to Achilles, because there are plenty of similarities in their stories. Christian mythology clearly had a large influence on the movie, but the story elements are so classic, we can also connect it to stories that predate Christianity by centuries (If I can overcome my distaste for this nonsense later, I’ll try to write a post on how Bruce’s character arc in the same movie parallels Odysseus’s journey in The Odyssey. I probably won’t, because there are few groups of characters that I find as irritating to read or think about as everyone involved in this).

 

Zack Snyder Ruined Popcorn Comic Book Movies For Me (In The Best Way Possible)

Quick – a comic book movie with a lead character as an older, cynical version of themselves that was once a hero, but was worn down by time and loss until someone inspired them to start acting heroically again. Am I talking about The Dark Knight Rises, Logan, or Batman v Superman? It recently occurred to me (I’m slow on the uptake, sue me) that those three movies had essentially the same storyline for the lead character (in the case of BvS, the co-lead). Pretty much everyone that has ever read one of my posts knows that I love Zack Snyder and his DCEU movies (If you’re reading this and you don’t, hi! I’m Keya. I’m a giant nerd). They’ll also know that I’m not a big fan of either Logan or The Dark Knight trilogy. Seeing the similarities in the movies got me thinking about why that was true.

The best thing about the X-Men movies, at least for me, was that no matter how I felt about them in the long term, they were good for at least one watch. I didn’t think about all the things wrong with them until later.  It was the same thing with the Dark Knight trilogy.  No matter how much I disliked their Bruce interpretation, I was able to set that aside and enjoy the movie. I didn’t think about that dislike until after I left the theatre. I remember sitting in the theatre to watch The Dark Knight Rises, and you know what? At the time, I was genuinely moved. Bruce becoming a recluse after losing Rachel, spending years in mourning, putting on the cowl to fight again, finding the will to move on with his life…when I first saw that, I was very touched.

When Logan – the kind of movie that, very much like The Dark Knight Rises, relied heavily on using an aged lead that’s lost the people most important to him to elicit an emotional reaction – came out in March of last year, though, I wasn’t into it at all, not even while watching. At first, I couldn’t figure out why – after all, the movies basically have the same principle and I had similar problems with both. But The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2012, and made me emotional, while Logan came out in 2017 and didn’t. At all. One obvious explanation is age, and the fact that in those five years, it became harder to elicit a reaction from me. But I think there’s another explanation, and that’s that Batman v Superman came between those movies.

It’s completely subjective whether you find a movie emotional, but objectively, BvS was a much denser, more thought out story than either The Dark Knight Rises or Logan, with constant references and allusions to classical art, literature, comics, and more. What  Batman v Superman did was force me to think about what I was watching while I was watching it, not after. And once I started doing that, all the aspects of movies that I don’t like started to pop out at me, from bad writing to disrespect for the source material. It took away the “good for one watch” thing that the X-Men movies had always had going for them. Popcorn movies are great. Not everything has to be deep,  and sometimes I just want to see a lighthearted adventure. But Zack Snyder movies have spoiled me – now I don’t have patience for movies that half ass the emotional aspects.

I respect Christopher Nolan’s directorial skills, but as a Batman fan, I think his work cut out the most interesting aspects of the character in favour of a pretty shallow, surface level reading. He didn’t get why Robin is important to Batman, and considered giving some random cop that worked with Bruce once the name as the same thing, or at least, a good shout out. He went the “loner” route, rather than acknowledge that comic Bruce has never been that and has more friends, allies, and children than just about any other superhero. It was disrespectful to the enormous cast of Batman characters that aren’t named Bruce Wayne and the whole world of comic books, because like X-Men (2000), The Dark Knight trilogy was afraid of being seen as comic book movies.

To be fair to Logan, I went in biased because of my Wolverine fatigue. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve complained about how the whole movie franchise revolves around him at the expense of other characters and how those characters get no respect just to make him look better or to advance his plot. I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out that the first two of his solo movies neither did amazingly at the box office nor were well received by critics, and as such, using the whole “Wolverine sells! Logan makes them money!” as an excuse isn’t actually valid. I’ve criticized the writing of the original trilogy and how everyone else got so little screen time, it was pretty much impossible for anyone that wasn’t Hugh Jackman to stand out. As a bitter Cyclops fan, I was mad about how the premise of the movie would have been perfect for developing him as the general of mutantkind that he is in the comics, but he was killed off screen instead. All of these things together mean that it was probably impossible to win me over completely, regardless of how it went. But before BvS, I could have at the very least enjoyed that first watch.

Logan was a movie that, had it come out just a year earlier, I could have liked. Maybe even loved. For the reasons stated above, I probably would have been a little bitter towards it, and my appreciation for it would have lessened with time as I thought of more things that bothered me, but I could have enjoyed it. But after BvS did such a fantastic job of fleshing out its characters and relationships so that everything happening to the characters meant something to me, to the point that the “Martha” scene was the closest I’ve ever come to crying during a movie, by the time I saw Logan, I didn’t have any more patience for a movie bashing me over the head to get me to feel what they want me to.

Logan felt more manipulative to me than anything else. It never once seemed to me while watching that it had earned the reaction it wanted. Everything about it was about making us feel bad for Logan. It was a further example of disrespecting the other characters for his sake after nearly two decades of doing just that – and that’s just in the movies. I never felt connected to the supposed emotional core. Logan coming to care for Laura felt rushed. It felt like most of his angst was about being old and in pain, with no actual grief for the X-Men – you know, those people that were supposed to be his friends that w ere ruthlessly killed off screen just to emphasize how alone he was.  A bunch of characters died, but I felt detached – the movie didn’t manage to get through to me why I should care. The closest thing to real emotion I felt the entire time I was watching was seeing Laura crying.

Despite how tired and broken down Bruce was throughout BvS, all the attention devoted to his perspective, it wasn’t about making us feel sorry for him, it was about us wanting him to stop feeling sorry for himself and realize what he’d become. It was about his cynicism being actively harmful. It was about trying to make the audience sympathize with him and understand his perspective, while also wanting him to realize that he’s become the bad guy. BvS is certainly a movie you’re supposed to think about – all the supposed “plot holes” and things that supposedly have no build up can be explained if you pay attention and think about what you’re watching – but it’s even more heart than head. It’s about human emotion, and the combination of acting, visuals, and the score made me feel everything it was trying to convey. I can’t explain logically why Logan‘s attempts at emotional scenes fell flat for me because it’s not an intellectual thing, but while watching, I just didn’t feel anything.

Logan and The Dark Knight Rises had many of the same pieces as BvS – a jaded hero past his prime meeting someone that forces him to get past his cynicism being the most  obvious – but none of the same respect for the mythos. I’m totally for broad strokes adaptations. But those broad strokes adaptations can’t just be for the sake of one character.

I get that Logan was very loosely based on Old Man Logan, but in order to do that, the movie had to ignore the optimistic end of Days of Future Past to basically redo the same idea. Regardless of whether or not this is in the main continuity – I seem to recall statements being made both confirming and denying that – it’s still a rehash of what’s been done before, and killing the X-Men off screen again was insulting to them, especially the ones that have existed as characters for years longer than Wolverine. And making Xavier responsible for their deaths instead of Logan may make more sense, because any number of X-Men could neutralize Logan in a fight before he killed them all, but takes away from the emotion that could have been there, the sense of responsibility.

The way The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises approached the story was to cut out Robin all together, and try to give two original characters the role – they made Rachel the Jason equivalent and Blake the Tim. The problem is, the Batman and Robin dynamic doesn’t work there. In the comics, Bruce felt heavily responsible for Jason’s death because he made him Robin. Had he not done that, Jason wouldn’t have been lured to Ethiopia and the Joker wouldn’t have beaten him to death with a crowbar. While the only one ultimately responsible for Jason’s death was the Joker, Bruce felt guilty for putting Jason in that position. That plotline doesn’t work when you replace the son that he trained to fight with a love interest that would have been targeted regardless of her connection to Batman. There was no ring of truth to Bruce’s guilt. It’s not the same kind of responsibility, and it completely erases the significance of multiple very important characters.

Snyder, too, took a broad strokes approach to his movie – BvS was a patchwork of bits taken from different comics and continuities that relied on Bruce being primarily alone, without his closest friends and allies. But it did that without disrespecting his cast of characters. While Batman v Superman didn’t have Robin, it never felt dismissive of the character. It honoured his memory by having his suit on display in the Batcave, by the implication of that and several lines of dialogue being that his memory haunts Bruce and losing him changed Batman. Bruce felt responsible and spent the entire movie fighting to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.

Both TDKR and Logan were the culmination of a series. Like I argued hereLogan relied upon years of built up affection for Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the character and knowledge that this would be his last time in the role. The Dark Knight Rises was similar to that – the audience wanted a happy ending to the trilogy, so they were invested in Bruce’s story and recovery. Batman v Superman was the first movie in the DCEU with Batman, and when it was released, we knew that Justice League was coming, so it didn’t rely on any sort of nostalgia or prior goodwill. It just let us feel things without long pieces of exposition telling us why we should.

The Dark Knight Rises, Logan, and Batman v Superman are all serious dramas in the superhero movie genre. That’s great. I didn’t find them equally effective, but in principle, I love people taking comic book movies seriously. It’s not that TDKR and Logan are bad movies, but they weren’t for me. I know that now because Batman v Superman gave me everything I didn’t know I needed or wanted in a superhero movie. No wink, wink, nudge,  nudge, we’re not like those comic book movies moments. It was itself without needing to deride the rest of the genre. It embraced the spirit of the source material. Every moment was completely sincere. After seeing it, I realized the way The Dark Knight Rises and Logan approached serious and emotional just doesn’t work for me.

TL;DR: Zack Snyder puts too much effort into his movies, and has thus ruined my ability to enjoy movies that are supposed to be intense and emotional but don’t go the full way to making them so. Thanks a lot, Zack.

Clark Kent And His Role As The Conscience

You look at Superman, and you wonder, what can he possibly have to worry about? What could possibly ever hurt him? But just because his skin is invulnerable, that doesn’t mean his heart is. And that’s how you hurt Superman. You break his heart.

This quote is iconic because it exemplifies everything that Superman is at his best – a hero, not because of his powers, but because he cares so deeply about helping people and doing what’s right. He’s not perfect. He’s flawed and human and doesn’t always know what the “right” thing to do is, but he tries anyway, and keeps trying.

Man of Steel and Batman v Superman do a brilliant job at showing how that’s true, because when do we see him angry or upset? For the most part, not when he’s in physical pain, but when his father dies. When Zod attacks his mother. When it’s a choice between letting an innocent family die and killing someone. When he looks out at a mob yelling at him to go home. When the Capitol blows up and he’s left unscathed. When Lex threatens Lois and Martha. (And when he’s being literally stabbed in the heart, but that’s another thing.) He doesn’t give up, even when Bruce is standing over him about to kill him – he keeps trying to reach him, down to the last moment,  to his last breath.

The end of that fight is an interesting parallel to the end of the Superman Zod fight in Man of Steel. Zod wouldn’t stop, because he would rather die than give in – kill or be  killed. Clark couldn’t save him, couldn’t appeal to his better nature to let those humans live, so he had to physically stop him. In Batman v Superman, though, Clark was at Bruce’s mercy. Bruce’s life wasn’t in danger, but his soul was, because there would be no going back if he killed Clark, and Clark did save him, by convincing him not to cross the line and make himself  judge, jury, and executioner. I think that shows what Clark can and can’t do very well – he can’t force someone to become a better person, but he can and will do everything in his power to find the good in them.

Dick Grayson may be the heart and soul of the comics universe, but when it comes to the DCEU, that’s Clark, hands down. He’s the conscience of these movies. He’s an inspiration.

When Perry tells him to write about sports, he points out that when they tell a story, they’re making a decision about who matters, and that as journalists, they have a responsibility to keep uncovering the truth. When Senator Finch asks him to come give his side of the story, he does, because if he refuses to be held accountable, how can people still believe in Superman as a sign of hope? He has the courage of his convictions and he does what’s right even when it’s hard.

He drags Bruce back from the brink and stops him from crossing a line that there would be no coming back from – not by fighting, or even through logic, but by appealing to his humanity. By reminding him of his mother. By pointing out how far he’d fallen. The girlfriend of the human trafficker Bruce branded at the beginning of the film told Clark, “Men like that, words don’t stop him. You know what stops him? A fist.” She was wrong. It wasn’t a fist that stopped him, it was an alien using what he thought would be his last words to beg for his human mother’s life. It was a human woman stepping in front of him to explain what those words meant, loving that alien enough to use her own body to shield him. It was words. It was love.

He got Diana to stop hiding, to stop running away, to step forward and fight to protect humanity again. She got off the plane when it looked like he was dead and picked up her sword and shield to become Wonder Woman, even long after she’d given up, because if he was willing to give his life for a world that feared him, how could she justify not doing the same? The world needed a hero, so that’s what she became.

The world changed when Superman flew across the sky, and it changed again when he didn’t. 

There was one particular moment in Justice League that upset me a lot, and that was when a line – “Superman was a beacon to the world. He didn’t just save people, he made them see the best parts of themselves” – was  changed to be about Diana. Now, I love Diana. I think she’s a great character. But that quote doesn’t describe her. It describes Clark, because it was him that inspired her and reminded her of what she used to fight for.

When he’s fighting Zod up in the sky, Lombard and Perry are trying to haul away rubble to free Jenny. Pete Ross went from a bully to a friend when he saw how fundamentally good Clark is. He pushes Bruce and Diana to be better heroes again and form the Justice League. He’s hope. He reminds everyone around him that they need to stand up for what’s right. This universe is built around him and a beautifully simple idea of heroism – look for the good in others. Help them see the best parts of themselves. Stand up for what you believe in. And fight only if compassion and reason fail.

Happy Birthday, ‘Batman v Superman’: The Impact Two Years Later

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is my favourite movie, comic book or otherwise. Two years ago, I was sitting in the theatre, unbelievably, ridiculously excited, waiting for it to begin.

The movie opens with Bruce as a child, running away during his parents’ funeral, interspersed with the scene of their murder in a flashback style with no words, just Hans Zimmer’s gorgeous score, the whole thing crafted with an amazing attention to detail – when Martha’s necklace breaks and the pearls scatter, one of them is even specked with her blood. I knew from that moment I was in for something special.

The first ten minutes of this movie were the boldest choice in a superhero movie since X-Men (2000) opened in a concentration camp. Snyder trusted his audience. This wasn’t a Batman origin story, and everyone knows about the murder of the Waynes, so he kept it quick and simple, following it with arguably the most Batman moment ever, and it didn’t even involve a Batsuit: Bruce Wayne flying towards trouble; driving straight into a disaster zone; and running through the chaos to rescue people. That’s just awesome.

In this post, from several months ago, I talked about how both Batman v Superman and Man of Steel deconstructed the superhero genre, and I said something along the lines of “the symbolism has been analysed to death”. I was wrong. I was so wrong.

People are still talking about it. Fans are still finding new things to love about it, bits of symbolism and allusions we hadn’t seen before, Easter eggs that we missed. People that hated it can’t get over it – they have to keep making hyperbolic statements about it being the worst movie they’ve ever seen, and comparing every movie that comes out to it. It made that huge of an impact. That’s not the kind of thing that happens with a regular old bad movie or adaptation. Like it or not, BvS is unforgettable.

Its uniqueness doesn’t come from being the “first” anything. It comes from being a brilliant story, inspired by others, but when taken as a whole, completely unlike anything else. It comes from Zack Snyder taking comic books as literature as serious and worthwhile as Nietzsche’s most pretentious works(I know I promised I’d stop bringing up Nietzsche. This doesn’t count.) Arthurian legendphilosophy, Greek and Christian mythology, superhero comics – all of those seemingly unrelated things come together in Batman v Superman to create an incredible, thematically rich story.

A straight up adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns wouldn’t have appealed to me, both because I’m not a Frank Miller fan and because I don’t really see the point in frame for frame adaptations that don’t add anything new to the picture. But as much inspiration as Snyder drew from it, he changed just as much and made it his own by blending the source material with allusions to the classics, to philosophy. Watching Batman v Superman is an entirely different experience from reading The Dark Knight Returns.

He changed the heart of the story, because in his version, Superman is right. Superman is the hero. He took the immense cynicism of the comic and turned it beautifully, wonderfully optimistic. As I discussed hereBatman v Superman is a fundamentally optimistic story about the world being kind of a nightmare, but something we can make better. It frequently gets accused of being “grimdark”, but it’s not that at all – it’s not a fun, escapist flick that lets you avoid thinking about consequences and real world implications for a couple  hours, but it’s also not a cynical everything is terrible, heroes don’t exist, there’s nothing you can do to improve the world take. It’s a life is hard, but we can do it take.

I read this fantastic article a while back that kind of broke my heart – it was about how the Snyder era of superhero movies is over and we should be sad about it. It’s so painfully true. Snyder set the bar so high, it’s going to be very, very hard for the directors that follow to produce something even close to that quality, much less to surpass it, because it’s the most unique, lovingly crafted comic adaptation I’ve ever seen. After experiencing Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, after seeing how spectacular a comic book adaptation can be, it’s going to be hard for me to ever again be satisfied with an okay popcorn movie that I can forget I saw after I leave.

There’s gorgeous detail in everything. From the specks of blood on the fallen pearls to the texture of the costumes to every bit of dialogue. It’s visually spectacular, with fantastic performances and a stellar score. Even with a half hour of the movie hacked out, the theatrical cut of BvS still managed to be excellent. It’s not something I’d watch again, but that’s not because it wasn’t good – it’s because why bother to watch the incomplete version?

The rewatch value of the BvS ultimate edition is unbelievable, and that’s because Snyder doesn’t play it safe or try to pander to the widest possible base. He knows what he wants to make and does it. And what does that result in? Something polarizing, sure, but also something where each frame has more thought put into it and purpose behind it than most movies have in their entirety. So, happy birthday, BvS. You’re amazing, and as much as I pretend I’m done talking to you, we all know I’m probably not.

‘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.

Nightwing_is_ready

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.