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.

Villainy in ‘Batman v Superman’

No other superhero movie can hold a candle to Batman v Superman for me, and a major part of that is because of how great a villain this interpretation of Lex Luthor is.

Lex is a very well developed villain. He’s spectacularly intelligent, enough to manipulate both Clark and Bruce into doing exactly what he wanted them to do. Lois is a brilliant journalist, and she had both the intelligence and the connections she needed to fit the pieces together, but she only had the pieces she needed out of pure luck – a bullet lodged in her notebook giving her something to go after. Lex’s plans were effective enough that even after Lois figured it out and intervened in the fight, after Clark and Bruce joined forces, after Bruce rescued Martha, he still got what he wanted in that Doomsday killed Superman.

What’s even better about this interpretation of the character? Lex drives the plot. He’s undeniably the villain. But what tips him over the edge into being a great villain rather than just a good one is that throughout the movie, he forces the characters to develop through the way he influences the others that exist in the universe. He pushes others to become villains.

Lex represents all of humanity’s worst instincts. He brought out the worst in Bruce, in random citizens – the xenophobia, the hatred, the cruelty. He manipulated Wally and used his anger at Superman to push him into going to the Senate hearing. His own hatred of Clark doesn’t stem from fear of the unknown at all. It isn’t due to ignorance or stupidity, it’s about him wanting to demonstrate power and inspire fear. It’s about him hating not being the most powerful person in the room.

He brought out the bad within us, and gave Clark a chance to demonstrate the best – Clark still saved Lex’s life even after Lex kidnapped his mother, shoved his girlfriend off a roof, and tried to make him a murderer. Clark tried to negotiate with Bruce rather than fight, despite the fact that he thought Bruce was a killer and had no reason to believe in his goodness. So much of the movie was devoted to breaking Clark down: the angry mobs telling him to go home, news reports accusing him of being a murderer, the Senate holding a hearing about him, Batman physically beating up. But even after all that, he still had enough faith in people to think that reason might work, that Bruce would help him save his mother. Clark is the single most heroic character in the movie.

Lex failed in large part by underestimating the women. He knew that Martha and Lois were important to Clark, but he couldn’t grasp just what that meant. He was so caught up in his refusal to see Clark as human, he never thought that Lois could love him enough to put herself between him and the maniac with a spear that was trying to kill him. He never considered Bruce loved his mother so much, was so traumatized by her death, that her name would help him forge a connection with the alien he hadn’t seen as a person. He never thought that Bruce and Clark would both have enough decency to stop fighting and work together. Lex understood human hate and human fear. He didn’t understand human love or compassion or mercy. The concept of heroism is one that he couldn’t grasp.

Lex is a scary villain because his plans didn’t fall apart due to holding the idiot ball, or because he wasted time to gloat or explain every aspect of his plan. He’s terrifyingly reminiscent of people we see in the real world, of leaders of hate groups. His plans failed – loosely, as I said before, his actions still resulted in the death of Superman – in arguably the most optimistic way possible. He was ultimately wrong about human nature. After an entire movie of bringing out the worst in people, those people proved him wrong when they decided to be better. He manages to be a terrifying villain and win while at the same time, helping demonstrate a hopeful message about good triumphing over evil. Now that is quality writing.

Thanks For The Ride: An Open Letter To Zack Snyder

I saw Justice League for the first time last night, and for a solid hour after I got home, I couldn’t stop smiling because of the joy of having my childhood brought to life, of having finally seen the movie I’ve been waiting for for years. I still need to gather my complete thoughts about what I actually felt about it, but before I can do that, I need to express how thankful I am for the DC movies that came before this one.

Batman v Superman came out when I was in my first year of college. I was stressed, I was lonely, and I was having a lot of moments of apathy towards everything. I was home for spring break that week, and I watched it on opening night with my best friend. What that movie did, more than anything? It made me feel less alone.

I barely remember the theatrical cut now. I haven’t seen it since the movie was in theatres. I have no idea what scenes don’t exist in the movie I first saw. I know I prefer the ultimate edition, and that’s the one I always watch, but I also remembering loving the theatrical when it first came out, because even though I don’t remember what specifically the ultimate cut included to make it a more fleshed out story, I know that the spirit of it was the same in both incarnations. And the spirit of that movie was exactly what I needed. Every single time I watch BvS, I love it more. Every single time, it helps me appreciate Man of Steel more. It helps me appreciate that no matter how often it feels like I’m alone and like the state of the world is overwhelmingly bleak, there’s still good out there, if I’m willing to help fight for it.

I hate the way film criticism has become about a select group of people trying to turn their subjective opinions into something perceived as objective truth. It’s a strange form of gatekeeping. Film critics seem to have declared themselves the arbiter of good when it comes to all movies, not just the ones of which they are the target. They seem to have decided that they get to decide what means something, and that if it doesn’t appeal to their perceptions of what a comic book movie should be, it’s objectively bad. But that’s not how art works.

Art is a human experience. I’m an engineer. I appreciate the need to quantify things. But that does not apply to fiction. I don’t appreciate having things that have made an impact on my life diminished to how many jokes they had, or a number on an arbitrary scale. Film is subjective. Something that matters to me won’t necessarily matter to someone else, and vice versa. That’s okay. I fully support people not liking things, and even discussing why. What I hate is people dismissing others as being completely wrong about a subjective medium and claiming that anyone who likes a work they don’t is stupid. BvS matters to me in a way that few films can touch. No amount of critic snark is ever going to change that.

 

Through your films, you inspired me – the atheistic Hindu STEM girl that can’t string words into a sentence to save her life – to not only research Christian philosophy, but write a detailed analysis about how it pertains to a superhero movie.  BvS is one of those stories that reminds me why I love stories. It’s full of rich, beautifully layered and complex ideas and characters, but beyond that, it’s real, it’s honest, and it has more heart than any other comicbook movie I’ve ever seen. Watching your movies – especially BvS -makes me happy. It makes me feel safe and valued as a person. It helps me believe in a better world.

I’ve been a fan of DC since I was six years old. My fondness for it began with Nightwing, and through him, I discovered everyone else. Seeing these characters brought to life so well is like a dream come true. That alone would have made me love your movies forever. But you didn’t stop there. The way you handled BvS made me feel seen. As a woman of colour from an immigrant family, you let me see myself in Superman in a very real way. Your version of the character will forever be my Superman. He’s a superhero that’s completely relatable, because for all his powers, for all his alien heritage, he’s human. He’s an immigrant and a refugee. He’s adopted. I’ve never loved any version of the character as much as this one. In Man of Steel, for the first time, all of those aspects of his character that have always existed and been taken mostly for granted are explored in depth. In Batman v Superman, you acknowledged that struggles that immigrants face and confronted prejudice with tact and compassion. In a time when so many people question our humanity, that means a lot.

So from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Snyder, thank you. Thank you for making great movies and telling wonderful stories. Thank you for refusing to choose between awesome, epic, entertaining superhero flicks and intelligent art. Thank you for always being graceful and classy, even in the face of bloggers and critics attacking your work and your character constantly for years. You’ve worked to create wonderful, lasting stories, and I’m forever grateful for the chance to have seen them. I can’t wait to see what you make in the future. Thank you.

Martha, Martha, and Motherhood: Maternal Love in the DCEU

I’ve never cried during a movie in my life, but the Martha scene in Batman v Superman? That’s about as close as I’ve ever come. I don’t know what I expected before walking into that theatre to see BvS for the first time. Whatever it was, it wasn’t what we got. But when you think about all the build up in Man of Steel, in BvS itself, it seems so fitting that it was Clark’s desperation to save his mother that brought him and Bruce together. The DCEU is about family. It’s practically an ode to mothers, and that can  be seen from the very beginning.

The opening of Man of Steel is set on Krypton, with Jor-El and Lara, and even though much of the scene centred around Jor-El, Lara was still a significant player. Her devastation at having to give her son up so he could live was palpable. She was terrified for him, but she did it, because at least he’d have a chance on Earth. Even after they launched the pod containing their infant son, even after Jor-El’s death, the scene continued with Lara. We saw most of the destruction of Krypton through her eyes. She even got the last line before the end of the planet: Make a better world than ours, Kal. He was long gone and never heard those words, but that’s what he did.

Clark never knew Lara. The mother he knew was Martha Kent, and she is one of the two most important figures in his life. He loves his mother to bits. We saw that all throughout Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. The sheer warmth of the scene where he came back home. The fury when Zod threatened her. The terror and anguish when he learned that Lex had had her kidnapped. The way he called her late at night just because he wanted to hear her voice. The quiet comfort of the two of them standing in the fields under the stars after he flew to visit. Clark adores his mother. Martha grounds him. She can get through to him when he’s overwhelmed, and there are times when she’s the only one that can bring him peace of mind. She’s his family, and from the time Jonathan died to the time he met Lois, she was all of it.

Just as important is Martha’s love for him. Martha’s love for Clark is beautifully pure and unconditional. We see that every time the camera is on her, from her expressing her fear that someone would take him away from her in MoS to her dropping the coffee pot when the Capitol blew up with him inside. He’s her only son, and we’ve seen again and again that she’s always there for him when he needs her. She rushed to his school to help him through his sensory overload. She picked up the phone immediately when he called. Her biggest fear is something happening to him – he’s all but invulnerable, but the thought of him being hurt terrifies her.

Bruce’s relationship with his mother isn’t as positive. Not because he doesn’t love her or because she didn’t love him, but because he’s haunted by her. When he thinks of his mother, he thinks of the most traumatic experience of his life, of a person he couldn’t save. His parents were murdered in an alley right in front of him. He never had the chance to really get to know them. Martha put herself between Bruce and the gunman, just as Thomas did – Bruce had to watch both of his parents die to save him while he was helpless and scared, just like he would feel helpless and scared in Metropolis all those years later, unable to stop the devastation.

That mugging scene focused on Martha. Not Bruce, not Thomas. Martha: his mother’s name, his father’s final word. The only thing that could get through to him, through that haze of anger and fear. Bruce couldn’t save his own mother, but he could damn well save Clark’s. Bruce embodies regret. He couldn’t save his parents. He couldn’t save Jason. He couldn’t save all those people that died in Metropolis. All those people in Bruce’s life he couldn’t save, and Clark reminded him that there was someone he could. And  it was thoughts of his mother that made him understand that. Thoughts of one dead woman that mattered to him more than any words could describe.

For all the action and bombast and fantastic elements, BvS remains a gentle, very human story. It’s a story about love, fear, and the human experience, disguised as an action flick. It feels peaceful in a way that no other superhero movie I’ve seen has matched. It’s a story about the Power of Love, but not in the romantic sense. Yes, Clark’s love for Lois played a major role, but beyond that, it was the story of Clark and Bruce’s love for their mothers.

I’ve never loved a superhero movie as much as I love Batman v Superman. The first time I watched BvS was the first time I ever really felt seen by a director of a superhero movie. Zack Snyder cared about telling a real story. BvS isn’t glib or flippant. It never shies away from dark, serious moments through quips or away from real feelings through macho posturing. Superman is universal. He’s a story that we can all relate to. So many action heroes just become white male power fantasies. That’s not what Superman is, and not what Superman should ever be.

Snyder recognized the universality of Superman, and instead of making him a generic, nerdy “nice guy” that Lois doesn’t see outside of him as Superman, he focused on the fact that Clark is deeply and truly loved. That he’s a hero that loves his mother, loves his girlfriend, experiences self doubt, cares about doing the right thing and struggles to figure out what that is. Snyder embraced the idea of Superman as an immigrant, as a refugee. He depicted with loving care that Clark’s adoptive parents are his family, and that the lack of blood ties does not in any way mean they’re unimportant. Superman isn’t just unrelenting optimism no matter what – he’s finding ways to be resilient and push forward in the face of adversity. He’s love and compassion and human decency.

The running theme of love for and by mothers is a huge part of what makes the DCEU special. It’s the very heart of the universe, and it contributes to the creation of one of the most beautifully heartwarming fictional universes ever brought to film.

The Realistic Optimism of Zack Snyder’s DCEU

As a woman of colour and a child of immigrants and even as a female engineering student, I know that racism and sexism exist. I know that there is vast inequality in the world that can be seen everywhere. And I also know that I have it a hell of a lot better than most.

Maybe it’s a sign of my relative privilege that I don’t have to constantly engage with that fact, or maybe it’s just that life is stressful enough without having to face the fact that the  world can be an awful place, but for whatever reason, I love escapist fiction. I like comedies that I don’t have to think about. I like fantasies that let me focus on problems that aren’t mine and that don’t exist in my universe. Zack Snyder’s DCEU movies don’t let me do that.

Snyder’s movies handle real problems, and handle them seriously. They don’t make jokes about genuinely awful things, because we shouldn’t find them funny. Bruce Wayne’s obsessiveness and paranoia and the way that he copes with his trauma by dressing up as a bat and beating up criminals in the night aren’t funny. They’re tragic. Snyder helps us feel for Clark, because he’s a person, not just some fantasy for people to project onto. These movies are thoughtful, not flippant, and they’re told compassionately enough that I can enjoy them, rather than feeling worse.

They don’t force me to confront things that I’d rather not think about without offering me any support, because they tell me that while there are things to fear, I don’t have to face them alone. That the world is tough, but it’s all of our problem. They never embrace cynicism. Characters aren’t mocked for idealism or naivete. They’re proven right. They’re the people we’re supposed to aspire to be like. Growing up doesn’t have to mean becoming jaded. It means being able to do something. In Batman v Superman, Jenet Klyburn told Lois that what makes her a good reporter is that the bad in the world still surprises her. That’s true. We cannot make the world a better place if we’re resigned to the fact that bad things will happen. We should prepare for the worst while still hoping for the best, and believing in the good of humanity.

Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are serious stories that force the audience to confront the issues that exist in our world through a fantastic lens. Despite that, they’re never pessimistic. They’re grounded in reality, but maintain a sense of optimism. The immigrant refugee can be accepted. The smart, decent guy that feels like an outcast can find a purpose and a place where he feels a sense of belonging. The unethical billionaire can be exposed for crimes and prosecuted. The innocent man can be proven innocent. The bigot can see the error in his ways and change for the better. The journalist can still be unjaded enough to be shocked and horrified at learning about corrupt officials or businesspeople. Oftentimes, these things don’t happen in our world. But Snyder shows us a world in which they can, a world that we can work together to create.

Snyder gives us a genuinely hopeful perspective of the world. He doesn’t try to tell us that the world is just fantastic the way it is, or that we have to love and forgive everyone to be good people, or that . He tells us that despite all the bad, the world is full of good people and decency. That it’s worth fighting for, because it can be better, and it’s up to us to improve it and be our own heroes. Cynicism isn’t maturity. It’s the easy way out. It’s a defence mechanism against disappointment, and it’s understandable, but it’s not the way forward. Nor is blind positivity. We have to recognize that, hey, the world is far from perfect, but we can and should make it better, and that the day we give up on that idea, the day we get too worn out to be shocked and angry about what’s going on in the world, is the day we all lose.

I don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to watch Batman v Superman every day. That’s not a bad thing. There are movies for different times, and there are going to be times when I need to see something less intense. Man of Steel is magical. It’s warm and makes me feel better all the time. It’s comfort food. But Batman v Superman? That’s different. It’s thought provoking. It’s  not the reassurance I want when I’m just having a bad day and I want sympathy, but it is what I need when I’m looking for someone to be both real with me and compassionate about the state of the world.

Superman and the Übermensch: Morality in the DC Extended Universe

I’ve talked before about how Batman v Superman counters Nietzsche’s philosophy in this post. In it, I briefly mention Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch. In a similar fashion to how it subverted the concept of the death of God, BvS subverts the concept of the übermensch.

Nietzsche considered the übermensch the ideal, superior man, someone who could rise above conventional morality to define and impose his own values on the world. He believed this to be what humanity should aspire to. This idea partially inspired the creation of Superman, and it was explored very interestingly in the DCEU.

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The übermensch is a scary concept. The idea of someone that can and will do whatever he wants to is terrifying. That’s the perspective from which a lot of people regarded Superman in BvS – their fear of the übermensch overrode their sense of reason and stopped them from considering the fact that the only thing he had ever demonstrating wanting to do was help out and save lives.

Batman v Superman takes on the übermensch in the style of Crime and Punishment. Superman is the übermensch in a very literal way – he’s the man from above, the alien sent to Earth. Kal El wasn’t born on Earth. He had immense powers that enable him to do things no human can. There would be no way for humans to stop him from doing whatever he liked. A major theme in Batman v Superman is the fear that people have about how it would be impossible to force Superman to comply. He could impose his will on the entire planet – the Knightmare sequence made that very clear. But he doesn’t. He provides a sharp contrast to Zod and the other Kryptonians in Man of Steel. They acted as colonialists, seeking to change the world they found to suit them, whereas Clark was an immigrant and refugee that understood and cared for both the planet that had become his home and its inhabitants.

Even when he disagrees with humans – General Swanwick, Senator Finch – that want him to be accountable to someone, he doesn’t disagree with their position on accountability. He lets the military handcuff him because it would help them feel more secure. He goes to a Senate hearing because he knows the people have a right to the truth. Clark doesn’t use his powers to interfere in politics or international affairs or to stop people from making their own choices. He uses it to help people, to inspire them and give them hope. Throughout both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the majority of his actions weren’t to do with fighting anyone – he was saving people, rescuing them from fires and natural disasters.

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Clark is constantly second guessing himself. He could do just about anything, but he worries about what he should. He spends all of BvS asking himself what the right thing to do is. From questioning whether he was causing more harm than good to saying, “No one stays good in this world” when he finds out Lex has his mother but still choosing to talk first, not fight. He could do whatever he felt like. But he doesn’t. He carefully considers his actions, doubts himself, and ultimately does what he thinks is right according to the morality instilled in him by his human parents.

Batman takes steps towards becoming something akin to the übermensch when he ignores morality. He brands people; he doesn’t care about collateral damage; he goes so far as to appoint himself judge, jury, and executioner and attempt to murder an innocent man. It’s immoral, but he’s decided it’s necessary and doesn’t care any more. His sense of right and wrong, of justice, is warped, but he can justify it to himself and he doesn’t feel guilty about any of it. Unlike Clark, he doesn’t question what he’s doing at all, not until Clark used what he thought were his dying breaths to ask him to save Martha Kent. And when that happens, Bruce realizes what he was doing was wrong, that no one should be making unilateral decisions like that.

Clark brings Bruce back. He doesn’t impose his own values on others – he inspires them to uphold the values he was taught, that he believes in, because he believes in them so sincerely that other people see hope when they look at him. And the reason he can do this is because despite his physical superiority, he never considers humanity inferior to him. He sees people worshipping him as a god, and he’s saddened and feels alienated. He sees a statue of himself and worries about the people he couldn’t save.

BvS makes it clear that morality isn’t something to rise above, distinguishing it from Nietzsche. At the same time, Clark is depicted as what we should aspire to be. But what makes him worthy of that isn’t his strength, his intellect, or any such thing – it’s his decency. His goodness. His belief that everyone around him is valuable and worth saving, that he isn’t a superior being just by virtue of his powers. It’s a beautiful exploration of philosophy, and a wonderful study of humanity in a world of superpowers.

Costume Design and the DCEU

Costume design in the DCEU has been stunning. The superhero outfits draw inspiration from the comics looks, but veer away from tights and spandex in favour of costumes that capture the spirit of the comics, while also being a little more practical and grounded, things that look better in live action.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is the most well known female superhero ever, and by a huge margin. If the big three in general are Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, the fourth – and the first woman on the list – is Wonder Woman. She’s had a lot of suits over the years her character has existed, of varying levels of quality, but the most famous is the look she wore in both the animated Justice League cartoon and the Lynda Carter series. A major consideration in the design of that suit was the sex appeal. Michael Wilkinson, the Batman v Superman costume designer, took a bit of a different route with it.

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Diana’s DCEU suit is beautiful. It’s practical, with clear Greek influences. It’s something she can move and fight in. The leather and metal gives it a much more grounded, serious, warrior vibe than sticking to the star spangled unitard that is the most iconic Wonder Woman costume, while also loosely resembling Diana’s New 52 look. This suit shows a lot of skin, but neither the costume itself nor the way the movies are shot sexualizes her. Her costume sacrifices some protection so that she can move more easily. The boots are still armour. Her gauntlets span the entirety of her forearms, so they protect her more than the bracelets we see in the cartoon. The WW is everywhere. There are still stars, but they’re a bit more subtle, less reminiscent of an American flag. All those components together help build a suit that looks ancient, gorgeous, and very functional.

Superman

Superman is the most iconic superhero in the world. He’s had a huge number of adaptations before the DCEU, which made it important to create a standout costume. And boy, did Wilkinson deliver.

MAN OF STEEL

The level of detail in Clark’s costume is astounding. The colours in it are rich and almost regal looking, bright enough to be eyecatching and not look dull or washed out, but no so bright as to be distracting when he’s supposed to be the focus of the scene, not the suit. The texture makes such a huge difference when you compare it to Superman suits of the past. Those were all flat spandex. And that’s fine, for a cartoon, but it doesn’t look great in live action. It’s a bit of a dated look. This one is less silly – it doesn’t look anything like a grown man wearing a onesie. You can imagine how it would feel to touch.

Aquaman

The DC Extended Universe is the first live action adaptation of Aquaman that we’ve seen, and as such, it could have gone in many different ways. The pop culture image of him as a kind of loser that talks to fish has stuck around, even though it doesn’t have much basis in canon. Zack Snyder chose to embrace all the awesome potential of the ruler of the seas and went the route of Aquaman the Complete Badass.

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Arthur’s Justice League suit, combined with the fact that it’s Jason Momoa wearing it, makes it very clear that Aquaman is someone you should take seriously. It draws upon Polynesian influences, on Momoa’s Hawaiian background, and that’s an incredibly inspired choice – to make the King of Atlantis Hawaiian makes perfect sense, and to include that in the costume was genius. The shark teeth motif is everywhere, along with a somewhat more subtle spear tip pattern. It’s textured, it’s regal, it’s distinctive. It’s a bold, powerful look, and the costume alone is enough to give us an idea of who this character is.

Mera

Mera’s costumes in both Justice League and Aquaman show off just how much thought went into making beautiful suits for different purposes that capture the spirit of the comics costumes. I might even go so far as to say that hers are my favourite in the DCEU.mera-in-aquaman-movie-997354

This is a warrior queen’s armour. The scaly look, the stylized shoulder pieces. It’s functional and fit for royalty. It’s formfitting, but in the same way as Superman’s or Aquaman’s is. She’s not wearing a painted on catsuit for the sex appeal. The tightness isn’t what you notice about it. It’s very complementary to what Arthur wears – the same colour palette and ornamentation, similar care taken with the minute details. It’s not an exact replica, but it’s very close.amber-heard-mera-aquaman-first-look

Her Aquaman suit is clearly designed in a similar style – the scales, the full body coverage, the fingers free to move, the same green with touches of gold colour palette – but it isn’t a combat outfit, and is a lot less ornate. She doesn’t have the plates at her shoulders, elbows, and knees. She isn’t wearing a headpiece. Instead, she’s wearing what looks more like a wetsuit than a suit of armour. This costume, with the vividness of the colours and the low cut of the neckline, is the closest the DCEU has had to a direct comic-panel-to-movie spandex suit, except the details – the lines, the scales, the texture, the shine – distinguish it and keep it from looking like a cheap, tacky Halloween costume.


I absolutely adore the DCEU costumes. There are a lot more that I love that I didn’t mention, but Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman, and Queen Mera’s all are fantastic demonstrations of why the detail put into every costume is astounding. I’m so excited to see more in the coming movies.