“Fuck Batman”: The 7 Most Likely Characters To Call Bruce Wayne Out On His Bullshit

There was a lot of debate upon the release of the first Titans trailer about whether or not Dick Grayson would ever say “fuck Batman”. That debate lessened upon the release of the first episode, where it became clear that it sounded way better in context. But there was still a lot of people that evidently think it was out of character, judging from how many comments I saw saying that’s more something Jason would say. Personally, I think that’s nonsense and Dick would absolutely say that. When it comes to calling out Bruce and doing the opposite of what he says, Dick is the original. But he’s far from the only one.

7. Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Slaps Bruce.pngWhat an icon.

So the context of this panel is that Steph just found out that Bruce is, in fact, not dead. Naturally, she was mad, and demanded to know if all she’d just gone through was some kind of trick or game. Bruce, being Bruce (which is to say, kind of a dumbass, sometimes), told her it was a test. Stephanie…did not take that very well.

Steph and Bruce have often not gotten along, what with him frequently telling her not to do stuff, dismissing her abilities, and used her to make Tim jealous so he’d come back. So this slap was kind of a long time coming. After this, she was all, oh God, did I really just slap Batman? Bruce was more, what just happened? Then she told him she was glad he wasn’t dead, then ran off. Go, Stephanie. This was beautiful.

My point by all that rambling: Stephanie’s middle name might as well be “Fuck Batman”.

6. Jason Todd

Okay, this one’s a no-brainer. As much as I disagree with the claims that Titans Dick is more like Jason than Dick, it’s true that Jason has spent years being in a state of fuck Batman. Unlike Dick, though – and most others on this list – Jason’s fuck Batman is mainly in words, not spirit.

Jason spent a huge amount of time post revival complaining about how the Joker was still alive, how Bruce would have killed him for Dick, and a lot of other similar things. He claims he doesn’t care what Bruce thinks about what he does, but he very clearly does – he does a string of irrational nonsense for the sake of getting Bruce’s attention. He could have gone anywhere after his resurrection, but he went back to Gotham. Because unlike Dick, who felt smothered and wanted space/for everyone to see him as him and not an extension of Bruce, Jason acted out so people would look at him.

5. Commissioner Gordon

Oh, look, the guy that’s just trying to get through the day when Batman shows up and vanishes on him when he’s talking. And probably introducing quite a few problems and villains even as he deals with others. The Commissioner Gordon brand of “fuck Batman”: “Fuck Batman, here I am, doing my job and this guy insists upon being obnoxious when interrupting me”.

4. Oswald Cobblepot

Oooh, look, the one villain on this list!

If there’s a single villain that’s gonna say “Fuck Batman”, it’s got to be Penguin, just for the sake of Love Bird. It all amounted to a very sweet story where Batman spoke on his behalf and explained everything to his girlfriend, but still! Penguin was trying to go straight with an umbrella factory and help out ex-cons who couldn’t get jobs elsewhere, Bruce saw felons entering the building and burst in to investigate, and Penguin got sent back to jail for violating his parole by consorting with known felons. Come on, Bruce!

3. Barbara Gordon

Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl, Oracle, one of the coolest heroes in all of Gotham. Also: viewed by practically everyone as a lesser version of Bruce.

As Oracle, she’s not second to anyone. She’s a member of the Batfamily, yes. She’ll work with all of them with relatively few issues. But Bruce Wayne being the control freak that he still tries to push her around, even though she’s not his sidekick, she’s his equal. So perhaps not fuck Batman…but definitely shut the fuck up, Batman.

2. Clark Kent

When it’s not Bruce’s relatives, it’s Clark that has to deal with Bruce. And as much as I love their friendship, Bruce is not an easy person to be friends with. The man keeps a chunk of kryptonite in the Batcave. The sole purpose of said substance is incapacitating Kryptonians! Clark may have nigh-incomprehensible amounts of patience, but Bruce has got to be trying even him.

1. Dick Grayson

Of course.

Dick has to get the number one slot in this list, just by seniority. Yes, technically Gordon predates him. But Dick has spent more time actually putting up with Bruce’s nonsense. Think of all the gripes he must have by now:

  • Firing him
    • Granted, this one depends on which version of continuity we’re going with, but Post-Crisis, Bruce fired Dick as Robin. Dude! Not cool.
  • Making Jason Robin without giving him so much as a heads up text
    • Sure, Dick had grown out of being Bruce’s sidekick. And I’m pretty sure Dick approved of letting Jason have the mantle pretty quickly in all versions of the story. But that was still his name! It wasn’t Bruce’s to give.
  • Constantly criticizing his decisions
  • Only singing his praises to everyone when he’s not there
    • I mean, yes. Bruce is probably less stingy with the praise to Dick than to any of
    • Only Thing Bruce Ever Did Rightthe other Batkids. But the stuff he says to other people about him is so much
      nicer, and if Dick finds out about it at all, it’s through someone else. Come on, Bruce! Rude.

And that’s not even half of it. They have a long history! So I don’t care what anyone says when they’re whining about Titans Dick being more like Jason or Damian. He’s got “fuck Batman” seniority.

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The Impact of Adaptations on Perception of Characters

Adaptations are a funny thing. When it comes to superhero movies or TV shows, it’s almost inevitable that someone out there will absolutely hate it.

It’s easy to mock the “not muh Superman!” people that complain about a different interpretation of the character that holds true to the source material. But some of the time, I do understand where they’re coming from. Sure, with a lot of characters, one bad adaptation isn’t the end of the world, but adaptations have a major role on how people perceive comics and comic book characters. Especially live-action adaptations and first adaptations. Especially when the adaptation is of a character non-comics fans don’t know much about.

One of the reasons I’m so anxious about Titans is because as much as I adore Dick Grayson, as much as I know he’s popular among comic fans, I also am painfully aware of the fact that despite his longevity as a character, he’s simply not taken very seriously by the general audience. He’s not Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. All of those characters have gotten multiple adaptations within my lifespan, but Dick? While we’re supposedly getting a Nightwing movie, that’s like the Flash, Cyborg, and Batman ones – stuck in development hell to the point where I doubt it’s ever coming. If he doesn’t stand out as awesome in Titans, he’s not gonna get another chance to do so for a long time.

It’s a similar issue to bad interpretations in a long running series or a shared universe that includes a lot of characters and movies, rather than just a standalone solo movie, or even a trilogy. I mean, consider Harry Potter. In the movies, Hermione took on basically all Ron’s skills and personality. Despite the massive popularity of the series, I highly doubt there’ll be a reboot any time soon, so the only visual adaptation we’re going to have for a long time will be one that stripped one of the most important characters in the series of what made him interesting and managed to make a lot of people – an astounding number, really, considering that Harry Potter was the series that got pretty much the entire world to line up at midnight for a book release and learn about the book version of the characters’ real traits – forget just how important and skilled Ron was.

Take the X-Men movies. Those did a similar thing. Yes, they’ve had both highs and lows that I’ve commented on repeatedly. But what’s more important than deciding how good they are is they’ve had a huge impact on perception of the X-Men. The X-Men were introduced in 1963. The first movie came out in 2000. That means this interpretation of the characters has been around for more than 30% of the characters’ entire lifespan – at least. The characters introduced in 1963 were the original X-Men, from the days before Claremont, the days before characters like Storm, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Emma Frost. Saying that the X-Men movies ruined a character, while still dramatic, is much more understandable than saying the same of a character like Superman or Batman. I have to suppress a laugh at people saying Zack Snyder ruined Superman because that just sounds ridiculous, but complaining about the movie interpretation of the X-Men? That I completely get.

Superman and Batman have had multiple different interpretations in my lifespan, in the forms of both TV series and movies, both live action and animated. The X-Men? Not really. When it comes to live-action, it’s just been the one set of related movies where no one that wasn’t Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto, or Mystique got any real attention and we had to sit through Xavier giving Magneto the same “there’s still good in you” speech like six times. And since there’s never been a real reboot, none of the characters got to be rewritten in a more interesting or more comics accurate way. I try not to say things like X movie ruined Y character, because oftentimes, that’s not fair. There are a lot of unseen people that work hard in the industry on every movie and we should at least try to find something to appreciate before we start complaining about what we didn’t like. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand bitterness towards the X-Men movies for how they treated most of the characters. Scott Summers is my favourite Marvel character, and I had to watch first the original trilogy strip away his background, personality, leadership skills, tactical instincts, and fighting ability, then the alternate timeline make him a totally different person. Believe me. I get it.

Adaptations have a huge impact on perception of characters and stories. Whether it’s how the Richard Donner Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve were so influential that people start talking about that as the source material rather than the comics, or how a first adaptation of a character can make or break their possibilities for a future adaptation, adaptations of superhero comics are arguably even more important than the comics themselves when it comes to keeping those characters alive in public memory. It’s disappointing. Comics are a wonderful medium with amazing stories and brilliant characters that should be acknowledged as such. And superheroes are a major part of cultural knowledge. But when it comes to the general audience, most of that knowledge comes from adaptations, or in a diluted fashion through cultural osmosis.

It’s neither good nor bad that the general audience doesn’t read comics and gets their knowledge of the characters from adaptations. Disappointing, sure, but not intrinsically bad. What is disappointing though is the lack of respect for comics in the writers and directors of a lot of these adaptations. I want the characters I love to get the best possible chance at making it into the public consciousness in an accurate sense. That won’t happen unless adaptations respect them and give nuanced takes. We’ll all still have different perspectives on whether or not those takes are good ones…but we’ll have to respect that there was thought and care put into them. In the long run, that’s what’s good for characters.

An Easy Guide To Identifying the White Male Comics Geek

Fact: there are white male comics fans, and there are White Male Comics FansTM. The latter are a pain. But worry not, friends! For I can help. If you look out for these warning signs, you may well be able to get the hell out of there before some loser starts demanding you prove your geek cred through answering some test.

  1. Their favourite X-Man is Wolverine.
    Look, Wolverine is fine. I might have several different posts in the works explaining my problems with him as a character, but those issues don’t have much to do with him. They’re more about the audience reaction to him. And they’re why it’s generally a red flag to me if someone says they love him.

    Unfortunately, White Male Comics Fans gravitate towards Wolverine, because he’s “cool”. They think because he stabs people and isn’t cautious, he should lead teams and be the main character, regardless of his absurd hypocrisy and terrible judgment. It makes no sense, but it is what it is. I generally take a love for him as a sign I should avoid the person expressing it and move on.

  2.  They think Robin is stupid.
    Interestingly enough, Robin was both the first kid sidekick and the last. Robin has become a legacy character and the mantle has endured while others haven’t because a younger Robin to an older Batman is crucial to the dynamic. We see again and again why Batman needs a Robin and how important Bruce’s children are to him, but the Robins – mostly while they’re Robins, not after they take up other mantles – are dismissed as unnecessary sidekicks.

    …quite frankly, this one is a sign of people that don’t actually know anything about Batman, but try to claim they do. God, I hate fake geek boys.

  3. They hate Scott Summers.
    Look, Scott has gotten a lot of hate over the years for stupid reasons. People that think he’s boring; people that think he’s not good enough for Jean; people that think he’s a bad leader; people that make statements about him that are technically true, but so far taken out of context or distorted to make him look bad, they’re not accurate to the text anymore. The list goes on. I disagree with all these assessments. But mostly, I can just ignore them as people that don’t actually think about the text and that are instead relying on the pop culture osmosis and the say so of writers that hate him. What I can’t deal with is when they go all “Cyclops was a terrorist” on me.

    If someone claims that “Cyclops Was A Terrorist”, they clearly don’t know jackshit about what terrorism is, because what Scott did was mind his own business, give mutants a safe place to go, and warn people that if they continued to attack innocent people, he’d have no choice but to retaliate. Then he destroyed a gas cloud that was killing mutants, that’s not terrorism, that’s retaliating against oppressors. The people that think that’s a bad thing? Those are the pseudo-intellectual, “if you fight back against your violent oppressors, doesn’t that make you just as bad as them, hmmm? Check and mate” idiots. Those aren’t people I’m interested in talking to, and are pretty clearly people that don’t get what the X-Men – and mutants in general – represent to minorities. However, seeing as you usually can’t tell the Cyclops hater that is operating on misinformation from the Cyclops hater that thinks minorities should just sit back and ask politely for people to stop killing them…I find the safest option is just to avoid.

  4. “The Nolan Batman movies are the best!”
    I like Nolan. I have a lot of respect for his directorial skills. And I think there’s a lot to enjoy from his Batman trilogy. But it would be a total lie to say that parts of them don’t set my teeth on edge – primarily, their depiction of Bruce and the way they propagated the idea that Batman is a loner that doesn’t need other people.

    Nolan didn’t understand why Robin matters. That much is obvious. If he did, he’d have gotten why having the character killed by the Joker be a love interest instead of a son isn’t true to the story. He’d have gotten why some random adult that Bruce met five minutes before doesn’t fill the same role in Bruce’s life as the child he raised into an adult that he’s called “the one thing I ever did right”, the one that Alfred has described as Bruce’s optimism. The Nolan movies are fine. They’re well-crafted, well-written movies with compelling performances. But as far as I’m concerned, they miss the mark when it comes to Bruce.

    Batman isn’t a loner and he shouldn’t be. Robin is one of the oldest mantles in superhero comics, and Dick Grayson has existed nearly as long as Bruce himself. He even predates Wonder Woman. Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl – because we are absolutely not getting into the Batgirl Bat-Girl distinction here – was created in the sixties. Bruce has more family and allies than just about any other DC character. The Nolan movies might be good, but they didn’t respect that. As such, I’m never going to be able to consider them the best anything.

  5. “Hahahaha, Batman v Superman is so bad, they stopped fighting because their moms had the same name!”
    If they think this, well…there’s probably no helping them. Just get out of there. I wrote a whole post on why that moment was awesome, and I still got people complaining about how I was wrong and it was stupid. There’s no helping some people.
  6. “Superman has to smile all the time and never have doubts or fail at anything.”
    For me, a major part of the appeal of BvS is Clark’s reactions to the world and the world’s reactions to him. I find Superman far more interesting when he’s real, when he has actual emotions. He’s not a god, he’s a person that grew up knowing he was different. Presenting him as an always happy optimist that thinks the world is perfect even though he’s being told that he doesn’t belong on the only planet he’s ever known would be disingenuous.

    Like the Robin issue, this warning sign tends to highlight people that think they know more about the comics than they actually do – that or people that are so fixated on their nostalgic memory that they forget what actually happens in comics. Or both. Minorities recognize the immigrant story in BvS and appreciate it. The White Male Comic GeekTM, on the other hand, wants Superman to be a escapist fantasy that’s just for him with no grounding in real world political issues.

    I totally get not reading comics. I’m not passing any judgement on that. Watching cartoons or movies or whatever is a perfectly acceptable way to engage with the material. But you can’t say something is wrong or a bad adaptation if you’re only getting your understanding of the “right” way to make a Superman movie from the Donner movies.

I know, I know – most of these don’t so much help you avoid the annoying white boys so much as give you signs to watch for so that you can hightail it out of there before they start saying racist, sexist things. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to avoid all annoying fanboys without cutting off all interaction with comics fans in general. I don’t want to do that, because talking about comics is fun, and for all I know, that dude that wearing a Wolverine shirt actually has interesting opinions and isn’t going to start lecturing me on comics. In order to be sure if the person in front of you is a White Male Comic GeekTM, you’re going to have to talk to them, for at least a while (or don’t bother trying to figure it out and leave. That’s usually what I do).

I was once caught in a situation where I was forced to choose between making it clear that I knew Nathan Summers’s biological mother was Madelyne Pryor and saying that he was Scott’s son with Jean because she raised him. I said the latter, already braced for the “well, actually…”, so I could swiftly add on that I knew about Madelyne. More recently, someone started Tweeting at me about how I was totally wrong for saying Scott was acting in self defence during Avengers vs X-Men, and, like an idiot, I was baited into responding. Lesson learned: when in a situation where you have to decide how to respond to an annoying White Male Comic GeekTM, think, what would Keya do? Then, your safe bet is to do the opposite.

Trying To Understand The Most Inconsistent Comic Book Writer Ever

Grant Morrison utterly fascinates me. He’s one of those guys readers tend to have strong opinions about. But I don’t. He’s written both some of my absolute favourite comics ever – Batman and Robin, All Star Superman – and some that still upset me to think about – primarily New X-Men. He’s almost impressively inconsistent. And it results in me having absolutely no idea what I think of his work.

Only an idiot would deny how influential he is to the art form. He came up with a lot of what’s general pop culture knowledge. Emma’s creepy clone quintuplet – and later triplet – daughters? His creation. Bruce Wayne’s only main-universe biological son? His work. And you know what I find most interesting about New X-Men? As much as I hate to acknowledge it, due to the bad taste in my mouth from the way it treated Scott, Jean, and Emma, some of the concepts and characters Morrison introduced were excellent. Emma’s relationship with the Cuckoos was one of the things I liked best about the run.

He upended the status quo, and even though comics are full of various writers contradicting each other both knowingly and unintentionally, parts of it have lasted, from his new characters to parts of the Emma characterization/Emma becoming an essential member of the team to more plot related details, like the reveal of the true nature of the Xavier Institute to the world. On the other hand, his Magneto characterization is a complete canon discontinuity. It’s not acknowledged, it’s not ever mentioned again, it’s completely Morrison’s. There hasn’t been a single writer since him that thought, hey, that’s good, let’s do that.

And now that I think about it, actually think about what happened in his various Batman runs, beyond just the obvious “Dick and Damian as the new Dynamic Duo” bit that I loved, I remember something else: I do not like how he treated Talia at all. As much as I love the Dick and Damian relationship as written by Morrison, to the point where I forget a lot of what happened in his Batman aside from their dynamic, his depiction of Talia was just insulting. Damian’s conception went from being a result of a brief, consensual relationship to occurring because Talia drugged Bruce. It’s a weird vilification of a character that, for a lot of her history, committed criminal acts out of loyalty to her father more so than out of actual gain. Maybe it was an attempt at making Talia a more independent character whose actions are in pursuit of her own interests rather than just alternating between supporting Ra’s and helping Bruce – a valid goal. But I didn’t like the way of going about it.

Her descent into outright villainy wasn’t so much a descent as her waking up one day and deciding, I know, let’s shake things up a bit and do terrible things for the sake of it. She went from being a flawed but loving mother to someone that would stick an implant in him so she could control his body, clone him, disown him, put a bounty on his head, and more. She had her pet the dog moments, but as a whole, her character was highly erratic. The contrast to classic Talia is glaring. And looking at his version of her compared to those that came before, I couldn’t help but notice that the artist actually drew her in accordance with her ethnic background, Talia is often whitewashed in art. She’s supposed to be part Arab and part Chinese, but oftentimes, you wouldn’t know that. That’s not the case in Morrison’s Batman. Which is good…except for how she’s more a villain there than in any other depiction. It probably wasn’t an intentional “play up our villain’s ethnic features” or “make the Arab evil”, and I can hardly pin that on Morrison himself, but all together, it’s uncomfortable.

I think his strength is that he’s not afraid to push the envelope. He’ll introduce new characters or concepts and long running plot arcs and take his time developing them. He knows his vision and he commits to it. And the character part of that clearly works – he’s not one of the writers who creates a character that no other writer cares about or finds interesting. The Cuckoos were his invention, but they’ve been used fairly regularly since then, even becoming prominent characters in The Gifted. He took the different stories that had to do with Bruce and Talia’s child and reinterpreted them, creating Damian. The list of his creations is extensive and includes many well known characters. He seems to even prefer working with his original characters than with established ones, which is an interesting aversion to what a lot of other writers do. Others make the characters they like fit the stories they want to tell. Morrison doesn’t hesitate to create a new one. It speaks to his experience with the medium. He understands the power of using a new character instead of an existing one, and is confident enough to do it and risk them being hated.

New characters, like everything, have positives and negatives to them. For one, readers are protective of existing characters. They have very fixed ideas about what they should be, sometimes justifiably so and sometimes not. So they’ll object to forcing an existing character into a role where they might not fit, but can’t do that as much with a new character. New characters can also bring in new readers, who might find them an easy place to start. It’s much less daunting to get into a character that’s been around for a couple of years than one that’s decades old and has had all sorts of different, contradictory stories. But they can also alienate longtime readers. Comic fans tend to be resistant to change. New characters take time to get accepted, especially when they’re a legacy character. Morrison is good at writing new characters well enough that they’re quickly accepted, or even at rescuing characters he didn’t create from fan hatred.

I think it’s probable that his DC work isn’t actually better than his X-Men stuff (except for All Star Superman, that one is just amazing) and that I’m only perceiving it that way. Most likely, they have the same strengths and flaws and my feelings towards them are more based in my feelings about the characters he handles. Maybe it’s just my personal feelings towards the characters he handles. Dick is my favourite DC character and Scott is my favourite Marvel one. I get prickly over perceived mistreatment of those characters. And Dick came across very well in Batman and Robin, +while New X-Men made Scott look terrible (and that doesn’t even get into how poorly Jean and Emma were treated). In Morrison’s Batman, it was characters like Talia that got the brunt of it, not Dick. I like Talia, enough to notice when she’s being treated poorly, but not so much that it bothers me on the first read through when other characters I like more are being treated well.

Morrison kind of serves as an example of the potential pitfalls of having fans as writers. He writes like a fan. He has the same continuity obsession that fans do, trying to tie everything together and fill in plotholes. If he wants to explore something – a character dynamic, a minor plot point from earlier, anything – he just does it, regardless of what that involves doing to other characters. But this isn’t fanfiction. What one writer does impacts what others can. They can’t just toss aside a character or their established characterization/development/relationships for the sake of focusing on someone else, or making a different character look better by comparison (Or, well, they can, but they usually shouldn’t). Every writer is bound to have their favourites. But the nature of comics, the way they’re created through collaboration, with every issue built off of the years of work before it, means that it’s insulting to disregard other people’s hard work and depict something exactly how you want without attention given to the previous incarnations of a story/character/etc.

Different aspects of all his stories are good. He has lots of great ideas. Even with some of the things that I don’t personally like, I can recognize that there’s probably a good story there. But a problem arises in that he has too many ideas and not enough time. His stories feel overstuffed with many of the plots not having enough room to breathe and developed. They feel smothered by the way so much is happening. With most writers, that would probably make me dismiss them, because ideas don’t mean much without good execution. But I can’t do that with Morrison, because, as I said earlier in this post,  All Star Superman is absolutely incredible.

All Star Superman never felt like too much to me. For all that goes on, it never forgets what’s important. The scene with Superman talking down a suicidal teen, where Clark finds the time for one person, is one of the most moving moments I’ve ever read. It’s one of the most memorable panels of all time. That one page was a love letter to Superman and his long history. It was the distillation of all his best qualities into one beautiful moment. If anyone were to ever ask me to describe Clark Kent in one panel, that would be it. It was Morrison at his absolute best, and even if the rest of the run was mediocre (which it wasn’t), that scene alone would have been enough to make me love it forever.

Maybe it’s just this: there are characters that Morrison fundamentally understands. He gets their strengths and their flaws. He understands what people love about them and why. He gets why they’re interesting, and because of that, it’s easier for him to write an interesting story that’s true to who they are. Superman is one of them. Characters like Talia, Magneto, and so on, not so much.

Morrison is a very good storyteller. He’s demonstrated that repeatedly. Do I love all of his work? No, absolutely not. No one’s perfect. And Morrison is, in my opinion, more inconsistent than most. I’ll probably complain about him more than I will most other comic writers. But I’ll also praise him more, because no matter what, his works aren’t forgettable. Even when I don’t like something he’s written, I can recognize there’s something redeeming about it. I still don’t know if my overall impression of him is positive or negative. What I do know is if you disagree with what I say about him on one day, wait a week and come back to me – I’ll probably have changed my mind again.

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).

 

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.