My Dislike For Breaks From Canon vs My Love For ‘Gotham’: Deciphering My Own Mild Hypocrisy

I absolutely love Gotham and its wild, unashamed love of comic books. Despite that love, it doesn’t follow any canon. It takes bits from different comics, from one offs, from cartoons and movies, and blends it with new material, capturing the spirit and feel of reading a comic perfectly as it does so. And even though I love the comics, I adore these changes. It makes the show feel fresh and new.

The X-Men movies, on the other hand? Not quite. For me, most of the X-Men movies don’t feel like they were made by people that even like comics, much less love them. They’re not the product of people that love the characters and respect all of them.

It kind of reminds me of something Guillermo del Toro said once about Pacific Rim: it was inspired by Kaiju movies, but by his memory of them, his nostalgia for them, rather than how they actually are. That’s how this feels, except minus the nostalgia. The X-Men movies feel like the product of someone that knows a little bit about the X-Men – that read a couple comics, or watched a few episodes of the cartoon, and has learned a bit through pop culture osmosis – that tried to recreate it in movie format. And while the resultant product is something that’s usually good for at least a watch, in the long run, they don’t do it for me. In my eyes, it’s very similar to The Dark Knight trilogy. Many of these are great movies. I’m not denying that. But something feels missing, and that’s the love and passion for comics.

It’s not even just about love and respect for the source material, it’s a question of what we’ve already gotten. Batman has had decades worth of adaptations, ranging from the dorky and cheap to the serious and high budget. He’s a pop culture icon whose place in our collective memory has long been determined. So I’m totally up for seeing changes, for seeing new and fresh takes on the heroes and villains. But that’s not  the case for the X-Men. They’ve had cartoons, yes. But they’ve only had one movie franchise, one that’s longer running than any other superhero franchise. It has been going on for nearly twenty years, and because of that, hasn’t really evolved in the same sense as other superhero movies have.

A lot has changed when it comes to superhero movies in the past several years. We can see that in the contrast between the Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy and the one in Batman v Superman, or the Superman in Superman Returns and the one in Man of Steel. People have learned how to combine realism with the sense of comic book come to life. Since the X-Men movies we get today are still an extension of the one from 2000, when the clear goal was making a statement of being different from other superhero movies. That movie was different and highly appealing at the time, but not so much anymore, and that goal resulted in the X-Men never getting a comics accurate adaptation. As a comics fan, it’s frustrating.

In July, the X-Men film franchise will turn eighteen. If it was a person, it could vote. But in all these years, in the nine (?) movies, only about four characters got real attention and development, with one of those four (Mystique) being absolutely nothing like her comics counterpart, to the point where I’m so sick of them, I kind of need to not see them again for the next decade. Other characters not only didn’t get development, they got their backstories actively erased.

Jubilee was at the school before Scott in the alternate timeline. Do you realize how crazy that is? That’s like…I don’t know, like Robin existing before Batman. And that’s minor compared to making Scott the younger brother that grew up in the suburbs with his parents alive. To cutting out all of Warren’s history with the X-Men. To ignoring the fact that the Dark Phoenix wasn’t just Jean going crazy and having more power than she could handle, but the Hellfire Club manipulating her and screwing with her head until she didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. None of these changes were necessary. None were a fresh take on a story that’s been done to death. All they did was make the incarnation of the characters that’s a lot of people’s introduction to them completely different from who they really are and have been.

I’ve watched the various cartoons, read the comics, watched the movies. I have a deep and undying love for most of these characters. But there are kids out there today whose exposure to them will just be the disrespectful treatment they’ve gotten in the movies. I hate it. I fully support exploration of the way characters would be if put in a different situation…but that doesn’t apply on the very first version.

Scott was Xavier’s first student, Alex’s older brother, the object of Sinister’s obsession, an abused child that grew up in an orphanage and on the streets, the leader of the X-Men, the first X-Man, a respected teacher, the ultimate good guy and biggest adherent to Xavier’s dream until years of losing made him realize that it was time to draw a line in the sand. Are all of those things really essential? All of them? No, probably not! What the hell do I care if he’s younger or older than Alex? But when all aspects of his character are stripped away from him and handed out to other characters on his first live action adaptation, I draw the line.

This same thing can explain my adoration for the DC Extended Universe: it doesn’t follow canon exactly. It interprets it creatively while still demonstrating both a love for and knowledge of the source material. It doesn’t change the core of the characters or stories. I don’t think it’s hypocritical, really, or a double standard, to enjoy some works that deviate from canon while being bothered by others. Because it’s not actually about deviations from canon. It’s about how knowing when to make changes is a sign of respecting viewers and source material. Gotham does. The X-Men movies don’t.

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).

 

DC’s Weird Joker Obsession

It’s no secret that I love Batman. I mean, of course I do, who doesn’t? Batman v Superman is my favourite movie ever made. Batman: The Animated Series is one of my favourite cartoons. And Gotham is absolutely delightful in its over the top black comedy brilliance. Where I differ from many Batman fans, and it seems DC itself, is that I don’t give a damn about the Joker.

It’s not about him being abusive to Harley or killing a lot of people or anything like that, because there’s a difference between being a bad person and being a bad character. The Joker is a bad person, which would be fine, except I just don’t find him interesting. In a world with criminals like the Riddler, Two Face, and Mr. Freeze, I find his “crazy” schtick played out and tiresome (Not to mention ableist in a way that the other villains simply aren’t).

In the last episode of Gotham, once the villains broke out of Arkham, Jim said that something “this big, this insane” had to be the work of Jerome Valeska, and I don’t get that at all. It seems to me like a sign of DC buying into their own idea that the Joker is the scariest Batman villain and not going to the effort to actually show us how that’s true. The evidence doesn’t support it, because their versions of Penguin, Professor Pyg, the Riddler, and Mad Hatter have all had many more moments of being absolutely terrifying than Jerome h as. With Jerome, it feels like they’re doing something you can’t often accuse Gotham of doing, and that’s relying on the comics to make us care.

What’s the worst thing Jerome has done? Shot up a few places? Killed someone with a bomb? Sure, whatever. That would be scary in our world, but this is Gotham City! That’s what they call Tuesday! He’s been defeated by a teenage Bruce, and the only reason he didn’t die again is that Bruce stopped two people from killing him – three if we count  Bruce himself. He once came back to life and stapled his face back on, which was both a mythology gag and gruesome, but even that pales in comparison to what other characters have done. And yet he’s still pushed as soooooo scary, as if Penguin hasn’t spent four seasons doing way worse things.

Fish Mooney has gouged out her own eye out of sheer spite. The Riddler dismembered his girlfriend’s corpse and hid the parts all over the police station. Penguin’s revenge scheme culminated in him freezing Nygma, putting him on display, and claiming that he was doing it because his dear friend had a deadly disease and he’d unfreeze him once there was a cure. Jervis hypnotizes people into killing themselves. If I was a Gothamite, I’d rather not meet Jerome, but if I had a choice between him and just about any other villain in the city? I’d take my chances with him, because most of what he has going for him is hype and informed scariness.

Arrow writers have complained about Green Arrow’s lack of iconic villains. Their solution to that wasn’t to work really hard to make new or existing villains interesting and intimidating, it was to instead use other characters’ enemies. Deathstroke, traditionally a Nightwing villain. Ra’s al Ghul, traditionally a Batman villain, coupled with the storyline that’s traditionally Batman’s. Gotham has demonstrated that they don’t need that, and not just because Batman’s Rogues Gallery is iconic. Some of their best work occurs when they take a comic villain – one that’s easy to laugh at when in print – and make them much, much scarier. Mad Hatter isn’t intimidating or iconic in the comics, but in the show? He’s downright terrifying.

I, like a lot of people, was skeptical in the early days of the show because I didn’t know how they were going to handle the villains. Season one was a pretty straightforward mob drama/police procedural with a lot of call forwards. But season two turned up the intensity on everything – more subplots, more camp, characters going full on themed supervillain – and demonstrated that this is basically an Elseworlds tale with its own continuity where they’ll do whatever they feel like doing, proving that, for all the show is absurd and filled with characters that have weird gimmicks, the show itself doesn’t rely upon the gimmick of being “Gotham before Batman” with constant winks and nudges to where the characters will be in fifteen years.

But when it comes to Jerome, what they do is similar to what Arrow does: take a character from elsewhere in DC and rely upon the source material. It’s less blatant with Gotham because the Joker belongs to the Batman universe and the actor does a good job with what he’s given, but so far, we’ve mostly been told why we should be scared of him while every other villain has shown us. It’s a similar issue to Barbara – he’s the centre of a lot of storylines, and he’s entertaining enough to watch, but there’s not much substance in those stories and they’re only there because the writers are attached to him.

This extends far beyond Gotham. I’ve seen a lot of people say that the Joker should have been the main villain in Suicide Squad, and I’m pretty sure I remember David Ayer agreeing. I disagree completely. Enchantress wasn’t a great villain, and there would have been ways to make her better, but the Joker wasn’t the answer. An expanded role to aid in Harley’s development? Sure, I’d have been here for that. But I think the reason why the character works in relation to Batman is that he is representative of what Batman’s no-kill rule really means. It’s not because he’s interesting on his own, it’s because of how he impacts Bruce. Bruce can justify his vigilantism to himself and see it as morally right if he doesn’t kill. He can’t appoint himself judge, jury, and executioner – he’s supposed to stop crime, not mete out punishment. And that means the Joker will continue to do bad things, because he can’t kill him for what he did to Jason or to Barbara or to any number of civilians.

None of that applies to the squad, because they’re all killers. None of them would have any qualms about (or any difficulty) killing the Joker, save for El Diablo, so he wouldn’t have made a good antagonist. Not unless the entire concept of the movie was changed from a Suicide Squad action film to a character piece centred around the members of the squad while they’re not going on a mission that Waller doesn’t want to risk other people on.

The Joker is a fine character. But I don’t think he’s as versatile as a lot of others. He has a specific purpose, and trying to make him fit in other stories is more likely to fail than it is to succeed.

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 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.

Deathstroke as a Nightwing Villain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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