What Happens When An Adaptation Displaces The Source Material In Public Memory?

As we get closer and closer to the debut episode of Titans, I’m getting more and more perplexed about some of the complaints I’ve seen about it. I have my own share of apprehensions about this show. I’ve been vocal about that. But what I don’t understand is the people whose complaints stem not from the show itself or how that translates from the comics, but from the knowledge of the cartoon.

While there’s nothing wrong with watching adaptations, but not reading comics, it’s not right or fair to insist that those adaptations are how the material either has been or should be. The Teen Titans cartoon – something that I genuinely enjoy, when I look at it as something other than an adaptation – has very little to do with the comics bearing the same name. The roster – Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, and Cyborg – has become so cemented in people’s minds that when the show roster was revealed, the question didn’t become where’s Kid Flash or any of the other members of the comics roster, but where’s Cyborg. 

Even setting aside Twitter and Tumblr, sites well known for being a mess, look at the TV Tropes page for the show. While some of the people editing it clearly have knowledge of the comics, there are just as many from people whose opinions are coloured by the cartoon. Supposedly Starfire is out of character for not being an all loving hero, even though the original Star was a complete hothead that was far more violent than the version of the character that appears in the cartoon. Supposedly Dick is behaving more like Jason or Damian for being angrier than the bright spot people expected to see, even though good characters are always more complicated than can be defined by an attribute like “violent” and the Titans version of Dick is in a stage between the initial “bringing light and hope to Bruce and Gotham” stage and the later “knowing himself and what he has to do and in control of his anger” stage. It’s silly. There’s plenty to be nervous about, but that’s not the same as dismissing something altogether without seeing it because it’s not like another adaptation.

It wouldn’t bother me that much under most circumstances, but I’ve seen what people growing too attached to one adaptation can do. This backlash is painfully reminiscent of the backlash to Man of Steel. The Christopher Reeves version of the Superman – nerdy, clumsy, awkward, all country bumpkin out of place in the big city – has been so formative to the public perception of the character, people flat out forget that he’s been portrayed very differently in the comics and cartoons. The idolization of the Reeves Superman, coupled with the poor memory of what those movies were actually like, makes it impossible for creators to move on and try a different interpretation that’s still supported by the source material without “fans” jumping down their throats and saying they’re doing it wrong.

There’s no easy solution to this, because adaptations that make that much of an impact are a good thing. There’s no one out there that would deny how important Superman: The Movie was. And it’s gatekeeping nonsense to say people can’t have adaptations be their introduction to these characters, especially because at this point, as much as I’m loathe to say it, these adaptations are aimed at the so-called “general audience” because comics fans alone aren’t a big enough market. I just hope more people start to remember that superhero comics are a decades old medium in which there have been countless interpretations, none of which is inherently more valid than the others.

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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.

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.

‘The Divine Comedy’, Greek Tragedies, and the Classic Hero’s Journey: The Different Character Arcs in the DCEU

Batman v Superman centres around Clark Kent. Bruce is the deuteragonist of the piece, and while Clark’s arc is primarily about being hated and feared and demonstrating to the world that he’s on humanity’s side, Bruce’s story is one of doing bad things and seeking redemption.

The Divine Comedy tells the story of Dante’s journey through hell, Purgatory, and heaven – the path through sin and redemption. In Greek tragedy, the hero is brought down by his own hamartia – his fatal flaw. Both of these things are hugely relevant to Bruce and his story throughout the movie.

If I remember eleventh grade English correctly, the characteristics of a tragic hero as described by Aristotle are as follows:

  1. They begin the story as a hero of high status.
  2. The story is about their fall from grace.
  3. The fall is an inevitable event, brought about by the hero’s own actions.
  4. The audience must feel a sense of catharsis upon their death.

Bruce embodies all of these attributes, save for one thing: the last half hour of the movie features him realizing just how bad his actions were and wrenching himself back to being a true hero. The movie isn’t actually a tragedy. The ending is bittersweet, but it doesn’t qualify as a tragedy, either in literary terms, as described above, or what we’ve come to interpret tragedy as – a story with a sad ending.

This is a story about redemption.

This brings us back to The Divine Comedy. It’s a fascinating, if hugely xenophobic, read. Ignoring the “this was written in fourteenth century Italy and is therefore hugely racist and homophobic” thing, each of the three parts can be related to Bruce’s character arc.

The first ten minutes of BvS are a quick, efficient explanation of how Bruce came to be in a mental state where he thought murdering an innocent man was justifiable. The death of his parents. The helplessness of standing there in the rubble of a city destroyed by a fight between aliens with superpowers. Those first ten minutes are the most heroic he is in the entire movie until the end, when he throws aside his spear and goes to save Martha Kent. Because he’s not fighting criminals. He’s not in costume. He is running through a disaster zone, straight into the danger, to see who needs help. For the rest of the movie…as the one man said, “there’s a new kind of mean in him”. That’s the path through sin: the Inferno part of The Divine Comedy. Bruce’s paranoia and obsessiveness changed him from the man that comforted a child that just lost her mother to one that terrifies the people he just saved even more than the human traffickers holding them hostage.

Clark is the catalyst for Bruce realizing that he was the villain in this piece. While The Divine Comedy is about finding God, BvS revolves around reiterating that Superman isn’t a god, he’s just a man that chooses to use his power to make a positive impact in the world. Bruce’s story is about believing in Clark as a good man, and coming back to being good himself. While oftentimes, tragic heroes are static and blind to the faults that will cause their own doom, thus ensuring that their fall is unavoidable, Bruce isn’t a static character. He can change, and he does. He goes to save Martha while Clark confronts Lex and fights with Clark and Diana to stop Doomsday – Purgatorio,  the redemption part of the poem. After Clark’s death, he’s inspired to form the Justice League – Paradiso, the final part of the poem, the journey through Heaven.

Like Bruce, Clark also fits several of the characteristics of a tragic hero. He’s a hero of high status because he’s the last son of Krypton. He’s an alien on Earth, othered and revered, and a literal superhero. That makes his metaphorical fall inevitable, because no one can live up to the impossibly high expectations people had of him. But neither his fall from grace nor his death occur because of his own actions or any fatal flaw, they occur because of other people – Bruce and Lex. After his death, he’s recognized by both the world in general and his would-be killer as a good man and a hero that should be accepted, not feared, because BvS is  not a tragedy.

The film begins with Bruce’s “start of darkness”, as it were, and his path of doing worse and worse things. I’ve talked about Nietzsche and how his philosophy applies to BvSbefore. And then again. Now, I’m going to have to do it again, just to bring up the quote that I somehow forgot to mention before and that encapsulates Bruce’s character arc. I’m sorry, I swear this is the last time!

He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

By the time Lois stops Bruce from killing Clark, he has become comparable to the criminals he fought and had alienated the people closest to him. This again ties in to The Divine Comedy – when Dante met his dead lover, she reminded him that he set himself on a self destructive path after her death, despite the good she’d done for him. It’s very reminiscent of Bruce’s loss of Robin, of his parents.

In contrast to the tragic hero, the main stages of the classic hero’s journey (heavily abbreviated) are:

  1. The call to adventure
  2. Refusal of the call
  3. Meeting the mentor
  4. Crossing the threshold
  5. Reward
  6. The road back
  7. Return to ordinary

This doesn’t apply to Bruce in BvS at all, because the story takes place so late in his career as Batman. It can, however, be used to loosely describe Diana’s arc, as well as Clark’s in Man of Steel.

Clark may have never refused the call, but if his call to adventure was the development of his powers, we can argue that his “meeting the mentor” was the holographic Jor-El. He crossed the threshold when Zod came to Earth. And so on. Diana wasn’t in much of BvS, but she arguably fits these stages even better than Clark in MoS. Her call to adventure was seeing the beginnings of the disturbance in Metropolis. She refused the call when she started to leave. She met the “mentor” when she fought Doomsday with Clark and Bruce. She crossed the threshold when Clark died and she agreed to help Bruce assemble the League. The reward and the road back took place during Justice League, culminating in her return to the ordinary when she stepped back into being a public figure.

The members of the Trinity all have different character arcs with a few similar aspects. BvS draws upon every kind of classic literature to craft these arcs and define every character as a unique individual. It’s fascinating, and I love it.

Happy birthday to Zack Snyder, my favourite director around, and happy early birthday to my friend Selene, one of the most awesome people ever.

Thanks For The Ride: An Open Letter To Zack Snyder

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Realistic Optimism of Zack Snyder’s DCEU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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