August 6, 2008

Thoughts on the Batman

Two or three times now, Calen has asked me the comic geek standard "Superman or Batman?" question. They're the two biggest icons in all of comicdom, far outstripping any of the Marvel characters (Spider-man being #1 over there, I guess), and they are two of the very few heroes who can be traced back to the origin days of comics while retaining their popularity throughout.

I guess the first time, I answered Superman, because she recently caught me talking up The Bat - probably in regards to some movie or sumpin that came out - and said that she disputed my answer and said that I was far bigger on the Batman than I'd said I was.

And I'll give that I generally find Batman stories more interesting than I do Superman stories. Something that I thought I could show by linking to my previous post about the best DC graphic novels but then I found didn't match as it 5.5 Superman stories and only 3.5 Batman-related stories on it.

For a good Superman story, you need a threat that's universal in scope, the kind of thing that threatens to rip open the heavens, destroy the sun, unmake the entire universe because he's that strong. Anything less than that, and Superman should be able to take out the threat with the flick of his pinkie. To truly challenge Superman requires Darkseid and his universe-destroying machinations, Braniac and his cold willingness to destroy all of the worlds that he touches, or at least Doomsday with his killing machine instincts honed to kill just Superman.

Writers have had to shackle Superman with various limitations on his powers to keep him from becoming a true Ubermensch. Oh, he can be hurt by magic. And there's a rock that's fallen from the sky that can kill him (a rock originally introduced in the radio serial, by the way). And he's a goody two shoes who absolutely, steadfastly refuses to kill anybody.

Without these limitations written in, every Superman story would consist of about three panels. The first would have Superman seeing/hearing/sensing the threat. The second would show him pounding the threat into submission, and the third would show him kicking back with a cold one while the villain flies into the sun.

To challenge Batman, however, takes a nutcase with a gimmick. Throw Catwoman at him - ooh, a whip and breasts. He's flummoxed. Take a guy with a gun that makes ice and Batman is legitimately challenged. Just a crazy guy with no super powers whatsoever but who happens to be willing to kill is all it takes to make the greatest of Batman's rogues gallery.

It's easier to create a story in which Batman is challenged, in which there's a mystery to be solved. Even in the mysteries for Superman when the entire city has been lead-lined and the bad guy has set up a hundred speakers around town to generate false leads, Superman can just check every room (with his magic vision or even by hand) in the entire city in ten or fifteen minutes, finding whatever the bad guy thinks he's hidden from the Big Blue Boyscout.

Superman's an alien. He's an ideal. He's a Kansas farmboy who puts on a costume and saves people so he can go back to being Everyman, a good-hearted reporter. He's Clark Kent.

Batman, on the other hand is Batman. He's not Bruce Wayne. He fakes like he's a normal person, hiding in plain sight when he needs to, but never quite dropping the realer identity, that with the mask and the pointy ears. He's dark, brooding, a loner, a controller.

Which guy would you rather read about?

The web continues to be awash in speculation about who the villain should be for the next Batman movie - rumors here, speculation there - and I'm sticking to my earlier thoughts.
  • I might just be happy if there weren't another Batman flick. The Dark Knight was masterful, and I'm not sure that the Nolan crew can top it. If they do, then I think it threatens to head down the same path that the previous Batman franchise went, making each movie a topper by bringing in extra bad guys and making the stunts bigger and bigger.
  • If they do keep making movies, I'm pulling for nobody super-powered (Bane, Poison Ivy, Clayface); nobody genetically-engineered (Killer Croc, Man-Bat); nobody with cartoonishly deformed features (Penguin); nobody who's a second-rate Joker rip-off (Riddler); nobody in a flashy, stupid costume with gimicky weapons (Killer Moth, Mr. Freeze).
  • As much as I want to see the Justice League movie someday, I can't see Nolan's franchise slipping well into any version of the JL that I've ever read, so I hope that we don't get Superman or any other costumed superhero in this franchise. I love that this is an independent, non-fanboy version of Batman. It's actualy kind of refreshing.
  • My possible ideas...
    • Catwoman - but I don't want to be the rumored Rachel Dawes back from the dead Catwoman, and I'm not thrilled with the prospects of another love interest for Bruce Wayne as I didn't like how that worked in any of the previous Batman movies - except for Miss Kitka, of course.
    • Deadshot or some other assassin, but I think that would require taking Batman out of Gotham, and I think Nolan's rooted Batman too strongly for that to work.
    • Talia al Ghoul who would bring in the romance thing again, but would provide a nice tie in to the first movie.
    • Something akin to the Venom story arc in which Batman started taking a drug to make himself stronger, to allow himself to push farther in the name of fighting more and bigger criminal threats. Here, however, there is the danger of the whole thing going all Jesse Spano on us.
    • Something more along the lines of Kingdom Come in which the hero (here Batman, there Superman) has to deal with a public who has chosen to support a newer, more violent hero. I could see this working in that Batman could inspire more vigilantes (something we saw briefly at the beginning of Dark Knight and that one or two of them could move into a hyper-violent vigilantism. This would let Batman get some redemption as the last film left him in a pretty dark place with the public.
    • Hush in some form might be nice as it could be a childhood friend of Batman who has chosen to go another way. Might work as a mirror to Batman.

I'm kind of curious about the current Batman: R.I.P. storyline in the comics and am looking forward to reading it once it gets collected, but I can't imagine that DC would actually kill off or permanently remove Bruce Wayne from the job. They've had subs fill in for him before (Batman: Knightfall probably being the most prominant example,) and that's worked decently well for a while - especially in allowing Batman to regain the mantle. But c'mon, we all know that whoever subs for the Bat won't be in the job forever.

Superman died, and he came back.

Bucky died, and he came back.

Captain America died, and he'll come back, too.

In comics, no death is final, so I can't imagine getting too upset even if they do kill of the Bruce Wayne character.

And finally, a neat note over at io9 saying that DC has a Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader in the works, a two-parter written by Neil Gaiman as a bit of a tribute to/companion with the Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel masterwork from Alan Moore back in the 80's.

If it turns out to be even half as good, we'll be lucky.

And many thanks to Bigger Than Cheeses for the comics. If you couldn't tell, the author/artist's a little down on the Bat.


Mr. Echt said...

Why does it have to be a classic Batman villian? I think that if Nolan decides to make a third film, he should create a new villian, given the liberties that he's already taken with Bat-World. (Gotham mysteriously shifting miles to the left, a decent looking bat suit, et. all) I think that with Nolan's vision, the only real bad choice would be Bat Mite. Unless he did a Batman/Superman Mr.Mtzlplx/Bat Mite movie. That would be freaking sweet.

calencoriel said...

Two comments:

1. Excellent pic for the header of this post. Way cool.

2. This may be my favorite post from you of all time. When I ask you this question in person, I interrupt with too many questions of my was good to see/read the entire answer after complete thought had occurred.

ame said...

The fact that you referenced Jesse Spano impresses me big bro. Maybe you did pay attention all those afternoons when I grabbed the remote before you did. See ya Friday.

joey said...

ms kitka was the only redeeming quality in that movie. i watched it again for the first time since i was 10 and wow, adam west is just one of a kind....

my thoughts...

- wouldn't be surprised to hear about a dick grayson in the next one, the question is whether Nolan actually makes him robin in the film, or just brings in the beginning of the storyline, if that happens, tony zucco would be a minor villian appearance for sure

- just by looking at the wiki list of batman's enemies, Holiday is a very intriguing choice, and would fit decently...

- i doubt two-face is really dead

- the riddler would be a johnny depp cast waiting to happen

PHSChemGuy said...

Mr Echt - it doesn't have to be a classic villain at all, in fact I thought about that - particularly in light of the fact that this hasn't been a fanboy-driven two flicks so far. I think there's a pretty strong connection to the Bat world, however, and I think he'll go with a known villain.

And nice drop with the Bat Mite reference...I'm impressed.

Thanks, Calen...that's from the Superman/Batman comic series that I've reviewed a few times.

Ame...I've seen a whole lot of Saved by the Bell episodes, both with and without you around.

Joey...Ms Kitka of my first crushes...I don't there'll be a Robin because Nolan's been quoted a few times as saying Robin doesn't work on screen...I thought about Holiday, but the first movie was the mob movie, the breaking of the families which the Holiday storyline was set around...a possibility, but I think the Gotham of the movies has moved beyond that...I hope Two-Face is dead...he's done what he needed to do and has been used...I keep hearing Depp as a Riddle possibility, and he's a hell of an actor, but I just think that the Riddler would be too cartoonish, too derivitive...

and, as I've said, I would've said that The Joker was too cartoonish by far, but I would've been wrong

Anonymous said...

See, I'd like to see Nolan take on The Riddler. I don't think it would end up being cartoonish. Forget the comics and just do sadistic genius psychopath that drops all kinds of clues that the Gotham PD just can't figure out and so they're forced to work with Batman. Sure, it could turn into the standard "dramatic thriller" movie that's been done over way too many times, but just maybe Nolan could make it work.