Batman vs. Superman is a bigger surprise than The Avengers, and a comic book fan’s dream come true.
Batman vs. Superman. I honestly never thought I’d see the day.
I started reading comic books a year or two before the first X-Men movie. I was only ten-years-old at the time, and my life’s passion was divided equally between Diddy Kong Racing and Star Wars collectables. I remember my mom would often steal me away from middle school (because she was awesome) and we’d spend time browsing around antique malls and meandering through the dinky towns surrounding Joplin, MO. Well, after marching up and down the dusty corridors of one of Neosho’s finest shmate peddlers, I discovered an unopened Star Wars Bounty Hunter action figure. Born of a special line of toys, this one included a graphic novel of Boba Fett’s first adventures. Not expecting much of the slim comic, I opened those seminal pages on the car ride home, and ten minutes later a comic book fanboy was born.
At no other time in history could comic book fanboys hope to see their favorite superheroes shine on the silver screen
I’ve spent the 15 years since engrossed in the medium, and I’ve even gone on to create a successful website dedicated to them (don’t worry, that’s my only shameless plug). I’m fully aware that I was fortunate enough to learn about comics during a pretty incredible time in cinematic history: The Marvel Age. I know. I know. Naming the recent superhero movie zeitgeist after only one of many comic book publishers might be a bit biased, which I totally am, but the House of Ideas is the main instigator behind the rise of mighty vigilantes at the box office. Successful DC movies have existed for decades prior, but Marvel’s really defined the current trend, and that’s why this is their era.
But that’s all a bit of a tangent. I wanted to say that I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a time of superhero movies. At no other time in history could comic fanboys hope to see their favorite superheroes shine on the silver screen. The cinema has always been limited to either Superman or Batman, and nothing successful in between. But that all changed with the release of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000. Those angsty, self-reflective, reluctant heroes introduced modern audiences to relatable do-gooders. Vigilantes who were not invincible. Caped crusaders who were easily hurt. Superheroes who feared the very people they protected. It flipped every traditional trope square on its head.
Then came Spider-Man. A bit cheesier than its mutant-based compatriot, but a satisfyingly modern adaptation of the classic tale nonetheless. Director Sam Raimi softened up the cheesy origin story from 1963 with some contemporary aesthetics. Green Goblin was no longer a power hungry madman dressed in a goblin costume – he was a power hungry madman dressed in a ‘military flight suit’. Subtle, but a mighty enough alteration to make the corny origin story more palatable. And those small changes succeeded, too, as the movie went on to gross $890 million, well over a billion in today’s dollars.
The prospect of combining superhero franchises – like Batman and Superman – was once a logistical and financial nightmare
After that smashing success, Hollywood unleashed a deluge of superhero themed films. Whether they licensed the rights directly from Marvel or acquired them from indie scribes, Tinseltown transformed into a superhero free-for-all. Warner Bros’ interest in its own DC heroes was rekindled by the popular movement. The sour taste of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin and the even worse Superman IV: Quest for Peace was quickly forgotten, as the studio scrambled to assemble teams for these two blockbuster heroes. In its pursuit, the studio successfully pilfered X-Men director Bryan Singer for a pseudo-sequel to the classic Donner Superman movies, which was generally considered a poor decision.
The film, Superman Returns, opened to mediocre reviews, with critics and fans claiming the flick doomed itself by paying too much reverence to the original Reeves movies. Warner Bros had more success with their Batman reboot, which launched the Caped Crusader into a darker, grittier, realistic Gotham. Christopher Nolan led the charge as director and Christian Bale portrayed Bruce Wayne, although I imagine you already knew that. But no one ever expected either hero to meet the other in a proper movie. Hell, teeny tiny cameos or Easter eggs were all we could hope for in those days. The prospect of combining superhero franchises was a logistical and financial nightmare. How could you pay two lead actors to star in one movie? Would they even want to share the spotlight? Why make a single movie when you can make two equally successful ones?
With the failure of Superman Returns and the sanctimonious attitude Christopher Nolan applied to his Dark Knight Trilogy (he doesn’t think Batman could belong in a universe with other superheroes), Warner Bros was never willing to create a proper Batman vs. Superman movie. Hell, the studio attempted to create a live action Justice League movie in 2006, starring the “B-Team”, as it included a whole new slew of actors unrelated to either Nolan’s or Singer’s films, even though it would have released in the midst of Nolan’s trilogy. Weird move, WB.
I’m a fanboy. I never, ever, ever in a million years could’ve believed that an Avengers movie would debut on the silver screen
I’m not deriding that potentially awesome project (which was known as Justice League: Mortal). If Warner Bros hadn’t pulled the plug on it, every fanboy and fangirl would’ve marched to theatres for a viewing. Still, that it did pull the plug only further illuminates Warner Bros’ inability to execute a proper team-up. It was only after Marvel Studios released The Avengers that Warner Bros decided to invest in a proper Batman vs. Superman movie. And even then, the studio proceeded with trepidation, awaiting Man of Steel’s box office’s returns before greenlighting the Caped Crusader-tinged sequel.
I’m a Marvel fanboy. I admit that much. I never, ever, ever in a million years could’ve believed that an Avengers movie would debut on the silver screen, but after it was announced in 2008, I realised that it was possible. After watching Warner Bros and its DC consultants so heinously mishandle its own cinematic universe, I honestly never thought they’d produce a real Batman vs. Superman movie. A shoddy Justice League flick, perhaps, but never a Batman vs. Superman movie. Thank God, they will, though.
Featured image: Warner Bros
Inset images: 20th Century Fox; Warner Bros