Ask Chris #159: The Superman/Batman Movie Will Continue Until Morale Improves
Q: If the Superman/Batman movie has to happen, what would you want it to be about? -- @jordannwitt
A: I've gotten this question more than a few times over the past few years, but after the announcement at this year's San Diego Comic-Con that the people behind Man of Steel were actually going through with it after years of teasing the idea (and ComicsAlliance's tendency to send me into the theater whether I want to go or not), it looks like it's an inevitability that we're all going to have to face. I was just having a conversation with Chad Bowers about this the other day, and between the two of us, I think we may have actually figured out how to do something that I'd really like to see.
I mean, don't get me wrong: I'm pretty sure literally everyone else in the entire world would hate it, but, you know, that's how it goes sometimes.
See, here's the thing: I don't think they should do a team-up movie. It's not because I don't like to see those two characters team up, but because they haven't done anything that feels like it could lead to a team-up story that's even remotely viable. It doesn't feel like they're doing this because there's a story they've been building to, or even because they have a particular story that would work with those characters. It feels like they're doing it because... well, because Marvel made a junkton of money with an Avengers movie franchise, and now that somebody else has proved it's profitable, they can't just sit there and not do it. But that's not really anything new; DC's been trying to do stuff that worked at Marvel for the past fifty years.
For better or worse, the Avengers movies were made to be a franchise. They built them up and laid the groundwork for connections for years, and the major accomplishment when it all came together was that they took a bunch of movies that had completely different themes and ideas and managed to combine them into something that really worked with all those parts. Mythological gods and super-technology and alien invasions and some dude with arrows all blended really well to create the idea of a shared universe -- even the Hulk, which had the most scattershot record going into it with two poorly received films and three actors in the role, felt like he fit in.
The Superman and Batman movies, on the other hand, don't really have that connection. They're isolated, and even the franchises themselves don't have a whole lot of consistency at this point. Even putting aside my problems with Man of Steel, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is over and done with, so they're basically attempting to reboot Batman within a team-up story. The entire reason the World's Finest team works is that we're seeing these two strong, well-defined characters come together to play off their similarities and differences. Look at the Justice League animated series, or for an even more direct comparison, the World's Finest animated movie, which succeeded largely because it was building on a pre-existing, fully realized Batman and Superman. Without those characters being established, there's no way to really strike a balance, it just becomes a movie about Batman with Superman in a supporting role. It could go the other way, too, but given that the people making those movies seem to be thoroughly embarrassed by Superman, I'd bet ca$h money that they're opting for an awful lot of Kryptonite punches.
Even if they did go with the established cinematic version of Batman, it doesn't really feel like that would work either. Nolan's Batman films aren't exactly "too realistic" to allow for a flying alien with heat vision -- one of the things I actually like about them is that they move from a sort-of-realistic take in Batman Begins to the downright mythical, pure metaphor weirdness of The Dark Knight Rises -- but they're very much focused on a specific and isolated version of Batman. No matter how many colors they try to wash out of Man of Steel or how many cusswords Pete Ross invents, Man of Steel doesn't really work with it.
So, to get back to the original point here, that's the challenge: Figuring out how to do a team-up story that ties all of that together. So here's my pitch. Studio execs, feel free to take notes and, uh, forget that I just said you were all terrible like three paragraphs ago.
We open in Gotham City, a year after the events of The Dark Knight Rises, where John Blake (or to use his Government name, Robin Blake) (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has just finished rebuilding the Batcave. He has yet to make his debut as Batman, but he knows that when he does, it has to be big. He can't just go out and beat up carjackers in Gotham City, because the statement is too small -- if he's going to truly prove that the Batman is bigger than one man, that he's an inspirational figure, he needs a bigger stage. He needs to take on a criminal that no one man can touch.
He needs to bring down Superman.
See, while Gotham City is doing okay now that all (well, most) of the secrets of Nolan's trilogy have been brought to light and they haven't built a fragile peace on lies and oppression, Metropolis is the exact opposite. Everyone who lives there is terrified. They just saw half of their city leveled by two aliens in a battle that ended with one of them snapping the other's neck. They've seen that this strange visitor who spent his entire childhood being ostracized believes in a brand of justice with lethal ends -- they see him not as a protector, but as an invulnerable, unstoppable judge, jury and executioner.
For his part, Superman (Henry Cavill) is extremely frustrated by all this. Even though his father taught him to just stand around watching people die, he's trying to live up to his Space Dad's instruction to save everyone. He's doing his best, but they've seen him snap a man's neck on live television, and that's not exactly the sort of thing you can unsee. Everyone's always walking on eggshells, apologizing for falling off buildings when he rescues them because they're terrified that he'll drop them in a volcano to teach them a lesson about window-washing safety or something.
Despite his best efforts to be a friend, more and more Metropolitans are viewing him as an omnipresent tyrannical overlord who holds the city in the icy grip of fear. That's how Blake sees him, and remembering how Bruce Wayne broke the criminal element's similar stranglehold on Gotham City, sees him as the perfect opponent. No man can take down a Superman, but Batman is more than a man. He can go past the physical limits and beat the ultimate opponent.
So Blake suits up and heads out to Metropolis, and this is where you get that big Batman/Superman fight that everyone wants to see. But RUSSO SWERVE! Blake gets the living hell kicked out of him because Man of Steel didn't bother to introduce Kryptonite, so he has no ace in the hole. Batman might not have any limits, but Superman can crush cars with one hand and shoot lasers out of his eyes, so Blake's outmatched from jump street. It's not even a question, it's just Superman throwing him through walls while Blake refuses to stay down -- he believes that you only fall so that you can rise, after all.
Through it all, Blake tells him that he can't allow a "Superman" to lord his powers over humanity, and finally, Superman gets frustrated enough to snap, although this time it's not a neck that he's snapping. He goes into a rage and yells that for the last friggin' time, the symbol on his chest isn't an S, and it doesn't stand for Superman, but if Blake thinks he's "lording over" people, then fine. He won't be Superman. He'll be Overman.
At this point, the audience realizes that Cavill was never really Superman at all, which is why Man of Steel didn't have the word "Superman" in the title. It was all part of a long con to reveal that Cavill was actually playing Overman all along -- by the way, I didn't mention this before, but in this imaginary world where I get to make a movie, everyone who goes to see movies has read Grant Morrison and Chas Truog's Animal Man. Overman beats up Blake some more and replaces his tattered cape with a flag, but just as he's getting ready to snap Blake's neck and be done with it, there's a huge BOOM!
That's right, y'all: A dang BOOM TUBE opens up, and who comes out? Every Superman and Batman we've seen in mass media for the past thirty years. Brandon Routh! Tom Welling! Dean Cain! George Clooney! Val Kilmer! Gerard Christopher! Michael Keaton! Kevin Conroy, Diedrich Bader, George Newburn and Tim Daly are in there in animated form, Space Jam style! They've all shown up to battle Overman -- the one Superman who's both immune to Kryptonite and straight up wants to snap necks.
There's a huge fight that goes for like half an hour with Cavill's Overman taking on all the Supermen and Batmen -- except Routh, who just kind of hovers off in a corner watching creepily and occasionally striking a Jesus pose -- and even though he's overwhelmed, he's winning. The Supermen are focused on making sure Overman doesn't smash through populated buildings while the Batmen try to formulate a plan to take him down, but he's even stronger than they thought. He's trouncing them left and right.
Finally, Welling, Routh and Cain triple-punch Cavill so hard that he crash-lands all the way in Gotham City -- right in the middle of Crime Alley. Overman gets to his feet, ready to tear them limb from limb, but he's fallen into their trap. Because standing there, plugged into the lamppost, is Adam F**king West, in the Dark Knight Returns armor, jacked into the power grid and ready to punch Overman with the force of an entire city.
West's punch knocks Overman crosseyed and he goes down like a ton of bricks. He struggles to get up, but before he can, West leans over, says "Sorry, old chum" and gasses him with Anti-Kryptonian Bat-Spray. Superman is down for the count, leaving the rest of the Worlds' Finest to use that world's Kryptonian technology to encase Superman in one of those giant translucent dongs and send him rocketing to the Phantom Zone, where he can never hurt anyone again.
The Worlds' Finest return to Metropolis where they help the injured Blake back to his feet, returning him to Gotham City. From there, they re-open the Boom Tube so they can head back to their respective worlds. Before they're all gone, though, Welling turns to Keaton and asks "Hey, where were the Primes?" Keaton replies "Oh, the Earth-1s? You know how those two are. They're always busy saving their own world from the forces evil."
And that's how you set up the real Superman/Batman movie for next summer. It's a Lex Luthor/Ra's al-Ghul team-up.