Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Batman v Superman vs The Dark Knight Returns

Well, I finally saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. So let's compare it to The Dark Knight Returns, from which it loosely drew inspiration.

I Believe You
Interest in this scene has skyrocketed, thanks to an interview in which BvS's director, Zack Snyder, misquotes TDKR, saying "[Batman] shoots the guy right between the eyes". This scene is a great example of how Snyder tried to borrow from TDKR, but also make it his own. The hostage-taker here is not a Mutant, but rather the KGBeast. The hostage is not a child, but rather Superman's mother, Martha Kent. As in the original TDKR scene, Batman does not explicitly kill the bad guy, but he comes pretty close. It was shocking and controversial to the general audience not very familiar with TDKR and unaccustomed to seeing Batman burnish guns, but to those of us familiar with TDKR, it should come as no surprise. So in a sense, Snyder's point in the interview is well taken.
Edge: TDKR

Batman v. Superman
The climax of TDKR - the fight with Superman - is basically the second act for BvS. The Bat-costume comes out OK, and of course the right person does win the fight, with a fair amount of bruising. But the motivation for Batman and Superman to fight feels forced, both are too keen on killing, and the whole thing is a bit boring without Oliver. It's also hard to believe that Batman could surprise Superman with Kryptonite twice in the same battle.
Edge: TDKR

Martha, Martha, Martha!
The 'Martha' pairing, absent in TDKR, was actually my favorite part of BvS. It comes at a critical juncture in the film, one in which Batman must make a choice. This was probably the most original scene in the movie, and for me it was also the best scene in the film. Hmmm.
Edge: BvS

Picture the Public Psyche as a Vast, Moist Membrane
Snyder tries to take Dr. Wolper's controversy over Batman from TDKR and turn it into Lex Luthor's controversy over Superman instead. This is a tough fit - it's hard to imagine the American public getting upset over Superman killing a few mercenaries in the Middle East. Plus, I miss Wolper and his psychobabble. In the book, Wolper gets his own just desserts by persecuting Batman while missing the monsters right in front of him. Maybe they're saving him for a David Endochrine Show.
Edge: TDKR

Your Sense of Humor is Keen as Ever, Sir
There is a modicum of humor in the film, in the form of Alfred and even Batman to some degree. Wonder Woman works too, and I wish we had seen more of her. But the villains are Superman villains, and as a Batman fan I couldn't help but find them boring. Luthor had more depth in Smallville, and Doomsday looks like leftover CGI from The Lord of the Rings.
Edge: TDKR

Kingdom Come
There are hints in the movie of a larger arc, which also promises to be better than BvS itself. These, too, are the best moments in the film. The Knightmares, the prophetic glimpses of the future - I truly enjoyed the revelation of these apparently new Bat-powers. There is a little Kingdom Come in all of this, the death of Lois Lane, and I wouldn't be surprised if we heard a Shazam! or two in the next movie.
Edge: BvS

Magnetic Storm - You Have Every Reason to Be Outraged
Somewhere in the Doomsday battle, Superman gets nuked. He gets a little shriveled, although there's nothing in the scene to really haunt your dreams. His rejuvenation from the sun - a greedy, raw scene in TDKR - also felt flat. Somehow, Lynn Varley's watercolors from 1986 still hold the edge over the fanciest 3D effects money can buy thirty years later.
Edge: TDKR

Hey, Didn't We Have a Kid?
Carrie Kelley is the best Robin, so it's a shame she's totally absent in BvS. The theme of parenting is there in some form, with the two Marthas, but the message really isn't very clear. Robin has apparently been killed by Joker, her costume immortalized in the Bat-Cave. One imagines there is a Robin story coming, and the decision was made to keep it out of this film. Let's just hope we don't get Damian Wayne.
Edge: TDKR

A Good Death
Snyder shies away from TDKR's greatest theme, that of the grand suicide. Perhaps American audiences just aren't ready for that kind of thing, but it's that very ennui - and the redemption that comes out of it - that really makes TDKR, at least for me. We get a coffin scene at the end, but rather than the delight of TDKRs, it is essentially the ending of X2 repackaged for a DC audience, to lesser effect. The movie should have ended with the Doomsday fight - at least that scene packed a bit of an emotional punch.
Edge: TDKR

The Verdict
BvS is no TDKR. The movie tries to be an adaptation and its own movie at the same time. But it's not really an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns - more like an adaptation of the Doomsday story. What bugs me about all this is that most people who see BvS will leave the theater with a completely wrong idea of what TDKR is all about. Which is a shame, because it's kind of awesome.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Key to Superman's Inner Sanctum

The third installment of DK3 felt like set-up for a Carrie-Lara smackdown. There's not much to talk about there, so let's talk about the giant phallic shape on the cover instead.

Of course, anyone in their mid-to-late seventies will recognize the shape for what it is... the giant key to Superman's Fortress of Solitude. The key was featured on a few covers back in the golden age of comics, back when the Fortress was first introduced and Superman still felt goofy and new.

In DK3, Supes appears to have left the door unlocked, setting up Bats for a zinger.

Might the key have a second meaning? In those golden age comics, the key is typically shown lying down, but here it appears erect. Let's recall that impotence - at least the figurative kind - is almost a recurring theme for Miller's Superman.

What's more ridiculous - having a giant key, or not using it

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The (Good) Death of Superman

I remember it like it was yesterday. For months we'd been seeing the signs. Doomsday was coming, and the emblem -

                             ( like that emblem on Frank Miller's new title, the Master Race )

                                                             - Superman was going to die.

The lead-up to Doomsday was expertly handled over the course of many issues. It was a side plot - a mysterious figure in an exposure-suited and goggles, tearing through the United States countryside.
        No explanation given.
                   And the juggernaut was headed straight for Metropolis.
In the weeks that followed, as he dispatched teams of superheroes, Doomday's costume was gradually stripped away. Finally, we saw the face of the creature we all knew was going to kill Clark Kent.

When Superman #75 came out, my twin brother and I were in high school. We didn't ditch. Instead, my mother was nice enough to run all over town to find us a couple of bagged copies of The Death of Superman.

It was a lovely comic. A climactic fist-fight. Two evenly matched warriors, pounding away to the end. The art - all splash pages - was beautifully rendered by Dan Jergens and Brett Breeding in the Aparo-esque 'realistic' style. It felt big. It felt right. Superman died a hero.

The aftermath was painful. They did a series called Funeral for a Friend, which dealt with various heroes coping. It was among the most boring stories I ever read. There was a really weird white-bagged issue. After a little while, new Supermans started popping up. It wasn't long until the big blue boyscout was back in action.

I guess we should have figured. I knew after that that nothing in comics would ever really change.

Fast forward. It's 2016. It's been 23 years since The Death of Superman. 30 years since The Dark Knight Returns.

****Rampant speculation follows. Lovers of fan theories, read on. Others may wish to depart. I cannot call them spoilers.***

Frank Miller is writing a new comic. It's called DK3: The Master Race. Its cover page is essentially an overlay of the iconic covers for The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman.

Ostensibly, it's a Batman story. Heck, Batman's got Superman's blood on his glove. Or does he?

What if Dark Knight 3 isn't about Batman's redemption... what if it's about Superman's? He's out of things... easily the most striking image of the series so far has been Superman trapped in a crystalline coffin of his own depression.
What happens when Superman hears the rumble - when the beast snarles and thrashes in his rib cage, struggling to be free? He faces an enemy as powerful as he is - evil Kryptonians, the eponymous Master Race. The battle could easily cost him his life.
What if DK3 is a Superman story disguised as a Batman story? What if Frank Miller - the man who gave Batman a good death in 1986 - wants to try his hand at giving Superman his good death? If so, it could be one of the greatest head fakes in the history of comics. With all the parallels, it could probably have been called Superman Returns.

On second thought, that's probably a bad idea.