Has Matt gone mad? Is he trying to take Zack Snyder’s job, or turn this website into a den of fanfiction?
Nah – at least, not yet. This post contains an outline for a Superman/Batman movie that would fit within the argument I’ve made in “Here Comes Your Man”, my post on superheroes, masculinity, and fun, which you can read on this site.
I like the idea of Superman and Batman as matched opposites – Superman as an alien with almost wacky godlike powers, trying to seem normal and humane, the best his adopted human race can be…while Batman is an ordinary screwed-up human, trying to use gadgetry and esoteric training to become the most intimidating and carnivalesque figure of fear to intimidate evildoers.
Imagine reversing the Affleck-Cavill dynamic of the forthcoming film. Superman should be the older guy, more settled in his identity, more comfortable in his skin, maybe even married to Lois. Batman should be young, nervy, exuberantly bonkers with his Bat-gadgets and theatrical notions of how to fight crime…
I like to put my money where my mouth is, rather than just heckle from the sidelines – so here’s my take on a satisfying Superman/Batman storyline.
Start on a global newsfeed. Flashing between wars, disasters, crises. An escalating sense of threat and disorder. Clark Kent is reporting live from a war zone when there’s an airstrike and then…Clark is gone when the dust settles. Lois Lane, our anchor in the studio, calls his name until another explosion cuts the live feed.
We remain on the battlefield, as out of the maelstrom appears: SUPERMAN. Very much the figure of Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman – a guy who is relaxed because he is invulnerable and he’s doing the right thing.
He shields a family from the airstrike – bends the metal of a fighter aircraft’s wings and gently lowers it to the ground. Then – he’s off! Across continents: Diverting a lava flow. Delivering aid supplies. Fixing a broken dam. Walking through a hail of gunfire to disarm and subdue soldiers who are about to ethnically cleanse a village.
Lois, as news anchor, is in the studio commentating on this: “The world is, as ever, grateful…but just how much can one man do?”
(A bit of spin on this line, personal concern…Lois and Clark are already a couple in this continuity).
One of the newsfeed screens expands to fill the whole screen. Hostages have been taken at a Gotham Museum gala.
In one of the exhibition halls Batman is already among the kidnappers – hidden against a large dark tapestry!
Bat gadgets a-plenty! (Explosions of light in the pop art exhibition. A Bat-trompe-l’oeil like the projector scene from Mission: Impossible). I want a Batman with the hope, humour, and gadgetry of The Brave and the Bold, but the more Gothic iconography of the original comics – a slender, clever guy with big pointy ears, trying to Nosferatu the bejeezus out of evildoers.
I’d almost want to see the younger Crispin Glover of Charlie’s Angels in this role – a skinny, ninja guy – callow, driven; wrestling with his screwiness, trying to be good. (After all, his foil is Superman – Mr. Effortless Good).
The gang blast their way out of the building and there’s a rooftop chase, part of it caught on camera by a news copter….It’s the first time the urban myth known as the Batman has been caught and confirmed on camera.
Back in the news studio, the reports of the chase in Gotham and the existence of Batman are interrupted by information that a LexCorp space shuttle is in trouble, trying to come in for re-entry. We see Lex Luthor briefly stalling interviewer Lois’ questions on a live feed…
…while on board the shuttle, Major John Corben is struggling with a catastrophic systems failure threatening the life of all his crew. A temporary fix fails and an astronaut is blasted away from the shuttle as the re-entry window approaches…
Superman is caught up with multiple disasters – we see him moving between them as fast as he can, aware of the shuttle, but just as he’s about to go into space – he has to return to the warzone from the opening scene. The fighter pilot has emerged from his twisted plane and has drawn his gun. The villagers are shouting at him – the pilot warns them away with his pistol – he fires in panic – Superman intervenes to save a child from the pilot’s gunshot. He’s faster than a speeding bullet – but he can’t be everywhere at once!
With no Superman in sight, Corben heroically reprograms the flight computer for re-entry, goes out, saves the astronaut, but he can’t get to safety in time. He takes shelter in the shuttle bay doors, which won’t close, but it won’t be enough to do more than preserve his corpse. The shuttle re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and crashes, but the rest of the crew survive.
Cut from the wreckage to: A hero’s funeral for Corben. Luthor speaks as a funder of the project. “Major Corben’s sacrifice was the essence of heroism and human decency. Mankind standing on its own two feet – not waiting for a saviour.”
Bruce Wayne is among the mourners. He and Luthor exchange a terse line or two establishing their business rivalry. Lois is there, too – she’s been assigned to do a profile on Wayne, a series of interviews.
Superman is watching the funeral from a distance, hovering. All the guilt and distress on the face of Earth’s adopted sun-god.
Later – Superman and Lois are discussing recent events at a dinner table in the glorious fortress of solitude. (They’re totally a couple in this continuity!)
After his failure of “super triage”, Superman has a renewed resolve to patrol the world 24/7 and proactively address every possible threat. Lois counsels that it will never be enough, but he knows he could do even more. He sees the TV reports from Gotham and realises that one of these “possible threats” is our favourite shadowy vigilante who operates outside of the law…now confirmed as a real human being. And seeing as Lois is going to Gotham…
Cut to Batman and Alfred in the Batcave. Bruce, in the uniform but not the cowl, is studying financial reports on the Bat-computer: Luthor aeronautics and space division is in bad shape now. Will they turn their sights to earthly endeavours?
Alfred mentions something about attempts to act against WayneCorp – kidnapping of key science personnel – possibly involving Luthor. It’ll have to wait. Bruce directs Alfred to tap into the scientists’ WayneCorp home alarm systems and alert hm if anything gets tripped…He needs to go and to investigate some mysterious tech shipments which have come into Gotham.
Before he goes, Batman tests a new device – a holographic simulator creating slightly spooky Bat-duplicates; basically just silhouettes of the cape-and-cowl outline. “It’s theatre, Alfred. We fight fear with fear. We can’t all leap tall buildings at a single bound.”
Batman goes off to investigate the shipments. Superman arrives and is hunting him through the city, but Batman uses deceit and trickery to elude the too-good-for-his-own-good Man of Steel – a nice stealthy chase pitting super-speed and X-ray vision against the master of melting into the shadows, hiding amid a forest of lead pipes, using gadgets to suppress his own heartbeat from super-hearing etc.
When Alfred reports a kidnapping alarm at one of the scientists’ houses, Batman misdirects Supes into doing his dirty work by luring Superman to the docks, where he can’t help but intervene. Superman would see nothing evidently wrong at the docks, but Batman uses a remote-controlled Batplane to bomb a shipping container, breaking it open – when Superman goes to help, he recognises stolen S.T.A.R. Labs technology and intervenes, capturing the henchmen.
Batman arrives too late to stop the kidnapping of the scientist – a WayneTech geo-engineer, a nervy type like J.F. Sebastian from Blade Runner.
Batman radios in with Alfred. “Time to call it a night, Master Bruce,” says the faithful manservant. “Your interview with Ms. Lane is in five hours.”
The next day – Lois interviews Wayne at the manor. Beginning to pick over his family history. He’s evasive. She slowly rounds on the millionaire playboy – (think of Tom Cruise’s character being interviewed in Magnolia).
Meanwhile – Luthor is speaking with Sebastian the Engineer. (He’s telling us his eeeevil plans, but it’s justified because this is actually a recruitment pitch (with a gun to his head) for the engineer). The LuthorCorp shuttle was out tracking meteor storms – he’s trying to intercept Kryptonite before it reaches the Earth.
“Thanks to the Major’s sacrifice, the mission was a success. A big haul awaits us. In fact, for our purposes, it’s the largest stockpile of raw ammunition in the world. Superman has made Metropolis his own, but the new Gotham will be our fortress.”
Sebastian is shown the kidnapped scientists being forced to work on huge, science-fictiony underground machines. Despite the intercepted shipment, there will not be a delay. “Gotham’s rebirth will simply…lack a little finesse.”
Meanwhile, Superman is scanning Gotham and he locates the Batcave through aerial surveillance and X-ray vision. As he approaches, a discreet alarm is triggered and Wayne excuses himself from the Lois interview. Behind the grandfather clock there’s an emergency monorail in which he puts on his costume as the car rockets towards the main cave.
As Superman breaks into the Batcave and confronts Bruce….Luthor triggers the super-terror-tech. (He only needed Sebastian to put the finishing touches to it?). It causes an earthquake across Gotham.
Now: A big battling rescue sequence…Superman holding up collapsing buildings while people flee. Alfred is seen in the Batcave, just before it utterly collapses, destroying everything.
As happened in the No Man’s Land storyline, the US government declares Gotham off-limits. (Although the timescale will be necessarily much shorter – more akin to Bane’s siege in the final Dark Knight).
Quickly the gangs of Batman’s rogue’s gallery run rampage. (We don’t need to see every “name” villain but a few thugs wearing Scarecrow masks or spray-painting question-mark insignia for the Riddler will give the idea).
The Kryptonian boy scout helps to deal with the immediate catastrophe but finds that his muscles alone won’t “fix” a broken community – as in Batman 566. He finds Sebastian and interrogates him. Superman realises he has engineering skills. He helps Sebastian to work on the city’s generators, but the gang mentality of Gotham means he can’t really make a difference – local gangs take control of the power conduits; people start treating Sebastian as a gang lord, paying him tribute and fealty in an effort to attract his favour and get their power connected first. (So much for Effortless Good).
Batman takes on the gangs. but his gadgets begin to fail him – he’s almost beaten and defeated when the holo-projector messes up. People living in the rubble see him – they realise the urban myth is flesh and blood.
The gadget-laden costume gets replaced with something improvised, more like the Rockabilly Batman concept art below:
…And instead of remote-controlled Batplanes, if there are any vehicles, it’s something repurposed, like the Green Hornet’s Chrysler Imperial.
The vibe of the city, visually, is Maoko Mori’s childhood flashbacks in Pacific Rim, mixed with Bane’s reign of terror in The Dark Knight Rises.
Batman is also seen saving people. (I’d like to see him reassuring a kid – the idea that this man who scares grown criminals for a living still knows how to show a kinder face for those he’s there to defend. Maybe it’s even a kid in the alley where Bruce’s parents got shot. Maybe the alley is collapsed from the earthquake, and when Bruce saves the kid, he looks back one last time and says, “It’s a new city now. The past is over.”)
Meanwhile: Lois is doing investigative journalism. What is LuthorCorp up to? Which WayneCorp scientists went missing, and what are their skills? Luthor is talking about taking charge of efforts to rebuild the city. A City of Tomorrow, in his image. At some point, reporting illegally from within No Man’s Land, Lois forces Bruce Wayne to surface and publicly comment on the damage to “his city” – the conversation turns from Thomas Wayne building Gotham (like the Batman Begins monorail) to Bruce’s status as an orphan. Lois, who knows Clark’s story, grasps Bruce’s secret, and the emotions that drive him.
(Our heroes are essentially fighting to accept that they’re only human in this movie. Their prize is the soul of the city of Gotham).
Our heroes are starting to turn the tide when Luthor breaks out his forces – including Corben reborn as Metallo, the Kryptonite-powered cyborg (his fuel cells derived from the material gathered by the shuttle).
If the movie needs more super-powered muscle, we could throw in the Atomic Skull and Kitty Faulkner/Rampage as S.T.A.R.-experiments-gone-wrong (Perhaps they are the other shuttle crew members, mutated by the radiation Fantastic Four-style? We may even preserve Kitty’s capacity for redemption).
Of course mega-fisticuffs ensue. Pow, thump, thwack, rescue innocent bystanders. Batman deploys the Bat-signal for the first time in this continuity – is it a lash-up of his broken, fancy holo-projector and a purloined searchlight? Now, it is a call to arms for all the good people of Gotham to gather in defence of their city and drive back the gangs led by Batman’s rogues’ gallery (it would be great to capture the vibe of those Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 moments when the New Yorkers rally to help our hero). The people know that Batman is a real, vulnerable human being now – all the more of a hero for being just one man – and they back him up when he needs it.
(What is Lois doing? Her journalism has turned up a weakness in the Metallo system. She goes to the Batcave to unearth a WayneCorp MacGuffin that will help defeat Metallo – and in doing so, finds and rescues Alfred).
Ultimately, with Lois’ help, our heroes win the final battle. (Does Lois also get to be the person who verbally confronts Luthor, calls him on his evil plans, and sees him hauled away in irons? I’m always aware that a character in her position can get somewhat sidelined in these plots).
Lois, Batman and Superman stop as the battle is won. They look down on the broken city. The cheering survivors are there, their dirty faces showing smiles, relief. Gotham has fallen but some landmark of Thomas Wayne’s era remains, soaring, and catches the light just so as the camera cranes up and away.
In the coda: Superman takes Batman to the Fortress of Solitude. They talk about their fathers and being orphans. Superman decided to be the best man he could be for his adopted world – “it’s how I honour both my fathers”. While Batman’s take is, “I decided that no-one should ever have to lose what I lost again.”
And it ends with Bruce, Clark, and Lois in their civilian identities having Thanksgiving dinner at the same table Lois and Clark ate at in the Fortress earlier – but we pull back from the traditional table of turkey fare to reveal them sitting at a communal feast for all the dispossessed of Gotham city.
(Although part of me actually likes the idea of making this demotivational poster canon and having Superman leave Batman with a parting gift… “If you ever need me…” )
At the very end: A feeling that the battle has been won, but the story isn’t over? Maybe we end with a teasing shot of the Joker or another villain about to make their next play for the still-shattered city…
Bewildered? Excited? See more of the discussion on less-grim superheroes on this site in ‘Here Comes Your Man – Time for Some Smiling Superheroes?’.