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Why Nolan Saying ‘No’ To The Justice League Is A Good Idea…

An interesting snippet of news came out during the week regarding Christopher Nolan, the director of the two recent Batman films and now godfather to a to-be-relaunched Superman franchise (we’re hoping he can figure out how to make it a good film). The director, usually unbelievably coy about his work (he’ll flat out refuse to answer any particularly prying questions, which is great in an era of spoilers and speculation and so on), gave a succinct answer on whether his Batman and Superman will exist within the same universe. His answer was a flat-out ‘no’. And I think that’s great.

This looks like a job for Christopher Nolan!

Some internet fans are a little upset by this revelation. These DC fans look at the Marvel film universe with envious eyes, wondering why they can’t have a Justice League – with all the effort Marvel is going to construct The Avengers. Superman and Batman coexist in the comics, so why not on film?

Well, the answer lies in the characters themselves. Comic book characters – for all they share the same universe and all that they overlap with one another – are subject to widely different interpretations depending on who is writing them or what the context is. I think it’s fair to say that Frank Miller’s gritty Year One Batman is a different character from, say, Grant Morrison’s trippy high-concept pulpy Batman. Comic book continuity tells us that Batman was not the first superhero – in fact, not even the first in Gotham – but Frank Miller’s work reads as though he were, even though it sits within the same continuity (and there is a reference to “the man of steel” if you look hard enough).

Still, while Grant Morrison’s Batman is experimenting with mind-altering substances and outwitting death itself, Frank Miller’s Batman is a loner with a narrow focus on organised crime. Both interpretations are equally valid, but they don’t sit well with one another. Grant Morrison, the mastermind behind the current “Death of Batman” arc, points to another facet of the character which arguably wouldn’t sit well with either incarnation:

Of course, one of my all-time favourite Batman panels was written by Haney and drawn by Jim Aparo and shows Batman strolling down the sunlit streets of Gotham, checking out the mini-skirted girls and accompanied by the line to end all lines: ‘Yes, Batman digs this day!’

Even movie-wise, compare Michael Keaton, Christian Bale and Adam West as the character. Each is vastly different, yet each represents a facet of the character. Nolan’s facet of the character is a lone vigilante, a man who made the tough and impossible choice. In order for the drama and structure of Nolan’s films to work, Batman has to be the only one – imagine how differently Gotham would react to him if Superman already existed, or if costumes were a common feature of any urban nightscape. Nolan himself has outlined his viewpoint before:

If you think of Batman Begins and you think of the philosophy of this character trying to reinvent himself as a symbol, we took the position — we didn’t address it directly in the film, but we did take the position philosophically — that superheroes simply don’t exist. If they did, if Bruce knew of Superman or even of comic books, then that’s a completely different decision that he’s making when he puts on a costume in an attempt to become a symbol. It’s a paradox and a conundrum, but what we did is go back to the very original concept and idea of the character. In his first appearances, he invents himself as a totally original creation.

It would have given a very, very different meaning to what Bruce Wayne was leaving home to do and coming back home to do and putting on the costume for and all the rest. We dealt with on its own terms: What does Batman mean to Bruce Wayne, what is he trying to achieve? He has not been influenced by other superheroes. Of course, you see what we’re able to do with Joker in this film is that he is able to be quite theatrical because we set up Batman as an example of intense theatricality in Gotham. It starts to grow outward from Batman. But the premise we began with is that Batman was creating a wholly original thing.

This is Batman who doesn’t play well with others, in a meta-fictional sense. He bleeds. He suffers. He isn’t Albert Einstein in a mask. If Superman existed, there’s no reason to believe he’d need to team up with this version of the character – nor is there any reason to believe that this version would want to team up with Superman. This isn’t the version of the character who is basically a mortal god, this is the noir-themed superhero, vulnerable and broken. Deeply broken. Keep him that way and keep him separate.

You might argue that Marvel have sidestepped this problem with their planned version of The Avengers coming 2012. They will link gods, monsters, metal men and supersoldiers. But the truth is that they are all fundamentally science-fiction conventions. Thor may as well be a sufficiently advanced alien, being an Asgard and all. The movies are generally hokey science-fantasy, and it isn’t too unbelievable that they can coexist. Whereas the existence of the Justice League heavily undermines Nolan’s depiction of Batman, whose entire tragedy comes from his isolation and sense of loneliness – the whole point of the ending The Dark Knight was to indicate just how alone he must be. Sharing a world with another costumed ‘freak’ diminishes that.

But, then again, we kinda trust Nolan no matter what he decides.

2 Responses

  1. Marvel’s approach is no proven success. They still have to work to integrate Thor into the rest of the heroes’ universes and they haven’t shown that it can even work.

    I’ve never thought the Batman-Superman relationship ever worked in the comics anyway. Everytime you put the two together you always have to empower or depower one or the other in order to put them on an even playing field and all that proves is that these characters are not a natural fit for each other’s universe.

    This Batman should NOT be in the JLA. Introducing superheroes to this universe undermines it severely. It’d be like Transformers popping up in The Lord of the Rings, it just doesn’t work.

    • I agree almost entirely with you, but I’m going to give Branagh the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Thor. Personally, I would ahve been a lot more comfortable had they used the same ambiguous approach Mark Millar used in the Omnibus (is he a god or an insane former nurse who stole some Norwegian supertech?). Still, the more I hear about Thor, the more I get excited. In contrast, the more I hear about Captain America, the less I get excited.

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