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Bats isn’t in my Belfry: Nolan’s Batman & Superman and the Inevitable Justice League Film…

Word filtering through the grapevine is that we can expect a “big announcement” from Warner Brothers and DC comics in the next few weeks. Two words seem to be on everybody’s mind at the moment: Justice League. I mean, it makes sense. Warner Brothers are in real need of a new cashcow franchise. There’s only so long they can pump out Harry Potter movies (the final one is due out next year), and the DC comics titles offer a nearly bottomless pile of untapped fantasy-esque cookie-cutter blockbuster-ready properties that they can churn out with instant-ready popularity and geek appeal. And, let’s face it, Marvel has demonstrated with at least Iron Man and Iron Man 2 (if not The Incredible Hulk) that a shared film universe is a profitable investment. Warner and DC certainly missed the train on that one. They must regard their rivals with envious eyes, and slowly and surely they drew their plans against them. And, to be frank, DC is in a much better position than Marvel to exploit this team-up. Marvel sold the Fantastic Four, the X-Men (including Wolverine) and Spider-Man to different companies, effectively meaning that they can’t be included in Marvel’s on-screen universe. However, DC hasn’t sold any big names. However, it has a problem. Christopher Nolan – the man in charge of both Batman and Superman – has decided that he doesn’t want to share. And maybe that’s not a bad thing, after all. 

Should Superman sit this one out?

Nolan has made it perfectly clear time and time again that he doesn’t regard his version of Batman as existing in a fictional universe with other superheroes

GB: Chris, this summer, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk signaled the true start of the “crossover era” in comic-book films with Marvel Studios putting an emphasis on the fact that their heroes coexist in the same world. DC and Warner Bros. may embrace a similar strategy, especially if the Justice League film project is revived. Does that concern you? Your Gotham doesn’t seem suited to that. 

Nolan: I don’t think our Batman, our Gotham, lends itself to that kind of cross-fertilization. It goes back to one of the first things we wrangled with when we first started putting the story together: Is this a world in which comic books already exist? Is this a world in which superheroes already exist? 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. 

GB: That doesn’t lend itselt to having him swing on a rope across the Metropolis skyline. 

Nolan: No, correct, it’s a different universe. It’s a different way of looking at it. Now, it’s been done successfully, very successfully, in the comics so I don’t dispute it as an approach. It just isn’t the approach we took. We had to make a decision for Batman Begins. 

GB: A different path… 

Nolan: Yes, completely different…. 

And after recently being granted the job of relaunching Superman (something I am very much looking forward to seeing, by the way), he seemingly suggested that the same approach would be adopted with the Man of Steel

“A lot of people have approached Superman in a lot of different ways. I only know the way that has worked for us that’s what I know how to do,” Nolan said, emphasizing the idea that Batman exists in a world where he is the only superhero and a similar approach to the Man of Steel would assure the integrity needed for the film. “Each serves to the internal logic of the story. They have nothing to do with each other.” 

In other words, his upcoming Superman relaunch will certainly not share continuity with The Dark Knight. This suggestion has itself seemingly kicked fan speculation into overdrive. Among other things, it has been rumoured (not – that I’ve seen – confirmed anywhere, mind you) that the upcoming Justice League movie would exclude both Batman and Superman. Perhaps based on his statements above, there’s fairly common speculation that this is in someway down to Nolan, whether an attempt by Warner to work around Christopher Nolan and his own actors and talent or simply an attempt to placate him. 

Should Batman just dive on in?

Now, this is all just rumour at the moment. There’s no reason to fret too hard over it one way or the other. It should be borne in mind that this seems to count against the recent speculation about the somewhat layered build-up that Warner and DC have launched leading into the Justice League film: 

Our sources are telling us there is a chronology in play with these movies. Batman Begins is being specifically referred to as “Action Comics #1.” Translation: Nolan’s Batman is the first (and only) superhero around. During Batman Begins that is. As well as The Dark Knight that is going by “Action Comics #2.” 

What would be the third “issue,” you ask? Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern. In fact, there are still on-going talks to make references to Gotham City if not Batman himself. And although Superman himself isn’t around just yet in this time-line, Clark Kent does exist in Smallville – the fictional town in Kansas, not the television series. You just know somebody is going make that assumption. At the moment, that’s where the “comic series” stops. 

Of course, my own private speculation is that Nolan will return to direct Batman 3 and then depart the franchise – I can understand him not wanting to be shackled to the franchise or the genre forever – and then Warner Brothers will do what they probably would have done had Nolan not come back for the third film. They’ll probably take the property and do whatever they damn well want to with it (possibly even rebooting it). This likely means sharing it with the rest of DC universe on film and enrolling Batman in the Justice League. 

Number one with a bullet?

They will of course respect Nolan while he drives the franchise – they let him make Inception as a thank you for his hard work, after all – but I sincerely doubt he will still be managing the franchise by the time DC have set up enough of their characters to establish a Justice League movie. After all, it took Marvel three years between Iron Man and The Avengers, and DC are only kicking into gear now. So the earliest we could logically expect a Justice League film would be three years from the release of Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern next year, so 2014. I would be surprised if Nolan was still as heavily involved by that stage. 

Anyway, let us assume a worst case scenario. Let’s work on the assumption that everything mentioned above is true: that, for whatever reason, DC comics will release a Justice League film without Batman or Superman. This sounds like an incredibly stupid idea – kinda like the original idea that the earlier iteration of the Justice League film (which died a deserved death in development hell) would feature Batman, just not any one associated with Nolan (Ryan Gosling, if you were wondering). Or the crazy idea that – rather than introducing characters in their own films before the movie – introducing all of the Justice League at once and only then spinning them off based on their success.  

The first idea is a crazy one because it just looks stupid to have two actors playing the same character in two different films from the same production company at the same time. This sort of “alternate universe Batman” is one of the aspect of comic books that the public mocks, rather than engages with and it’s one of the reasons that DC as a company trimmed down all it’s alternate universes in 1985. It’s unnecessarily complicated for two summer blockbusters. It isn’t like Never Say Never, that Bond movie with Sean Connery that competed against Octopussy with Roger Moore as Bond – those were two different studios at least. One studio at war with itself is crazy. 

The second idea seems like a bad business strategy simply because… well, Green Lantern, the Flash and the Martian Manhunter don’t have name recognition enough to support a movie amongst themselves (let alone one that is going to effectively serve as an origin). That’s not a necessarily a bad thing – Iron Man and Thor wouldn’t have had the recognition going into the Avengers without their own solo pictures to help render them somewhat more familiar to audiences. Even the most known member of the Justice League outside Batman and Superman – Wonder Woman herself – is in dire need of a reintroduction to modern audiences herself. Counting on these mostly unfamiliar characters to support a blockbuster by themselves seems crazy, at least to me. 

Has Batman had enough time in the spotlight?

So, what about excluding Batman and Superman from the proposed Justice League movie? You could make the argument that the Justice League in comic books has gotten by without the two major characters in the past, but I really don’t think that Justice League International or Justice League: Detroit is fodder for the big screen. I’m barely aware of characters like the Blue Beetle or Black Condor, so I don’t think mainstream audiences will exactly embrace them. There’s an argument to be made that – like The Avengers – the big screen version of the Justice Legaue should be a list of the big guns. Grant Morrison’s iconic relaunch of the Justice League, perhaps the most fondly-remembered iteration of the League, was based on the same principle. I think there’s a really strong argument to be made for an a-list Justice League on film. 

That said, and being entirely honest, I don’t mind losing Batman. He’s a mere mortal: a human being (though, to quote Mark Hamill’s Joker, “there’s nothing mere about that mortal”). The wonderful Justice League cartoon and Grant Morrison’s Justice League comic run got away with pairing him up with what is essentially a pantheon of god-like superheroes on sheer memetic badass-ness. This was a Batman who was so alpha-male that he practically sweated testosterone, and would probably regard losing a limb as a “flesh wound”. That’s a very tough character to translate to live action film. 

I don’t doubt that Batman could be presented in an engaging way with the rest of the characters, but it will take great skill. Speaking as a dyed-in-the-wool Batman fan, I honestly don’t mind if he doesn’t make it into the film – I think it might be better for his own big screen property and the Justice League franchise if he doesn’t. 

Superman’s absence would be somewhat harder to justify. He is the Man of Steel, after all, the Man of Tomorrow. He’s the heart of DC comics and the most recognisable superhero on the planet. He’s a global brand and plays a similarly important role in the DC universe. He’s like everyone’s favourite uncle – he’s proud and paternal and caring. Even people who don’t like superheroes – and that goes for cynical writers like Mark Millar or Garth Ennis – have an honest respect for the guy as an institution. 

I have to admit that I think excluding Superman would be a mistake, even if he plays a caretaker or supporting role in the film. It also hugely damages the character to exclude him. If this iconic and legendary character isn’t even the lynchpin of his own fictional universe, why should audiences care about him? There’s no logical reason to exclude him. I could, for example, understand an attempt to sideline him to focus on the lesser-known properties at DC comics – DC admittedly has a much weaker supporting line-up than their rivals over at Marvel – but to leave Superman out completely seems like a bad idea. 

Still, these are just rumours and nothing more. I’ll be curious to see how things ultimately play out. For the moment, I’m just anxious to hear any development on getting the DC superheroes to film. I think Matthew Vaughn might be right when he suggests that the superhero blockbuster is fast reaching its shelflife in Hollywood – I’d like to see a few DC characters reach the market before the train completely leaves the station.

4 Responses

  1. I’ll count myself very surprised if WB/DC ever starts building towards a JLA film.

    DC has never enjoyed the same creative autonomy that Marvel studios has, which accounts for the pittance of their material that has made the jump to the big screen. Even with them finally getting stories like lantern and Flash finally rolling, both are so far down the road, that it’s difficult to see it all coming together for one common purpose.

    As a DC fan, I can’t say I’d be very interested in a JLA movie that both Supes and Batman sit out – likewise, I wouldn’t be such a big fan of creating “another universe” where different actors play these two characters.

    Marvel has done something very ambitious with their build towards THE AVENGERS. But I think if people’s slight apathy this summer toward I;2 proved one thing, it’s the the middle cars of the train don’t seem to interest people when taken out of context and standing on their own.

    In short:

    Excited for a new Superman
    Curious of how Nolan’s Batman Trilogy will end
    Happy that a Flash film is coming
    Sad that Wonder Woman hasn’t ever happened
    And Thrilled that we’re less than a year from Lantern

    …as for all of them coming together…I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • Yep, I meant to revise this before publishing, but I didn’t quite catch it on time. Late last week it broke that, well, DC might not be interested in tying them all together:

      “People make an assumption that we’re going to mirror Marvel’s strategy, for example with Avengers, we do have a very different attitude about how you build a content slate.”

      Nelson goes on to say: “It isn’t necessarily about connecting those properties together to build into a single thing. We think we’ve got great stories and characters that will lend themselves to great standalone experiences, and that’s the way we’re focusing on it.”

  2. I would be happy if Batman stayed out of the JLA, but after Nolan’s involvement is finished I wouldn’t mind too much. Aquaman, Blue Beetle and the rest of their ilk barely make a JLA movie worth watching. They will be resting on Superman and Batman and WB has come out and said that they will be doing singular-focus films on their heroes.

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