Warner Bros. used quotes from Dark Knight Returns to announce the Batman vs. Superman film. What can we learn about the most anticipated movie in fandom from this comics masterpiece?
“I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you.” With those words, Harry Lennix (the actor who played General Swanwick in Man of Steel), quoting directly from the pages of The Dark Knight Returns, sent fans at the San Diego Comic-Con into near hysterics. He isn’t quoting Lex Luthor or General Zod gloating over Superman’s defeat, but Batman.
And, with that, the sequel to Man of Steel was announced.
Later that day, screenwriter David Goyer said, “We don’t know if it’s going to be titled Batman vs. Superman or Superman vs. Batman, but yes…it’s that combination, the two guys onscreen, and that’s what’s happening.” Now, despite the famous quote from The Dark Knight Returns, it should be obvious to any fan that this film won’t be an adaptation of that famous work. Director Zack Snyder even stated, “We’re not adapting this thing, but it is the thing that will help us tell that story.” Still, it isn’t accidental that Zack Snyder and David Goyer chose those lines to announce to fans that DC’s two most recognizable characters would meet on the big screen.
So what can we learn by revisiting Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley’s 1986 Batman masterpiece? Somewhere between the pages of The Dark Knight Returns and what has been established in Man of Steel, there might just be a few things that actually will make it into this movie in 2015.
The Superman of Dark Knight Returns is an operative of the United States government. In Man of Steel, we have already seen the beginning of a tentative, uneasy relationship between Superman and the U.S. Army. The idea that Superman could be manipulated by people in charge (especially in an attempt to prove that he’s trustworthy after all the damage done in Man of Steel) to investigate a wild card like Batman might translate quite well to the world established by Snyder, Goyer, and Nolan. It also may be indictative of a Batman who may not be so new to this game when Kal-El finally donned his family’s pajamas.
In the world of The Dark Knight Returns, superheroes have been outlawed, making Batman’s return to action politically inconvenient. Superman, despite all of the death and destruction brought on by his first public appearance in Man of Steel, operates in the open, wears bright colors, and doesn’t wear a mask. It’s likely that some people with power might be a little less comfortable with a wild card like Batman, who operates in the shadows. Someone with money, power, and influence might have a lot to gain by letting these two eliminate each other.
Face it, folks. Batman doesn’t stand a chance against Superman…unless he levels the playing field. In chapter four of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman uses a Kryptonite arrow (courtesy of a one-armed Green Arrow…who almost certainly won’t be in this film) to make Superman a little more approachable. Since Kryptonite was noticeably absent from Man of Steel, it’s a safe bet that Superman’s most famous weakness will find its way to the big screen so that he and Bats can go a few rounds. And it’s not like someone with Bruce Wayne’s resources wouldn’t be able to afford it. Indeed, imagine the famed scene of Superman being brought to his knees by a grinning Gene Hackman in Superman: The Movie replaced by a grimacing Dark Knight ready to break some Kryptonian bones.
Hard to believe, but it’s true. Bats hands Supes his ass in the comics. Sure, he cheats a little (see #3), and Superman was already weakened by a nuclear explosion, but nevertheless, this is where that “my hand at your throat” line comes from. Batman promptly croaks thanks to a heart-attack, and even in defeat, Superman maintains respect for his former pal, even attending his funeral, where it’s revealed that Batman’s death wasn’t so permanent after all. Which brings me to…
Here’s the thing: The Dark Knight Returns relies on what was, back then, over forty years of fans understanding that there was a friendship between these characters. The upcoming film not only doesn’t have that luxury, it positively requires the heroes to eventually patch things up enough to make a Justice League movie happen. The Superman/Batman fight was the climax of The Dark Knight Returns. In this film, in all likelihood, it probably will have to take place in the second act in order to give them time to team up and wail on whoever manipulated them into fighting in the first place. Who would that be?
Batman vs. Superman…or Superman vs. Batman (we presume they’re going to come up with a better title) is directed by Zack Snyder, written by David Goyer, and will hit theaters sometime in the Summer of 2015. The question is if/when the characters hit each other, will it be as a case of mistaken allegiances or a mythic clash of ideological resentment?