The image above is from Kingdom Come, one of the best DC Comics graphic novels out there, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. It’s a tale that covers both the best and worst, the highest and lowest concepts of the superhero, both as savior and destroyer. It was written and drawn by people who obviously understood the characters that move the plot and also have a deep respect for what these characters, our modern gods and heroes, mean and represent.
The alien immigrant who uses his uniqueness to make his adopted home a better place (a concept so incredibly American it hurts in today’s quagmire of xenophobia and idiocy) … a man who, through grit, determination, and skill, can manage to stand among gods (again, that spirit of determination and hope that we can all better ourselves) … a warrior who uses her strength not for conquest, but for peace (again, a paradox that is oh-s0 American, yet strangely compelling). Above all, these archetypes, this Trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are bound by the principle extolled in the panel above. Though they might not always be successful, these heroes, these paragons, always try to find another way, a way to succeed that doesn’t cost in the lives of others, no matter whose lives they may be.
Before I move on, from here on out, there will be spoilers for the recently released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you read further, you have been warned!
And yet, we have Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice glowering across our movie screens. Our Batman, regardless of the reasons implied vaguely in the movie, is a mass murderer, both by his own hand and by the proxy of others. Our Superman is better, though he is no shining beacon, no source of hope in the gloomy world this movie invokes. He is irrationally blamed for some deaths, and rightly blamed for others, and is more than willing to simply disappear off the face of the earth to brood in its far reaches when tragedies get too hard for him to handle. While the movie ends with some possibility of hope, as Bruce Wayne says he won’t fail Clark in death as he did in life and Wonder Woman saving us from total gloom, we still have our Death of Superman moment that the director, Zach Snyder wanted, having come out in interviews as feeling that Superman had no narrative value, that he wanted the character gone.
Let’s not even talk about the fact that the two main sources for Snyder’s tale (The Dark Knight Rises and the aforementioned Death of Superman) are narratives at the END of long cycles for their respective characters, tales told to bring an end to stories not to start fresh ones. We have a creator who feels the best way to tell a story about SUPERHEROES, a story that should be about hope (even in the dark, moody universe of this DCEU), is to kill that hope? To turn the figures of modern myth into objects of fear, immature power fantasies that kill the bad men, or dark reflections of our society’s own failings?
You could argue that Snyder/WB/DC’s goal here is to do a classic deconstruction of the superhero genre and these classic characters, but you can’t deconstruct something that you don’t already establish. We have no foundation for these new versions of these characters and, trust me, beyond the barest of shadows, the cinematic versions of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, among others, are only that in comparison to most versions of these characters. We don’t know them, we have no real conception of how these characters actually tick … what service is it to deconstruct them?
It’s all maddening, tiring, and saddening in the end. Though my current favorite superheroes have changed since my youth, I still hold a special place in my heart for Superman. He is the ur-example, the foundation of our superheroic myths, and to watch him desecrated like this on the altar of a reborn Dork Age of Comic Movies hurts.
Thank God for Marvel movies! Oh, and I still have hopes for a Ben Affleck-helmed Batman movie and the Wonder Woman movie! I just hope those hopes aren’t dashed …