Superman and Batman - A Good Time for a Crossover Movie?
For fans of fiction, few things tend to be more exciting and entertaining than the crossover, where characters, storylines, and/or elements from two or more distinct properties are brought together. Sometimes this crossover is for little more than a single character making a cameo appearance elsewhere, whereas other times it is for a significant, ongoing narrative. From the Kingdom Hearts video game series, which brought together various elements of the Disney animated universe and the Final Fantasy universe, to the Assimilation2 comic published by IDW that brought together the Star Trek and Doctor Who franchises for an ongoing story arc.
One of the most common, and yet still most exciting, fictional crossovers is the superhero crossover, with two or more heroes crossing paths. Sometimes the heroes will find themselves at odds with one another and do battle, while other circumstances will bring the heroes together to face off against a threat too dangerous and powerful for them to deal with on their own.
While there have been hundreds of crossovers over the years, few have matched the repeated excitement of comic book fans as those stories bringing together two of the most iconic superheroes of all time, Superman and Batman, and it is this team up that will be making its way to theaters in 2015. However, one must ask the question, "Will it work?"
The Previous Encounters
While this will be the first time that the Last Son of Krypton and the Caped Crusader have met on the big screen, the two have appeared together, both as allies and as enemies, in comics and animated series many times over the years. The two first appeared together briefly in 1939 in issue #7 of All-Stars Comics, but never had an adventure together until 1952's Superman #76. In this amazing issue, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne found themselves as unsuspecting cabin mates on a cruise ship, where a fire on board caused the two caused the two to inadvertently reveal their identities to one another.
After this first encounter, the two would begin to star together in a comic book series known as The World's Finest, beginning in issue #71 and running through to issue #232, solidifying not only their standing as firm friends, but endearing this team up to comic book fans for years to come.
This friendship between the two would not last forever, for various comic storylines in the 1980's onward would see Superman and Batman at odds with one another; the "best buddies" nature of the two in the previous decades giving way to the two often being at odds with one another. Superman begrudgingly accepting the methods Batman used in his approach to fighting crime, while Batman disagrees with Superman's ideology. Nevertheless, despite these differences, the two maintained a great deal of respect for one another, and as such would almost always find themselves fighting on the same side, with one major exception.
In 1986, famed writer and artist Frank Miller penned a comic book storyline known as The Dark Knight Returns, which detailed a world where Bruce Wayne, in his mid 50's, has come out of retirement to assume the mantle of Batman again, and, as a result of his actions following a nuclear winter devastating most of the United States, making Gotham the safest city in the country. Superman, under the forced employ of the United States government, is sent to Gotham to stop Batman, resulting in a major battle between the two mighty heroes. Through ingenuity, the Dark Knight is able to successfully beat the Last Son of Krypton before seemingly passing away from a heart attack. This proves to be a ruse at the end of the storyline, to allow Batman and his allies to continue on with their fight against crime without the government being aware.
Like their comic book counterparts, Superman and Batman would find themselves joining forces a number of times in the various animated series and movies to come out over the years. The two would appear alongside other superheroes of the DC universe in several cartoons in the 1970's and 1980's under the blanket series title Super Friends. In these cartoons, while their close friendship was more hinted at rather than directly established, the light-hearted nature of Batman's character during this era lent more to them being the "best friends" that they were during the comics before the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline.
In the 1990's, Batman, already established from the Batman: The Animated Series cartoon, would appear in Superman: The Animated Series in a three-part special, appropriately named The World's Finest. In this special, Batman arrives in Metropolis in pursuit of the Joker, who had previously stolen an oriental dragon statue carved from Kryptonite. The Joker forms an alliance with Lex Luthor, offering to kill Superman in exchange for one billion dollars, and the two heroes are forced to join forces to deal with the threat posed by their arch enemies.The unsteady alliance between the two is based heavily on the comics in the late 80's onward, with Superman not agreeing with Batman's methods and Batman in turn not able to readily stomach the naivety that his Kryptonian ally adheres to. In the end, despite their differences, the two find common ground in their never-ending battle against evil, and a begrudging friendship forms.
This special eventually would pave the way for the immensely popular DC Animated Universe series Justice League, and its successor Justice League Unlimited. The tense and uneasy ground that existed between the two during The World's Finest and the few other moments the two would come across each other in their own respective cartoon series would eventually give way to a strong friendship. Though tested on a number of occasions, stemming in part from a near season-long storyline involving the actions of a government organization known as Cadmus, the two would remain friends and allies for decades to come.
Why Is All This Important?
Given how well received the partnership between the two have been in other fictional works, one would expect then that a movie featuring the two together is a blockbuster hit just waiting to happen. I feel though that this "epic romp" might prove to be a disaster waiting to happen.
From what has been released about the movie at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con International, while serving as a direct sequel to 2013's Man of Steel, is more notable for an introduction of a brand new Batman into that universe. While Man of Steel and this follow-up both have Christopher Nolan as the producer, it was established very early on that this Batman will not be the same one that appeared in the trilogy directed by Nolan from 2005 through 2012, instead taking place in a previously unexplored continuity that exists within the Man of Steel universe, but none of the established cinematic Batman universes up to this point.
I feel that this is a decidedly terrible way to introduce a new Batman into the mix in such a way. In order to introduce Batman into an existing continuity would require them, at least in my opinion, to do one of the following:
- Devote a good amount of time to flesh out the back story of the this new Batman, establishing his motives and his nature, while at the same time leaving enough room in the film for action.
- Introduce Batman, but don't go into any real detail about his past, allowing for more time to be devoted to the action for the film.
Unfortunately, I find that either method they may take will result in issues for the film. Man of Steel, in my opinion, suffered heavily from trying to do far too much in such a short span of time, as it introduced Superman, delivered his back story, and had him do battle with a group of renegade Kryptonians led by General Zod. Despite all the elements that they tried to inject, in the end the movie proved to be flashy, but empty, because I couldn't connect with those elements strongly enough.
If they tried to devote a good portion of the movie to introducing Batman in the movie and establish his backstory and motives, I feel that it would fall on the same problems that Man of Steel had. It would be trying to incorporate far too much in the span of one movie that it wouldn't be able to do the elements justice.
Conversely, if they simply introduced Batman, but didn't bother going into any detail regarding his past, it would do a great disservice to the character and to his fanbase. With the various incarnations and reinventions of the character over the years, the Batman backstory isn't one set firmly in stone, and as such isn't something they should avoid telling if they want the fans to grow attached to this Batman and actually care about what happens to him.
One only needs to look at 2012's The Avengers in order to see the proper way to do a successful superhero crossover film. Disney and Marvel Comics wisely decided to introduce the heroes in their own film (or films, as was the case with Iron Man) and only brought them together into a single movie after developing the backstories for each major hero first. By the time The Avengers came out, we already know Tony Stark pompous attitude masking his insecurities, Captain America and his feelings of loss and difficulties in trying to cope with being decades out of his own time, the archaic honor that binds Thor and makes him feel responsible for his brother, and the conflicts that Bruce Banner struggles against in order to keep the Hulk in check.
Given that this Batman is going to be a new Batman, not associated with the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher movies of the 80's and 90's, or the Christopher Nolan trilogy of the past decade, I feel that it would be better off taking the time and doing another reboot film for this Batman first, and then bring the two together for a mutual sequel (rather than a sequel to Man of Steel) should this Batman be well received.
I feel that they're taking too many gambles by setting the movie up in this manner. Introducing a brand new Batman to us in the way they're trying to will likely result in one of the aforementioned approaches to dealing with his back story and, in turn, the foreseeable problems that would occur. Most notably though is the simple fact that fans may just not come to like this Batman, and weaving him so much into a story involving Superman as well could result in the whole movie failing. If they introduce Batman in a stand-alone movie and the fans don't like him, then that won't affect the Man of Steel franchise near as heavily as it would to have Batman appear prominently in a film of said franchise, only for fans to dislike him.
They risk bringing both heroes down should one fail, rather than taking the wise approach and keeping them separate at first, and only bringing them together once both had strong foundations.
My Final Thoughts
I've been wanting a cinematic Superman and Batman crossover film for years now, and I feel that, if done right, the two would prove as unstoppable in the box office as they have been in the comics. However, I think that DC Comics and Warner Bros are unwisely pushing the two together far too soon, likely in no small part to the success of Marvel's The Avengers from last year, and that if they want to do things right, they need to take their time and keep each hero separate for awhile.
I would like to be wrong in this case, and see the Last Son of Krypton and the Dark Knight become the major cinematic powerhouse I've been looking forward to for most of my life. However, I feel that what DC and Warner Bros plans to do might be more devastating to the Man of Steel than any piece of Kryptonite.