Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has arrived in theaters and has enhanced the discussion on these characters. The film will eventually leave theaters and audiences will move on to the next big thing. But, the comics will remain. For those uninitiated that watch the films and would love to dip a toe into the comics, it’s deep waters. What can a comic fan do to make plunging into DC Comics history easier for new readers? Today we’re going to break down the four stars of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice into easy to digest character histories/recommended reading. If this pans out, a second volume will return to focus on the second tier characters.
The Bat of Gotham
Batman is a wealthy orphan from DC’s version of Newark, New Jersey. Instead of actually trying to better the city, he uses life-long martial arts skills and anti-personnel weaponry to beat up poor people. Some of Batman’s greater known villains are mutilated former friends, former prostitutes turned thieves and morbidly obese gangsters. Don’t worry, kids. Batman beats them up and makes them pay for being “new money”. No one in Gotham is sure what that means, but they don’t stop Batman out of fear of an errant batarang.
For those wanting a serious history, the best effort will be made to piece together the major DC timelines to pound out something rather coherent. There has always been a Bat-person to protect Gotham. Whether it was a Bat caveman fighting Vandal Savage to 19th-century vigilantes protecting early Gotham City to the Batman that we know today. But, what makes Batman different than any of these vigilantes? Well, Batman has a long term plan. Bruce Wayne runs the Wayne Foundation and spends his fortune creating technology and job opportunities to eliminate the criminal base of Gotham City.
However, the powerful figureheads get to meet Batman at night. Working as a dual faced savior for the city, Batman seems like the perfect crime fighting vigilante. Well, except for the Joker killing Jason Todd, crippling Barbara Gordon, killing Sarah Essen, cutting off Alfred’s hand and gassing dozens of innocents. By the events of Batman v Superman, the audience sees a Batman that bears a close resemblance to Frank Miller’s take on the character. An aging Bruce Wayne that conveniently looks under 50 is taking to mass torture and coordinated military-style assaults against overwhelming odds. The Batmobile is decked out to resemble a military assault vehicle and the Batman himself belongs to myth.
There is nothing wrong with this take on the Batman, as it evokes the earliest of Golden Age pulpiness that powered the character for its first year. However, it’s the ease of the character’s slide into fascism that bothers some. Batman/Bruce Wayne/Batfleck is the wealthiest man in Gotham City, but he gets to skirt police authority to enforce his brand of justice on the criminal element. A criminal element that skews poor and unable to rise out of the mire unless they agree to the Wayne Foundation’s conditions. Tyranny comes on leathery wings.
OBSCURE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BATMAN
- Batman’s favorite food is Mulligatawny soup. Fun fact: it’s a Tamil influenced recipe that British occupying forces stole and took back for the Queen.
- The writer of this article was one of the many fans that voted to kill Jason Todd (Robin II) back in the late 80s.
- Batman’s online screen name is JonDoe297.
- Arkham Asylum is based on the Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts.
- James Gordon, Jr is a psychopath in the comics. That beats the Nolanverse take.
- Batman spent his early years killing criminals. Gunning them down, strangulation by airplane and other means were deployed.
- The real world financial cost of being Batman has been estimated at $682 million dollars.
- In the Batman manga, Batman enters the Batcave via an image of his head carved into a Gotham City mountain.
- Batman was such a huge hit in the 1940s that Green Arrow was forced to adopt many of his comic trademarks.
- The Dark Knight Returns was hated by critics upon initial reception. Click here to read the New York Times review.
The Last Son of Krypton
Superman is one of the greatest comic book characters ever made. Why? Well, because he’s an American deity that fulfills the threat of the nuclear age. The world knows that he wants to protect us, but only to a certain degree. Superman is also a rather lonely alien demi-god that has been taught to believe he’s just another part of Middle America. The fears, self-restraint and other mental blocks placed upon him by his adopted parents can only go so far. How long do we have before he starts snapping necks again?
The past week has spent with arguments between Superman comic fans and movie fans. The movie fans argue that Superman kills, while the Superman comic fans say he doesn’t. But, since the movie fans never crack open a book, it’s like arguing with a brick wall. Has Superman killed before? Yes, but most of it is out-of-continuity. Continuity has always been this weird thorn in DC’s paw and it’s created generations of readers who aren’t sure who has the definitive take on Superman. People of this writer’s age remember Supergirl as a protoplasm alien and Superman having killed General Zod with kryptonite. Earlier generations remember headband Supergirl that died in Crisis, teen maiden Supergirl of the Silver Age or even later grunge cute Supergirl. What does that mean for Superman?
Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice invites a new audience/generation/support group to find their version of Superman. Director Zack Snyder makes a big deal about maturing Superman for the modern era. The term maturing and fantasy characters always make older people cringe, but is it necessarily the wrong thing? Snyder’s Superman is very well aware of his power, but his need to exist as an individual. This Superman is the alien who dared to dream as a Kansas farmer’s son. The Objectivist tinged talks with Ma Kent and his upbringing suggest a conservative mindset that draws a direct opposition to Batman’s tactics.
Superman will help those who can’t help themselves, but it’s not a prolonged approach. Whether it’s rescuing flood victims or Lois Lane, the needy are on their own until the next time. Batman is about absolute control, while Superman is about providing a hand when needed. In that sense, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice actually nails that dynamic. Superman as the Right Wing element vs. Batman as the Left Wing element dictating individual freedom. All the while, Lex Luthor represents the wealth trying to exploit the populace. What does it all mean?
The Princess of the Amazons
Wonder Woman was the product of an early pioneer in polyamory. Don’t worry, readers. I have plenty to say about William Moulton Marston and his housemates at a later date. For those of you that don’t know about the creator of Wonder Woman, he lived quite the interesting life. What’s sad is that DC bumped heads over the character’s direction for decades to come, thus causing Wonder Woman to stagnate while Batman and Superman got mass market love. Thankfully, it changed in the 1970s due to the rise of popular feminism. After all, powerful women everywhere need a mascot.
Lynda Carter is the reason that the Wonder Woman costume has been fetishized. There’s something about these old still shots where you get to remember a time when the Western World wasn’t scared of sexuality. Strong powerful female characters were willing to dress like this, but also served as role models for younger generations. That was before the modern era, before the dark times. So, let’s bask in the reason why a certain writer owns 8 copies of Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw.
SOMETHING TO AGGRAVATE THE TUMBLR CROWD: A BRIEF HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN
Wonder Woman has had multiple origins. All are tied back to the sexuality of the independent Queen of the Amazons. Wonder Woman’s mother Hippolyta is portrayed in mythology as being assaulted and forced into various activities by Hercules. In the Golden Age, Wonder Woman just happened on Paradise Island and Robin Hood style wins a way to Man’s World. In the Silver and Bronze Age, Wonder Woman’s sexuality is explored and we get the clay origin. The clay origin has been interpreted many times, as Hippolyta forms her daughter out of clay blessed by Zeus. Eventually, she gets some dark clay and makes Nubia to appeal to 70s minority readership. That’s right, kids. DC had Hippolyta make an African Wonder Woman out of mud. Let that one sink in.
The use of the Amazons in the DC Universe has always been poorly developed. In the modern era, the group turned to mythology alongside Wonder Woman’s current origins. That being, they are the blessed female warriors of Zeus. Wondy herself now is the product of a late night fling between Hippolyta and Zeus. That being said, the ladies and Wonder Woman only get whipped out of their insular book when the DCU needs a sense of other. The same argument could be made for Aquaman, but that is going to be saved for later. If Batman represents Leftist control, Superman represents Right temporary aid…where does that leave Wonder Woman?
Wonder Woman is the chaotic other of foreign interests. She has no ties to a Western political sense, as her beliefs and actions are based in tradition. If you want to be that SJW, there’s the fear of the female to factor in. But, gender almost comes in secondary for WW. Wonder Woman is the idealized rejection of what Batman and Superman represents and it’s hard for anyone in America to hammer that down. Why in nearly 75 years has no one been able to nail down the outsider aspect?
The Man Who Took Forty Cakes… And That’s Terrible
Lex Luthor would be President in our reality. There’s something about being a villain for so long and through so many different interpretations that leads later generations to forget how amazing a villain can be now. Plus, whatever that mess in “Smallville” was meant to be, it only weakened Luthor for a new generation. DC/WB needs to get back to what makes Luthor great again. If you hear Bryan Singer or Richard Donner say real estate land grabs, feel free to slap them in the face. They’ll understand that it’s for their benefit.
Luthor was born in Suicide Slum. Sometimes, Luthor met Clark Kent as a kid. Other times, Luthor blames Kent for going bald. A never-ending battle with continuity creates storylines that go all over the place. Where does Luthor fit into this psycho-political sense? Well, Luthor is capitalism unchecked. Think of Luthor as a living SuperPAC powered by a Kryptonite heart. Oh wait, that would make him Metallo. Think of Luthor as the ultimate corruptible force in the DCU.
Lex Luthor is constantly portrayed as the guy that would be the Earth’s greatest hero if it weren’t for Superman. However, that’s a little hard to buy. From Luthor’s troublesome origins to this actions in the present, it’s hard to see anything but an angry little man. Due to the success of LexCorp and other endeavors, Luthor becomes the realized usurper. He has no beliefs, no purpose. All Luthor does is use ill-gotten gains to manipulate and create a society that doesn’t follow any philosophy.
In that sense, the DCU and all of its attachments can be realized as a dedicated school of political philosophy where villains are well-financed anarchists. You’re either under Batman’s control, Superman’s temporary aegis or Wonder Woman’s outsider observation. The real threat remains villains like Luthor that say you don’t need either of the three. While that might sound obtuse and a bit insane to some readers…think about it. Every DC hero breaks down to the three archetypes set forth by Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman. Every villain of the base three and their derivatives only exists to empower themselves or offer another way. It’s quite mind-blowing.