Despite the explosion of superhero films in the last few years, comic book fans might have a painful road ahead of them — specifically, DC comic book fans. Zack Snyder’s Justice League might have been a beacon of hope to many, but its box office performance is mixed. Many more movies are coming up, but how much longer can comic fans hold out hope? Especially when it comes to DC’s most popular hero, Batman.
Batman has gone through many models throughout the years, but not always with success. Recently, Schumacher’s versions have made it to Netflix, the last of which is frequently considered one of the worst movies of all time and which Schumacher has publicly apologized for.
The comics have moved away from the New 52 storylines (some would say thankfully) to Rebirth, but it’s movies that keeps fans coming our way more than revamped comics. With Schumacher’s and Snyder’s films front and center, what is the future for Batman fans?
To know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve come from. Tim Burton’s early takes on Batman gave us a lot to chew on: a believable Batmobile, stylish villains, and a plot based on one of the most successful Batman storylines of all time. As I noted above, Schumacher’s films are available on Netflix now, and Batman & Robin is regarded as a B-side at best. However, Schumacher’s first attempt, Batman Forever, received much more favorable reviews. Perhaps it was just the loss of some talented actors or the push to make the sequel more merchandise-friendly. Either way, none of the proposed projects afterwards took flight.
By Robertoqwerty (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
… Until Nolan’s trilogy, that is. According to Nolan himself, one the biggest reasons that he succeeded more than other superhero movies was time. He was afforded a lot of time to approach the movies creatively, instead of busting them out as quickly as possible. Snyder’s Justice League suffers from a jam-packed blockbuster schedule and an insistence to remove any humanity from Batman and double the broodiness. It’s clear that in order for fans to get the hero they deserve again, those are both going to have to change.
Problem #1: Overbooked Schedule
As much as Batfans hate to hear it, we might’ve just had too much Batman in the past couple years. Part of the success of Nolan’s trilogy was the spacing of the sequels. Even the 60s Batman TV show was well-regarded in its time since it was the only sort of Batmedia available besides comic books.
When we watch a Batman film these days, we are comparing the performances of Affleck to Bale or Ledger to Leto. There’s even talk of Jake Gyllenhaal replacing Affleck soon. That means another incarnation of Batman, another actor’s take of Bruce Wayne, and yet another performance we have to size up. We cared and committed to Christian Bale’s Batman for a while. We weren’t constantly having a new version shoved down our throats.
CC Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr
This isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The pieces of the Hollywood machine are already in motion. That isn’t about to change when money can be made.
The only hope here is that many of these movies won’t directly involve Batman. Yes, he’ll probably make an appearance in many, but perhaps fully seeing different characters that were always in the shadow previously will help. With the limelight focused on Wonder Woman, Cyborg, or Aquaman, we might miss the Bat after all.
Problem #2: Batman’s Humanity
CC Image courtesy of Tatiana T on Flickr
In truth, Batman has always struggled to be relatable. That’s one of the reasons Robin was brought in to begin with. Robin’s childlike nature and constant quips were easier for readers to understand than the constant parade of broodiness.
That isn’t to say that people don’t like Batman — quite the opposite, in fact. He is definitely more human than Superman. It’s gadgets, money, and determination that fuel Batman, not a powerful destiny or abilities. Batman is also undeniably cool with is all black suit, sweet car, and quick takedowns. However, his future is clearly on a downward trajectory.
It’s up for debate whether it’s Affleck’s performance or the screenwriting to blame. You’ll find people that say one, the other, or both. But DC constantly struggles with portraying characters that their audience cares about, which is particularly distressing because people WANT to care. They just need a reason to.
- Show us his mental struggles in more detail. He’s a prime candidate for PTSD, and he clearly has problems letting go. Don’t just show his parents dead in an alleyway, a sad little boy by their graves, and then jump ahead twenty years.
- Let him fail sometimes. Rachel died in Nolan’s The Dark Knight, because bad consequences do happen. You can still be a hero and lose.
- Explore some new storylines! The Joker is great, and I’m sure we’ll come back to him. But there are plenty of other storylines that directly expose Batman’s character struggles.
That’s just three easy ways to keep Batfans sated with character development while also drawing in more. Couple that with a little more time between installments and Batman could be going full swing again. This is in the interest of DC and Warner Brothers, too! The better the movies, the more people will want to see the next one, and maybe even (gasp!) read a comic book. This really should not be an uphill battle.
We owe Batman that much; let’s give him the movie he deserves again.
This post was written by Devin Morrissey. He writes and reads comics around the Pacific Northwest. He prides himself on being a jack of all trades, master of none, and travels constantly to improve keep that status. You can reliably find him on Twitter.