ekm’s BAT-MANUAL: CHAPTER 12 – BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)
Is Batman a racist, xenophobic asshole? Does Bruce Wayne support the construction of a wall to keep out all those dirty immigrants, and protect his Amurikkka from the illegals who are happy to do the shitty jobs no one else wants to? Is his deepest fear not winged mice, but Kryptonians blowing leaves off his sidewalk, or washing dishes in the restaurant where he dines? Depends on who you ask, but if we’re going with BATMAN v SUPERMAN, the answer is yes…until his abrupt (and literal) Come to Jesus Moment, at which time he transitions into the darkest Snowflake to grace the silver screen. Given his history, it’s difficult to decide which interpretation is more fitting.
Politics and Batman are hardly a new combination. Frank Miller’s progressive slide into utter insanity has resulted in hilarious memes (e.g., I’M THE GODDAMN BATMAN, and everything else) that have nonetheless infected the mainstream writing of an increasingly humorless sociopath. The Dark Knight Returns was an Elseworlds commentary on the Reagan 80s, and how the threat of impending nuclear war gave birth to a Me Generation-punching Batman who built an army of disenfranchised, New Wave adolescents. Subsequent installments in what ought to have been a standalone series have become notable for the writer-artist’s tendency toward homophobia, misogyny, and pissing on his own legacy.
But Miller’s chief contribution to the iconography of his so-called Dark Knight is the element of unbridled rage. If you’re reading his landmark 1986 series and seeing a hero, you’re missing the point (or choosing to). It’s the story of a man with a death wish. He races cars in a suicidal fashion, trying to find an end to a life of forced Superhero retirement; he wanders the house at night, naked, mourning the inability to wear tights and punch people weaker than himself. And what’s the inciting incident that signals the rebirth of his alter ego? A nervous breakdown. Soon, he’s taking on the very government itself, waging a one-man war based to tear down an infrastructure he disagrees with. He cripples his victims, because at least he’s not killing them, but makes no apologies for his pleasure in doing so. He recruits violent thugs to his cause, because he’s “right,” and simply redirects their violence toward breaking the law for his equally questionable purposes. He’ a fascist. Are we really surprised when this character inspires movie theater shootings?
This specific representation of the previously child-friendly character is the one that Zack Snyder used as a basis for BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. The film is a weird sorta-sequel to THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, in that the Caped Crusader has been retired, and living within spitting distance of an abandoned Wayne Manor with his dressed-down butler. Batman’s career has apparently long since been over by the time the Man of Steel appears on the scene,* and the battle between this God-like alien and his nemesis, Zod, prompts Bruce to don the cowl again. Snyder’s depiction of Metropolis under attack is 9/11 times 911, as can be expected; and the resulting chaos of falling buildings and screaming death produces a notable response from Wayne, and one that can best be understood by anyone living through the domestic conflicts arising via the War in Afghanistan.** Remember those days? So do I, because we’re still living them.
So here comes Batman, back on the scene after a long absence. He’s no longer the sleek, fantastical pseudo-apparition played by Michael Keaton, nor is he comparable to Christian Bale’s armored soldier: this Batman is a gorilla with a cape. He’s massive to the point of near-parody, with stubby little horns, and a suit so padded that Ben Affleck’s already sizable build is transformed into something that looks unhealthy. He’s more “Fatman” than “Batman.” He’s a walking, talking tumor with voice modulation. The likelihood that anyone could wear that fucking thing and throw a punch more than twice without needing a timeout to breathe, is unlikely in the extreme. All the training and athleticism we see Bruce put himself through in the so-serious ROCKY-style montage, is wasted in a getup like that; any strength achieved through workout would be needed just to get dressed. Affleck’s appearance is clearly a nod to the stylized giant flowing out from Miller’s pen, but the ink is effectively spent underlining the fact that sometimes what works on the page doesn’t translate to the screen.
His Bruce Wayne is equally out of sync with any theoretical Bruce Wayne that might make sense in this film. He’s neither yawning playboy nor squirrely weirdo here: Affleck plays the character as a creepy, aggressive narcissist. There’s absolutely no reason in the world for a celebrity — especially not one who’s trying to disguise his secret identity — to meet some random reporter at a Lex Luthor charity event and make like he’s going to break every bone in Clark Kent’s admittedly punchable face; that’s kind of a Batman thing to do, but Bruce is playing the role nonetheless. There’s always been that overbaked concept that Bruce Wayne, Billionaire, is the true mask being worn, and yet we never once see that here. He stalks Diana Prince like a sexual predator,***leering and whispering through clenched teeth; he treats every interaction as a fight waiting to happen. He doesn’t shave, because he doesn’t care how he looks. At no point do we see a man we want to rally behind (though the same can be said of Superman, as well).
And why is Bruce so pissed off, exactly? Aliens. They’ve come to live on our soil, fuck our women, and contaminate our species. We can’t stop them, and we can’t make them go away. No one wants them here except those God damn hippie longhairs with their bleeding hearts and self-congratulatory social justice memes on Twitter and Facebook. Take that KRYPTONIAN LIVES MATTER hashtag and go fuck yourselves, you precious little Snowflakes. It must feel so good to feel so progressive, and get so many likes and shares from your equally stupid friends. Enjoy it while you can, kids, because it’s time to take our world back. #MakeAmericaSafeAgain
I mentioned Trump’s fabled (and never-gonna-happen) Wall, way back in the first paragraph. It was a snarky comparison, but really, how far off is it? In BATMAN v SUPERMAN, the former decides to construct a mechanism by which to eliminate the effect of the latter. Obtaining, synthesizing, and replicating Kryptonite gives Bruce Wayne a method of control that can be exerted over uninvited visitors, and usher them off-world. Because he can’t obtain this substance through legal channels, he hauls out his weaponry, and murders his opponents to get it. Yeah, in case I forgot to mention it before, this is a Batman who shoots people, and likely considers his possession and use of firearms perfectly in keeping with his Second Amendment rights. Ain’t no guv’nermint gonna take away mah raht to de-fend mahself. Considering his overall approach is Might Makes Right, it’s worth considering whether Pro-Gun Advocates are correct in saying that “guns don’t kill people; people do,” or whether it’s best to consider the types of people who call themselves “Pro-Gun Advocates.”
The inclination to forcibly remove Superman isn’t presented as a reasonable safety measure, despite lip[ service to the contrary: it’s the act of an obsessive, angry man who has decided what procedures are or aren’t appropriate in securing domestic tranquility. There’s freedom at stake! The safety of good, (New) God-fearing Americans! And meanwhile, Wayne is following this line of thought from a place of financial security, and using his inherited resources to accomplish his own private mission of exclusivity. There’s never an effort to utilize his enormous wealth for the benefit of those who were injured during the Battle of Metropolis, or their families – Lex Luthor does that.**** It’s not hard to draw parallels between this particular Batman and other privileged white men in positions of power, who incite their own personal vendettas in the name of The People, while offering a gigantic middle finger to the very same People they claim to protect.
BUT THEN HE SEES THE LIGHT. Batman and Superman engage in their long-awaited battle (and it’s a long, long wait before we get there, indeed); and finally, after all his efforts to eliminate this alien scum, Bruce puts his Kryptonite spear to the Enemy’s throat – and learns that they both have Mommies with the same name. Suddenly, his rage turns to realization, and to remorse. We’re all the same! Our differences are only a matter of perception! Our Moms were both named “Martha,” and they both had vaginas, and we both came from one! He casts the spear aside. He understands now. Chocolate and peanut butter are two great tastes that taste great together, and Kryptonian lives do matter, after all.
And just like that, Batman becomes a literal Social Justice Warrior. He chucks the MAGA cowl and begins the process of assembling a United Colors of Benetton Superteam made up of 1) people of color, 2) a physically-disabled teenager, 3) a kid with ADHD, and 4) a woman. Together they will combine forces in the name of the martyred, alien outsider Bruce had wrongly tried to eliminate, and they’ll use this power of inclusion to…eliminate other alien outsiders! It’s only funny because it’s true.
Batman is softened significantly for his appearance in JUSTICE LEAGUE (a film I once reviewed and compared to the world’s ugliest baby*****), though not before having one last opportunity to break a woman’s nose in the intervening SUICIDE SQUAD. The Dark Knight depicted in JUSTICE LEAGUE seems almost timid, and significantly hobbled by his shift toward a more liberal-minded worldview. Maybe this is because he’s shaken by the fact that the chick in the skirt could break every bone in his body? Or maybe because the black guy in the walking wheelchair has a bigger dick than he does, and can dance better? Or that if he and Aquaman hit a bar together, with Bruce dressed to impress, and Arthur Curry limited to jeans and a wife-beater, the latter’s exotic looks would land him that threesome that Bruce only locks down because of his name and reputation? Or maybe it’s just the fact that, as he says, his only real Super Power is the fact that he’s white, and has money…? Look carefully, and you’ll see that the Batman of JUSTICE LEAGUE is a thoughtful, troubled man indeed.
This is appropriate. As we all know, any man who respects women, accepts minorities as equals, and considers people with disabilities equal to himself, ain’t nothing but a big ol’ pussy, anyways. #NotMyBatman
*Superman was the first quote-unquote Superhero, both in the comics medium, as well as inside the DC Universe itself. All the characters who followed were in imitation of both his presentation, methods, and ideologies. Given the character’s Christ-like allusions – which are played up on the page and onscreen – we have to question Snyder’s decision to allow Batman, Harley Quinn, and all the rest to pre-date Kent’s arrival on the scene. It’s the same fundamental mistake made on SMALLVILLE, which also introduced a C-list, photo-justice League to guide Superman’s journey toward becoming a final product. It’s a lot like doing a series about a young Jesus, and having him learn all his teachings from the Apostles.
**In a clever – and very meta – conceit, the jaw-dropping and insensitive bombast that mars the Third Act of an otherwise pedestrian MAN OF STEEL is addressed here, in-movie. The “Superman Question” gives the people of Earth a reason to wring their hands over their cohabitation with an apparently unstable demigod; and Bruce Wayne endeavors to find methods by which to ensure that no one ever writes a sequence like the one Snyder and David S. Goyer previously thought was a good idea. While the director and screenwriter have come under attack for their tasteless September 11th homage, both for its glorification of tragedy, and the tone-deafness in how Superman is handled, there’s one key figure in the mess who always remains unmentioned: producer Christopher Nolan, the visionary creator of THE BESTEST BATMAN FILM EVER.
***At one point, we see Bruce wake up next to an unnamed, unidentified woman, whom he leaves in bed and promptly forgets about. It’s perfectly in keeping with how Batman is represented all throughout the film.
****The altruistic, non-costumed work Bruce Wayne is performing is limited to the dispensation of monthly checks to a single former employee — one who lost his legs during the alien battle, and now lives the life of a shut-in. I don’t know, Bruce: he seems capable of work to me. I mean, the guy can climb a Superman statue and deface it quite well. Why not let him return to Wayne Enterprises and live a productive life in a handicap-accessible environment, where he can feel personally fulfilled and make valuable contributions to society, instead of treating him like an ugly reminder to be shunted off to the side and pacified with money…?
*****But still not as ugly as THE BOSS BABY, a movie I reviewed which resulted in some of the best Hate Mail I’ve ever received.
Erik Kristopher Myers (aka ekm)